Learning differently, not learning difficulty – Malay Mail 9/06/2014

KUALA LUMPUR — “As a teenager, my middle son said to me, ‘when I couldn’t read in class I felt stupid, but, when I was sent to a tutor and still couldn’t read, I knew I was stupid” reveals Hillary Craig.

“His maths was excellent, but he couldn’t read. I didn’t deal with his learning differences very well and it has raddled me with guilt. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been much better,” says Craig, at the launch of her first book, ‘Small Steps, Big Differences: A Toolkit for Parents of Children Who Fall through the Cracks’, in Solaris Mont Kiara.

In addition to her son’s learning challenges, it was Craig’s participation in her community college programme to upgrading prisoners’ skills (before they are released) that exposed her to the vastness of this dilemma.

“In my small sample of inmates, I found they had fine minds but they all could not read early in school and that made them feel stupid. They slowly began to fall back and eventually went astray. The prisoners seemed to have no sense of value of themselves. As children they couldn’t do what people expected of them, so they believed — ‘why try’?”

Hillary, a teacher of 28 years, backed with a host of tertiary qualifications in education as well as specialist qualifications in special needs and child psychology, suddenly realised ‘the link between doing well in the early years in school and ones place in society later on’. And this, together with a nudge from her second child, led her to develop ways to help children who need to learn differently.

Marina Tei says she discovered her five-year-old son had learning differences. He seemed intelligent but she realised he was not reading. In fact he was memorising what’s in books, and he would repeat the stories but could not point to the word ‘the’. She also discovered he was gluten and lactose intolerant.

“I took him to various specialists and he went through many tests to try and help him with his lessons, but nobody could help. During my numerous attempts to help my son, my reflexologist told me about an Irish lady in Kuala Lumpur named Hillary Craig who might be able to help us. I rushed to track her down and in spite of her leaving for Australia that evening, I convinced her Hillary Craig we needed to meet immediately,” recalls the Argentinian.

“It was Hillary who showed him how his brain worked differently from others. Once I tried helping him with his spelling and he told me “mum this is not how my brain works so please back off,” says the divorced mother of two.

‘Small Steps, Big Differences’ art illustrator Sarah Jane Hartney is another parent whose children benefited from Craig’s methods.

“At a class presentation, my eldest son turned his back on the class. When he was asked questions, he just couldn’t understand it. He withdrew into himself,” whispers Hartney.

“When a person can’t understand why they seem different or appear not as smart as the next, their confidence is shattered and that has a devastating effect. It was only when we got here, and this centre was able to pin point and identify the support he needed.”

Hilary’s first book ‘Small Steps, Big Differences: A Toolkit for Parents of Children Who Fall through the Cracks’ is a practical resource for parents with children who learn differently.

It is now available for purchase at Hils Learning Sdn Bhd. For more information log on to www.hilslearning.com.