IDA Conference

After returning from the International Dyslexia Association Conference, I’m again struck by the importance of understanding the individual child’s needs and responding with solutions that are customized to the individual student. This can’t be done with packaged programmed, no matter how good it is. Packaged programs ask the student to fit into the curriculum, versus identifying a student’s needs and designing lessons to meet the their specific needs.  Thank you, Virginia Berninger, Ph.D., and others for these reminders.

The latest research at MIT suggests that the movement of water through the myelin sheath might be related to dyslexia and it will require more study on my behalf – I love learning!  The fact that the right side of the brain is responding to the interventions we are delivering to change the left side of the brain reminds us that for each action is an equal and opposite reaction.  And that the right side of the brain might hold a link to how a child will respond to various inventions.  Current research shows that the brains of dyslexics are in fact built differently, not that the brain develops differently because of lack of reading. Thank you, John Gabrieli, Ph.D., and those that spoke on twice-exceptional children. (Meet John at http://video.mit.edu/watch/meet-john-gabrieli-4984/ )

Over the course of the conference I reflected on a comment from Jerome Schultz, Ph.D., that excellence is the new average. No wonder our children are feeling more stress. I’m looking forward to reading his book “Nowhere to Hide” and integrate some of his thought on ‘Save FASE’ and DE-STRESS.  Students need tools that will help them understand their stress and ready their mind for learning.  Students that shut down due to stress are unable learn, yet they are so often mislabeled so that the correct instruction isn’t even delivered.

“Start of the School Year: The Pit in the Stomach Comes Back”

From Dr. Richard Selznick’s (www.drselz.com) most recent blog….

“So with the start of the school year, here are a five guidelines to get you through:

1.      Breathe deep a lot – meditate – calm it down.  Look, homework is going to make you crazy.  Try not to bite on the hook.  For the child who has boring homework, seeing you go off is entertaining.  Don’t give it to him.

2.      Ask yourself, is the work in the kid’s zone of competence?  If it is not, if it is simply too hard for the child even with some parental  support, then send it back to the teacher with a polite note saying that the work is above the child’s head.

3.      If the answer to #2 is yes, then it’s the child’s problem.    Repeat after me the following mantra to say to your child, “You’re a big boy (or girl).  You can manage your homework.  If you choose not to, that’s your choice, but I will have to write a note to your teacher telling her what you chose.”

4.      Pecking doesn’t work.  Pecking, badgering, cajoling, nagging, yelling generally do not work.  Focus on the mantra in #3.  If the child chooses not to do the work, don’t  get caught up in it.  Put the problem where it belongs – on the child.

5.      Link “give and you get” messages.   Do you think like I do that modern kids are living pretty comfy lives?  It strikes me that the arrangement we have with our kids is pretty one-directional (in the kid’s benefit).  Start changing the direction by stating,  “This year I am tracking you each night on the calendar.  It’s either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in terms of effort and taking care of yourself.  Good things come to people who have a lot of “yes” showing up on the calendar – we do fun things. When there is a lot of ‘no,’ it’s going to be very boring around here.  Which do you prefer?”

So, pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up and remember…summer’s not all that far off”

http://www.drselz.com/blog/2015/08/start-of-the-school-year-the-pit-in-the-stomach-comes-back

Handwriting Fluency

Many students struggle with handwriting – you can see the labor in each
letter they write or the illegibility of letters. Non-fluent readers
often struggle with comprehensions.  Non-fluent hand-writers often
struggle with the writing process. If handwriting is difficult it will
impact the writing process.  Just like reading has fluency benchmarks so
does writing.  Below is a chart from a 2008 article – What to Improve
Children’s Writing? – Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting, by Steve Graham.

 

Handwriting Fluency

“Differentiating Summer: Why You Should Rethink the “Just Play” Movement”

Kyle Redford is now a teacher. He is also a young man with dyslexia that
was one of the individuals featured in The Big Picture: Rethinking
Dyslexia.   I’m all about balance so his thoughts really hit home for me.

—————————————

As school draws to a close and summer launches, the cries for unfettered playtime are proliferating everywhere, from the mouths of children to the postings of adults.

It’s hard today to ignore the profusion of articles, blog posts, and tweets calling on parents to forget school and let children “just play” over the summer months. Impassioned articles, written by leading educators and parenting experts, argue that play is the best teacher. Infused with moral undertones, they warn against the overscheduled child, making a determined case for giving children downtime and a chance to grapple with unscheduled hours.

There is a lot to be said about the value of this advice. And let’s face it, total-play summers sound so appealing, attractive, and humane — but …

The False Promise of One-Size-Fits-All

“One-size-fits-all” approaches are just as problematic for children in the summertime as they are in the school year. For many families, charging every parent with simply abandoning all structure in order to give children unlimited time to just relax and play is naïve.

Let’s face it, parents of struggling students dream of taking a break from the frustrations and duties that accompany a child with learning disabilities and differences. Play? Yes! A break? Please! But as much as parents want to give their depleted and stressed child a breather from the negatives associated with school, they intuitively know that ignoring the opportunity to strengthen and consolidate skills over the summer will only reinforce the cycle of frustration and stress in the fall.

Why Learning Needs to Continue in Summertime

Many types of intensive, immersive, and individualized support feel impossible to arrange during the school year. Most children are exhausted at the end of a school day, particularly if they have been struggling to keep up. Children need to rest and recharge during the school week, and often there is no time to put supports in place that would allow them to catch up or strengthen weak skills. Summer can offer the space to pursue support for a struggling child at her own pace.

Summer offers time.

If your dyslexic child has not learned to read yet, or if her skills are so fragile that they make attending school miserable, summer offers an ideal opportunity to pursue evidence-based remediation that will help her achieve success and enjoy school more when it resumes in the fall. Likewise, if your child is failing math and starting to hate it, some math work to memorize facts and algorithms or to spend time with a mentor who can explain difficult concepts will do wonders to help her confidence, interest, and engagement with numbers in the fall.

Many students who struggle academically benefit from previewing certain classes before school resumes (for instance, reading assigned books in advance so that they can keep up with their class, or practicing math concepts in a one-on-one setting so they can hit the ground running). This kind of work is rarely fun. Later, though, children usually appreciate the preparation that makes the school year move along more easily.

The truth is that it benefits every child, regardless of her individual learning profile, to read over the summer. And remember that audiobooks count! Done at the right pace, this activity can — and should — be an enjoyable pursuit rather than a corrective chore.

Balance is key.

Clearly, kids need to get outside to play — whether that’s out in nature or in an urban playground. Exploring, observing, pretending, making … summer offers powerful learning opportunities and potential healing for kids who feel beaten up by expectations at school. And, in truth, children who struggle in school crave a brain break more than anyone. They dream of free play and relaxation. And, of course, they look forward to spending time pursuing their own interests, which may come more easily than traditional academic skills.

But we need to recognize that, in addition to the formal learning that struggling children benefit from in the summer months, many of the opportunities to pursue their individual interests occur in structured settings, as well (think of sports teams, themed camps, or drama and music groups).

To avoid anything structured in the summer would mean that a child could potentially miss out on important opportunities to develop a sense of competence and confidence beyond the classroom. Time spent exploring interests outside of school can help children discover areas of expertise and passion that offset academic struggles during the school year.

A Closing Thought

Every child has a different learning profile — and that is why every child needs a different summer plan. Don’t let the experts make you feel bad if your child is working at something in a structured way this summer. You can be sure that the person advising you to ditch all summer work has never had to help shepherd a struggling child through school — but you know what it takes, and forgoing structure isn’t the solution for everyone.”

 

An update from Understood.org about an important court case for those with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Settlement in Dyslexia Discrimination Case Shows the System at Work

ByAndrew M.I. Lee
<https://www.understood.org/en/community-events/blogs/author/andrew-m-i-lee?BlogId=7>
Jun 26, 2015

By law, employers can’t discriminate against workers with disabilities. That includes learning disabilities. This May, two companies in Connecticut got the message—in the form of a lawsuit.

Kevin Lebowitz has worked as a carpenter for 15 years. He has a clean safety record. And he has many safety certifications.

Lebowitz also has dyslexia, which makes it very difficult for him to read printed text.

In 2012, Lebowitz reported for a new construction job, he says. McPhee Electric, Ltd. was the general contractor for the job. Bond Bros., Inc. was the subcontractor. When Lebowitz arrived, he was given a packet of safety information.

A safety officer from McPhee asked Lebowitz to review and sign the packet. Lebowitz told the officer he had dyslexia. He said he would need help reviewing the packet. And he offered to take it home to review.

That’s when a Bond Bros. superintendent told Lebowitz that he couldn’t be hired. Why? He was told he’d be a safety hazard since he couldn’t read the safety packet. (Neither company offered him any reading accommodations.)

Soon after, Lebowitz filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination. That includes the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The EEOC looked into Lebowitz’s claim. And it decided he had been discriminated against. So the agency filed a lawsuit against the companies in federal court.

“By all accounts, Mr. Leibowitz is a skilled carpenter,” says Catherine Wan, the EEOC attorney on the case. “Dyslexia had no impact on his ability to work safely. So this was really a misconception about people with disabilities.”

Lebowitz is not alone in his experience. “Complaints of workplace discrimination based on learning disabilities like dyslexia are not uncommon,” adds Justine S. Lisser, an EEOC spokesperson.

According to EEOC records, there were 408 of these complaints in 2014. Lisser points to cases against companies that demoted or fired employees because of their dyslexia.

In Lebowitz’s case, the result was a settlement. This May, the two companies agreed to pay him $120,000 in damages. They also promised to make changes at the companies.

One major change: Providing training about discrimination and reasonable accommodations for new and current employees. The companies also agreed to post related information at worksites. And they’ll change their employee handbooks.

The two companies declined to comment to Understood about the settlement.

“We are pleased that McPhee and Bond worked with us to resolve this lawsuit,” says Wan. “Trainings, notices and other measures—we think these will be effective in raising awareness. Disability discrimination violates the law.”

Any opinions, views, information and other content contained in blogs on Understood.org are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood

Struggling Students

Struggling Students: What a Parent Should Consider

 

Tuesday – April 28, 2015

 

6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

 

Denfeld High School

 

Duluth, MN

 

Why has this year been so hard for my child at school? This class will include an overview of some warning signs of dyslexia (difficulty reading) and dysgraphia (difficulty writing), current research, assessment, ideas on how to help, and some of the advantages of this type of thinking.  Class is offered through Duluth Community Education.  Registration fee is $15.00. To register contact Janis Kramer 218.336.8760 x2 or instructor Deb Dwyer @ dwyers@boreal.org or 218-340-7393

From Learning Ally…

Although this article is about children with Dyslexia, it has good information for parents of children with many different types of  learning challenges.

August 28, 2014

10 Things a Parent to a Child with Dyslexia Wishes You Understood

 Since discovering that my children have dyslexia, I have been absorbing all of the information about dyslexia that I can possibly find. In the process, I’ve learned so much.

I’d like to help others understand the 1 in 5 kids who have dyslexia as well.

So, without further ado, here are the top 10 things a parent to a child with dyslexia wishes you understood:

10. Grammar police, please stop.pic

Example:  “Your dog is LAYING next to you?? What’s he laying? An egg?”

Why this is an issue: Dyslexia is a learning difference in processing language. It is much harder for someone with dyslexia to read, write and spell. Your gift may be in grammar, but someone with dyslexia may be gifted in science or music or inventing new products. Think before you judge, and think before you type that judgment into someone’s comment section. Would you like us to follow you around pointing out your un-athletic abilities or your deficiency in art? Didn’t think so.

9.  Not all reading programs are equal.

Example: “I used XYZ early reading program/book/movie/device with my child, and he was reading full sentences by age 3. You should try that!”

Why this is an issue: Children with dyslexia learn in different ways. While these programs are just fine for non-dyslexics, a child with dyslexia needs a program built around multi-sensory explicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Orton-Gillingham, Wilson, and Barton are  some of the methods with proven track records to help children with dyslexia. If you are not in the dyslexia community, it may not be helpful to give advice. We know it’s well meaning, but our children learn differently, and different reading programs match up with different kids.

 

books8. Reading more isn’t the cure.

Example: “You should read to your kid at least 20 minutes a day. You know, I read to my kid since he was in the womb, and he caught right on!”

Why this is an issue: Okay, we are not discouraging reading to your child. We think it’s a great thing to do! Please, keep it up! Here’s the thing, though ….we DO actually read to our children as well! Every single day! We have read to them since birth. We have loads of books in our home. We have library cards, and we go weekly.

Reading to our children builds vocabulary, helps them learn about different cultures, and fosters imagination. It will not, however, magically teach them how to decode words. Please don’t assume that dyslexia is caused by a lack of early reading.

 

7. My child is NOT unmotivated/lazy/ignoring you/etc.homework

Example: “I kept him in from recess because he was lazy and not finishing his work.” or “He is not following directions, I told him to close his book, put up his backpack, and sit on the carpet. He just stayed by the backpack area.”

Why this is an issue: Dyslexia does not solely affect reading. While no two dyslexics are alike, many children with dyslexia struggle with processing speed. This includes processing both written and spoken language. Due to the slower processing speed, it will take them longer to do a worksheet. They may even yawn because so much effort is being put into decoding the words on the page. They are not being lazy. They are using so much brain-power that they are exhausted! Please, don’t hold them in from recess. They are spending their entire day working hard in a written world, and their brains need that break.

Also, multi-step directions may be a problem for many children with dyslexia. They are working hard to process the very first direction, and thus they may literally not hear the last step. They are not ignoring you. Repeat your directions, and most will say “oh!” and get busy doing whatever you said.

 

bright boy6. There are GIFTS that come with dyslexia.

Example: “Oh, that must be so hard to be dyslexic. What will he do in life?” This is usually followed by a very sad face.

Why this is an issue: Many people consider their dyslexia to be a gift! Yes, it makes processing language more difficult. However, other areas soar! A large number of people with dyslexia are inventors, scientists, athletes or actors. People with dyslexia tend to be very successful after graduation. As Dr. Sally Shaywitz from Yale often says, “dyslexia is an island of weakness surrounded by a sea of strengths!”

5. Accommodations are not cheating!

Example: “I can’t allow Johnny extra time on that test. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the class.”

Why this is an issue: Accommodations level the playing field for Johnny. They don’t give him an unfair advantage. Think of it like this, would providing a ramp up a set of stairs for a child in a wheelchair be “unfair?” What about a child who needs glasses? Is allowing him to use his glasses in class “unfair?” Just because you can’t see the difference in the brain does not mean it is not there.

4. Ear reading is real reading.pic

Example: “Oh, he’s listening to a book? That’s sweet. What has he actually read though?”

Why this is an issue: Ear reading is our word for audio books. This is important because reading, however you do it, helps to raise vocabulary, introduces you to different cultures, and gives you background knowledge you would not otherwise acquire.

For children with dyslexia, their IQ level is usually much higher than their actual reading level. As technology has advanced, we now have a way for our kids to read, independently, on their actual IQ level. My own son has seen such benefit from audio books via our Learning Ally membership! He listens daily. This allows him to not only build his vocabulary, but to also discuss books with his peers like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, or Freckle Juice. It allows him a way to fit in, and to not feel so different.

Why would anyone want to discourage that?

We do still practice eye reading nightly as well. We work on it. It is equally important.

3. Help in school is not automatic.

Example: “Why are you upset? He gets all that help in school now.”

Why this is an issue: When you are the parent to a child with dyslexia, it’s an uphill battle. First, you need to secure a diagnosis. Most schools will evaluate a child for special education services, but not necessarily for dyslexia. A specific diagnosis is important because it helps parents and educators know which type of reading program to provide.  If your child does qualify for special education services in school (not all dyslexics meet the qualifications), there is no guarantee that the program provided will be one that is research based specifically for dyslexia. That’s because most schools do not test for dyslexia. And we go round and round.

So, what do parents do? If we can afford it, we hire private dyslexia tutors, who are specialized beyond most reading tutors. See point number 9.

pic2. Our kids can learn to read. They also do not see backwards.

Example: “Your child is dyslexic? That means he can’t read, right? It must be hard since he sees everything backwards.”

Why this is a problem: Our kids can, in fact, learn to read, and some will even read well!  They just need to have access to a research based reading program made specifically for dyslexia. Also, kids with dyslexia do not “see” backwards. They see just like everyone else. Sometimes you will see them reverse letters, but that is because many have struggles with left vs right and orthographic processing.  It has nothing to do with how they see.

1. My child is one of the smartest kids in the class. 

pic

Example: “Slow readers are clearly …well …slow.”

Why is this an issue: The reading circuit in the brain is totally separate from intelligence. If our school system was set up in a way where everyone learned via musicals, then the people who don’t sing well would be considered “slow.” Reading is just one area where some people excel, and some do not. It is not a sign of intelligence. Actually, the majority of people with dyslexia have average to above average IQ levels. All upper level thinking skills are there. Our kids can do grade level work (and sometimes above grade level work), but many will need to acquire the information in some format aside from written text. This is where audiobooks really benefit our children! They are just as smart as all of the other kids in class, and sometimes they are even the smartest child in class. Reading text is not the best way to measure intelligence.

Essential Reading Skills

Orton-Gillingham methods build strong, confident readers.   If your child is struggling in school, consider working with an Orton-Gillingham tutor over the summer to help them build reading confidence and a lifetime love of learning.  Don’t let them struggle for years.  Signs that a child will struggle with reading are evident in kindergarten.

The sequential part of Orton-Gillingham teaches reading skills in a direct, systematic, orderly way and including: phonemic awareness, letter recognition, concepts of print, sound/symbol relationship, word reading and spelling, syllables, fluency skills, vocabulary, and comprehension.  When a child struggles with fluency, usually one of the more fundamental building blocks, listed above, is weak.   Fluency involves the pace and accuracy of reading and prosody.  Prosody is the expression, volume, phrasing and smoothness.

Minnesota has adopted Read Well by 3rd Grade, but most of us don’t know what that means.  We read to comprehend information, but before we do that reading fluency is key and before that, other building blocks.  Today, in many of our schools children’s fluency is measured by giving them the same three grade level passages multiple times over the year and having a child read each for one minute. A recorder marks the errors a student makes and indicates the number of words the child read.  Sometimes comprehensions is tested by having the student retell the story…. but that is a different conversation.  Most research expect that a third grade child should begin the year reading grade level material at a rate of 70 or more words per minute and end the year reading 100 or more words per minute they are considered meeting their benchmark with 95% – 97% accuracy, respectively.  The numbers for the rate of reading represent the 50th percentile.  If a students falls below the midpoint they should be receiving additional intentional support in the area that they have demonstrated a weakness in that comes before fluency on the continuum of learning to read.  If your child is not meeting the midpoint by the end of third grade, fourth grade will be significantly more challenging than previous years.  I could argue that for some students meeting the middle is even too lower of a threshold.

I’m happy to talk with any family about reading, if I can’t help you, I can often direct you to someone that can.  Please feel free to call me at 218-340-7393.