Out of the Box

Kimberley DeLape, Alicia Smith, Neil Bush and Deborah Duncan.

By Deborah Duncan –

With summer break, many kids and teachers will rejoice in time off and many parents will, too. At least for a few months, the struggle over homework will cease. That’s especially welcomed by parents of kids with learning disabilities. Homework can be an extra tough battle producing tantrums and tears.

At a lunch with a group of mothers the other day, the same conversation I seem to have with every group of moms came up again. The majority of us have kids with learning disabilities, everything from dyslexia to ADHD, you name it.  Although the diagnoses may be different, all of our kids just seem to see things differently.

When I say to my son, as a figure of speech, that 2 + 2 = 4, my son has responded with, “2 + 1 + 1 also equals 4, and 4 + 0, and 3 + 1 and 2 + 3 – 1.  So, are you sure you just want to use 2 + 2 to make your point?”

It brings up a point made during a recent interview with Neil Bush, son and brother to two presidents. He was the speaker at a luncheon supporting Lutheran South Academy. Out of all of the Bush kids, Neil jokes that he was his mom’s favorite. That was probably true based on how Barbara Bush had to fight for her son’s education. We’ve all heard the saying, “Think out of the box.” The fact of the matter is, many kids with so called learning disabilities never got in the box. Is that such a bad thing? Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs –  didn’t they all think “out of the box?”

Neil Bush spoke about how he struggled in school because of his dyslexia. He was a likable, seemingly smart kid, but it wasn’t reflected in his grades. It was frustrating for him, his teachers and of course, his mom. A school counselor just didn’t think Neil could learn. In fact, the counselor predicted that Neil would never graduate from high school. Mrs. Bush challenged that thought suggesting that perhaps it wasn’t about how Neil learned but rather how he was being taught.

Eventually, Neil proved the counselor wrong and blossomed in college earning a Master’s Degree. He says the reason why college worked for him is because he could actually choose the course of education that he was interested in. If you have a child with learning challenges, Neil encourages parents to find out what it is that ignites a flame in their child’s brain. Although schools have guidelines that they have to follow, as a parent, you can custom design your child’s education outside of the classroom. In closing, Neil added, “We all have God given gifts, and when we encourage those in children, they don’t struggle as hard, and they will eventually find their place.”

He also wanted to make clear that he has much admiration and respect for teachers, but they need our help. Education should not be up to just teachers but to the whole community. Neil has inherited that cause from his mother, taking over the fundraising for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. “As someone who found it very hard to read, I am thankful for a mother who not only helped me but set out to help so many others. One in five people can’t read and that impacts all of us.”

When people can’t read, it generally means fewer employment options giving way to poverty and even crime as a necessary evil to make ends meet. Neil and his wife, Maria, recently co-chaired the gala, “A Celebration of Reading.” By championing the cause, we help keep our community and our country strong.

Who knows?  The help we give a child today may produce a strong president tomorrow!