This letter is addressed to members and supporters of the Individual Differences in Learning Association to inform you of the present status of our organization, in the context of its 15-year history. In 2001, a small group of parents shared concerns about their bright children and others like them, who were struggling to achieve success in school. These parents were already active in the community as members of other groups: The Special Education Community Advisory Committee (SECAC), Maryland Coalition for Gifted and Talented Education (MCGATE), and the Learning Disabilities Association (LDA). They were aware that other parents were encountering the same frustrations in getting appropriate services for their children, as well as access to advanced level classes. Understanding such diverse and complex needs, this small group of parents was determined to speak for these children. The Individual Differences in Learning Association, co-founded by Trish Budd, Meg Mekelburg and Laurie Rush, was created as a parent-led, non-profit organization, promoting awareness, understanding and change in the approach to educating and supporting students. The mission has been to provide information, training and support for teachers, students, parents and others concerned with the education, health, and social/ emotional well-being of different learners.
A meeting between Trish Budd, a co-founder of the group, and two professionals in the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS): Carey Wright, Director of Special Education and Tom Payne, Coordinator, Advanced Level Programs and Fine Arts, led to collaboration between the two HCPSS departments. This collaboration has continued over the years and has been formalized in advisory and professional development committees that include parents, in addition to school personnel and professionals from the community. Over the last 15 years, IDL has collaborated with the HCPSS to sponsor speakers, who raised awareness regarding the special needs of twice exceptional (2e) learners, bright individuals with challenges to learning that encompass attention-related executive dysfunction, learning disabilities, emotional disorders, and language or social challenges. In April of 2002, the Advanced Level Programs and Fine Arts departments of HCPSS sponsored a conference by Susan Baum, author of “To be Gifted and Learning Disabled.” More recently, collaborations between IDL and HCPSS brought other speakers with national reputations to our county to speak, including John Elder Robinson and Ross Greene. Additionally, as part of a monthly speaker series, IDL hosted Linda Silverman, who spoke about visual-spatial learners, whose gifts are often overlooked in the traditional classroom setting; Johnathan Mooney, who described his own experiences as a 2e learner; Joyce Cooper-Khan, who talked about executive dysfunction; and Rich Weinfeld, who created the original twice exceptional programming for students in Montgomery County and who has published extensively on smart kids with learning disabilities.
Past President of IDL, Trish Budd, and the current President of IDL, Katharina Boser, wrote and produced the educational video series Walking the Path with the Twice Exceptional Learner: Understanding the Paradox of Exceptional Strengths and Weaknesses, distributed to each school in the HCPSS. Funded by grants from the Columbia Foundation and the Horizon Foundation from 2007-2009, this professional development tool was well-received: IDL was recognized by the HCPSS Board of Education for the ‘Friends of Education Award’ in 2004 and by the Howard County Government’s ‘Celebrating Success in Children Award’ in 2007. Dr. Boser and Dr. Julie Morrison, current Vice President of IDL, served on HCPSS’s LD/ADHD professional advisory committees to raise awareness about the needs of twice exceptional students. In 2008, IDL planned and hosted What Works and Why, a conference for professionals, educators, and parents, addressing best practices for twice exceptional students, which also facilitated alliances with other neighboring GT/LD programs in Montgomery, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. In 2010, Dr. Boser, Dr. Morrison, and Dr. Sarah Wayland, a board member of IDL, served on the planning committee for Diamonds in the Rough, a national conference for 2e students. An IDL-sponsored listserv has been a vehicle to post information of interest that has also provided a forum for parents to exchange resources. Dr. Wayland has made invaluable contributions to the listserv, including technical support. We also thank our treasurer over many years Debbie Bleakney and other members, too numerous to mention, who have served in various roles and without whose involvement these accomplishments would not have been possible.
A lot of good has been accomplished over a decade and a half. We have raised awareness regarding the gifts/challenges that 2e students face; collaborated with HCPSS staff and other community organizations, including CHADD and LDA; provided professional development resources; and facilitated education and support to parents of 2e students.
At this time, it is no longer possible for the present leadership of IDL to continue to function in this capacity. We are committed to hosting bi-monthly meetings over the 2016-2017 academic year on November 14th, January 9th, March 13th, and May 8th. During this time, we will seek others to assume leadership of IDL, so that its mission may continue. If we do not identify individuals suitable to assume leadership of the organization by May of 2017, we will regrettably need to dissolve the organization. In anticipation of this possibility, current memberships will be honored through May and no annual memberships will be taken during the 2016-2017 school year. Drs. Boser, Morrison, and Wayland will continue to serve the needs of twice exceptional students in other ways through their professional endeavors.
We all are forever grateful and thankful to the IDL founders and group members who helped us as parents and thus our children navigate school and life during the toughest years. We hope that some of you have also been similarly helped and supported with your families and school issues in turn. It is with these good feelings that we feel we can pass on the group either to those who would like to continue it, or leave it as a wonderful support of our past.