Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rick Lavoie Holds Our Attention for an Entire Day

On Friday, March 6th, seventeen of us, along with 148 teachers and parents, spent the day with Rick Lavoie at the LDAU's (Learning Disabilities Association of Utah) 2015 Conference, held at the Red Lion Hotel in Salt Lake City. Rick, through humor and storytelling, engaged us in examining two aspects of difficulties often associated with learning disabilities: socialization and motivation.


Imagine living with a group of friends. You and your roommate (the person with whom you share your room) are close and routinely borrow items from each other. Yesterday, you borrowed your roommate's brand new tube of toothpaste. No problem.

Rick Lavoie explains how to perform a "Social Skill Autopsy."
While in the bathroom, someone else asks to use the toothpaste. You say, "Sure." You shower, and then go about your business.

Hours later, your roommate says, "Hey, my toothpaste's missing!" You say what happened. Your roommate is now mad at you.

You think: Why? What did I do?

This scenario was just one of many stories Rick shared with us from his wealth of experience in administrative positions at residential programs. This "living laboratory" provided the opportunity for him to develop and refine his philosophies and methods for working effectively with youth who have learning disabilities. But he didn't leave us hanging, he presented us with lots of ways to help individuals with learning disabilities to develop their social skills.

More specifically, Rick described his method called a "Social Skill Autopsy," in which he talks the person through the situation to figure out the real problem and then helps the person develop strategies for handling the situation "next time." For homework, the person then looks for ways to apply this strategy to similar situations. (Read It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Helping the Child with Learning Disabilities Find Social Success by Richard Lavoie for more information. Hard cover, paperback, or Kindle versions available.)


Imagine that you are a poor reader. Every Tuesday, you are required to stand up in front of the class to read aloud. This reading in front of your classmates brings you an onslaught of negative responses both from your teacher and your classmates. The teasing from your classmates however lasts longer than just that moment in time that you are standing in front of the room. So much so, that you end up in fist fights after school. In return, you get severely punished by your parents when you get home.

You are in emotional pain and embarrassment. You don't want to be ridiculed again. So you figure out ways to be "sick" on Tuesdays so you can avoid this humiliation. For the next several month, you successfully avoid this pain.

Your teacher however complains to your parents that you "lack motivation." Rick points out that in fact you are highly motivated because you have successfully escaped the pain and humiliation associated with the Tuesday morning "pick on me" festival everyone was routinely having at your expense.

Rick asked us to look closer at our behaviors to determine more distinctly at what underlies what we do. For example, the person in the scenario above was truly motivated, just not in the way his teacher wanted him to be motivated. Rick took this idea one step further to state that the role of teachers (and parents) is to help individuals figure out what motivates them in order to help the individual move forward to accomplish societal and individual goals. (For more information, read The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning On the Tuned-Out Child by Richard Lavoie. Hard cover, paperback, or Kindle versions available.)

Our Learnings

The three stories that were re-told most often to other learners the following week were the holiday party, call me back, and the sign. The "party" story focused on a mother of three children in which one child had learning disabilities. The children's grandmother invited the entire family this year's family Christmas party, except for the grandchild with learning disabilities. The child had proven in the past to be too disruptive. Our group felt for the ostracized child. They commented about times they weren't invited or welcome to some events.

The "call me back" story touched many hearts. This story was about a teacher calling a parent to complain about the child's behavior in school. The teacher began the call with "I'm supposed to start this call by saying something positive about your child, but quite frankly I can't think of anything." The mother responded with "Then call me back when you can" and hung up. Our group loved this sentiment. They all agreed that everyone can find something positive about anyone.

The third story about the sign proved a different point. Rick told us that he decorated the conference room reserved for parent-teacher meetings. In addition to the usual furniture, he allowed only one item hanging on the wall. The wall hanging was a large sign with the African proverb that loosely translated into "When elephants fight, the only thing that gets trampled is the grass." This sign was a visual reminder that parents and teachers needed to see eye-to-eye because their decisions impacted the grass or - in Rick's case - the lives of the children under scrutiny. Our group loved this sentiment.

Several people from our group reported that Rick was speaking directly to them - telling their stories. One person was ready to walk out within the first half hour, because he felt exposed - Rick Lavoie "is talking about me." Another learner told us that Rick's presentation helped him see the connection between his learning disabilities and friend-making differently.

The bottom line: Each of us gained "food for thought" about issues, along with several proven strategies for solving some of these issues, that affect all of us daily.

Thank You!

All of us from Literacy Action Center greatly appreciated the opportunity to spend time listening to Rick Lavoie in person. Thank you, Rick!

Thank you to the board of LDAU (Learning Disabilities Association of Utah) for bringing Rick Lavoie to Utah AND for providing scholarships to twelve of our adult learners. Without your financial support this opportunity would not have been possible for this group.

Thank you also to the Utah State Office of Education - Special Education Services for providing scholarships to many parents and teachers across the state.

Thank you also to S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation for their financial support that allowed LDAU to bring Rick Lavoie into our lives!

Note: If you ever get a chance to listen to Rick Lavoie in person, we highly recommend that you take it!

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