Are you ever curious what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes? Have you ever wished you could learn more about what your child, friend, grandchild, or someone in your life is experiencing when they say they have dyslexia or when you hear they struggle to learn how to read?
Learning about the experiences of other people can help us better understand them. It can also help us develop empathy so we can offer our support and encouragement.
Walk in the Shoes is an interactive workshop hosted by the Learning Center at Hamlin Robinson School. It offers participants the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities that simulate the challenges and frustrations students with learning differences may experience in a traditional school setting. The goal is to change the way participants understand the experience of students with language-based learning differences. It’s often the first time parents of students with learning difference begin to understand why their child may say, do, or react at school or at home in a certain way. Ideally, it results in increasing knowledge and understanding, shifting perspectives, and building compassion.
As a result of the pandemic, our signature Walk in the Shoes event was put on hiatus. We knew from experience this event wouldn’t and couldn’t be as effective if we weren’t able to hold it in-person because the value is in the social experience and interaction. Finally, on May 26, we were able to offer this workshop to our community. It had been so long I almost forgot how important and instrumental Walk in the Shoes is in helping others understand what it’s like to be a student who learns differently.
So, what's it like to have dyslexia?
The reality is, how a person experiences dyslexia is different for everyone. If you have dyslexia, you might have trouble reading words you've seen over and over. You might read slowly and feel you have to work extra hard when reading compared to your peers. You might mix up the letters in a word - for example, reading the word "pat” as "tap" or "left" as "felt." Words may blend together and spaces might be lost. You might have a hard time identifying or placing punctuation.
You might be easily distracted by sounds or movement. You might have trouble remembering what you've read. Or, you may remember more when the same information is read to you or you hear or see it in the air. Word problems in math may be hard, even if you've mastered the basics of arithmetic. If you're doing a presentation in front of the class, you might have trouble finding the right words.
When we experience difficulties or challenges in front of our peers, it's normal to have a reaction. This is exactly what happens during the Walk in the Shoes simulations. Those in the population without a language-based learning difference are experiencing what it might feel like. This feeling will cause a reaction – and that reaction can be different for everyone. Some people might giggle or laugh, some people might get very quiet, some people will get anxious and feel stressed out, others might try different tools or methods to work around the difficulty. Regardless, everyone walks away with a new perspective.
Once we Walk in the Shoes, it comes as no surprise to learn people with dyslexia find ways to work around their learning difference, so no one will know they're having trouble. This may save some embarrassment, but usually it just makes life hard. Dyslexia is misunderstood because it is unexpected and invisible.
What we know to be true is up to 20% of the general population has a language-based learning difference, such as dyslexia. Walk in the Shoes helps us better understand those who experience it and provides an important reminder of why access to our program is life-changing.
After all, how can we truly support these students without understanding the challenges they experience in a general education classroom?
Walk in the Shoes was sorely missed during the pandemic. I am so glad we are able to return to offering this unique and creative simulation. At Hamlin Robinson School, we will do whatever we can to create a welcoming school environment for all students, educate our community, empower others, and demystify language-based learning differences.
Head of School