Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
February 21, 2023
Suchi Deshpande | Learnfully
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Suchi Deshpande and I am the co-founder and CEO of Learnfully. We are an education therapy company for kids with or without a learning difference diagnosis who struggle in the classroom environment. We have an assessment that helps parents understand the exact cause of their problem. Defining the problem is half the solution. Once you’re able to understand that, we pair you with multi-sensory education specialists who are not only teacher credentialed but are trained and certified in research and evidence-based programs for kids who have a slightly different profile than those who thrive in traditional classroom environments.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
My background is in the tech industry which was a rewarding but stressful experience. My family was faced with a challenge when my two children were diagnosed with high-functioning autism and ADHD. We realized that the world is not set up for kids who are in that gray area to succeed. I began to consider making a change after observing my own children and the challenges faced by those of my friends with children who have been diagnosed with autism, ADHD, or other learning difficulties. I became interested in learning more about the education space, and quit my job to work at an autism clinic for two years. Then I started working at an education company, Edmodo. The Covid-19 pandemic presented the opportunity to start something new and address the staggering 20% to 50% of parents who struggle with finding resources. A lot of specialists who were not willing to provide services online were now comfortable providing them online. In September 2020, I took the chance to open Learnfully and started operations in January 2021.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
There’s a lot of stereotyping with learning differences, and none of those stereotypes are true. Labels are just a way of identifying a group of individuals with similar traits or characteristics, but they don’t define the individual. Every person with a learning difference is unique and has their own strengths and challenges, and it’s important to understand that. Stereotyping and assumptions about individuals with learning differences only limit their potential and can lead to a lack of understanding and empathy. Instead of focusing on the label, we should focus on the individual and their unique needs and abilities.
A learning difference is not a reflection of intelligence. The most dangerous thing for kids with learning differences is when they start believing that they cannot do something. This is why it is important for parents to understand their child’s strengths and challenges so that they can advocate for themselves. The label is not dangerous but believing that one cannot do something is. That is what we hope to change with Learnfully.
Personally, this work is important because of my family, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in learning differences. I was diagnosed with ADHD later in life. It’s common for women to get diagnosed in their late 30s as it often presents itself as anxiety or depression.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Our tagline is “Unlocking Potential.” It’s common for folks to not reach their potential because they have some kind of undiagnosed learning difference. What a difference it would make if someone told them, even though some skills are hard for you, there are three or four that you’re really good at. Our approach of not just focusing on their weaknesses, but also highlighting their strengths and helping them develop those skills, is a valuable and unique approach. By recognizing and addressing these differences early on, we’re helping children build their confidence and improve their self-esteem, which is crucial in their overall development and future success. In terms of quantifying the impact, Learnfully has been able to raise reading levels twice as quickly as traditional tutoring environments because we’re working on the generalization of the skills. We’re helping children internalize the skills they’re learning so they can use them in real-life situations. Our efforts to help these children unlock their full potential are truly making a difference in their lives.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
My husband has been a great support throughout my journey. His encouragement has been invaluable and has helped me to pave the way for my future. Along the way, I’ve learned the importance of grit and focus from several leaders in the industry. My children have also been a source of inspiration and motivation for me, even though they can be both inspiring and challenging. I want to reach out to other parents who feel like they are on a lonely path, to let them know that they are not alone.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Two years from now, I would love to see Learnfully at schools and with more parents. Five years from now, I would love to see Learnfully become something for everyone, not just for kids with learning differences. There is no such thing as a neurotypical. The reality is that multisensory teaching assessment works for everyone. People are getting to a point where they don’t want to go to a trade school, and maybe college isn’t for everyone. I would really love for Learnfully to play a role not only in kids’ lives but also in adults’ lives, to help them recognize that they’re not necessarily stuck in a certain career path, that they can divert. I’d love for Learnfully to change the conversation on neurodiversity and make it part of society.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
We’re facing the same challenges that we want to conquer – that many people don’t want their kids to know that they’re coming to us. Even though they’re making great gains, a lot of them still have this idea that this is about learning differences. There’s still a lot of fear around what this means and what a learning difference is. Surprisingly, COVID has really helped break that down a bit. A study from understood.org shows that 75% of parents now feel their kids learn differently because they were able to observe them at home. Also, as more women are coming forward saying they were diagnosed with ADHD, it’s just so misunderstood what that means. Girls are severely underdiagnosed because the symptoms are different from those of boys. As a result, we all get left behind. I would love for that to change and I would love for people to not be afraid.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
Labels (dyslexia, ADHD, etc.) are reductive and make people feel less than, instead of different. At Learnfully we start by helping a learner understand their learning profile, strengths, and challenges, and then we personalize a plan for them. This not only helps them make gains, but it also helps them develop self-awareness, self-esteem, advocacy, and life-long learning skills which are needed for successful careers. We’re more than about getting a good grade on the next test, we’re trying to instill skills to help them thrive for many years to come.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
I think the one thing that is starting to kind of come about is the idea that “great minds don’t think alike,” a phrase coined by Emily Gosling (who wrote a book with the same title). The concept that great minds think alike is actually not true at all.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Spread the word, but also ask questions. If you hear someone say their kid has a learning difference, ask what that looks like, and ask what are some of his or her strengths or challenges. Understanding will go a long way. Visit learnfully.com to learn more about educational support.
At Orapin, we believe those who are working for the greater good should be known, supported, and celebrated. We give purpose-driven organizations that want to do PR the strategy, resources, and support they need to get started so they can increase awareness and expand their impact. If would like to be featured in INSPIRED IMPACT™, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.