Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekly Homeschool Wrap-Up: The Learning Disabilities Post

My appointment with our portfolio review teacher is next Wednesday, which officially ends our school year. Following that we will take two to three weeks off while I focus on writing our fall schedule, and looking in depth at some new curriculum we purchased. All of our curriculum has been purchased with the exception of Write Shop Junior E, which is a new product not available yet on the used markets. I also need a used copy of Right Start Math Level B, which we'll need in several months. We have other writing and math resources in place, but these are curricula I really want in addition.

There are just a couple changes since I last wrote about curriculum. I bought a used copy of Ann Voskamp's A Child's Geography for the family to do together. I also sold the Sing, Spell, Read & Write kit so that I could buy the All About Reading Level 2 and All About Spelling Level 1 kits to address Mary's mild dyslexia. So instead of using the Sing Spell Read & Write for Beth's K year, we are using Sonlight Language Arts 1, which is for students who can already read three-letter words. Mary will use the Dr. Seuss books to supplement the stories in All About Reading 2.

I believe in a lot of reading practice and I've increased Mary's practice sessions to two to three 20- to 30- minute sessions, using My First I Can Read books from the library, and the Usborne Phonics Readers, which are wonderful. There are three other easy-reader series in my public library that Mary can read with me sitting by, so thankfully along with my home library we have enough material.

She still needs the systematic phonics lessons that she'll get in All About Reading 2, however. Just practice is not going to move her significantly ahead, without learning the phonics one new phoneme at a time. Too many phonemes at once is way too confusing for her, and that was the problem with the Sing, Spell, Read & Write program, even though it was multisensory, which is good for dyslexics. It introduced too many phonemes at once, after the basic alphabet and consonant digraphs and blends were introduced. She did fine with all the beginning phonics, but beyond that everything was/is a challenge.

She also has trouble with sequencing things like months of the year and days of the week (even in songs or rhymes months and days are hard), so memory for random sequencing is also affected, and this is the case for Peter as well, although Mary can sequence events in a story very well, as can Peter. Their comprehension is excellent.

The Saxon Math we're using is an excellent program, but it's not addressing Mary's dyscalculia (math learning disability). I have had no success in getting her really comfortable with the numbers to 100. She struggles to remember which comes first when she writes 51, for example...the 1 or the 5. She gets it without my help usually, but she struggles (the patterns don't always help her as expected). She can't always read the numbers correctly out of order, and when the number chart to 100 is put into her hands, she struggles to find any certain number, or even the column it is located in (too much data at once).

Many aspects of math are no problem for her, and I can say the same about Peter, who also has dyscalculia. Every student can be affected somewhat differently. Right Start Math presents the numbers differently, so the names of them aren't so problematic, and facts/concepts are understood and memorized via games and different kinds of manipulatives, not through worksheets. It is a multisensory, hands-on program recommended by parents of dyscalculics. I hope to buy it used by Thanksgiving or Christmas, and in the meantime we will continue with Saxon and my attempts to present lessons using multisensory techniques.

Dyscalculia and Going to College With Learning Disabilities

I have learned recently that dyscalculia can make learning algebra very difficult, and if a student is formally tested and has proof of the disability, a waiver can be given for math in college, so that classes like statistics can be substituted, allowing otherwise very able students to get degrees and go on to fruitful jobs. There are people out there who couldn't complete their degrees because of failing algebra multiple times, and not having knowledge of their own disability, or their rights. Even non-math-related fields require algebra as a general education requirement (usually) so knowing your rights and advocating for yourself are essential. We will be saving money to get Peter (and eventually Mary) formally tested so that algebra does not present an obstacle in college (multiple variables on both sides of equations, along with negative and positive integers mixed, are just too much data and steps for some dyscalculics), although I am not putting any ideas into the kids' heads about algebra being hard. I keep my research to myself and only reveal it on a need-to-know basis.

My husband also has a couple learning disabilities (undiagnosed and unbeknownst to him until I began learning about our children's issues), and while husband doesn't remember a struggle with fact memorization, such as Peter has had, he absolutely remembers algebra being a nightmare. He went to a Bible college, which was five years of Bible and related subjects, not any general ed, so the algebra wasn't an issue. But, of course, his degree is not transferable to a regular college for higher education units. He would have to start all over to obtain a bachelor's degree, unfortunately, as the Bible college was unaccredited at the time he attended. His father didn't agree with him going to college after high school, and provided no support, and his mother had died a year earlier in a car accident, so he had no help in planning for a career, and obviously made some regrettable mistakes, as he doesn't have the skill set for pastoring (not that he isn't a faithful Christian). To this day he doesn't understand how he could have gotten the signals from God so crossed. We are told not to make major life decisions within two years of a loved one dying, and this is sound advice, and definitely applies to an unaccredited out-of-state Bible College for a 17-year-old youth within a year of tragically and suddenly losing his mother.

I don't go on this bunny trail much, but my head can just spin thinking about how different things could have been had my husband's parents been more aware of his issues, and if he himself had been aware. Being afraid or dismissive of a label is a dangerous thing, as is being too trusting that a public school can understand and solve everything related to education. Regular classroom teachers cannot be expected to catch much about learning disabilities, especially in the context of 22- to 32-student classrooms. As a student or adult, if you don't have any knowledge or understanding of the nature of the obstacles in your life, you just feel helpless and hopeless and dumb, and like everyone around you is speeding right by in the race of life. Anger and bitterness can set in, and problem-solving capabilities can further erode as dysfunctional thinking patterns take root.

Educational testing that can diagnose a specific learning disability is done by psychologists or educational testing services. Public schools do not test for specific learning disabilities like dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia, but rather, they test for discrepancies between IQ and academic performance, which indicate that a learning disability is present. If academic performance is low, but IQ is not low, then a learning disability is suspected. They can determine if it may be an auditory processing disorder, or a visual processing disorder, etc, but that doesn't help when obtaining waivers for college. The disability itself has to be named (i.e. dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), not the type of processing disorder(s) represented.

Go here to learn where to have your child tested:

International Dyslexia Association

Academic Language Therapy Association

Association of Educational Therapists

Insurance does not cover it, unfortunately, so for lower-income families, in which learning disabilities are highly represented, it is a very unfortunate reason that incomes remain low, because without the cash for testing, no waivers for higher education classes are likely to be pursued or obtained.

Before budget cuts, the disability departments of some universities tested for learning disabilities, but that is less prevalent now. If your child has an LD, look into the quality of this department at the college or university your child is considering.

Even a student with profound dyslexia, I learned, who spells entirely by sound, is supposed to be worked with by his or her professors, though not every school will comply with this without being pressured. I read that community colleges are more flexible in working with disabilities. The Americans With Disabilities Act is valuable, but we have to know how to advocate for ourselves much of the time. Profound dyslexics can be very bright and express themselves beautifully, but they might not be able to spell well enough for traditional spell-check programs to help. I've read about an iPad app that helps dysgraphics turn their sound spelling into conventional spelling. The iPad is an exceptional device for assisting those with learning disabilities, due to the myriad of educational apps.

Students with even profound dyslexia can still learn to read with assistance, but they can sometimes remain slow readers. High school or college students who read slowly can invest in books on CD, and in assistive technology that transfers text into speech, so that heavy college loads can still be handled.

I grieve the 13 years I spent teaching in public education, not knowing the necessary facts. How many of my students fell through the cracks in my first grade class (9 years in the regular classroom), because of what I didn't know? A student who acts out in class (behavior problems are a symptom of disability, at home and at school), or who appears to have ADHD or ADD, should be monitored closely for a possible learning disability, even if the academic work isn't significantly behind yet.

Parents should know early that they need to get their children tested outside of the public schooling system for the best results, after initial evaluations indicate a problem, or before school evaluations if desired, when the parents suspect a problem. Kids with disabilities struggle to grasp the information, and the behavior problems they display are a cover-up so that peers and the teacher will not know. Their frustration levels can also lead to outbursts. They feel dumb, because of course they don't understand that learning disabilities do not speak to intelligence, but to how the brain processes information coming in from the senses.

We have a neighbor girl with severe ADHD and ODD who has failed a grade and is still significantly behind her peers in reading and math. Her teachers do not know what the problem is so they are not doing anything differently for her, nor could they given their workloads. Repeating a grade is rarely the answer when a learning disability is the issue, and schools are too quick to suggest retention. And even if a student qualifies for some time with a resource teacher, if it isn't one-on-one and doesn't address the specific disability, it isn't likely to make up significant ground, especially if begun after 3rd grade. Our neighbor is very bright and I wish I could help her (she has asked me to school her many times), but I can't take on another student in my home given my own children's needs (especially not one with behavior problems), and her mother is too poor to pay for testing for her, and too dysfunctional herself to commit right now to homeschooling (nor would she be able to pay for even used curriculum).

See this post for more information about the range of disability with dyslexia, and the question of whether to come up with the $2000 or more dollars to test. The average child or adult with dyslexia may struggle significantly, but many are not profound enough to qualify as having a disability.

In short, learning disabilities are a significant and commonly misunderstood problem in our society, and failing to address them early can lead to increasingly complicated issues, such as low self-esteem, identifying with negative youths, drug and alcohol abuse, and dysfunctional thinking patterns and problem-solving capabilities.

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 is a help in solving these problems, but it is up to the individuals with disabilities to advocate for themselves. With functional parents willing to research and advocate for their minor children (and homeschooling them if possible), and educating their children about how to overcome these obstacles, the outcomes can be excellent. In a Christian home where the Lord reigns, dysfunctional behavior can often be avoided or corrected early, especially when no one is in denial.

What are your experiences with learning disabilities? What information can you share about overcoming or advocating? Thank you, dear reader.

Weekly Wrap-Up


Tesha Papik said...

Well I just finished the on line coarse by Marianne Sunderland on dyslexia, it was very informative. I have been educating myself on how to teach Jadon. I also read Dyslexia 101 and Unicorns are for Real. I have to say this is a whole new world to me, yet it is one I have live in my whole life. My father is dyslexic and his brother is profoundly dyslexic. I am sure I was profoundly dyslexic but learned coping mechanisms that really helped me. I still can read something five times and not see the mistakes or dial a number many times then realize that the numbers are backwards. I have read about the testing and how it can help in college which is Awesome! I looked into testing Jadon and we were quoted 3,500 by a few people. We have not decided if we will do it or not. He is in tutoring/ therapy and will be tested by our charter school this fall. Although like you said they do not give a diagnosis. However my husband is a strong believer in the trades and does not believe college is for everyone. He has built a very successful plumbing business without a college education and will be able to teach all of our boys plumbing and how to own a small business. So I am thinking we will be fine to not get an official diagnose. I love these post they are helpful for me! Please keep sharing anything you learn:)! By the way do you know any thing about lexercise?

Christine said...

Tesha, I do not know anything about Lexercise, but Kris Bales from Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers has used it to help her children who have dyslexia, and I believe it is one of her blog sponsors. Click over there and maybe ask her via email more about it? Thank you for commenting, Tesha! That $3,500 is outrageous! I agree it isn't necessary if college isn't in Jadon's plans. My son Peter wants to be a farmer, and I sure wish that were a trade that taught like in colonial times, but apprenticeships aren't very common now it seems. We will be looking into it a great deal more as he matures.