Better Together

“Run in places you love with people you like. Enjoying your surroundings and training partners will strengthen your commitment to running and bring out the best in you.”
~Deena Kastor

At the end of a long run this summer my running partner looked at me, with hands on her knees, and said, “There is no way I could have done that without you.”

“Right back at you,” I said with a smile and a wink.  Those who have run 17+ miles with me know the deep, dark secrets start to come out to carry us through those last couple miles.  Sometimes making yourself vulnerable physically and emotionally are exactly what you need to do to form bonds, and it’s amazing what you can accomplish with strong connects to others.

It is this belief in strong community that lead me to find a school for #2.  I no longer wanted to be the principal, janitor, lunch lady, classroom teacher, curriculum design, social worker, special ed. teacher, case manager, behavior intervention specialist AND parent.  Well, forget janitor, I had given up on that one almost immediately.  I did, however, know that #2s case was complicated enough that I could no longer educate him and prepare him for “real life” by myself.  He really struggles with self-advocacy, and its difficult to work on this skill when your mother is continually by your side.  He struggles with knowing how to handle social situations, another tricky thing to work on from your dining room table.  By the end of May he was through the first 6 levels of the Wilson Reading System.  I knew he was reading above grade level and his math was above grade level.  It was time for him to work on some other parts of life.

I had heard bits and pieces about Cyber Village Academy from some acquaintances, but when a friend who has a child that struggles in traditional school told me she had enrolled her child, I decided to get serious.  I did a tour and turned in the paperwork, crossing my fingers the entire time.

Two weeks ago I had #2s first IEP meeting.  I felt slightly queezy going in.  I had flashbacks to the disastrous IEP meetings at his previous school.  Those meetings were combative and infuriating.  I cried during or after each and every meeting.  All I wanted was for my child to receive an education and I was treated like I was asking for some incredibly impossible prize at the end of a fanciful rainbow.

This time, however, it was different.  I was listened to.  They asked questions.  They worked with me…and in turn, I worked with them.  I immediately felt part of a team.  I shared with them some successes of homeschooling, and let them know some failures.  I trusted them enough to be vulnerable and let them know I don’t have all the answers.   I told them that this is a very difficult child to educate and this is why I need help.  We laughed at some of my descriptions of trials and tribulations in homeschooling…and I did not cry!  I left the meeting feeling empowered, supported and encouraged to go home and help make this educational setting a success.

And it is that sense of community that will help carry me through 26.2 on Sunday.  Yes, it’s my legs that will need to continually turn over, just as it’s #2 who needs to read, write, listen, etc.  But, a marathon is truly a team effort.  I will have friends and family throughout the coarse cheering, encouraging, taking my clothing layers and handing me gels.  Yesterday, a running friend brought me this for carboloading:

carboloading

really good beer.

And my dear running partner, who has brought me this far, taught me so much, and trained with me for 3 summers in a row brought me this:

playlist

an iPod with an individualized playlist for my pace.  All I need to do is keep the beat.  Because of injury she has decided not to run this year, but she will be with me every step of the way, encouraging me to keep going with the beauty of music (and maybe there will be some deep secrets hidden in the music I encounter at mile 24).

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we do things together.

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What do I do if my child is struggling with reading?

Hope you win the lottery.  Seriously.

First, I’m so sorry.  It’s painful.  It’s difficult to have your child’s independent reading sheet look like this.

blank reading sheet

You begin to wonder what you did wrong and what more you should have done.  Listening to others talk about how their kindergartener is reading and equating that to intelligence or fantastic parenting or how often they brought their child to the library can be heart wrenching , especially when you thought your child was kinda smart, you were and OK parent and you have enough library fines to prove you do in fact visit libraries.  You wonder what is wrong with your child that should be on the road to reading, but for some reason is just not getting it.  The child that you thought was so normal in preschool is suddenly struggling and you feel like you are in the middle of an incredibly slow moving train wreck.

As the parent of this child, you need to find some resources and educate yourself about what dyslexia is and what it isn’t.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as:

It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and / or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.

Studies show that individuals with dyslexia process information in a different area of the brain than do non-dyslexics.

Many people who are dyslexic are of average to above average intelligence.

A great book is Overcoming Dyslexia.  But beware, if you are like me you can read a book on ANY SUBJECT and start diagnosing yourself, your children and especially…your spouse.  A related website is the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.  There is a lot of great information here about interventions and advocacy.

Your first resource should be your child’s teacher.  If you have a good relationship with him/her and you trust them, be very honest and share your worries, observations and fears.  Everyone learns to read at different times.  If you child is behind, but making progress, its possible they are just a late bloomer.  But, if interventions have already been tried, no progress is being made, and there are no other reasons why reading should be struggle then its time to look for help.

Another good resource is your pediatrician.  These people see a WIDE range of children and many times have a good feel for when to worry and when not to worry.  Many times doctors have a good educational psychologist they can recommend if this is the direction you should go.

If you live in the Twin Cities, I suggest people contact Groves Academy.  It’s very expensive, but you can trust they are going to do a very thorough job assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your child and helping you come up with a plan.  I believe that going to an educational psychologist is very important for learning disabilities.  Sometimes a neuropsychologist or something who works more in a hospital setting doesn’t have the educational background and they give a different battery of tests and someone with an education background.  #2 was tested twice within months of each other with VERY different results.  The difference came with the educational psychologist giving him a phonemic awareness test, whereas the neuropsychologist left that out.  Without a test on phonemic awareness there is no way to diagnose dyslexia, since this is one of the telltale signs.  Sadly, if you rely on the school district, many times the help your child needs can take months or even years.  Of course, you will still need to go through the school district to get direct help from them, but if you already have an assessment in your hands from an outside source, many times teachers will use this information for accomadations, interventions and to move a 504 or IEP forward.

While all this is going on, continue reading out loud to your child and/or have them listen to books.  There are many ways to read, and reading with your eyes is just one way to enjoy books.  Listening is another great way.  The important thing is that your child views books as something enjoyable and something “for them.”

Another word of advice, find support, especially from other parents who understand the pain of having a child that struggles in school.  Having a child that struggles can be very isolating.  It’s really easy to feel judged, because, let’s be honest, there is a lot of stigma that goes along with having a child that is struggling in school.  If you can’t find someone near you, keep checking back with this blog!  One of my goals about being so open with my journey is to help other parents know they are not alone.

Last word of advice….go for a run.

 

What are your thoughts on Assistive Technology?

First, let’s define Assistive Technology (AT).  The best information I found was, surprisingly, on the PBS website:

Assistive technology is any device that helps a person with a disability complete an everyday task. If you break your leg, a remote control for the TV can be assistive technology. If someone has poor eyesight, a pair of glasses or a magnifier is assistive technology.

Assistive technology includes many specialized devices as well, like typing telephones for people who are deaf and motorized wheelchairs for people who cannot walk. Assistive technology can be “low-tech” (something very simple and low-cost, like a pencil grip), or “high-tech” (something sophisticated, like a computer). Assistive technology can be critical for the person using it – if you wear glasses, think how hard it would be to get through the day without them!

The federal government recognized the importance of assistive technology for students when it revised the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 and again in 2004. IDEA states that school districts must consider assistive technology for any child in special education. That means that for any child receiving special education services, the educational team must ask if there is a device that will “increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities” of that child. If the answer is yes, the school district must provide certain services:

  • a qualified evaluator must complete an assistive technology evaluation;
  • if the evaluator recommends a device, it must be acquired;
  • and if you, your child or the staff in your child’s school need training to use the device, that training must be provided, too.

There is the information.  It sounds pretty good….yet in my experience it’s a slippery slope.

In third grade #1’s reading scores started on a sharp decline, actually showing that he made backwards progress during the school year.  In fourth grade his teacher suggested he start listening to all the books he was reading (the curriculum is designed around independent reading), telling me this is Assistive Technology and a way that has been found to help children with learning disabilities or children who are struggling.  Because he had always loved listening to books on CD at home I thought, “GREAT!  At least he’ll be looking at a book and taking something in instead of staring into space.” (which was his mode of operation in 3rd grade)  Becuase he was now listening, he really blasted through those books, but did he learn to read better?  No.  Did anyone teach him? No.  He was put in a corner with headphones on during reading where he quietly spend all of his reading time for the next TWO YEARS.  Because I was dealing with so many issues with #2 (and other complicating factors) I wasn’t paying much attention to the fact that no one was actually teaching him how to read (although the school did believe they were fulfilling their requirement for reading instruction).  What did he learn? Reading is not for me and I can only “read” a book if I listen to is, so why even try.  He had no confidence and no competency when it came to reading.

When #2 received his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) the school also wanted him to use a lot of Assistive Technology.  Although its against the law, they suggested I get him an iPad so he could dictate his work to a computer at all times.  There is also an app that will read material out loud.  I was a little smarter the second time around and I asked, “What is your plan to actually teach him how to read and write without the use of a computer?” They had no answer….except that they believed an iPad was essential for his life because they doubted he would ever read or write (I have proved them wrong).  And don’t get me started on the numerous ways I was outraged when they suggested the district could assign him a scribe…an actual person sitting next to him all day long doing all of his writing so he wouldn’t have to.

Assistive Technology, to them, was a crutch.  A replacement for actual teaching.  A replacement for actual learning. An excuse to not do the hard work….for both the teacher and the student.  Would #2 like to play on an iPad all day? Y-E-S!!! Would #1 like to listen to all his books on an iPod? Of course.  Will their mother allow this….N-O!  Sorry children, your mother is stubborn….and a Scandinavian Lutheran with a strong work ethic.

Last Friday the New York Times had a wonderful article, When Helping Hurts.  It focused on the harm that helicopter parenting can do to our children.

“it [help] must balance their need for support with their need for competence. We should restrain our urge to help unless the recipient truly needs it, and even then, we should calibrate it to complement rather than substitute for the recipient’s efforts.”

I think this ties in perfectly when thinking about Assistive Technology.  With #2 I use AT for homeschooling, however, it looks much different than what the school was proposing.  He does use a computer for writing…but he is not dictating into a microphone.  He is typing with Microsoft Word.  He does write with paper and pencil, but is more motivated to write a paragraph when he can type it.  He is delighted when he can look through a list of spelling suggestions and figure out the correct way to spell a word.  He is still doing the work and using the skills he has learned through the Wilson Reading System.  He uses a Kindle to read, but he is still the one reading.  #3 uses large pencils, but he is the one doing the writing.

The main point is this: when dealing with learning disabilities Assistive Technology should be used as an aid to help the child do the learning and work independently.  Use AT to aid in competency, not harm their confidence.  The AT should not be the thing that is doing the actual work.  Any more invasive of AT should be used only as a last resort after many interventions and instructional methods have been tried.

The look on #1’s face when he got to the end of his first book during the fall of 6th grade was priceless.  He looked up and with a big smile said, “I just read an entire book by myself! That is the first time I’ve done that since 2nd grade!”

Don’t use Assistive Technology because the child CAN’T do something….use Assistive Technology because they can.