What role should a father play in a home where one (or more) child has learning disabilities? How important is the dad’s voice and presence when meeting with school personnel? In this interview, dad-vocate and NCLD Parent Leader, Michael Kaczor shares a number of interesting tips. Michael is an Independent Master Advocate who works to ensure not only his son’s rights, but also the rights of students in various school districts and states.
Karen Golembeski: My name is Karen Golembeski and I work for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. You are joining us for one part of our series on “Dad-vocates.” Today I have Michael Kaczor with me. And I’m going to ask Michael to introduce himself and give us a little bit of information about where he is from.
Michael Kaczor: Well, good morning, and thank you for having me. My name is Michael Kaczor and I am an Independent Master Advocate for children with disabilities in the state of New Mexico. And I also offer my services in Colorado and Kentucky.
I work at both the LEA (Local Educational Authority) and SEA (State Educational Authority) levels. I also work at the state level, in trying to pass legislation for children with dyslexia.
Karen Golembeski: Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. Let’s start on our first question. For any number of reasons, moms tend to get the credit for most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to supporting their children with learning disabilities at home and school. What roles do you think dads should play when it comes to the day-to-day routines for helping their children with learning disabilities to be successful at home and at school?
Michael Kaczor: Well, [helping their children with LD is one of] the greatest things dads can do. I like to define dads in two ways these days: there is the stay-at-home dad and then there is the at-work dad. And these days — with the workforce and the economy — there are a lot more stay-at-home dads. I was a stay-at-home dad myself. Being an adult with dyslexia, I had to raise my own son with dyslexia, which was one of my greatest joys ever.
Another role dads can play is to advocate for them, of course.
And the thing that dads can do to support moms who are staying at home, dealing with the school district day-in and day-out, is to make sure they attend all meetings with the mom. You really have to be flexible in your schedule so that the school district realizes you are unified force, because school districts do believe in “divide and conquer.” So make sure you’re a good team, you’re together, you discuss the issues, you know what you want for your child and you’re willing to stand up for it.
So support mom. Also listen to her, be a sounding board. She is learning a lot of stuff every day that she doesn’t necessarily want or need to know, so your support at home and listening to what’s going on [is important]. Another thing is helping with the kid’s academics, homework at night. Of course I don’t allow more than 10 minutes per grade (and that’s suggested). I suggest you do [the homework] too, but pick out some part of the homework that you like, some part that Mom likes, and support the child. And don’t forget to love all the other children at the same time, especially if you’re giving a bunch of attention to one child. So spread it around.
Karen Golembeski: Michael, you mentioned your suggestion for 10 minutes of homework per grade. Can you tell us what that means?
Michael Kaczor: What that means is, as a child’s progressing from grade-to-grade, in first grade they should have no more than 10 minutes of homework per night. And sixth grade, that’s 60 minutes (an hour) of homework per night. That’s what’s recommended by national research as being the appropriate amount of homework.
Too often a child with LD or dyslexia, the child comes home from school and the parents end up re-teaching a seven- or eight-hour [school] day. The child will understand it completely, go back to school, and forget everything the next day. That’s one of the difficulties. The repetition is good, but if the child keeps spending 16 hours a day [learning at school and home], you’re going to get tired and frustrated and upset, and so is the child.
Karen Golembeski: That makes a lot of sense. How important do you think it is for dads to have a voice when it comes to discussions with school personnel? Does it help? Does is hurt? Does is matter to have dads at the table?
Michael Kaczor: Well, first of all, it matters and it matters greatly. Dads can impact an IEP team’s decision-making process simply by their presence. It’s good that they inform themselves about their parental rights and procedural safeguards, so that they know their rights and as well as their children’s rights and education.
It’s very important to know these things because the [school] district — even though it’s their job to inform you of these rights, [they] often just hand you a piece of paper and ask you to sign it — that they gave you the piece of paper. That piece of paper is very important. It contains a breakdown of what your parental rights and procedural safeguards are. You should at least know those.
Know about your child’s disability. Know about what remediation is going to look like. If it’s a reading or writing disability, [ask], “What kinds of goals are we going to put in the IEP to address those needs?”
Karen Golembeski: You’ve given us a lot of great tips already, but if you had two tips to share with other dads or for other family members, what would they be?
Michael Kaczor: The first would be: Learn all about your parental rights and procedural safeguards. That’s number one, because if you are not informed, you can’t possibly make informed decisions for your child. And when you sit on an IEP team — the Individualized Education Program team — you want to be able to make informed decisions. Always [remember]: The parent is the expert on their own child. Nobody knows more about your child than you do. You live with them day in day out, you’ve been there ever since they were born. Never ever let an IEP team tell you they know more about your child than you do.
The second thing I would say is that it’s important to keep your expectations high for your child. They read your eyes, they know your body movements. They know how you act spiritually, socially, emotionally. So if you have low expectations for your child, much like the study that was done back in ‘60s, called the Pygmalion effect or Pygmalion study, we know that those children will start having low expectations for themselves. So if you want your child to be president and that’s your dream, keep that dream alive.
Karen Golembeski: Great. Michael, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve given us so many great things to think about and hopefully have inspired other dads to participate more effectively with their children with learning disabilities and also pass the word around to other fathers to get more involved.