Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Daughter is Amazing and Other Dyslexia Truths

As the mom of a dyslexic, struggling reader, I make time for articles and books about her condition, partially to understand her needs, but also to manage my level of concern. Many of us, before researching, thought dyslexia was a condition in which the letters and words wouldn't stay put on a page, and consequently, reading was a slow process for the affected student. This is a gross misrepresentation of what dyslexia is, and this lack of understanding in the general public is unfortunate, given that an estimated 1 in 5 people are affected by dyslexia to some extent.

Robert Redford's grandson is severely dyslexic and could barely read and write at 10 years old. The young boy's father, James, was so frustrated about the misunderstanding surrounding his son's condition that he produced The Big Picture, a 2013 documentary which "follows the stories of several dyslexics of different ages, including son Dylan, and examines how people with the condition cope from a young age right through to adulthood." Below is a quote from The Guardian story about the documentary:
Yet the condition is still shrouded in mystery. When Dylan was a child, his parents "felt under fire all the time with misinformation". They encountered teachers who did not know how to deal with their son and people who assumed it was a "made-up" illness that children could grow out of.
"You get a mournful glance from someone who says, 'So, will they be living with you for the rest of your life?' " Redford says. "Or, 'I'm so sorry. Do you plan to have more children?' It's just crazy. That was part of the frustration and it drove me to tell the story as it really is."
The Big Picture explores some of the recent scientific research around dyslexia which has used brain imaging to demonstrate that shrinkage in the arcuate fasciculus, the part of the brain that processes word sounds and language, could be one of the condition's contributory factors.
Once Dylan was officially diagnosed, he started to thrive and won a place to study at Middlebury College, a prestigious liberal arts university in Vermont. Redford says that his son, like many dyslexics, is "a big-picture thinker" who can come up with creative solutions to problems but that mainstream schooling in the US and the UK fails to recognise this.
What exactly is dyslexia? The International Dyslexia Association defines it thus: 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.

Wikipedia defines it thus: Dyslexia, or developmental reading disorder, is characterized by difficulty with learning to read fluently and with accurate comprehension despite normal or above-average intelligence. This includes difficulty with phonological awareness, phonological decoding, processing speed, orthographic coding, auditory short-term memory, language skills/verbal comprehension, and/or rapid naming.

Even though my daughter, who will be 8 in December, has been sounding out words for well over two years now, she still struggles mightily with fluency. Dyslexics just read slower than average, and this will persist their whole lives.

John Piper, renowned pastor and co-developer of the wildly successful Desiring God website, admits that he has dyslexia and that consequently, he's not a well-read person, owing to the excessive time it takes to get through books.

And yet he's a brilliant theologian and communicator, and has written or co-written nearly 100 books.

What does he read then, that cultivated his great mind? The Bible. He picked one book--the right book--and became an expert on it. I can't tell you how his story and many others inspire me as I work with my daughter.

Dyslexia can be a gift; see an article by the author of Overcoming Dyslexia, Sally Shaywitz, M.D. entitled "The Dyslexia Paradox: Slow Reading, Fast Thinking", published in Yale Scientific. Dyslexics are the perfect entrepreneurs because they see possibilities and connections most of us don't. They quickly see the big picture and the possibilities, but are often bogged down by details. Scores of famous people have dyslexia.

Sally Gardner, a famous writer (one I haven't read), wrote an article for The Guardian entitled Dyslexia is Not a Disability--It's a Gift. In the comments section many disagreed with her because of their negative school experiences, and because of the stress having dyslexia caused them. It seemed to me that those who felt it was a gift were those who benefited from parents, teachers, peers and friends who believed in them.

My daughter is an amazing young lady and I do, indeed, believe in her, but sometimes I wonder what the narrow-minded world will do to her psyche. Without belief in God and an awe of all that He created, it's easy to be narrow-minded and think "inside the box", expecting everyone to conform to the establishment. Atheists think our silly Jesus is a stupid myth, or at best, just a famous person, and that our Jesus-freak minds are too narrow or brainwashed to view him otherwise.

But doesn't it make more sense that a narrow mind is one who looks at all the beauty and diversity in the world, and the complexities of the human body, and concludes it's all an accident? That is narrow.

Just today my daughter's story included the word bike, among many other silent-e words. Each time she encountered the word, she had to sound it out. Not once did she recognize it from context or from having read it many times in the story. It's so hard not to think silently: enough already! You read this ten times in the last fifteen minutes!

It's hard not to worry about her during her reading sessions and afterwards. Reading anything other than word. by. word. is such a struggle. My dyslexia-reading and research help me, mostly by leading me back to my core values and beliefs.

God is good. He loves us and we are fearfully and wonderfully made...all of us differently.

I have two children, Peter and Mary, who think outside the box and exhibit disabilities that are also gifts. ADHD people, as well, are highly represented among the entrepreneurial population. The biggest question for me as a parent and teacher is this: Where is my faith? In whom? Is it in God, or in traditional education? In God, or in the world's definition of success? Is it in how others perceive me and my family, or is it in God? Is it in my plan or perceptions, or is it in God's?

Science and research and personal stories are helpful, but the Truth of the Bible is my life line. I will continue trying to understand my daughter and my son, but all the while, I will cling to the promises in the Word, remembering that perfect love casts out fear, and we are all wonderfully made, with purpose and a plan.

The more we focus on God's plan and not our own, the wider and more beautiful our view.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Savvy Moms Guide to Halloween Candy

1.  Store it on the highest surface in your house, like the top of the refrigerator. Note placement of buckets in case your naughtiest one decides to steal some.

2. Get the buckets down before regular teeth brushing only. Otherwise, start making the dental appointments now. The stickier the candy, the worse the dental bills.

3. Have a chore ready for them to do, for which they will be rewarded a piece of their candy (before morning teeth brushing, or before nightly teeth brushing). This morning I chose a laundry chore for them.

Each white basket has a child's name on it, and they have to fold their clothes when the basket is half full, and then place the clothes in the correct drawer in their bedrooms.

4. If anyone is caught stealing, they lose their next piece of candy, and they still have to do the chore involved.

5. Have the evening candy be their dessert for the night, and offer two to three pieces so the whole candy nightmare is not too drawn out for poor Mom. Consuming candy after a meal doesn't result in the quick rise in blood sugar, followed by the slump in energy and mood. That happens for the most part when the sugar is taken between meals.

Although, I think some desserts that have other wholesome ingredients in them too, can sometimes be taken between meals without a blood-sugar problem (as long as there is no diabetes?).

6. Have them count their candies after trick or treating, and then count backwards as they disappear. You can even graph the candies. It adds in some math skills for the younger ones (daily counting-down practice, for example). And most importantly, it keeps you, the sometimes-stressed mother, from stealing the chocolate ones. 

7. Have them pray for the family who gave them that particular candy, each time they consume one. God knows which family it is, and at least 70 to 80 percent of your neighborhood needs to know Jesus.

Your turn. What are your candy rules? Do you dread Halloween candy? I used to dread it before having a plan. The constant begging for candy drove me nuts! We just finished our third year going trick or treating, so I figured it was time for a solid plan.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Giving Out Tracts this Halloween? A Resource

If you'd like to prepare some tracts to pass out with some candy this Halloween, here is a website allowing you to choose from many different versions, for several different holidays, or some generic ones as well. I choose the My Story tract because it most describes my path to the Lord.

Link for all their free tracts:

You have to copy, cut, and staple these. You can also buy tracts at most Christian book stores.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Missional Living and Fighting for Joy

Isaiah 43:18-19 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

My father is in town visiting and staying with his sister, who lives in our township. I planned to have them over for dinner last night, serving a huge pot of potato soup and a large crockpot of navy bean with ham. It was all planned in my head, down to when I would do the soups and when I would tidy up, and when I would teach Friday lessons. 

But Beth started with a profusely running nose Thursday evening, and much more congestion than her allergies normally cause--a cold picked up from her Tuesday afternoon library program. The incubation period for a cold virus is almost always 48-54 hours, so it's never hard to think back to the source (not that it matters anyway).

My uncle is germ phobic, so instead we planned for me to bring the soups, including corn bread, salad, and ice cream and blueberries, over to my aunt's house, while my husband and me took turns staying home with Beth. My aunt is doing enough extra cooking with my dad and his young wife there, so I knew that at almost 70 years old, she was exhausted and could use a night off cooking. 

I had a 6 PM deadline to do all this cooking, and mostly everything was going smoothly, until Miss L. came over after school and said she just had to speak to me in private.

I went outside with her and proceeded to hear pretty horrible things about her mother's problems. Miss L. wanted advice. I have watched this girl bypass her childhood in the weeks since her grandmother died. She's a nervous wreck now, feeling responsible for her mother, and wondering how she can keep her mother from either committing suicide, or being killed by the boyfriend. 

I asked questions about who she and her brother could stay with in their extended family. There are two aunts nearby, and a great grandmother who is 70 years old, but no one gets involved in her mother's issues, possibly because Miss L and her brother are both handfuls and presumably no one in the family wants to have custody of them. That's all I can think of, as to why the extended family is not protecting these kids from their mother's ongoing dysfunction. The grandfather, with whom they live, now knows some of what is going on, but he has not kicked out the mother yet, and he has not brought in anyone to protect the kids during his second-shift work schedule.

I listened and counseled, but I don't think I helped her dilemma much. I counseled on how to protect herself, but I sensed she wanted me to help protect her mother. 

An enabler already, at 12 years old. Generational drug and alcohol abuse is ruining our nation, and as I speak with her I remember it's highly probable she will marry a drug or alcohol abuser, or become one herself, or both. So I try gently to explain what an enabler is, and how it never works to try to "fix" someone. We can't fix anyone; only God can.

But these are difficult things for a 12-year-old to hear, least of all a 12 year old who desperately wants to save her mother.

She had to go and check on her mother, so our conversation ended.

I went back into the house and soon my head began to pound with a migraine, brought on partially by all the heat in the kitchen as I prepared soups and cornbread, and fueled by all I had just heard and could do little about. My husband had to rush in and out of the shower after work, and go over to my aunt's with our food and non-sick kids, while I stayed home and nursed a migraine and loved on Beth.

I called child protective services about Miss L.'s situation, which was a weight on my mind, as much as I tried to remember the importance of establishing and maintaining boundaries while helping people. As much as I abhorred the act, it was time to involve CPS based upon the issues Miss L. brought up this time. I had asked her if she felt a foster home would be better for her and her brother. She doesn't want to leave her mother for fear of what her mother will do to herself.  "I can't leave her." 

Those are the words that echoed in my mind half the night in the wee hours. 

It was after 4 PM yesterday that I called CPS, so I could only relay what I knew to an after-hour staff member. On Monday I will be called by regular day staff for more information. And I was encouraged to call the sheriff for a welfare check on the kids, any time I felt the situation warranted.

Every child loves his or her mother. Even Miss L., who is driven crazy by her mother's poor choices, loves her mother dearly, even if she has to be her mother's parent. I don't know what will come of my calling CPS. I don't know what their limit is. How much does a child have to be suffering before they are removed from the home? Does it have to be physical pain only, and never emotional? 

There are physical things, too. The 8-year-old came last week, asking Peter not to tell anyone about how his mother shook him horribly because he spilled his milk and his sister cleaned it up with his favorite blanket, which made him throw a nasty fit. So his mother shook him violently, or enough to scare him and make him ashamed of her behavior, more than his own. Is that enough for CPS, even though we've never seen bruises, only facial cuts that could have resulted from a number of things?

It wasn't the shaking of the 8 year old that made me call, but that is evidence that the suffering is not only emotional.

These kids will be a difficult foster placement. Their minds will be even more troubled, their behavior even more problematic. Bonding with foster parents will be difficult, as it will feel like they are betraying their own mother, even as they both ache for normalcy and a functional home situation.

Am I supposed to be wrecked by their situation? Is that a holy feeling...being wrecked emotionally and mentally by other people's suffering? Are my own children supposed to know so young that some parents love their own dysfunction more than they love their kids? How can I teach compassion, while also teaching holiness? How can I teach "judge not" while also teaching responsible living? 

For kids saved before their teens, the idea of their own sin and how it makes them similar to all the other sinners of the world, is a difficult concept. Being saved early is good, but it doesn't make it easier to feel grateful for what God has done for you. 

Were we placed in a $43,000/year average income neighborhood merely so we could have an inexpensive home, enabling me to stay home with our kids? Or was there more to it? 

You can't do mission work very effectively without being present in the "field". God has placed us in the field, and we are reeling--I am reeling--at the cost. How much is it supposed to cost? How long will it be before I can do my part each day, and then move smoothly along with my own joy? 

Sin is ugly and the consequences are uglier and God is dangerous, as I read in this blog. This isn't so much a question of "how could God allow this?" God doesn't make people sin, and he doesn't smooth over sin either. Miss L. has lost her childhood as a result of her mother's sin, and God won't stop or freeze those consequences. He hates sin and demands righteousness and allows sinners to destroy themselves and their loved ones.

Isaiah 43:18-19 “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

This beautiful verse gives me hope. I remember that God makes all things new. I remember that Miss L. belongs to the Lord. She was fearfully and wonderfully made, and He has a plan for her life. I remember that my prayers are holy and they will be heard. I remember that as I help and am wrecked in the process, God is always there for fill me renew my work in my own children in the context of this neighborhood.

The answer isn't to wish we could give our children a healthier neighborhood, but to model how to be thankful for this one. 

It was after all this discourse with the Holy Spirit, that I finally fell asleep last night.

What about you? Are you wrecked as you help others? How do you fight for joy afterwards?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Weekly Homeschool Wrap-Up

I haven't written about our school year thus far, so I thought I'd update that part of our lives. I have many books to share and add to my picture book pages on this blog, but there just hasn't been time. Hopefully soon.

I've begun watching a 9-year-old boy a couple nights a week, so that makes things a little busier, but he's a sweet boy and a welcome addition to our family (Landon, who accepted Christ recently). His grandma told me when she accepted my offer to watch him that he has ADHD, Aspergers Syndrome, and depression. His mother died when he was 18 months old, and he deals with anger over not having a mom, since all the kids he knows have one.

Oh, Lord. So much for a young boy to handle. Please say a prayer for him? I've suspected he was on the autism spectrum for quite a while now, but I do think he will do just fine in life.

In 2013 Aspergers Syndrome became an obsolete name in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It's now called Autism Spectrum Disorder on a severity scale, but that change is still controversial.

On to homeschool news...

Beth, age 5,  is learning to read with All About Reading Level 1, and Mary, age 7,  is learning to read more fluently with All About Reading Level 2. These programs do not typically take a whole year, so Mary will be in Level 3 before her third grade year. The materials do help tremendously with dyslexia, but the lessons are long and we can't do everything everyday, due to my girls' attention spans.

Peter the science teacher at work on experiment day

The object is to suspend a tissue paper butterfly in the air with magnets and get it to fly. It worked!

Peter's friend outside the window here. Peter took the picture.

I have Mary reread each story several times over several days, so I don't use the program exactly as written. Nonetheless, the difference in appropriateness in addressing Mary's needs is amazing. I'm so thankful to Marie at the All About Learning Press company, as the founder and writer of this program. I highly recommend it for any child struggling to learn to read, or for any child who has siblings with dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia. All these issues require explicit, systematic teaching, with only one new skill introduced at a time. Each new skill is practiced with many repetitions over days or weeks.

I bought All About Spelling Level 1, but we haven't added that in yet. The boys will use it too as it is suggested that all students start with Level 1 to learn all the spelling rules from the beginning. The rules don't necessary repeat as you go higher, and more are added each year, so you have to try to fast track your older kids through all the Levels. It is intensive spelling training and leaves nothing out, which, again, is necessary for any child with learning disabilities. Peter has dysgraphia and definitely needs intensive spelling training, although he has made a lot of progress with Sequential Spelling (also for dyslexics, but not as systematic).

Both girls are doing Saxon Math 1, but Beth is starting from the beginning, and Mary is 3/4 of the way through. We do the Morning Meeting together. They enjoy schooling together, and also pair up for Sonlight's Core B literature and history (World History Part 1). Paul reads the non-fiction Core B selections to them, and I read all the rest (really loving the read aloud selections so far, like Little Pear and Homer Price). Not all relate to history, but they are charming nonetheless. I have the full program on hand now.

Both girls also do Sonlight Core B science (Animals, Astronomy, Physics), but Beth is less interested, unless it's experiment day. Peter teaches them science willingly (he loves science!). I have my hands full with everything else, and I feel like both my boys are reaping many benefits from becoming teachers at their young ages.

The boys, ages 11 and 12, join together to do Sonlight Core G literature and history (World History Part 1, but for older kids). They are enjoying their school year, and Daddy is enjoying doing their read alouds with them before bedtime.

The boys especially love Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World Vol. 1. They will move into volume 2 (Middle ages) this year too.

I am doing WriteShop Junior Book E with both boys. We all really love this program, but we haven't abandoned Writing With Skill (Susan Wise Bauer) because that program is still excellent for teaching non-fiction writing, while WriteShop is excellent for fiction. The WriteShop company writes materials with learning disabilities in mind, just as All About Learning Press does. That's not to say all children wouldn't benefit from and love their materials! They're just excellent--hands-on, systematic, explicit, and fun. No more tears at writing time, that's for sure.

The boys are still both doing the same level in Teaching Textbooks (CD ROM) program for math, and let me tell you, I could hug and kiss the two brothers who wrote this program. It's excellent, multisensory, systematic, and with plenty of review. Peter has dyscalculia and really benefits from this program. He also needed the Times Tales multiplication DVD to learn multiplication facts, which we purchased about 2 years ago, when it became clear he just wasn't going to get it without a story attached to the facts. Teaching Textbooks is wonderful, but for your dyscalculic student, purchase something for fact memorization as well.

We still write in journals, and all my children really enjoy that time (about 10 to 15 minutes in the morning...any topic, or an on-going story).

That's all the updating for now. I hope all my homeschooling friends are having an excellent year!

Weekly Wrap-Up


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