Our Journey with Dyslexia

Tomorrow I am venturing to a legislative hearing for HF 2529 with #1, #2 and #3.  This is a bill which would give families with a dyslexic child a $2,000 reimbursement for tutoring costs or assessment costs.  The bill also gives teachers a $1,000 tax credit for training in a research based method to help teach dyslexic students.  This is a wonderful first step to help families and teachers enable their dyslexic children to reach their potential and alleviate some of the stress involved with dyslexia.  Below is my story I am sharing with members of the committee.  If you have a story, I encourage you to send it to your legislator, no matter what state you are in.  The theme during Lent at our church is “Hold on Tight to Love and Justice.”  One good way for my family to do this is to put ourselves out there and be witnesses for our struggle and the struggle of other children with dyslexia.  We are open with what is hard in hope it can make a difference for the future and that people who are going through a similar challenge can feel less isolated.

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            Our story with dyslexia starts when my middle son was in kindergarten.  He is a gifted child, but after preschool, many hours of being read to, and an excellent kindergarten teacher, he could not name most letters in the alphabet, let alone their sounds.  His anxiety was through the roof, in kindergarten.  It was a daily struggle to get him to school.

            In first grade things only got worse.  He qualified for the gifted and talented school in our district and we sent him there because his older brother was at the school and we had built a strong community of friends there.  First grade was a disaster.  I was constantly told that one day he would suddenly start reading, I just needed to keep reading to him at home.  I saw a child that was turning into a puddle, getting further and further behind his peers in every subject by the day.  I continually asked for help, yet no help came.

            Meanwhile my oldest child was at the same school in third grade.  He could barely read.  Again, I was told that some day he would magically start to read, though he was not getting any help towards this goal.  As the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” happened during the second half of the year, the bottom fell out.  I brought my concerns to his teacher over and over again, but she felt there was no reason to worry or do anything different.  His writing notebooks were blank, he couldn’t read a book to complete a non-fiction report, yet I was told the school would not and could not help.

            The next school year was no different.  I had two children who could barely read, and who avoided writing because they had no idea how to do it.  They were light years behind their peers and they knew it.  Both of them hated going to school.  Again and again I asked for help at the school.  None came.

            Finally, when they were in 3rd and 5th grade we had scraped together enough money to have them tested.  We are not a family with a lot of extra money, and having our children privately tested is a sacrifice.  My middle son was diagnosed with profound dyslexia.  My oldest son was diagnosed with a mild form of dyslexia.  I felt like I had the golden ticket!  A diagnosis! Our money had been well spent.  The outside assessment had a couple pages of educational suggestions to help my children learn to read, which in turn would help relieve their deepening problems with anxiety and depression.

            The school, however, was not equipped to help my children.  The special education teacher had not been trained in educating children with dyslexia.  She did not have access to a reading curriculum that is research based for teaching my children how to read.  My older son started going to the reading specialist at the school.  But he was in a large group, for a very short period of time, and this teacher was not trained in helping children with dyslexia.  The special education and the reading specialist intervention were not effective and another dead-end.

            I ended up pulling my middle child out of school in the middle of his 3rd grade year when his mental health was reaching a very serious stage.  School was no longer an option for him.  I shut down my life and homeschooled him for 3rd and 4th grade.  I am a former 1st grade teacher and have also worked in special education so I felt equipped to do this.  Additionally, I went to training sessions at Groves Academy and bought the same curriculum Groves uses to teach reading.  I am proud to say that I was able to teach my middle child how to read and write and he is now at a small charter school.  Because he is doing so well he was recently removed from special education.  Success can happen with the correct teaching methods.

            My oldest child is now at a different charter school and in 7th grade.  After a disastrous 5th grade year, where his anxiety had become a very big problem, I pulled him out of his public school.  I had begged for help for him for 5 years at the school and witnessed him turn from a confident child with a deep love of learning to a child filled with anxiety and a dread of school.  When I asked continually for help in teaching him to read the principal finally told me that they could not help and I would need to hire a tutor 4-5 times a week and also find a good counselor to help him with his anxiety.  This is when I decided to find a different school.  We can’t afford that much tutoring (and for 3 children!).  He still struggles with reading and writing because he was never taught with correct methods in elementary school.  His standardized test scores are very low in reading and this will be a lifelong struggle for him.  However, he is starting to get his confidence back at his new school because they have made reading and writing a much more concrete skills for him to work on.

            I now have a 1st grader at a public school in St. Paul.  This fall we again got the money together to have his assessed privately when the school was failing to act.  He was also diagnosed with dyslexia.  Thus far, however, the school has refused to test him to see if he qualifies for special education because he hasn’t failed enough yet.  There are no reading specialists at his school.  So, his classroom teacher was handed a curriculum that she has never seen before and has no training in and told to do interventions.  For a student like my son, he needs 40 minutes of 1:1 teaching with a multi-sensory curriculum (Orton-Gillingham based) with a trained teacher, something that is impossible for any classroom teacher to accomplish.  Again, it seems tutoring is the only option for teaching one of my children how to read.  This is not a financial option for my family; so again, I am the tutor for my child, squeezing in time wherever I can find it.

            Life at home should not be about spending all your time doing the things that are hardest for you.  I try to also provide them time to pursue music, play sports, be outside, attend church, help around the house, and play.  School should be where a child learns to read and write, with support from home, but a parent should not do the main teaching or be forced to find a tutor who will.  We pay our taxes and support public schools as much as we can, but the schools fail to educate my 3 boys in the basics of reading and writing because their brains function differently than most people.  They are dyslexic.  They need a different reading curriculum.  With correct methods they can become successful readers.  My middle son is proof of that.  Children with dyslexia should not be continually told that public school is not for them and if they want to read they need to look to tutors, homeschool or expensive private schools.  Growing up with dyslexia is hard enough; being left out of an education only makes it harder.

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Dear School District……I have a rebuttal.

On Feb 11, 2014, at 3:57 PM, SAINT PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS wrote:

Dear Saint Paul Public Schools Families,

Saint Paul Public Schools and the leadership of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers – the union that represents teaching staff in your child’s school – have been negotiating the terms of our teachers’ next employment contract since May of last year. That contract outlines wages, benefits, and other work-related issues. The purpose of this letter is to inform you that the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers has scheduled – on Monday, February 24, 2014 – a vote asking its 3,200 teacher members to decide whether or not to authorize a strike.

We want you to know that if the teachers union votes to strike:

  • Your child’s PreK-12 classes will be canceled at all Saint Paul Public Schools for the duration of the strike. This might be one day, one week, or longer.
  • Before and after-school childcare, Discovery Club, Early Childhood Family Education and Community Education programs will not be held.
  • Your summer plans could be impacted. Classes for K-12 students could extend into summer to make up for lost instructional time. Summer school (S-Term) dates would need to be rescheduled.
  • The district would be unable to provide any food service for your child.
  • If a strike lasts more than a few days, it will likely have an impact on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) scheduled for April 2014.
  • All teachers, school staff and district staff will be affected. Many staff members, including teachers, will not be paid during the strike.

And…my response:

Dear Ms. Silva,

     This e-mail was very insulting to me.  I have e-mailed you in the past with my concerns about St. Paul Public Schools and I have never received a response from you.  One e-mail was just last week when my child was denied an assessment for special education even though he is behind 1st grade benchmarks, is labeled gifted and talented, has been formally diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, and I put my formal request in writing.
     I support the teachers in this conflict.  There are NO RESOURCES to help my child learn to read.  NONE.  My child’s 1st grade teacher has a large classroom with a huge range of cognitive and emotional needs.  She is an amazing teacher.  She cares deeply about each student in her classroom and wants to meet all of their individual needs.  To help my dyslexic child learn to read she was handed a curriculum she has never seen before and told to individually teach him.  This is wrong and unfeasible but there is no other option.  How can she teach all the children if so much is demanded of her to teach one.  Other children’s needs are just as important as my child’s, but there just aren’t enough teachers to help.  There are no reading specialists at my child’s school…..and the district denied my written request for a special education assessment, leaving the classroom teacher as the only option.  If his classroom was smaller, much smaller, it may be possible for the classroom teacher to teach him individually with the type of intense intervention he needs.  But, the classroom isn’t small.  Because of your policies, it’s large.  My life, the life of my 1st grader, and the career of his teacher is effected every single day because of this reality…..but I should worry that his Community Ed. class is cancelled?
     Because of your policies my child and his amazing teacher have been set up to fail, but you are telling me my concern should be that he can’t take a standardized test…which would only show me that my child is failing to learn and no one in your district is able to help him.  Parents are stressed, teachers are stressed, children are stressed….but I need to worry that his unhealthy breakfast in a plastic bag won’t be available to him.
     I want nothing more than for St. Paul to have strong schools for ALL children.  This is why I’m siding with the teachers.  I am willing to have my life disrupted for however long it takes for the school board and you to sit down with the negotiating team and work out your differences.  During my 12 1/2 years with a child in this district (I started with ECFE in 2001) I have only seen the situation for students and teachers get worse and worse.  I worry on a DAILY BASIS about how my children are going to read and write.  DAILY…and many times at 3:00 AM.  Administration has never been of any help.  I have been shut down time and time again.  My life has been disrupted enormously because of failed policies in your district.  I have homeschooled.  I have changed schools.  I have tutored my children.  I have had heart wrenching meetings.  I have had to look at test results that show them in the bottom percentages of the district.  I have put my oldest children in charter schools.  I constantly worry about their future.  And because teachers want to make the educational environment better for children you send me an e-mail telling me to worry about after school programs.  When are you going to worry about my children not learning how to read and write?  When are you going to worry about their crushed self-esteem?  When are you going to worry about my feeling of helplessness?
     Don’t tell me I need to worry about breakfast, lunch, and vacations.  Thanks, but I can handle those things.  Easily.  Actually, feeding my child is my job.  Figuring out summer vacation is my job.  Teaching my children how to read and write….that is your job.  And, so far with my children you are 0/3 on fulfilling your responsibility of teaching them the basics.
     I want to thank Mary Doran, chair of the school board, for reaching out to me last week to share her personal story.  I appreciated her taking the time to listen, really listen, to my concerns.  I do have hope that things will change in St. Paul Public Schools.  The conversation I had with her was heartwarming and I felt listened to.  This was the first time in many years I felt listened to in St. Paul Public Schools by anyone except a teacher.
     The e-mail that the district sent, however, took away much of that good feeling.  Again, the district is not listening to what parents are saying, just proving talking points.
     I speak for many when I say the parents are sick of the talking points.  It’s time to really listen.  Listen to parents.  Listen to teachers.  Listen to the children.  Don’t assume you know what is best.

We won’t help

I finally had the meeting.  The meeting that was cancelled because of Polar Vortex #2.  The meeting that I thought would start us down the road of getting #3 individualized help.

That wasn’t the meeting that happened.

I was told he isn’t far enough behind yet. We won’t test him.

I countered with:

He hasn’t made progress.

He is far behind when you look at where he should be.

He gets further behind each day.

He is far behind if you look at his intellect.

He’s had a ton of interventions and he is still just creeping along with progress.  The interventions need to be more intense.

I was told again and again….he’s not far enough behind the rest of his peers yet.  He is behind, but not far enough.

The teacher sat there and said how he is reading at a level of a kindergartener and hasn’t made progress this year which is very concerning.  He does not know the sight words automatically.  And he knows less sight words now than he did in the fall.  Yet, he isn’t far enough behind yet.  They won’t test him.

What about writing? He can barely write his letters.

What I heard was……We won’t help.  I know this is not what they said, they told me about what the classroom teacher will do, and how the special ed. teacher can answer her questions, but this is how I feel.  We won’t help. Over and over they said he isn’t far enough behind his peers yet.  On a standardized test for the district curriculum he is not enough standard deviations behind the rest of his peers.

I sat in an office with the principal, an LD teacher, a school psychologist, the classroom teacher, and a student teacher (who I probably completely freaked out) with tears streaming down my face saying “I’ve been down this road.  I’ve already had two children fail.  I want this time to be different.  Please help this be different.  If we all work together, imagine the difference we can make. There are so many children that need help.  Let’s start here. Let’s make a difference and help him sooner rather than later.”

I was met with stone faces by everyone except the classroom teacher, who was also tearing up by this point……we won’t help.  Perhaps their stone faces were because they were following orders from people higher up.  Perhaps district office has tied their hands.  I don’t know.  My takeaway was we won’t help.

“We can’t help you because of the laws in this state.  We must follow the laws.  Perhaps you should put your energy into changing the laws surrounding this topic.”

This was their solution to the problem.  Oh yes….that sounds simple.

“Why do you want him labeled?” they ask.

I said, “I don’t want him labeled.  He is labeled.  This is the reality.  He is dyslexic.  I want him to have help for that.”

The LD teacher says, “I can’t label him dyslexic.  That’s a medical diagnosis.”

Oh, don’t get me started.  Honestly.  My head was exploding.  My insides were churning. That was a discussion for another day.

To say I’m devastated is an understatement.  Where can I go to get my children the help they deserve? I want them to read.  I want them to write.  I want them to feel successful in school….and not dread anything that requires them to write a sentence or read a paragraph.  I want them to live up to their potential academically.  I want them to not have their self-esteem crushed.

“Here is some information on why you shouldn’t label a child or test them before the age of 8.” the LD teacher tells me.

This is when my adrenaline kicked in.  Fight or flight…..I chose fight.  I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I stared into her eyes and said, “That piece of paper is crap.  Research does not support that anymore.  How dare you tell me that catching my child’s dyslexia early and fighting for him to get services is not what he needs.  I know what he needs.  I’m his mother.  I’ve been down this road 2 times already, and I refuse to watch one more child fail.  I will not do it again.  I’ve pulled 2 kids from schools where they weren’t getting help.  I’ve worked very hard to put them back together.  I WILL NOT DO THAT AGAIN!  This time I want my child to get help before he falls apart.  Before the anxiety.  Before the low self-esteem.  Before they hate school. I honestly can not understand why you believe its OK to not teach him with the methods he needs in order to learn how to read. I do not understand why my children get punished because they are smart enough to not completely fall apart academically.  I do not understand why I am being asked YET AGAIN to sit back and watch my child make very little progress while I watch the rest of his peers learn how to read with relative ease.  I have a diagnoses.  I have paperwork saying he needs intensive and individualized help.  I do not understand why we can’t work together and get him the help he needs.”

And then I started to cry uncontrollably, put my jacket on, and shoved the papers in my purse that told me why they won’t test him.

Meeting over.

My heart is broken.

Connect

“OMG.  Sorry for the verbal vomit for approximately 6.5 miles. I feel better now.  Thanks for listening and caring.”

Above is a text I send all too often to my running partner at 6:45 AM after a therapeutic run.  It’s amazing how much better I feel after getting it all out and leaving it behind on the pavement (or 4 inches or snow and ice).  My running partner doesn’t normally attempt to solve my problems, but she does show up at my house before dawn, listens and then gets me laughing by the end of the run.  In other words….she is there for me physically, emotionally and at many times….to remind me of logic.  I no longer feel alone in my struggle and sometimes that makes all the difference.

Last week I went to a workshop at Grove’s Academy about helping your child with anxiety.  I was quietly hoping there would be a cash bar in the back of the auditorium to help all of us parents dealing with an anxious child.  No cash bar, but there was good information, thoughtful philosophical parenting ideas, and Cheetos.

There is so much to go into concerning anxiety.  I will only touch the tip of the iceberg and talk about 2 takeaway ideas from the workshop.  I also don’t want to simplify something that is so difficult for people.  I know so many people are hurting because they or someone they love suffers from severe anxiety and have tried these simple steps a million times.  The social worker who spoke at the conference was very insistent that these examples will work when the child is suffering from stress, not an anxiety disorder, which needs professional help.

The first was a stress scale.  A stress scale looks basically like a pain rating scale

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This is used as a communication tool with your child.  When you see them becoming stressed about something, this can be a tool to help the child communicate and understand how to deal with the problem.

0-2: Push through the feeling.  Get the job done.

4-6: Child gets to choose if they push through the feeling or calm themselves down.

8-10: Get control and calm down.  This is not a time to solve the problem.

If your child is at an 8-10, do not try to solve the problem!  Wow.  This was incredible and eye opening to me.  How many times have I said, “Ok, time to do your homework (or practice violin, or read out loud, or set the table……).” and I was met with a tantrum.  Screaming.  Pulling hair.  Stomping.  A regular chorus is, “I hate violin!  I’m horrible!!!!!”

What do I normally do? Basically my insides churn, my adrenaline kicks in and my internal monologue goes, “There is NO WAY I’m letting you win just because you are having a temper tantrum.  NO WAY.  You can’t complain and get out of something….or else you will complain about EVERYTHING in hopes of getting out of it.”

And then I flip out.

Really awesome parenting happens when you are screaming “YOU CAN’T SCREAM ABOUT THINGS ALL THE TIME IN THIS HOUSE!!!!!!”

Instead of 1 anxious person, we now have 2.  You can determine who was the first anxious person.

You job as the parent is to help your child understand how they feel on the inside and act on the outside to coincide with the different numbers.  With a stress scale, your child determines if they are going to solve the problem or take a break and get calm.  When there is too much stress, problems do not get solved.

The second takeaway was the vital importance of a solid and well-connected relationship with your child.  This is true for any child, of course, but becomes more challenging with an anxious child.  When you child begins to push (see above) don’t push back.  When your child screams “I can’t do my math!!!” do NOT ask a “why” question.  Why questions, or any question your child can answer beginning with the word “because” only gets your child more stuck.  The because is endless…..

because its hard.

because I don’t understand it.

because I hate math.

because I’m horrible at everything.

because my teacher doesn’t like me.

because I forgot it.

The only thing this is accomplishing is the parent getting more frustrated, the child spiraling further into stress and the homework is not getting done.  The child continues to beat himself up, when he already felt like a failure to begin with.  An angry parent only makes it worse. (this is the point in the presentation where I really needed that drink!)  Here was a core belief the presenter shared, and one that I also believe in:

Children want to please their parents.

If the child is struggling in school and the parent gets upset, its a double whammy.  In their mind they are failing at school and failing at home.  This is not the recipe for a healthy self-esteem and endurance to try hard when faced with difficulty.

A child who struggles in school already feels bad about the subjects that are hard for him/her.  I see this on a daily basis with #2.  He doesn’t need me to remind him that things are hard by asking a “why” question….he is reminded by how hard school is constantly throughout the day.

A better question when #2 screams “I can’t do my math!” would be, “Can you tell me what you don’t like about it?”

I’m not solving the problem.  Quite the opposite actually, I’m validating.  I’m letting him know its OK that something is hard.  I’m here to listen.  I’m here to care.  The homework will come later, after he has calmed down (that will happen, right?).  But first step, let him know his feelings are OK, it,s safe to let his ugly emotions out, and I will be at his side the entire time.

As I’ve written about before, one of the most important things when parenting a dyslexic child is to listen.

I are their strongest support in a world where they don’t fit into all the time.  School is hard enough. Its my goal to make home a place where they do fit in, a place they feel connected and understood.

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Quirks, tantrums and all.

Just please don’t as me to listen at 5:15 in the morning, I’ll be out on a run.

Another lost day

We’ve been vortex’d…..again.  And, looking at the weather forecast for Minnesota, there is more bitter cold on the way for next week.

While many people are cheering because there is no school today, I am filled with anxiety and sadness.  Today was the day I was going to sign the paperwork to allow #3 to get tested by his school.  I’ve been asking for action since September (actually, I’ve been asking for attention since September of his kindergarten year), paid a large sum of money to a private tester, had meetings, phone calls, e-mails, written a letter, more phone calls, supplied the classroom teacher with information about dyslexia, had other conversations…..and finally I had broken through.  I’ve been asking for a team to sit down and discuss #3 since December.  And now, near the end of January, I was finally given the opportunity to share my opinions and sign a paper that brings all this to the next step, getting #3 closer to the education he deserves.

And now….it’s cancelled.  The process has frozen.

Perhaps it will be rescheduled for next week.  Maybe the week after.  The entire time I hear the clock….tick, tock, tick, tock….and see time wasting away.

1st grade is half over.  #3 has made very little progress.  He doesn’t have weeks, days, or even hours to waste at this point.  I see the other kids in his class making progress, while he stays at the same exact level he was at in kindergarten.  The gap becomes bigger by the day.  Education matters.  School matters.

I can see the future.  I’ve been here before.

He will be tested…eventually.  Results will be questioned.  There will be more meetings….but after spring break.  There will be a lot of head scratching.  I will have a lot of tears.  At some point its the end of April and I’m told, “Maybe we should just put something really minimal in place and figure it out next year.”  Summer school will be suggested….because if the approach didn’t work for 9 months, let’s try it for 2 more!  That sounds logical.  At this point I will lay my head down on the table and ask someone to wake me up when its all over.

How many other children are out there needing school to be in session?

How many other parents are filled with dread because of the lost days?

Time for me to focus on things I actually have some control over.

 Today #3 will weave potholders,

build with legos,

and perhaps make cookies.

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And pray for warmer weather.

 

Small Steps

This is my second winter attempting to skate ski.  Each time I head out to the trails I filled with anticipation, excitement and an ample amount of dread.  Last weekend I was out on a local golf coarse skate skiing with #1.  For awhile he was behind me and I would randomly hear (I’m sure there was some reason for it….but to me it was random) commands such as:

“Mommy, V1!”

“V2!”

“I said V2!”

“V2 Alternate!!!! Mommy….are you listening?  V2 Alternate!”

Quickly #1 became frustrated with me and I heard him coming up to my side.  He looked at me and mutters, “Do you realize that you are supposed to put your poles down at a specific time and not just randomly?”  He then takes off fast enough to insure I do not catch up to him.  Mothers are already really embarrassing when you are a 7th grader…they are infinitely more embarrassing when your mother is clueless and flailing on skis…in public…with other people around…that you know.

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#1 showing some speed around a curve.

When I’m out on my skate skis I’m literally just trying to continue some sort of forward momentum, making sure my poles don’t actually hit my skis, praying I don’t have a heart attack, and wondering what crazy person invented a sport where you are supposed to glide up a hill on long slippery sticks.  Trying to figure out what my poles are supposed to do based on the terrain and speed completely overwhelms me.  I have enough things in my life that frustrate and challenge me, why am I taking on a sport that is so frustrating and challenging?

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This is me….struggling up a teeny-tiny slope, I can’t even call it a hill.  
(It’s OK if you laugh at the horrible form.  It’s truly awful.)

This week Gabrielle Giffords had an inspiring editorial in the New York Times, “The Lessons of Physical Therapy.”

In it she write, “It’s gritty, painful, frustrating work, every day. Rehab is endlessly repetitive. And it’s never easy, because once you’ve mastered some movement or action or word, no matter how small, you move on to the next. You never rest.”

This is how I feel so often raising three children with dyslexia.  The moment I feel like one child is on the right track I turn my head and realize that another child needs more support.  When I spend time advocating at one school, I realize I haven’t talked to the teachers at another school enough.  If they aren’t struggling on a writing assignment, there is a large history project, or a science fair project, or a book report, or a spelling list….   When I feel like I’ve made some progress with advocating for #3, I realize just how much more I have to overcome in order to get him the help he deserves. When one small thing is mastered by one child, I don’t get a break, I move on to the next challenge without a pause.

It’s overwhelming.  It’s daunting. It makes me want to crawl back into bed.

However, Gabbie Giffords goes on to talk about how her resolve to achieve great things with her physical therapy are a bit like her resolve to achieve great things with gun control.  She writes:

“Our fight is a lot more like my rehab. Every day, we must wake up resolved and determined. We’ll pay attention to the details; look for opportunities for progress, even when the pace is slow. Some progress may seem small, and we might wonder if the impact is enough, when the need is so urgent.

But every day we will recruit a few more allies, talk to a few more elected officials, convince a few more voters. Some days the steps will come easily; we’ll feel the wind at our backs. Other times our knees will buckle. We’ll tire of the burden. I know this feeling. But we’ll persist.”

Do a little more each day.  Wake up determined.  I love this.  It can be applied to so many challenges we face in life.

When raising children with dyslexia it’s very easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed by the big picture.  There are so many roadblocks to success.  Schools don’t help.  Teachers aren’t trained.  Administrators are overwhelmed with other problems.  There is no funding. Blah, blah, blah.

I can’t solve all the problems surrounding educating dyslexic children in one day.  But I can do something each day to make a difference in the lives of my children and hopefully make the path easier for others in the process.  In 2014 I’m resolving to do 1 thing each day to learn more, advocate, or help someone effected by dyslexia.  Before I know it, if I continue to work hard, and continue to gain allies, there will be enough change that it has made a difference in the lives of children with dyslexia.

And in the meantime, I’ll focus on being able to skate ski without my knees knocking together.  The poles…and all that V-something stuff…will need to wait.

Hitting the wall

Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall.  This happens, usually around 18 miles, when your body wants desperately to stop the madness but you need to make it to the finish line (if it’s a race) or a couch at your house (if it’s a long training run).  To get past the wall I focus on simply putting one foot in front of the other.  As long as I keep moving, progress is made.  This is where determination, grit, and a high pain tolerance comes in handy.  Also, some well placed stubbornness.

This week I finally heard back from the principal at #3’s school.  Last week handed in his assessment which clearly states he will qualify for special education and details how intense the correct interventions need to be NOW so that he doesn’t slip into failure (I would argue a deeper failure).  At first I heard back nothing.  So, I e-mailed the special education teacher and principal to let them know the paper work had been turned in.  I asked a simple question, “Is anyone at our school trained in an Orton Gillingham method?”  Again, no answer.

Finally, yesterday the principal came into #3s first grade classroom while I was there and asked me to stop into his office when I got a chance.  Yeah!  Progress.  I really like this principal.  He is responsive to parents and truly a nice guy.  He has a great love of what he does and it shows.  A couple minutes later I sauntered down to his office with high hopes of having a great conversation. He would share with me how quickly the school is going to move because of the thorough assessment I provided. We would end it with a smile and perhaps even a high 5.  Go team!

I’m so dumb.

He started by going over the qualifications for special ed. and I realized this was not going to be the conversation I had pictured.  First, there needs to be a discrepancy between achievement and ability.  #3 has a huge discrepancy.  He is labeled gifted by the district (and this was confirmed in his outside assessment) and is in the bottom 5% for reading achievement and phonemic awareness according to his psychological testing.  Second, his level of achievement must be very low.  Again, we have mastered this one…..he is below the 5% mark.  Third, he has to show no progress.

And this is where we hit the wall…..according to the principal.

#3 is holding his own, to a very low degree, in the classroom (I completely disagree with this).  In other words, he hasn’t failed yet according to the districts standardized testing.  He is on the low side, but until his standardized tests show that he is very low and he is falling further and further behind his classmates, no assessments will be made.  Its all about the number on one test in the Mondo Reading Curriculum.  What I say doesn’t matter.  What his classroom teacher says doesn’t matter.  What an educational assessment says…that doesn’t matter either.  He hasn’t failed enough.

I was stunned.  Am I supposed to hope for #3 to profoundly fail so that he can receive help?  Really?

Oh, but there is a solution the principal says.  The classroom teacher is going to do the Sonday System (Orton-Gillingham based) with him and another child.  I was speechless because how do you respond to insanity?

#3’s teacher is a master teacher.  She is disciplined, incredibly hard working, doesn’t waste a single second of instructional time in the classroom, and very skilled….however, she is human.  She has not been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia.  She has not been trained in the Sonday System or any Orton-Gillingham method and has not been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia.  So much of teaching a learning disabled child is about the pacing and the understanding of how frequent you need to go backwards and review.  These children learn at a very different pace and with very different instructional methods than other children….THAT IS WHY THEY STRUGGLE IN THE CLASSROOM.  A classroom teacher should not be expected to do everything twice, once for 90% of her classroom and another time for the other 10%.  Sometimes this is appropriate, but this should not be the final solution.

BTW, she has about 25 kids in her classroom, many of them with their own set of special needs: behavior, social, academic, highly gifted, poverty, struggles at home, etc.  She is supposed to figure out how to use an entirely different curriculum, find the time to do intense intervention (at LEAST 3 hours a week) AND teach the rest of the class all on her own?  Again, she’s excellent, but not a miracle worker.  This is not fair to her.  This is not fair to the classroom.  This is not fair to #3.  So much of what happens in the classroom for reading and writing does not apply to him, but he will be forced to sit there and watch his classmates understand and catch on to what is happening why he is continually learning “this does not apply to me” because the way reading is taught in the classroom is wrong for how his brain is wired.  Confusion sets in when a child is asked to do the classroom reading curriculum, guided reading and also a specialized curriculum.  That is 3 different approaches to tackle something that is already incredibly difficult…..when only one will work…..the other two only create anxiety and failure.

But, no help outside of the classroom will be given because he hasn’t failed enough yet. And I have yet to get an answer to my original question, has anyone in the school been trained in how to teach children with dyslexia?

I have hit the wall….in this case it’s the wall of crazy policies and bureaucracy in the district.  No help until your child is a puddle of tears on a daily basis, is so far behind his peers there is virtually no hope of getting caught up, and you and your child are both filled with hate and rage towards school.  Lovely.

Time to put one foot in front of the other.  Remember my form.  Breath.  Don’t freak out. Believe in myself.

I have trained hard for this.  I’ve been down this road before.  I know what needs to happen.  I have a good playlist.  I have friends and family along the road yelling encouragement, taking extra baggage, and handing me nourishment.  I have grit, determination….and let’s not underestimate my well-placed stubbornness.

I can’t see the finish line, but I know it’s there, and I will work with everything I’ve got to get there.  On the other side of the wall will be a child who believes in his academic capabilities and is given the chance to succeed.

family-27-2Failure is not an option.