In this Episode
Is it too late for a teen to get the therapy they need?
Never. And that includes adults, as well, thanks to the beauty of neuroplasticity.
In this week's episode, you are going to hear from some students and their moms about what it's like to do cognitive learning therapy, how they've grown and what they've learned about themselves. Our special guests are James and his mother Nicola. James is one of our remote learning students living in the UK, and he was already in his teens when started at SLC.
Tune in to hear about his amazing transformation with grades and exams after he began therapy.
In this week's episode, you'll learn:
- Nicola's journey to finding help and committing to the time and effort for James' therapy sessions
- Why they chose to attend SLC remotely instead of locally in the UK
- A glimpse of James' treatment plan and transformation at school
"He's intelligent, he's smart, but he's not really performed in things like exams. And I never felt as though he was demonstrating how good he is."
- Nicola Whyte
Jill Stowell: This is LD Expert Live.
Welcome to the LD Expert Podcast, your place for answers and solutions for dyslexia, learning and attention challenges. I'm your host Jill Stowell, founder of Stowell Learning Centers, and author of a brand new book, Take the Stone Out of the Shoe: A Must-Have Guide to Understanding, Supporting and Correcting Dyslexia, Learning, and Attention Challenges. This book will help you understand why some bright children and teens have more difficulty than expected in school. It provides simple practical tools for supporting struggling students at home and in the classroom. Most importantly, it presents real solutions and the science behind them.
There is absolutely no question that in order to learn and function our best we need to have solid memory and attention skills, we need to get an accurately perceive information coming in from the body and our senses. As you get older, you may notice little lapses in memory and it slows you down and it drives you crazy. If you fly or drive up a mountain, your ears may feel plugged so you can't hear well, and it impacts your listening and your thinking and your mood.
When children or adults have weak or underdeveloped skills in memory, attention, or auditory, visual, language, or sensory processing, things will be harder or slower for them than necessary. And the common belief is “Oh, so sorry, you'll just have to live with it or work around it.” Well, decades of neuroscience research has proven that our brain can change. It can make new connections and build more effective neural pathways.
Now, the child's brain is just like a little neuroplastic learning machine. But the adult brain can change as well. Those lagging underlying skills can be identified and developed. And the world needs to get on board and stop making our kids with learning differences run with a stone in their shoe. This is not about fixing them. Our kids are perfect just the way they are. But this is about making the way easier when it can be.
So, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I'd like to introduce you to James and Nicola Whyte. James is one of our remote learning students. He lives in the UK and was so outspoken and excited about the changes he had made as a result of his work at the Learning Center that his clinician said, “You need to have James as a guest on LD Expert.” So here is my interview with James and his mom, Nicola.
Welcome James and Nicola, I'm so excited to have you joining us today. And I understand you're on a little bit of a holiday before school starts, working holiday, right?
Nicola Whyte: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: So, James, tell us a little bit about you. How old are you? What grade are you going into? What do you like to do? Whatever you want to, whatever you want to share.
James Whyte: I'm 16. I don't know what grade but in England it's called year 11, so it's the second to the last year of school. And I'm quite athletic I think, I play a lot of field hockey. I also love to be on a farm and do a lot of milking. And that's the main point about me. I play a couple of video games and that's it.
Jill Stowell: Well, that sounds like great stuff. How did you happen to hear about the Learning Center and what caused you to call us way back in 2020?
Nicola Whyte: Oh, gosh. OK. Well, James is – ever since he started school, he has not... he's intelligent, he's smart but he's not really performed in things like exams. And I never felt as though he was demonstrating how good he is in effect. And he'd had assessments, he… they had assessed him as there was some difficulty but they didn't say what the difficulty was. And we had spent quite a lot of time talking to his teachers, and he was getting support.
When he moved up to senior school, we were discussing with the head of support there, what the issues were. And from the original assessment that was done, there was a little tiny statement that everybody pretty much ignored, which talks about, they felt it might be something called, I think, it was a semantic pragmatic disorder. And the head of support went, “That's the issue.” So when she said that I went and did a lot of research on it. And part of the research, I found a book called At Wit's End by Jill Stowell. And I didn't read it, I didn't read it. I bought it, but didn't read it.
And after a number of years of frustration, and continually going back to the school, I did read it, which was, it was the October before I actually gave you a call. And I spent the time reading it with a pencil going, “That's James. That's James. That's James. Oh, my God, that's James.” And I went through this whole book, and it was like a light switched on for me. And I then spoke to my husband and said, “Look, you know, I've read this book, it's really cool. And, you know, would you like to read it?” And he said yes, he did. He read it.
And in the meantime, I was trying to find the same solutions in the UK. And I could find lots of little solutions and lots of parts of it, but nothing that pulled it all together. And when he finished reading the book, I said that to him, and he said, “Well, OK, that's fine, we'll take into America, then take him to the Learning Center and we'll see where we go from there.” And we arranged to have the sort of meeting, we contacted you and went through the sort of assessments, the preliminary stages, et cetera. And we were planning to come to LA in the April of 2020, and little thing called COVID hit, and we couldn't travel. So that's how it all started with us.
Jill Stowell: Well, that is quite a story. And we were so excited for you to come too. So, but you know, you guys just jumped in and did it anyway, and that's amazing. So James, if you can remember back to that time when you first started at the Learning Center, are there things that you remember that you wished were easier for you at that time?
James Whyte: In all fairness, I kind of struggled in small parts of everything, but there were bits that I did quite well in, and just wanted to improve on those bits that I struggled. And that's kind of why I agreed to do it.
Jill Stowell: And, you know, that's really good insight, because everybody has strengths and weaknesses. And I know that, you know, you have some pretty difficult classes. So sometimes it's hard to see that there are just little areas that if they were easier, everything would be, you know, just working a little bit better as well.
Nicola, when the two of you got started, what were you hoping to have happen as a result of working at the Learning Center?
Nicola Whyte: Ah, I wanted James to be able to be the best that he could be. And I wanted him to have more confidence and more capability in exams. Everything here, probably similar to most places in the world is very exam-orientated and James really struggled with exams, he struggled with comprehension, understanding what questions were asking him. So if he didn't understand what the question was asking him he couldn't answer it.
So I was hoping that it was going to help him to be more confident, to be able to interpret what he was being asked and actually then to be able to take the information that I knew he had in his head. He's got this amazing wealth of information in his head. But he's just not able to get it out and onto the paper. So I was really hoping it would help him with that.
Jill Stowell: And, you know, James mentioned that he's really good at a lot of things. And there are these little bits that just weren't working that well for him. And actually, you know, both of you have a really true assessment of what was going on. And so, James, you worked with a number of different kinds of programming at the Learning Center.
James Whyte: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: We did core learning skills, you know, all those activities to integrate retained reflexes that were causing interference to being fully focused. And I think you guys kind of worked on those activities together, right?
James Whyte: Yeah.
Jill Stowell: And did some physical activities every day. And then you also did auditory stimulation and training with an emphasis on comprehension and study skills, and a processing skills program called AMPS, which builds attention, memory, and all different processing skills through various games and drills and activities. And so now, as you head back into school this year, you're really going to be focusing on just applying everything into building executive function skills. So for us, that's just moving right up the learning skills continuum.
So James, I would love to hear your experience working at the Learning Center, doing all these things.
James Whyte: So when I first started, I was like, yeah, I want to do it because I wanted to get better at exams and better at just organization and stuff like that. But I was like, it's most likely just going to be another one like the schools, it's just boring, it's old fashion. But no, it was – the first day, I was expecting someone just to come to the call and just be like, “OK, you're doing this, this, this and this.” But no, Liz was interested, she was quite excited. She was fun. And so, when I started, my mum was like, if you don't like it, you can go. But as soon as I met Liz, I was like, “I want to stay doing this.” And that's kind of what got me through the program because I'm not a big fan of stuff like this. But having such a fun experience within it just kept me coming back for more.
Jill Stowell: And, you know, I think that's huge. We always, you know, work one-to-one with students, because you're right, that relationship is so important. And I have to say, Liz really loves working with you as well. And as you went through, did you start to see that some things were getting a little bit easier, or were you noticing changes?
James Whyte: Yeah, I definitely noticed that it was helping me. Because a couple of weeks later, I’m getting better grades than what I was. And that – and it just continually increased throughout the year, and then going into my GCSE exams, which are basically the SATs and then seeing what my results were just showed how effective Stowell actually is.
Jill Stowell: Well, that is fantastic to hear. I know you are a pretty fast thinker, and Liz was saying that you've really learned how to slow down with difficult information like physics. And I have to say, I'm really impressed that you're taking physics or you took physics as a 10th grader. I took it in college it was the hardest thing I've ever done so that's an amazing mind you have. But she was saying you've learned how to you know slow down your thinking, really visualize more accurately what the information is saying. Have you noticed changes when listening to lectures or studying, or, even taking tests?
James Whyte: Yeah, like, a couple of years ago for tests and in lessons, I could only focus for 20 minutes to half an hour. But for the last two years, I've been, sort of when I kind of started Stowell from then on I have been able to go through the entire hour of my lesson. And then I'm able to go through the entire hour, and sometimes two hours in my exams.
Jill Stowell: Wow, that's fantastic. Well, I know you are a really busy guy, and you've got sports, and you know, you have really difficult subjects. You've dedicated a lot of your time to the Learning Center. Has it been worth it to you?
James Whyte: Oh, yeah. And it just shows how much worth it gave me, because my exam results at the end of the year had skyrocketed from where they were.
Jill Stowell: That's fantastic. Well, Nicola, we were so excited when we thought you and James, were going to come to California so that we could meet you and work with you in person. And then of course, 2020 took care of that. So even though you couldn't come, you just jumped right in there and got going anyway. What was this process like for you and James working together and doing distance learning?
Nicola Whyte: It was actually – it was tough. It was tough in the sense that the amount of time that we committed to it, that we chose to commit to it was quite a lot. And it meant that we were starting early in the morning. So we were getting up at sort of 6:00 AM to try and get the work done in advance of school so James has to leave at half seven in the morning. So we were getting up to do the exercises and to do some of the work that that we planned with Liz on a morning. So that was a little bit tough. And then obviously we had three hours a week with Liz as well, which was great. That was on an evening.
So the thing that I think we found a little bit difficult was the time zones, you know the difference in time between the US and here, because it gives us a very limited amount of time. And particularly after a school day, James gets very tired. So that was a little bit of a struggle. But the amount of – he never, he never said he didn't want to do it. He never said no. And he never really kicked back on it because a lot of it was so much fun for him to do.
But I do feel that if – to get the best results out of it, you've got to put the effort in. And I know that you know that might seem like a little bit perhaps off put into people but the end result is amazing. His grades have gone up so much, Maths and English he was, he was a D and E grade student. And he's now, you know, he's pushing A’s, he's B’s, he got B’s, he got B’s in his grades. And to see that difference, that is a year – that has taken a year you're talking percentages that was so, you know, so low and he's now up at B grade. So it was work, it was – there was a lot of effort went into it from both parties and from Liz, but it's been ever so worth it.
Jill Stowell: Well, I just appreciate both of you so much, taking the time and sharing. James, I think, you know, you're going to be encouraging to other teenagers because I have to admit this is not going to be really super high on a teenager's priority list and you're so busy in high school. And so, you know, I really appreciate you sharing. And Nicola, you're right it's a big commitment but the changes that we, you know, that we want to see and that that you guys have seen, you know those last for a lifetime and that's certainly what we're after and I know what you guys have been after too. So any last thoughts for us today?
Nicola Whyte: Anything?
James Whyte: Apart from that just how amazing the actual program is. Because as my mom said, I was a D and E grade student, and in my exams this year, in one of the subjects, which I was hoping I would get like a B in, I go and get a high A. And then most of the others are B pluses and B minuses.
Nicola Whyte: Yeah, I think I just like to say thank you. If I hadn't found, if I hadn't read your book, if I hadn't read the book, we would never have done this. And if we hadn't done this, we would not be in a situation where James can say, “I got an A in chemistry and I got B's in virtually everything else.” And I cried.
Jill Stowell: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. You sharing, oh my gosh, just you know, it makes everything we're doing on our end worthwhile. So, you guys are awesome.
Nicola Whyte: Thank you very much and so are you.
- Episode 69: Embracing Differences and Building Social Emotional Health – Suzanne McClure
- Episode 68 – Executive Function Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Students + T.E.F.O.S. – Part 2 – Seth Perler
- Episode 67 – The Executive Function Online Summit PLUS a Special Message for Kids – Part 1 – Seth Perler
- Episode 66 – Auditory Processing and Managing Anxiety – Jill Stowell on the Re-Focus Podcast with Angela Stephens
- Episode 65 – “Smart but Struggling” – What Does it Mean? – Jessyka Coulter, Love to Learn 2023
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