Jolene Philo: “All Children Can Learn, Given Enough Time”

It’s a treat to welcome Jolene Philo as a guest blogger today. Jolene and I met last October at a conference in Iowa, and I’m so glad that God connected us! Jolene is an author, teacher, and speaker who is passionate about reaching families of kids with disabilities. Her unique experiences as a teacher AND as a mother shape her ability to encourage and empathize. Jolene’s book, A Different Dream for My Child is a beautiful combination of her heart and mind, providing information and encouragement to parents of kids who are chronically ill. Jolene is a true teacher: nurturing, insightful, and incredibly generous.  I’m so thankful to be able to call her my friend!

by Jolene Philo

One of the devotions in my book, A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children, mentions a boy named Josh. He was born with a cleft palate and a chin that receded so severely his food would not go down his esophagus properly. After years of corrective surgeries on his palate and chin, living with a trach, and receiving nutrition through a feeding tube, he was finally able to take food by mouth.

 Learning to eat was a challenge for Josh and so was learning to speak. In fact for a long time, he didn’t talk. He pointed to things and made sounds, but that was all. Eventually, he was diagnosed with autism. Between the communication issues accompanying that diagnosis and his physical setbacks, I assumed he would never learn to speak.

 I was wrong.

 Gradually, Josh learned a few words, then a few phrases. Despite these signs of progress, my twenty-five years of educational experience led me to doubt the likelihood that he would ever carry on a normal conversation.

 Wrong again.

 A few years ago, I sat next to Josh, then eight, at a potluck meal after church. He looked at me and said, “Hi, Mrs….um, what’s your name?”

 “Mrs. Philo,” I answered, “but you can call me Jolene.”

 “Hi, Jolene.” A baby wailed, and Josh looked around. “Why is that baby crying? What’s wrong?”

 I stared at Josh as he looked around for the baby. The progress he had made since the last time we visited was amazing. When he skipped off to find the crying infant, I was the one who was speechless. A maxim often repeated by my special education colleagues came to mind.

 All children can learn, given enough time.

 Obviously, Josh’s parents, teachers, and therapists had faith in this truth. Over the past two years, their faith has increased as his speech improved by leaps and bounds. At Christmas, Josh had a speaking part in the children’s pageant. The last time we sat together at a church potluck, he spoke paragraphs, smiled and made eye contact.

 All children can learn, given enough time.

 I no longer dispute the truth of that statement.  What about you?

 Jolene Philo is the daughter of a disabled father, the mother of a child with special needs, and a former elementary teacher. She is the author of A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children. Her new book, Different Dream Parenting: A Practical Guide to Raising a Child with Special Needs will be released by Discovery House Publishers in October of 2011. She speaks at church and parenting conferences around the country. Her blog,, features resources and offers support to parents of kids with special needs.

4 thoughts on “Jolene Philo: “All Children Can Learn, Given Enough Time”

  1. Thanks for this, Jolene. (And I agree with you, Katie – Jolene is such a gem!) I can’t remember where I read this line recently, but I love it: “The question is not can they learn? but can we teach?

    God’s work is just as powerfully displayed when the words don’t come, but how precious it is that Josh has made such progress! I love when God places commas where we think we’ve reach a period.

    • Shannon~ I love that quote. We, as teachers, pastors and volunteers, should be constantly re-evaluating our teaching, and always looking the ways that God is teaching us in the process. THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom!

  2. My mother who was a teacher most of her life drilled into me that every child can learn.

    When I was eight only my mother and my aunt could understand me. My mom was determined I would be able to speak so all could understand me.

    She took me everyday one summer to classes at a college 30 miles away so I could go through day long therapy. While she waited she took classes on speech therapy.

    The result of that was that she spent her last days as a speech therapist working with special needs kids.

    She proved to me that every child could learn – if the adults around them don’t give up.

    • Wanda…what a beautiful testimony to your mom…imagine if she hadn’t been so dedicated! Think of the hundreds of kids with whom you now work~ they wouldn’t be hearing the Good News! Thanks so much for sharing this story!

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