"I want to you to think of yourself as fourth-graders," said Steven John Corelis, of Educational Therapy Services, to a group of parents and teachers last Thursday night at Los Altos Christian School.
The role playing did not end there, as participants were asked to perform a series of tests, part of a learning disability simulation.
The simulation was sponsored by "Parents Helping Parents," a Santa Clara-based organization that offers support and services for children with special needs and their families. Corelis facilitated the event.
"You are going to be experiencing distraction, confusion, and pressure," Corelis said. "All of these things are typical to what the student who is learning different faces every day."
The two-hour simulation is divided into three parts: a five-minute introduction, a six-part simulation, and a debriefing.
Participants join small groups and attend a "class" at each station, designed to focus on particular learning difficulties. Classes are held by moderators or "teachers" who guide participants through the exercises.
For example, the "spelling test" is designed to simulate hearing loss or auditory hearing problems. Participants are asked to take a spelling test while getting their spelling words from a muffled and garbled audio tape.
"They do have a difficult time even with just the easy things we take for granted," said parent Janie Pollano, who has a daughter with a learning disability. "I think all of these exercises were valid. I could not do any of them."
The "mirror writing" exercise simulated problems with visual or motor tasks. Participants had to try and trace shapes, and write numbers and letters while looking at their writing hand through a mirror.
"It was hard to get your hand to go the opposite way. I couldn't get my hand to do what I wanted it to," said parent Julian Cervantes.
After an 90 minutes of participating in their fourth-grade learning disabled environment, parents and teachers were ready to call it a school day. After everyone had participated in each exercise and had a chance to talk about their feelings after each simulation, it was time for the group to meet and discuss their feelings as a whole.
Corelis asked people to give one-word answers as to how they felt during the simulation, which he then wrote on a white board. Words like frustration, tired, embarrassed, hopeless, stressed and unintelligent, made the list.
"You came into this room as parents and teachers, hopefully with a very high self-image," Corelis said. "After putting you through the stations, you can see how self-image can drop over the years out of these kids."
He said students with learning disabilities sometimes cannot help acting out or engaging in habits like fidgeting or being easily distracted.
It is important for parents and teachers to recognize the different learning needs of children and to accommodate them, Corelis said.
For more information about Learning Disability Simulations, call Parents Helping Parents at (408) 727-5775.