When is it time to get your child tested?

Answer: When you have some money burning a hole in your pocket and you have a lot of grit.

Seriously.

First, financials.  Many places that understand and diagnose learning disabilities from an educational point of view do not accept insurance.  Which is particularly maddening because schools will not recognize/treat/accomodate dyslexia because it’s a “medical diagnosis” in their view (I can really flip out about this subject….since when are medical diagnoses not valid in the eyes of a school?).  Insurance doesn’t agree with this and tells you learning disabilities (aka problems in school) is not their issue because its not anything medical/health related.  Financials are just another area that parents are tossed around from one party to another with no one wanting to take some responsibility to help….and you are literally stuck with the bill.

Second, grit.  To go through this process you need determination and grit to face reality.  Determination just get to the process moving and see it through.  Grit to face what comes after the diagnoses.

Last night I sat in the office of the same educational psychologist’s office that diagnosed #1 and #2.  This time I was there concerning #3.  I had assumed he was dyslexic for years but didn’t have a formal diagnoses, paperwork and testing to back me up.  After a couple months in 1st grade it was clear I was going to need this to get attention so his teacher (whom I LOVE) wouldn’t continue to assume he just needs more time to practice reading the same guided reading books over and over and over…which quite frankly is a waste of his time.

Because I’m not homeschooling #2 anymore, and #4 is in school this year, I have time to be in the classroom volunteering.  On Tuesdays I volunteer at a program called Rocket Readers in #3’s first grade classroom.  I have a small group of some of the lowest readers in the classroom….because that is where my child is.  While another little girl, who started at a much lower reading level than #3 continued to improve through September, October, November and now into December, my child stayed at the exact same level with absolutely NO IMPROVEMENT.  The little girl has begun to sound out words.  She has different decoding methods.  Reading is still hard, but she is improving.  #3 can read some of the books at his level, but he is reading the pictures and using his background knowledge.  He is not reading the words.  He is not looking at the letters, understanding the sounds and putting the sounds together into words.  He could read a little book about a fire station because he has been to fire stations, I have read him books about fire stations, he had a unit in kindergarten about fire stations, etc….not because he saw the word “h-o-s-e” and can sound it out using phonics rules and know this word is hose.  The teacher continued to tell me that he was smart, a good student and he just needed more time.

Absolutely not.

I’ve been down this road before.  More time would only let him fall through the cracks more.  Let him fail further.  Bring about frustration, anxiety and a hatred of school.

He needs to be taught with different methods, something that is compatible for the way his brain is wired.  A whole language and guided reading approach will never EVER work.  He needs a systematic approach with phonics (aka the Wilson Reading System).  It was time to get the paperwork to back me up.

As I sat in the educational psychologist’s office hearing the words, “Yes, he is definitely dyslexic.  Its very obvious.  No one can question these striking results.  He needs appropriate interventions immediately.  It is so good you came as early as you did.”  He is more severely dyslexic than #1, but not profoundly dyslexic like #2. If I want to pursue special education, he would definitely qualify. I was filled with a sense of relief.  I was right.  Its always good to be right, isn’t it?

Later, at 3:00 AM, came the sense of dread.  Holy crap.  I have 3 kids with dyslexia.  And I live in a district that refuses to help them.  What am I doing?  Will this be a big huge fight too?  Will this principal treat me the same as the last principal (horribly)?  Will these teachers dismiss me and the needs of my child?  Will this school tell me its not their responsibility to teach him how to read and write and if I want that to happen I better find a tutor or private school?  Will anyone listen to me and understand that teaching a child with dyslexia is not outrageous, its just different?  (insert string of words I’m not going to type out……)

And then the alarm went off.  If I would have had time to get new spikes for my shoes (St. Paul is covered in ice right now) this would have been the perfect morning to get out my angst on a long, fast run.  Instead I hit off and prayed for strength, determination and grit.

Psychology professor Angela Duckworth defines grit as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them.” She writes that “the gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.”

Marathon?

Advantage is stamina?

Grit.

Its the one thing I actually do have.

Time to get those spikes for my shoes.  The road ahead may be treacherous, but with the right equipment, and a healthy amount of grit, anything is possible.  Especially when preserving #3s infectious personality is at stake.

family-34-2

 

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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.

Searching for concrete

This morning I woke up to another winter wonderland.

snow

I’m searching for concrete.  I need something hard to run on because I’m sick of feeling like I’m running on sand, sheets of ice or running backwards.  I want to wake up in the morning and know what the surface beneath my feet is going to be like.  I don’t want to guess anymore.  Do I wear spikes? How many snow drifts will I have to hurdle?  Are there hidden sheets of ice under the 4 inches of snow?  The thing with running on smooth concrete is that you can go fast because you aren’t guessing and wondering about every step.  Running is automatic, and you don’t need to think while you are putting one foot in front of the other.  You can enjoy the beautiful scenery and a wonderful conversation with your friends while getting exercise.

A dyslexic reader is also searching for concrete.  Before they are taught the mechanics and system of the English language, English is just a jumble of symbols that don’t seem to make sense.  The letters are not reliable.  The letters sometimes have different sounds based on……what?  It’s very confusing for many people, but particularly someone with dyslexia.  Concrete concepts in reading and spelling are something that don’t come natural to a dyslexic, and their brain isn’t wired for this.  Rules need to be taught in a very systematic, concrete, repetitive way with a lot of guided practice.  You actually need to rewire the brain and train it to accept the concrete rules.

Try reading with a young dyslexic child.  When #2 was in first grade he would pick up the book Go, Dog, Go! during his read aloud time after school.  He would look at the picture, put his finger under the words and say,  “The two dogs rode their scooters toward each other and waved hello.  They were happy because they had on very interesting hats.  The big dog took the feather and that was OK.”  Here is the page:

Go, Dog, Go!

The letters and words didn’t matter, he knew there was a rule about getting the clue from the picture and that has something to do with these letters on the page.  Because the letters made no sense, he would give his best guess.  This reading strategy, when in absence of any phonics skills, doesn’t get a reader very far.

Imagine how exhausting it would be if you were asked to read and write for much of the day and you could only guess, hope for the best, and pray you weren’t absolutely humiliated at some point when you are asked to read aloud or write something.  Guessing wouldn’t get you very far and would be incredibly frustrating if everyone around you seems to know some secret code and you don’t.  Until I started teaching #2 with the Wilson Reading System I had always been confused by spelling and syllables and phonics.  Very quickly I realized how easy it is to spell when you understand there are concrete rules for spelling and syllable division.  Closed syllables, open syllables, vowel-consonant-e, etc.  Rules when there are double letters.  Rules when there is a schwa sound (a vowel that has an unexpected sound).  Rules for exactly where one syllable ends and the next one begins.  I had gone through my life thinking everyone was constantly guessing at this confusing thing called spelling and I just had a real knack for constantly guessing wrong….little did I know there was a concrete system!  Guessing is no way to go through life.

Dyslexics innately rely on higher level thinking skills to understand the world, not concrete rules.  Dyslexics can take a lot of random ideas and put them all together in one thought must faster and easier than a non-dyslexic (such as talking about the weather, running, phonics, reading, spelling and a little life history all in one thought. If you don’t at all understand this post…perhaps its because you aren’t dyslexic!)  Phonics, spelling and multiplication tables are concrete and systematic.  At first these rules are seemingly random to a dyslexic and must be memorized with repeated practice….lots and lots of practice.  Spelling and reading need to be taught with concrete rules where the students divide words into syllables, label the syllable type, mark vowels, locate blends and digraphs, and ultimately read or spell the word.

marking words

After these skills are practiced over and over with a teacher reminding the student of the steps the student slowly gains automaticity.  Automaticity is when you don’t need to constantly think of the rules.  The goal is for a dyslexic child to eventually write the word “dependable” without needing to go through all the concrete steps each time:

  1. How many syllables are in the word? 3
  2. Is there a suffix? Yes. I’ve memorized suffixes and I hear -able
  3. What is the base word?  depend
  4. Ok, spell the base word first.  Remember the suffix at the end of the baseword steps.
  5. What is the first syllable? de
  6. What kind of syllable is it? Let me think.
  7. I know its an open syllable because I hear a long vowel sound at the end and its not closed in by a consonant.
  8. How many sounds are in the first syllable? /d/ and long e.
  9. Now I’m going to write the first syllable.
  10. Stop…there is a /d/ sound.  Every time I hear that sound I need to think….donut door.  OK, I know how to write that.
  11. What was I doing? (working memory getting overloaded)
  12. Oh yes, the first syllable….what was the word? Oh yeah, dependable.
  13. Write the d…..e….because its an open syllable.
  14. And, the next syllable…..what was the word? Dependable.
  15. OK, second syllable. pend.  I know its pend because “able” is at the end and that’s a suffix.  Remember, only the base.
  16. spell base word first, then add the suffix.
  17. second syllable.  Its closed.  I heard a blend.  how many sounds. write the sounds.
  18. p….e…..n…..STOP!!!! WHICH WAY DO I MAKE THE D???? DONUT DOOR!!! OK, ……d.
  19. I’ve got the base.  Now the suffix.  able.  that was the one with the schwa sound that I had to memorize….its spelled a…b…l….e.
  20. OK, finally I have one word down….dependable.

Made it!  (Now try writing a paragraph!)  With constant guided practice, eventually a person with dyslexia can look at the word and read it quickly (reading fluency) and write the word automatically.  Gaining automaticity is vital to reading enjoyment, reading to learn and written expression.  Without it, the student will go back to guessing because, in a sense, that is infinitely easier than constantly remembering all the steps for each word you face.  With automaticity, working memory is not overloaded, the deep meaning of text can be appreciated and reading and writing become enjoyable and not a slog.  The student is confident they KNOW what the word is, there is no more guessing, they understand the concrete rules of language.

marathon

The goal is to be sure of your footing and run as fast as you can down the concrete, covering as much ground as you can….and loving every minute of it.

You can use your two ears to read too.

One component of the Wilson Reading System is listening comprehension.  The goal of this is to expand vocabulary, general knowledge, the love of literature/information and work on comprehension skills while not being bogged down by phonics, decoding, sight words, tracking, etc.  Yesterday I read aloud a fascinating article in the Smithsonian Magazine about a family that lived in isolation for 40 years in Siberia (super article…go read it!).

 

globe

#2 was fascinated at had a lot of questions about Russian history, geography, religious freedom, nutrition, endurance athletes and life in Siberia, all of which we discussed. I also wove in questions about the characters in the story.  “What do you think the dad was like?” “Tell me know you know about Dmitry?” “How do you think the scientists felt when they discovered the family?” Drawing these inferences from text is so important to reading comprehension. When a dyslexic child is reading they sometimes are spending so much energy simply understanding the plot that asking high level questions would overwhelm them and make reading that much harder.  The skill needs practice, so I have moved high level comprehension to mainly a listening activity at this point for my homeschooled child.  Its amazing to me how much he can get out of a complicated article…many times he understands more than me because I’m the dyslexic one spending my working memory on decoding the text, I don’t have enough power left to deeply comprehend.

IMG_2764

While he is listening to a complicated text I find its good for him to have something to do with his hands and so he knits hats with the aid of a circle loom. They are easy to use and he gets a sense of accomplishment, especially when you use extra bulky yarn!

You have dyslexia? Do you see things backwards?

Dyslexia is a much used and very misunderstood word.  I’ve had many people say, “Oh, so your kids see things backwards?” or “Is dyslexia when you write your letters backwards?”

Yes and no.  Sometimes, especially with a severe case of dyslexia, there are problems with directionality.  Which way is left? Which is right? Directionality is why some people with dyslexia have a problem knowing if its a b, d, q, p, or g.  Issues with working memory also exist, which I will explore later.

Dyslexia is a language processing disorder.  This means that a person with dyslexia has a different brain than people without dyslexia.  The dyslexic brain is constructed differently than the non-dyslexic brain.  Dyslexia is an unpredicted problem with learning how to read.  This means, that when a child has been given every opportunity to learn how to read sometimes they don’t….and sometimes this is because the child has dyslexia.  Because reading is so complex there are of course a variety of factors that could be causing problems, but dyslexia has nothing to do with eye sight, vision therapy or color coding words….and none of these are solutions for helping a child with dyslexia.

Most humans have the innate knowledge that a symbol goes with a sound.  This is why so many different languages are constructed that way.  However, the dyslexic brain does not innately put a sound with a symbol.  In fact, the dyslexic brain doesn’t really understand individual sounds in a word.  Most young children understand that the word cat is made up of 3 sounds…..K-AAAAAA-T.  In the least, most preschoolers can tell you that cat starts with the sound /k/.  If you ask a dyslexic child what sounds make up cat they will stare blankly at you….because cat is the word that means that slightly creepy animal that never likes me yet insists on sitting on my lap (editorial comment on my feelings towards cats!)….it is not a series of sounds. The concept of individual sounds going together to make up a word is enough to baffle and overwhelm young children with dyslexia.

Teaching phonics is the core of my homeschooling with child #2.  I use the Wilson Reading System which was designed to help people with dyslexia learn to read, spell and write.

cat

Essentially children learn over and over and OVER that words are made up of individual sounds.  Letters represent these sounds. They learn how to put the sounds together to make words (reading) and take the words apart to make sounds (spelling).

-ed suffix

In book 6 (there are 12 books), students learn about base words and suffixes.  This week we are learning about -ed.  #2 can read all the words on green cards quite fluently.  However, categorizing them by ending sound….close to impossible.  It is a painstaking process by asking him to first say the baseword then understand what the -ed suffix sounds like.  The task was completed, some more phonemic awareness was achieved, and he was rewarded by taking the dog on a walk throughout the neighborhood and some free reading time (he is currently devouring the “I Survived” books).

On a recent ski weekend a friend suggested I bring the kids to China and have them learn Chinese so they don’t need to deal with individual letters and I wouldn’t have to go through all these flashcard exercises.  She may be on to something….