Interview with Sandy Cook of Learning Abled Kids


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Client Creatives is pleased to announce the Grand Prize winner in their Entrepreneurial Parent Sweepstakes. This is an interview with the winner who founded a resource and support website for parents who are home schooling children with learning disabilities.

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Interview with Sandy Cook of Learning Abled Kids

  1. 1. We're excited to announce the winner of our "Entrepreneurial Parents" sweepstakes and hope her story will inspire others. Sandy Cook of Learning Abled Kids, L. L. C. will be receiving a marketing package worth $500. Her profile is below. We had a great response from our first contest and will be sharing more profiles with you over the coming weeks. We look forward to hosting more contests and promotions in the future so check back often for updates! Visit us for more information at An Interview with Sandy Cook of Learning Abled Kids, L.L.C. Give us a little background about yourself and your children—how old are they now, and how old were they when you started your business? I’m married with two sons, who are both teenagers. My former career was as a Systems Analyst at Bellsouth Telecommunications. Learning Abled Kids started in 2001 as an online support group when my oldest child was still in public elementary school. At that time, I was looking for solutions to his learning challenges and seeking help in dealing with the lack of appropriate instruction in the public school. Tell us about the challenges you faced when your kids were in the public school system. In October of my oldest son’s kindergarten year, he came home from school one day and asked me, “Why doesn’t my brain work right?” By November, he was scheduled for testing and a few Thus, our travels down the months later he had an IEP established for speech-language homeschooling road began services. Unfortunately, the school system failed to provide a with one excited young son comprehensive educational evaluation, and failed to identify ready to learn anything he my son’s extensive learning disabilities. By the end of first wanted, one son who was grade, my son was showing no ability to read, struggling to learn convinced he couldn’t learn, his letters, and writing was very difficult for him. My husband and and one terrified mom! I were fairly certain there were learning disabilities at play, but the school would not test for learning disabilities. In the summer before second grade, we took our son for a comprehensive evaluation by a qualified neuropsychologist. Our son was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, executive dysfunction, Attention Deficit Disorder (Inattentive type), and a very slow processing speed, however he has a high IQ.
  2. 2. At that juncture, we began ‘battling’ with the public school, trying desperately to get specialized reading services in place that would address our son’s special learning needs. The school adamantly refused to provide services because our son wasn’t “failing yet”, even though he couldn’t read. Our son was able to compensate because of his high intellect. He was able to squeak by with passing grades by looking at pictures in context even though he couldn’t read. Through the courts, our son was granted educational services for reading, but the services were poorly provided. After two years in the school’s Reading Resource program, our son was still not showing any meaningful improvement in his reading ability. When our son was in fourth grade, the Assistant Principal at our school told us our son would probably NEVER read well, and was "definitely NOT college material". That was the school’s expectation after our son had been in school for five years and was not reading. Our son wanted to go to college to become a scientist, and we were determined to insure that he could go down the educational path that would lead him to his chosen career. The moment the AP told us that our son was not college material became a pivotal point that ultimately turned us toward homeschooling. Knowing that dyslexia runs in families, we also had our youngest son tested for learning disabilities when he was in kindergarten. He has a milder form of dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Disorder (Mixed Type – Inattentive and active). Our youngest son was in the gifted program, and was very bored with school. Our youngest was already multiplying in the second grade, and wanted to learn long division. However, the teacher told us they “couldn’t” let him learn long division or he’d be even more bored the following year. It was clear that the public education, classroom model of learning was not benefiting either of our sons in a meaningful way. Our youngest son wanted to accelerate his learning, and our oldest son needed good, solid remedial instruction. Thus, our travels down the homeschooling road began with one excited young son ready to learn anything he wanted, one son who was convinced he couldn’t learn, and one terrified mom! There are lots of resources on your site for parents who are considering home schooling . Are there many parents in your network who use the resources on your site to supplement their child’s education even though they are not home schooling? Do you have any advice for parents who are not ready to home school but have kids struggling in Public Schools? There are a number of parents who use the materials to supplement their child’s schooling during the summer or in the evenings. From experience, I know it is difficult to make meaningful headway when working with a child at the end of a long school day. The child is tired, and not at his best for learning, but any help a parent can provide will add some measure of improvement. Those parents who want to
  3. 3. help their children during the summer make up the largest group of non-homeschooling parents who utilize and who participate in our discussion group. I have a LOT I could say to parents who have kids struggling in public school. I completed the Parent Leadership Support Program provided by the Georgia Advocacy Office ( which gave me a lot of additional insight outside of my own experiences with public education. From that training, and knowing how pervasive failure to meet a child’s learning needs is a problem in public schools, I would tell parents foremost—YOU HAVE to be an advocate for your child, or he will fall through the cracks. Unless a parent acknowledges there is a problem, and directly requests services, the schools will often let a child fall through the cracks. Your child is YOUR child, and it is YOUR job to make sure your child gets what he needs educationally. Given that—it is far easier said than done. Parents need to have their child tested by a qualified neuropsychologist if they suspect learning disabilities, the parents must equip themselves with knowledge about their child’s disabilities, and they must become knowledgeable about their child’s educational rights. The best resources for parents trying to work through the public school system are From Emotions to Advocacy ( ), WrightsLaw (, and Learning Disabilities Online ( ). Those websites were mainstays for me when my sons were in public school. Among the accomplishments you state on your website, you were able to bring your child with severe dyslexia from a 1.9 grade reading level to a college level within two and a half years of beginning home schooling and each child is above grade-level in every subject except spelling. Clearly, your decision to home school has led to many successes and had a positive impact on your own family. What was the biggest challenge when you first got started? In the beginning, the biggest challenge was my own confidence in my ability to provide for my sons’ educational needs. Although I had completed a 56-hour Orton-Gillingham course, which is the method required to teach a child with dyslexia to read, my self-doubt and the repetitiveness of the teaching often left me in tears during our first six months of homeschooling. My son believed he couldn’t learn, and was very resistant to working on reading. I often questioned if I was doing the right thing by homeschooling. My sole comfort was that my son had been in public school for five years, had received two years of special education services, and was still not reading—Therefore, I kept telling myself it’d be difficult for me to have a worse outcome. Luckily, having a better outcome was far easier than I had anticipated, we exceeded all expectations I had or the school ever dreamed. My son’s progress at the end of the first homeschooling year became an ongoing inspiration for me, and still is what motivates me today.. I KNOW there are other children out there like my son.
  4. 4. In your experience in dealing with so many other parents who have made the transition to homeschooling, what tends to be the most challenging aspect? Does it differ quite a bit from family to family or do you tend to see the same challenges you faced? When a child has been in public school, and faced learning difficulties, his parents are often in “panic” mode by the time they pull their child out of school. The parents are seldom fully prepared for the realities of daily homeschooling, and the child is often quite far behind peers, which makes schooling all the more difficult. The biggest challenge is that parents have been so focused on trying to get the school to provide a viable program, they haven’t had the time to adequately prepare for homeschooling. The parent has to research curriculum, learn about various remedial programs, purchase materials, and mentally prepare themselves for the full-time job of homeschooling a child with special learning needs. When parents pull their kids out of school, they often have to start schooling at a level several years behind the child’s grade level, which is a challenge all by itself. When a child is in middle school or high school, and still not reading, the challenge of finding materials that are at a level the child can use, yet teach content the child is cognitively ready to handle is difficult. The parent must provide more intense educational experiences in order to bring the child up to grade level. Parents also have to deal with low self-esteem issues their children develop after floundering for years in school. Motivating a child to learn when he knows he’s behind is a challenge all by itself, but is doubly difficult when the instruction needs to be intense. The instruction itself, the means by which a parent addresses a learning disability, will totally depend upon the individual child’s needs. Thus, programs for individual children often look very different from one child to the next, and often are quite different from the programs we used. In teaching each of my sons, their learning styles and learning needs require the use of different programs. The biggest key for the parent is to determine the child’s learning style, strengths, and deficits, then meet the child’s needs by teaching through his strengths. Through your personal journey to help your own kids, you have now become a resource to help so many other families. How large is your network of families through Learning Abled Kids now, and where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years? The website has about 10,000 visitors each month. The Learning Abled Kids online support group has nearly 1,300 members. The Learning Abled Kids online group focuses on providing positive, solutions-oriented support where parents seek to help and encourage each other. In five years, both of my sons will have graduated from high school. Currently, I am working on business models to lay out the path which I will take with Learning Abled Kids, L.L.C. after my homeschooling job is complete. I have been writing a step-by-step guide for parents to teach them how to determine and meet their children’s learning needs, so I hope to get that guidebook published around the time my youngest child graduates from high school. When my sons have gone off to college, I also see myself
  5. 5. traveling to homeschooling conferences or holding seminars to teach parents how to meet their child’s unique learning needs, and as a motivational speaker to encourage all parents to step in and insure their child is getting the type of education he needs. Please describe some of the rewards you’ve experienced as a mother and a business owner since starting Learning Abled Kids. The reward for me as a mother is in knowing I made a pivotal decision which enabled my sons to be educationally successful, and in knowing I am helping countless other struggling children become successful each day. I am a virtual homescooling influence on the lives of every child taught by a parent who has been impacted by the website and/or support group. Whenever a parent thanks me for making their job easier, I feel a measure of personal fulfillment that cannot be measured in terms of monetary success. Professionally speaking, the road has been one of great personal growth. I completed my Master’s Degree in Instructional Design in 2006, which has enabled me to be more effective in coaching parents through the process of developing programs to meet their child’s individual needs. As a business owner, I am often contacted about new assistive technology, new learning programs, and new developments in the learning field. This is a great reward because it allows me to be most effective in helping parents help their children. Before my kids were enrolled in public school, I never fathomed that my life path would lead me to become a specialist in homeschooling children with learning disabilities. However, now that I’m on this road—I find the work immensely uplifting, and I believe it is the destination God created for me when He put me on this earth.