Dystinct Journey of Nolan Courchaine

Issue 14: The Dystinct Journey of Nolan Courchaine

The story of nine-year-old Nolan Courchaine, the determined young boy from Indiana, USA, who has taken up running as a means to raise funds to give back to his school which has played a significant role in his academic and social development.

Zahra Nawaz
Zahra Nawaz
This story was published in Dystinct Magazine Issue 14 March 2023.

Nine-year-old Nolan Courchaine from Indiana, USA, is an inspiring young boy with a passion for adventure and fun, infectiously encouraging those around him to embrace the joys of life. According to his mother, Keatha Courchaine, Nolan is a perpetually happy child who finds joy in every aspect of life, including his passion for sports and making people smile. Every season presents a new opportunity for Nolan, from running cross country and playing football in the fall to hockey in the winter and shooting sports and running in the spring. When not participating in sports, he spends his time outdoors with his pet corgi Rosie and his brother and best friend, Palmer He also loves to fish and even caught a small shark in the Florida Keys last year.

Keatha first noticed a disconnect in Nolan's learning when he was in grade 1, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what the issue was. She noticed that he struggled with spelling words and couldn't recognize letter sounds leading her to suspect that he may have a processing delay, though she didn't know the name for it at the time.

As the months passed, Keatha grew increasingly concerned that her son may be struggling with a learning disability. However, she became even more worried when she didn't receive the dyslexia screeners that were supposed to be sent home by state law. Instead, she received a notification that he was going to be receiving RTI (Response to Intervention). However, not knowing enough about the system at the time, she assumed that the school would eventually recommend testing Nolan for dyslexia if needed. It wasn't until halfway through second grade, when she shared her concerns with a teacher, that she was told to request the testing herself. She soon realized that if she didn't request for him to be tested, it wouldn't be done.

Nolan was eight years old when he was formally diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD inattentive and Auditory Processing Disorder. Nolan's struggle to fit in saw him become increasingly confused and frustrated at school. Keatha shares that Nolan developed generalized anxiety, for which he now sees a therapist to help him understand and express his feelings. "He tries to hold a lot of his emotions in because he wants to keep everyone happy all the time. We are working with him so that he knows he isn't responsible for other people's happiness."

We are working with him so that he knows he isn't responsible for other people's happiness.

Nolan's younger brother, Palmer, was also diagnosed with dyslexia a few months later. Unfortunately, Nolan's family did not have a good experience working with the public school system. By the time their public school held a meeting to review the Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), the family had already been through mediation. "Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding between teachers, and parents, children like Nolan and Palmer are misunderstood. Nolan didn't understand at the time why he had such a difficult time understanding certain things and reading the words on the paper; now he does, so he can explain to his peer why he needs more time to learn," shares Keatha. Despite their efforts to advocate for their son so he could continue within the public school system, it appeared that they would not be given the support they needed. The experience left them feeling frustrated and discouraged, but they remained determined to find the best educational path for both Nolan and Palmer.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of understanding between teachers, and parents, children like Nolan and Palmer are misunderstood.

Following their terrible experience in the public school system, Keatha was on the lookout for a suitable school that could adequately support her sons. She searched extensively and eventually came across Fortune Academy on Google. Upon learning about the school's commitment to using Orton Gillingham (OG) and understanding of learning difficulties and its small class sizes, Keatha felt confident that it could provide her sons with the support and education they needed. Since enrolling at Fortune Academy, both her boys have made great academic and social strides, and Keatha is thrilled with their progress. "We are delighted with Fortune Academy. Both boys are making progress academically. Nolan's progress is a bit slower than Palmer's, but Nolan is profoundly dyslexic, whereas Palmer is more mild to moderate. Luckily, with such a small class size and teachers that are all trained in OG and processing disorders, Nolan's teacher is able to adapt to his needs daily. If any of the three students in her class needs an extra day or week to process and grasp a new concept - she allows that time. No student is left behind. We have found that explaining to Nolan and Palmer about how their brains work specifically for them and why is the best way to help them overcome their challenges. This is a lifelong struggle, we can make improvements, but we won't ever beat it. All progress that we make will have to be maintained and built upon," shares Keatha.

We have found that explaining to Nolan and Palmer about how their brains work specifically for them and why is the best way to help them overcome their challenges.

Keatha shares that while Nolan was still in the public school system, he would come back home exhausted and feeling defeated daily. However, since enrolling at Fortune Academy, Nolan has blossomed into a different child. Following his positive experience at his new school, Nolan began exploring his strengths. He decided to join the cross-country team at Fortune, as running was something he had always loved. "I like running," shares Nolan. Keatha adds that Nolan has always loved sports, but running was different for him. It was something that he could "just do". "Due to Nolan's auditory processing disorder, football and hockey plays are difficult for him to grasp. So, it's difficult for him to follow long sets of directions. For instance, if he is instructed to move to 3-4 different spots while the coach is explaining to him where he needs to be for spots 3 & 4, his brain is still processing where he should be for spots 1 & 2. Because of this, when he was playing football this year, he had a few instances where he missed the play or moved in the wrong direction, and some of his teammates got upset with him. We could tell he was having a difficult time, and he eventually shared with us that he was struggling to know what to do. Running became something that Nolan could do "without having to worry about messing up" or "being criticized for messing up". It became a way for Nolan to release his anxiety and stress," shares Keatha.

When the school announced its annual fundraiser in 2022, Nolan decided to use his passion as a way to give back to his school. With the help of his little brother Palmer, Nolan made phone calls and knocked on doors, asking for sponsors for his longest run to date, a 15K. "I just wanted to help, so I thought this would be a good way to help get new supplies and things for the classroom. Most of our neighbours said, 'That's a nice way to raise money,' and most donated 10- 20 dollars, but one neighbour donated $200," shares Nolan.

Nolan and his brother

That fall, Nolan ran the Tecumseh ¼ marathon in Southern Indiana to prepare for his 15K race. The Tecumseh trail runs in one of the most difficult trail runs in the DINO running series, an Indiana-based trail running organization. He finished with a time of 1 hour and 18 minutes and placed 26th of 91 - He was the youngest runner.

On November 19th, Nolan ran a series of 3 trail races back-to-back; a 4K, followed by a 5K, and finished with a 6K. Again, he was the youngest runner and finished with a time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, placing 8th out of 30. Together the boys raised a little over $1000 to donate to Fortune Academy, shares Nolan and Palmer's proud mum. "When we handed the money over to the principal, she was happy about it and asked me how I ran for so long," shares Nolan.

Nolan's dedication to training every day since deciding to run the 15K was key to his success. He persevered and never gave up on his goal. As he stood at the start line, he was filled with confidence and a strong belief in himself, thinking, "I know I can do it." And at the finish line, after completing the race, he felt a sense of accomplishment and relief, thinking, "Yes, I made it through." During the marathon, he pushed himself to his limits, enduring physical and mental challenges along the way. "In the last leg, I used what was left of my stamina to keep my position, then when I got closer to finishing, I could close in on a few people."

Nolan Courchaine
Everyone is different. We all have brains that work exactly the way that they are supposed to for each of us.

Nolan hopes to begin training in the spring of 2023 to complete the Tecumseh ½ Marathon next year and raise even more money to donate to Fortune Academy so that the teachers can help more kids with learning disabilities like himself and Palmer. It's understandable to feel anxious while running marathons, as they require a lot of physical and mental endurance. And while it may be nerve-wracking to run alongside adults, it's impressive that Nolan has been able to hold his own and even finish ahead of some of them. "Most of the time, the runners closest to my age are 12- 13 years. I feel nervous running with adults. Most of the adults ask me how I'm doing throughout the race. I feel anxious- because I'm not sure how I will do, I'm always hoping to get into the top 20-30," shares Nolan. It is clear that running has become much more than just a hobby for Nolan. He is looking forward to running to donate money to charities. It will be exciting to see what he accomplishes in the future as he continues to train and participate in races to support causes he cares about.

Keatha Courchaine

Nalan Courchaine

Extracts from Dystinct Magazine

Dystinct Journey

Zahra Nawaz Twitter

Founder of Dystinct