Trying to make a difference for special needs kids

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Author Jan Horner speaks from personal experience

by Melanie Jongsma

Note: This story was originally published on August 16, 2020, but because of technical difficulties we were having with our website host at that time, the story was lost and our attempts to recover it failed. We’ve done our best to recreate the story and republish it here.

BEECHER, Ill. (September 29, 2020) – “I’m trying to make a real job making a difference,” said Jan Horner. The former Lansing resident and Illiana Christian High School alum has written a book titled A Parent’s Guide to Raising Learning-Disabled Children, and since it was published she has also spoken to school systems and teacher training institutions, trying to help them understand what school can be like for a child who learns differently from most.

Horner
Jan Horner’s guide to raising learning-disabled children is available on Amazon. (Click to view order page.) (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The mother of five children, four of whom are learning-disabled, Horner found she had to become an advocate for them at school. Having navigated her own way through school with Attention Deficit Disorder and dyslexia, she was able to serve as a bridge between her kids and their teachers and administrators. In doing so, she also learned she was not alone. She became a resource for other parents who didn’t know how to help their children.

Fervent and scrappy

A Parent’s Guide is not a polished, professional publication, and maybe some readers will notice the grammar and layout flaws. But partly because of those flaws, the book has the personality of a fervent mom who has learned to turn uncertainty into scrappiness and conflicts into teachable moments.

For example, after dealing with a just-out-of-college teacher whose expectations were different from what her son could meet, Horner recognized that she had to maintain a relationship with this teacher in order to help her son succeed. In spite of their early conflicts, Horner writes, “Ultimately, she was a great teacher. She had a lot of fantastic ideas. I loved her as a teacher, and after that second meeting, we got along great. I feel bad I intimidated her at first, but it turned out to be a good partnership in achieving the best education for my child.” (p. 82)

Horner’s book includes a lot of examples of hurtful things said by well-meaning people. Seeing these comments from her perspective is instructive and eye-opening, though because so many examples are included, the venting becomes overbearing after a while. Still, sprinkled throughout are helpful insights, such as this story:

“One mom I talked to told me she had found a way to help people understand the developmental delay of her son. She could say that he was delayed, or she could say that he was autistic, but either way, people did not get it. Instead, she started to say that her son was a Special Olympics athlete, and then the light bulb would go on in other people’s heads.” (p. 105)

Actionable suggestions

The book also includes some basic actionable suggestions, some of which might lead parents to feel, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” On page 31 Horner offers this simple tip for helping children who can’t process a lot of choices: “Only keep the current season’s clothing available. Putting them away for the rest of the year removes unnecessary choices for your child to process and, ensures they will not wear sandals in the snow or snow boots at the pool!” And on page 116 she reminds parents not to ask an open-ended question such as, “What do you want for a snack?” Instead offer two snack options and ask them to choose one.

Other tips Horner shares from her own parenting experiences include:

  • Get to know your [school’s] janitors so that when a book is forgotten, you can still get in after hours.
  • Graph paper is a great tool to help practice writing.
  • Buy a copy machine. Some kids with learning disabilities are prone to lose things. Copy completed homework—so when the math paper you worked on for two hours is nowhere to be found, you still have a copy your child can turn in.

Waiting-room reading

A Parent’s Guide to Raising Learning-Disabled Children is easy to read in stops and starts, which makes it ideal for waiting-room reading or any of the other small breaks in a parent’s day that might otherwise feel like time wasted. The topics are grouped in logical categories, and the flow is good, but the chapters aren’t named, so it can be difficult to look up something again later.

Available on Amazon

A Parent’s Guide to Raising Learning-Disabled Children is available in paperback and Kindle edition from Amazon.com:

  • Paperback
  • Kindle

Jan Horner is available for workshops and speaking engagements for parents groups and teachers groups: