Against the odds, Corey Grozelle graduates from high school.
Corey Grozelle identifies with Harry Potter in his struggle against arch nemesis Lord Voldemort. Both Corey and Harry have overcome some pretty incredible odds to get to where they are now. Corey, age 19, is graduating with a high school diploma this year, a significant achievement that was difficult to imagine when he started school 14 years ago. Corey was diagnosed with a communication delay at an early age, and later, with autism.
“When Corey started school, he had very few words,” explains his mother Charmaine. “He also didn’t like to get dirty and couldn’t tolerate loud sounds. But we got through it by taking one day at a time.”
One in 10 Canadians is affected by a learning disability. And those with learning disabilities are twice as likely not to complete high school as the general population. They are also more likely to drop out before graduation, according to a study commissioned by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.
Adapting to school
Often school routines are not conducive towards those with learning disabilities because of the fixed schedules and the constant shift from one subject to another. “The beginning of the school year was the hardest part for Corey,” says Charmaine. “Getting him adjusted to school again, after the long gap of the holidays, was hard, and it seemed as if he had to relearn everything. As he got older, it was easier.”
But schools are becoming more responsive to the needs of those with learning disabilities, says Sasha Korper, resource facilitator with the Learning Disabilities Association of Peterborough (LDAP) in Northumberland. “School staff, in partnership with parents and the student, can develop a customized program with a flexible schedule that can include locally developed courses, co-op placement, and so on. Students might take five or five-and-a-half years to complete high school, instead of four.”
Students with learning disabilities are more likely to achieve success at school if they have a supportive family and specially-trained teachers.
Corey was fortunate to have had both. Since Grade 7, he has worked with educational assistant and private tutor Anne Young, with whom he developed a special rapport. “Anne has been a big influence in Corey’s life. She taught him reading, math and life skills, such as writing a resume, banking and going on trips,” says Charmaine. (Parents can find peer and volunteer tutors at their local school or through the learning disabilities association in their area.).
Charmaine beams as she says, “We are so happy that because of the help Corey received, he will be graduating high school this year.”
“It’s important to consider what is best for the individual child,” says Korper. Too often, she says, parents and teachers have their own ideas about what constitutes success. “Attending university is not the right path for every student. For some, training for certification works best. It’s important for them to work to their strengths, while becoming a well-rounded person. We want each child to reach his/her highest potential.”
The “wait-to-fail approach” doesn’t work, says Korper. “We don’t like to wait until a child is really struggling to form a plan,” says Korper. “Typically, students are encouraged to think through the high school transition in Grade 8 – meetings with school representatives and a tour of the new school is standard practice for identified kids. Kids with learning disabilities really benefit from this extra support. Parents, along with school staff and the student, can help build a schedule that evenly distributes difficult subjects over the year and includes a study strategies course.
“The idea,” she continues, “is to take the pressure off the kids and set them up for success – to give them lots of options and let them work at their own pace.”
For Corey, all the hard work was worth it. “I’m really happy to be graduating this year,” he says proudly. Corey has also achieved high honours in athletics, winning bronze at the Ontario level in the 100-metre dash. His future plans include going back to school to study communications technology. Corey currently works part-time at a local restaurant.
Like Harry Potter, Corey has a future that’s wide open.