By Tammy Elkon
It is hard to believe that just three years ago I didn’t know the first thing about neurodiversity… at least as far as giving a name to the struggles my family and I were facing every day. I have two boys, now 13 and 10. While we knew pretty early that both had ADHD, my youngest struggled in school. Despite the fact that Max was bright, reading proved impossible for him. Even with various school interventions and home teaching strategies, he struggled with blending sounds of letters and words. Finally, a private clinical assessment let me know Max was dyslexic.
Cue the beginnings of a major life change.
Faced with this challenge, my mission in life crystalized into focus: getting Max the help he needed to learn to read, which I believe is the very cornerstone of a successful life. With Max’s diagnosis and intervention plan in hand, we embarked on a major learning offensive. And while Max could not read one word before starting 2nd grade, Max was reading and writing at his level at the end of 3rd grade.
Our two-year journey to literacy changed everything for me. At the time, I was an Assistant Vice President of Digital Technology & Innovation at a Fortune 50 telecommunications company. When faced with the eighth work relocation of my 20+ years, I jumped at the opportunity…to leave my job behind and follow my heart.
Last year, I set out to use my extensive background in technology to find a way to help parents like me figure out why certain children struggle to read. If I learned anything with Max it was this: people with dyslexia are not disabled, lazy, or illiterate. Children, well, all people really, just have different learning paths––learning paths that are as unique as their fingerprints. It just so happens some “fingerprints” of children fall into a spectrum that qualifies them as having a “learning difference” where they need different teaching strategies to connect their learning paths to knowledge.
People with ADHD and dyslexia have to work even harder because it is such a challenge to focus and stay motivate when letters and word blends fail to make a connection. I watched a young boy come home daily from school exhausted from trying to learn. He’d sit down to do his homework, have to take a break, and then he’d start up all over again.
While doing homework one night, Max and I talked about inventing a solution that would help other kids, just like my teaching strategies helped Max. The idea was to build a software that could determine the best and quickest way a child could learn––i.e. identifying a child’s unique learning path. On that night, at the kitchen table, the GenTree Discover online learning application was born. Max the boy, was singularly responsible for the design of the product’s lovable main character, Max the Bear. Max the Bear’s job is to help all kids reach their full academic potential.
It is a fact that people with dyslexia work two or three times harder than someone who has typical developmentally-appropriate reading skills. People with ADHD and dyslexia have to work even harder because it is such a challenge to focus and stay motivate when letters and word blends fail to make a connection. I watched a young boy come home daily from school exhausted from trying to learn. He’d sit down to do his homework, have to take a break, and then he’d start up all over again. Over and over and over. Max does not play video games – they don’t seem to interest him. He wears headphones and is connected on his iPad most of the time, and multi-tasking helps him focus. I began to realize that Max is an auditory learner – which means he learns best what he hears and speaks instead of what he reads. Using my STEM background, I have poured all of this hands-on “mom” experience into GenTree Discover. I now have the satisfaction of knowing that there’s an easy, online solution parents can now turn to help identify their own children’s unique learning path.
GenTree Discover embraces the power of neurodiversity to help give each child the greatest opportunity to achieve in learning and in life. I invite you to try the assessment with your child. Please visit www.gentreediscover.com using a Chrome browser and enter the promo code “freedom”. You will go through the process to get your on-line assessment activation code sent to your email. Please let me know any feedback after the assessment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tammy Elkon is as a former Assistant Vice President of Digital Technology & Innovation at AT&T, and in that role has a proven track record of challenging conventional thought and conceptualizing solutions to deliver consistently successful outcomes––be it expenses saved, revenue generated, or simply improving quality of experience. Today, she is funneling her relentless approach and passion for innovation into a new technology venture to change the learning assessment industry.
Tammy is a subject matter expert in conceptual and applied cognitive science, which includes multi-sensory assessments and executive functioning skills for children. She has completed the required research efforts in fields such as Brain Plasticity and Personalized Learning for the Individual and Family and is a provisional Certified Family Life Educator by the National Council on Family Relations. She most recently was an invited guest at the Clinton Global Initiative membership roundtable as well as a presenter during President Obama’s National Maker’s Week.