Hill School’s vision is to “provide students with learning differences the skills and strategies to succeed on their own.” In February, we hosted our first learning differences symposium for our 9-12 grade students to help them become experts of their learning and take ownership of their successes.

The focus of the symposium was meant to be on the students. It was crucial that the sessions addressed the positive aspects of each learning difference. For too long, society has viewed learning differences as something that is abnormal or wrong, so we recruited speakers that would highlight specific strengths and encourage students to be confident in their unique gifts. It was also important that students walked away understanding the resources available to them at Hill School, as well as additional strategies for after graduation.

The day was structured so all students would attend sessions based on three primary diagnoses of Hill School students: Attention-deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), specific learning disorders in reading, math and written expression, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Although not all students met the criteria for all the diagnoses covered, each session included valuable information, to not only help each student be successful, but to also better understand their peers.

Hill School is fortunate to have well-respected professionals from the area who are enthusiastic about our mission and the opportunity to pour into our students. Dulce Torres, a mental health counselor & ADHD coach, spoke on attention and focus, while child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Brian Dixon addressed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Reading specialist and professor Dr. Kary Johnson explained the specific learning differences in reading (dyslexia), math (dyscalculia), dysgraphia, and written expression. Kristina Clark is assistant director of Disability Accommodations at UNT Health Science Center, and educated students on self-advocating, seeking out and receiving services, and taking advantage of resources in the college setting.

Students attended sessions, volunteered questions, collected handouts from speakers, and concluded the morning with a reflection sheet that included new information they learned, personal strengths, learning strategies, people in their support system, and how to talk about learning difference(s). This gives students a resource to refer back to when communicating with teachers, college professors and future employers.