Stupid is a word children use cavalierly. But when it’s flung at a struggling 16-year-old by the dean of a prestigious private school, it can be devastating.
It was at that moment when Lisa Rappaport—on academic probation, with four tutors, a handful of torturous teachers, and a painful ulcer—saw her future. She decided that one day she would become an advocate for children like herself.
Today, Dr. Rappaport is a licensed psychologist and specialist in neuropsychological disorders, whose thriving practice includes counseling, testing, and remediating children (and adults) with LD, ADHD, and developmental delays—a remarkable achievement for someone who felt “stupid” from the time her formal education began.
An Early Diagnosis
As a preschooler, Rappaport was bright, eager, advanced, and had a deep love of learning. Still, her mother suspected something was wrong when her enthusiastic daughter lost interest as the lessons shifted to letters and numbers. By first grade, her problem had a name: dyslexia.
“I think the diagnosis lifts a weight when you’re older; after so many years of being different, you finally discover you’re okay, you’re not stupid,” Rappaport says. “For me, being told I had LD at six had the opposite effect. I felt that I was doomed. I knew there was something about me that was different from my sister and all my friends.”
Rappaport immediately lost confidence and retreated from her friends. She soon became depressed and self-conscious. “By the time I was in first grade, I would come home, sit in front of the TV, and suck my thumb.”
During the mid-1980s when she was diagnosed, the field was full of fads to treat dyslexia. She was subjected to many of them, including elaborate eye exercises that proved as ineffective as the others. Furthermore, the highly competitive private school she attended was a nightmare. She cheated her way through, living in daily fear of being sent to the principal.
“Improve the lives of kids when they are different. Recognize they simply learn differently and give them the power to learn their way.”
Her family was her refuge, particularly her mother, who had a background in education. As Rappaport recalls, “I was programmed every day—psychiatrist, eye institute, etc.—when all I needed was the phonetic and decoding skills that my mom was teaching me.”
The hard work they put in began to pay off. But instead of kudos, her improved grades were met with skepticism. Teachers insisted Rappaport’s mother stop helping her at home. How, they asked, will we know what she needs to learn?
Rather than working as a team, the school discredited her family’s help. Predictably, Rappaport’s grades dropped. “Every time my mom stopped helping me,” she notes, “I stopped learning. To this day, the only math skills I have are the ones she taught me.”
A Dream Fulfilled
Discouraged by her school counselors from attending an academically challenging university, Rappaport’s initial college experience was a disastrous stint at a so-called party school.
But away from the draconian atmosphere of high school, her passion for learning was rekindled, and she enrolled at the New School for Social Research in New York City. From there she transferred to the University of Pennsylvania where she finished her bachelor’s degree. She earned her doctorate in school psychology at Fordham University, where she studied under the renowned psychologist and LD researcher, Rosa Hagin, Ph.D. who became her mentor, colleague, and friend.
Today, Dr. Rappaport emphasizes a solid phonetic approach to reading instruction, and extra time for a child with LD to process information. She looks forward to the day when the education establishment is more tolerant of students with LD.
In the meantime, the very accomplished and busy Rappaport divides her time between the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she is a faculty member on the pediatric unit, and her private practice in Manhattan, where she specializes in neuropsychological evaluations and helping children with LD develop reading, writing, and organizing skills.
Lisa Rappaport is a member of the Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board. To learn more about Dr. Rappaport access her website at http://www.drlisarappaport.com
Personal Experiences • Success Stories • Dyslexia