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Dyslexia Myth Debunked: does NOT make you “See Things Backwards”

27 Aug

 

 

Dyslexia Myth Debunked: does NOT make you “See Things Backwards”.

 

Great post with helpful information about dyslexia from Learning Foundations!!!!

What are Measurable IEP Goals?

27 Aug

Probably the most important part of your child’s IEP is the “Measurable Annual Goals.”  These goals are suppose to be the result of one year of special education services and will help you determine if your child is making progress in their education.  It is important to review the goals that the school has proposed for your child.  They are suppose to be the framework for what your child will work on in the given year.  If these goals are too easy or too difficult or not appropriate,  another valuable year of your child’s education could be wasted.   The goals for most children should reflect what the general education students are working on to maintain educational equality.  For some children, the severity of their disability makes it impossible for them to have goals that are equal to those of their peers.  They have other needs that must be met. For all students, though, the goals should be aimed at getting your child to achieve to their full-potential (revealed in the educational testing that was done), starting at their current ability level and building upward.  The goals should be challenging, yet attainable and should reflect your child’s needs.

Many times I have witnessed parents fighting endlessly for lesser items on an IEP, completely ignoring the goals.  I think many parents aren’t aware of how important the goals really are for their child’s success.  Some parents only know some of the effects of their child’s disability;  like low test scores and frustration over homework, so naturally they would put emphasis on those areas of the IEP.  Yes, extra testing time is great; and reduced workload can help some students accomplish more and relieve some stress.  However, it is my experience that the academic, behavioral, and other goals that are set for your child are what really makes the difference in the long run.  The kinds of services, and sometimes the quality of services, given are based on those goals.  Whether or not you can see the progress your child is making will depend on the goals being measurable.   When the special education teachers write your child’s progress report, they will write about the progress they are making on those goals. If the goals are written correctly, so they are measurable, you will be able to plainly tell if your child is having success or not.  Since you want to know if your child is getting what they need and making progress, you will want to be sure that the goals are written in a way that is measurable.  (Usually, measurable goals will include a percentage or ratio of success.  For example, it might say “…..with success in 3 out of 4 attempts”  or “…with 80% accuracy”.)

If you think the goals are not challenging enough, too challenging, not measurable, or will not meet your child’s needs SPEAK UP!  Here is your chance to help your child get what they need to be a success.    It is your right to object and ask for the school to make adjustments to the goals.  Tell them why you object to the goals, give them a chance to explain their reasoning, and then make your opinion and desires known.

Your IEP Child: Starting Off the New School Year Right

20 Aug

It’s a new school year!  New clothes, new supplies, new teacher!  Exciting, right?  For children that struggle in school, the coming of the new school year can be a difficult transition time.  Past experience may have taught them that school is not a pleasant experience.  My own son, who struggles with ADHD and dyslexia, has, in the past, dreaded the coming of the new school year.  When your child does not have a healthy and happy attitude about school and learning, it makes their struggles even more painful for them and you (as their parent).  This does not mean that you should just except that your child will never enjoy going to school.  Many of my students that are on IEPs are  happy at school. Some student’s have a naturally positive attitude, but most of my struggling students need support to develop a healthy and happy attitude about learning.   I am happy to report that my son is looking forward to school beginning in a few weeks.  He has gotten a lot of support over the last school year and this summer, through his summer program.  He is looking forward to starting his new language based program and seeing the friends he has made.  Here are some ideas for building a healthy and happy attitude toward school that I have seen work with students on IEPs:

  • Be sure that your child’s educational needs are being met.  Nothing will bring down any student more than not getting what they need.  Ask questions of your child and the teachers that will tell you if the IEP is not being adhered too.  For example, you coud ask “Are you being given extra time to complete your tests?”
  • Remind your child OFTEN of the strengths they have.  Plan games and activities that emphasize these areas. For example, if your child is good at math, have them be the banker during a board game and be sure to say, “Mary is going to be the banker because she is so good at math.”
  • Let the teachers know about your child’s likes and dislikes.  Set your child up for success by informing the teacher right away of how to please them and how to avoid a melt down.
  • Experiment with homework times to find the best suited time for your child.  Try to set up and stick to a homework routine, this will reduce meltdowns and set expectations.
  • BE POSITIVE!  If your excited about school and learning, the chances are your child will pick up on your attitude and may imitate it.  Ask questions in a positive way.   For example:  “What great things happened at school today!”  “Tell me about something you were proud of today!”  “How many fun activities did you get to do today!”
  • Call out school staff that are being overly critical or negative about your child.  If you sense that a teacher’s attitude is affecting your child, you can call that teacher out (politely).  You could say something like, “Joey has been upset lately about some of the things that have happened at school.  He feels like he is being called out a lot and not being complimented enough.  How can we work together to fix this situation so that Joey can be happier at school?”

How to Get Help for Your Child that Struggles at School

15 Aug

It is heart breaking to watch your child struggle with school-related issues.  It is frustrating when school officials are not responding to your pleas for help.  Here are some ideas to help you get the school on your team:

The saying the squeaky wheel gets the grease is never more truer than in a school system.  As a teacher, I have seen this 1st hand.  Last year, I worked with a student who had mild dyslexia, but with extra time she could complete grade level reading work.  Her mother swooped into the school the very first week of school and demanded services for her child.  She was aggressive and threatened the principal, who promptly gave in to her unreasonable demands.  I was tapped to give the services to this student that had never been qualified for special education.  This may seem like an extreme example of the squeaky wheel, but it happens a lot.  I am not suggesting that any parent use aggressive tactics to get help for their child.  In the end, this child was taken off my caseload because I was able to gather data (or proof) that she did not need my help.  This child also has a severe case of  under-achieving because she quickly gives up when something is difficult.  I believe this could be the result of her mother underestimating her abilities and giving her help with things she can do on her own.

Meanwhile, in the same classroom there was a student that was reading well-below grade level, who was not receiving any help.  He was very shy and silently struggled in the back of the room.  Once his teacher figured out his troubles, she talked to his parents about getting him tested.  They agreed that he was struggling, but the parents never wrote the note asking for testing.   It takes a lot longer for a teacher to get testing for a student than it does for a parent. The testing did not happen until spring, and his services are set to begin this September.  A whole year was lost for this child.

In order to get help for your child you may need to do a couple of things.  The first thing you may need to do is to reach out for help.  There are people at the school that are there specifically to help struggling students, but sometimes struggling students do not get help.  It may be that they are struggling in silence and using strategies (yes, sometimes cheating) to fool you and the teachers.  It could be that the classroom they are in is overrun with struggling students and the teacher can’t get to everyone.  Whatever the reason, if you know your child is struggling and not receiving help, you need to ask for it.  You should state exactly what problems you see in your child and ask for their help in correcting these problems.  If the teacher has done something that did not help, but in fact caused more difficulties, speak up about it.  Teachers use strategies that they have had success with in the past, but what works for one may not work for your child.  Also, comment on successful strategies you have seen used with your child.  Once a plan of action has been established, follow up on it.

Following up is the second thing you need to do when you are trying to get help for your struggling child.  Remember that sometimes progress is slow, but look for any signs of improvement.  Keep track of your child’s progress yourself, saving their papers is one way to do this.  Speak again with the teachers, asking them for any signs of progress.   Ask to see proof of the progress.  If the teacher has not held up her end of the action plan, find out why and report this to her supervisor.  If there is no progress, now it is time to refer your own child for testing.  I have posted on how to do this in the past, so I will not repeat it.  Getting involved in the special education process can be frustrating at times, so don’t give up.

Not give up is another thing you need to do to get the help you want for your child.  You would be surprised what perseverance can get you at a school. Research your child’s educational rights and your parental rights.  Get free advice (the Federation for Child with Special Needs offers free phone consultations with trained advocates).  Knowledge will be your biggest advantage to getting what your child needs.  Arm yourself to the hilt with it.

IEPs Explained for Parents

12 Aug

If you are not in the special education field, reading an individual education program (IEP) can be a little like reading a document in another language.  You will find terminology that you probably have not come in contact with before. There are lots of acronyms and terms on IEPs that are specific to special education.  Here, I will try to explain some of the more confusing terms and acronyms of IEPs, however, if you have a question about your child’s IEP that this post does not answer, feel free to post a question.

General Curriculum:  This the regular curriculum that all non-disabled students receive in a school district.  The term general is used in place of “regular”; for example, a non-special education classroom is called a general education classroom.

Instructional Modifications:  Basically, these are any changes that can and will be made to the instruction for your child to help their learning.   These can also be called specially designed instruction.  These are changes that non-disabled students do not qualify for.

Methodology:  This means how the instruction will be delivered, by which method.  Sometimes teams will specify a certain way to best present new material to your child (e.g. visual aids or multi-sensory instruction).

accommodations:  These are changes to the learning environment that will help your child make more effective progress.  Students who are not on IEPs can qualify for accommodations as well.  An example of an accommodation is preferential seating near the source of instruction.

Assistive Technology:  These are devices (can be electronic) that can help a student with a disability.

Performance Criteria:  This is another term for testing or assessment.

Measurable Goal:  This is a goal (or outcome) that can be actually measured.  Usually goals are written in terms of ratios and/or percentages.  Here is an example of a measurable goal:  Jane will read a paragraph with 80% accuracy in 4:5 opportunities. The goals should be challenging, yet reachable.

Benchmarks:  These are the steps that a student will probably make before they can accomplish the measurable goal.  For example, Jane will probably read with 75% accuracy before she can read it at 80% accuracy.  If the goals are challenging enough, students will not be able to reach them without first meeting the benchmarks.

Nonparticipation Justification:  This is were the school district must prove why they are removing a student from the general education classroom.  Because students have the right to be educated with their peers to the most extent possible, the school system needs to tell why it is preferable to take this student out.

Should I Sign My Child’s IEP?

10 Aug

What to Consider Prior to Signing a New IEP 

An individual education program or plan is a document that outlines the special education services your child will receive.  It includes your child’s disability, current academic performance levels, accommodations they will get, services to be provided, goals for your child to meet, and how they will be assessed. An IEP is a legal document that is binding for the school district.  As a parent you have the right to revoke your permission for the IEP at anytime. Many of us parents worry about our children’s IEPs.  We wonder if it is appropriate, if it will benefit our child, and if we should give our permission to implement it.  You should never feel pressure to sign an IEP, you have 30 days to consider it.  Here are some things to consider prior to signing an IEP (or after you’ve signed!):

  • Do I agree that my child does indeed have the diagnosed  disability? If not, why do you believe your child isn’t making progress?
  • Do you believe your child truly needs the listed the accommodations?  or Do you think they will need more accommodations to make  progress?
  • Do you believe that your child’s school can deliver the specially designed instruction your child needs to make progress?  If not, what has led you to believe this?
  • Do you believe your child has other educational needs (such as, social needs or behavior support) that the school has not addressed in the IEP?  If yes, what needs are these?
  • Has the school written MEASURABLE goals? (For example:  Joe will improve his oral reading fluency to 60 words per minute by the end of the third marking period. This is measurable because a teacher can measure words read per minute by doing a running record of Joe’s reading.)
  • Do you think your child is going to receive too little or too much direct special education services?  If yes, how much service time do you think they need?
  • Do you agree that your child needs to be removed from their classroom to receive their services?  Do you think their needs can be best met in the classroom?  Does the IEP reflect your belief in this area?
  • Do you think your child would benefit from a summer program?  Why or why not?
  • Is your child being assessed in a fair, non-biased way?

After considering the proposed IEP carefully, you have 3 options.  You can accept the IEP as developed, sign it, and return.  Services for your child will begin right away.  You can reject the entire IEP as developed, sign it, and return.   No services will be given to your child and a new meeting will be scheduled.  You can reject portions of it that you are uncomfortable with, sign it and return.  This last option is beneficial for your child because some services (the ones you have not rejected) can be started as soon as the document is returned.  If you take the last option, you should attach a letter stating which portions you are rejecting and why.  I will post later about this option later because it is a real benefit to parents who are advocating for better SPED for their children.

Helping the Learning Disabled Child Overcome Obstacles to Their Success!

1 Aug

How to help your child with a learning disability (LD) overcome social and emotional obstacles and be proud of who they are!

In my last post, I talk about social and emotional vulnerabilities in children with LDs.  I wanted to make sure that I also posted about how your child can avoid those obstacles.  Like I said, there is no reason that a child with LDs cannot feel and be successful regardless of the severity of their disability and the past failures they have had.  In fact, many children with LDs experience success later in their education or careers because they have learned to persevere more than the non-disabled students.  Your job, as a parent of a child with LDs, is to make sure they have the best odds to learn that perseverance and overcome the pitfalls of LDs (anxiety, depression, anger, low self-esteem).  Having hope for your child will help to instill a feeling of hope in themselves.  

Here are some tips for instilling hope and pride in your child with LDs:

  1. Learn about the Disability:  A great place to start is to learn all about the disability, then explain it to your child in a positive way.  This will help them understand themselves better and take some of the pressure from them.  Once my son knew that his struggles were not caused by something he had done wrong, I saw an almost immediate change in his self-esteem.
  2. Find Success Stories:  Find other people who have learning disabilities that have gone on to be successful.  There are many actors (Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford), professional athletes (Michael Phelps), and historical figures (Albert Einstein, George Washington)  that have LDs.  My son loved learning that one of his Star Wars heroes (Harrison Ford) has dyslexia like him.
  3. Don’t Hide the Disability:  Telling other friends and family about the LD will show your child that you are not ashamed about it and will teach them not to be either.  Being honest about their weaknesses will help your child to not be ashamed to ask for help when they need it, an important self-advocacy skill for all children.
  4. Be Patient:  Allow your child to grow and learn at their own pace, but with your gentle encouragement.  Try not to force them to master something that they are not developmentally ready to learn yet, this will only increase their frustration levels (Remember:  You have to walk before you can run).
  5. Be Kind:  Try not to criticize or discourage your child, instead be understanding and supportive.  This can be hard at the end of a long day and your child is having a homework meltdown, but your child is probably already condemning themselves in their own mind.
  6. Don’t Enable:  Never do something for your child that they can do for themselves.  You don’t want your child to learn to be helpless, they need to see that they can do something for themselves.  Give your child the least amount of help that they need to still be successful.
  7. Be Flexible:  When nothing is going right… go left!  Try new things until you find what works…
  8. Never Give Up:  If you give up, your child will give up.  Put something aside, find a new approach, ask for help… but never, ever give up completely!
Quotes that I keep handy and refer to often:
  • Never discourage anyone who continually make progress, no matter how slow.  -Plato
  • An ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of preaching. -Gandhi
  • A jug fills drop by drop.  -Buddha
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.  -Ben Franklin
  • …the hardest victory is over self.  -Aristotle

Learning Disabilities and Social/Emotional Difficulties

31 Jul

Student’s with specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia) often struggle with social and/or emotional difficulties, but these difficulties do not cause learning disabilities. Learning disabilities (LDs) are believed to be largely genetic based, and are not caused by anxiety, depression, or poor parenting.  Social and/or emotional difficulties could be a result of the discouragement that children with LDs experience.  These children are intelligent. Their teachers and parents can sense this, but they wonder why they are not able to meet expectations.  Many of us think that if these children would just try a little harder they would do better.  What we don’t know is that the learning disabled child is probably trying harder than any other child to do well, but they are consistently not able to meet their teachers’ and parents’ expectations.  This is frustrating and discouraging for both the child and the adults, and many children with LDs end up feeling stupid.  Learning disabled children do not get to experience the fruits of their labor the way other children do.  This is why evaluations and diagnosis is so important.

As a parent, I loved being able to explain to my child that you are not stupid, in fact you are very bright, however your brain works differently than other people’s.  I saw a weight lifted off my son’s shoulders when I was able to explain to him why he was having so much trouble learning to read and write.  Many of his anxieties over school and school-work have lessened since his diagnosis with dyslexia, but as a teacher I know that children with LDs are vulnerable to social and/or emotional problems relating to their disability.    This list may seem daunting, but I believe that knowledge is power and that by acknowledging these vulnerabilities I can help my child try to avoid them.

Here is a list of problems associated with LDs in children:

  • Anger:  Children with LDs may be angry about the frustration that they feel.  They may have outbursts at school and during homework.
  • Anxiety:  Children with LDs may be fearful of school, school work, or other social situations because they fear they will experience failure.
  • Depression:  Children with LDs may experience depression related to sadness they may feel about their inability to achieve at the same pace as others can.  They may have a low self-esteem if they turn their anger about their LD in at themselves.
  • Self Image:  Children with LDs may feel inferior to others, powerless and incompetent because of the failures they have experienced.
  • Social Skill Difficulties:  Children with LDs may be immature compared to their peers and they may seem awkward in a social situation.  They may also have trouble reading social cues (or body language) or  have trouble with oral language (stammering, pauses while speaking, etc.)
While there are many negatives associated with having a learning disability, I believe that children with LDs can experience some extreme positives when they are able to overcome their challenges and experience success despite their LDs.  My next post will be ideas of how you can help your child avoid these problems and come out on top!

How to be a Special Ed. Advocate for your Child

27 Jul

If your child struggles in school, you will need to be a strong advocate to get them the help they need.    When I began to suspect that my pre-school child had special education needs, I went straight to the school.  They did a screening on my child and told me everything is fine.  But I knew it wasn’t.  I am also a special education teacher, but my mom intuition was what was telling me to pursue this further.  I had to push for an evaluation to be done on my child.  When he did qualify for special education, then the real fight began.    I had to learn how to advocate for my child so that I could get him what he was going to need to achieve.  My son is now entering 3rd grade. He has been placed in a wonderful program for children with language-based learning disabilities.  He is happy because his needs are being met.  He continually makes progress and feels proud of himself. One of my happiest moments each day is seeing his happy-go-lucky face skipping out of school.  It is what I always wanted for him.  I made many errors trying to advocate for my son and from those errors, I learned a great deal.

Here is my list of Do’s and Don’t while trying to advocate for your child:

Don’t Do These Things 

  • Get overly emotional or argumentative
  • Make quick decisions
  • Knock it until you try it
  • Make something more intense than it is
  • Trust that you have all the information
  • Make verbal agreements
  • Make threats you won’t follow through on
  • Allow your child to be given anything less than what they deserve
  • Agree to your child having lower expectations placed on them
  • Let things that make you uncomfortable slide by without discussing them
  • Do anything for the sake of being nice or agreeable

Do These Things

  • Research your child’s disability and treatment options
  • Find out what resources are available to your child
  • Ask lots of questions to many people
  • Put things (requests, disagreements, agreements, conversations) in writing
  • Ask for verbal agreements to be put in writing
  • Think before you make a decision
  • Consider all alternatives
  • Remain calm, respectful, and mature
  • Look through all documents, reports, updates, etc.
  • What you feel is the right thing for your child
  • Follow through with ultimatums, threats, or agreements made
  • Ask for help if you need it
  • Talk to other experts or experienced people
  • Give the school a chance to correct mistakes or try something new
  • Attend all meetings
  • Get to know the school staff
  • Make your opinion heard
  • Consider yourself an equal member of the special education team
  • Remain positive, hopeful, and strong

Advocating for your child is not easy, but it very rewarding.  You may not always make the right decisions, but if you are making your decisions with the right priorities in mind (your child’s needs) even your mistakes will be okay.

Signs Your Child May Have a Learning Disability

26 Jul

When their children begin to struggle in school, many parents worry that their child may have a learning disability (LD).  But most children struggle at some point in their education and most children do not have learning disabilities (it has been reported that only about 5% of students have a specific LD, such as dyslexia).  A specific learning disability is defined as a disorder in one or more of the psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language.  The disorder cannot be the result of a visual, hearing, or motor handicap, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or an environmental disadvantage (such as poverty).  Children with a specific LDs are not cognitively impaired.  As a teacher, I often hear parents say, “I don’t understand why so and so is struggling, they’re so smart.”  My usually response is, ” You’re right, they are smart!”

So… how do you know if your child is just struggling or if they have a learning disability?  Special educators look for the student that is not achieving as expected in one or more of the following areas:  oral expression, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, listening comprehension, mathematical calculation, and mathematical problem solving.

Special educators will ask themselves many questions about a students that is suspected of having a specific learning disability as they observe them in a classroom setting.  While some students without a LD may have some of these characteristics, students with an LD will have many of these characteristics.  If you are concerned that your child may have a specific learning disability, here is what to ask yourself :

  • Are their language skills (oral, reading, listening, and writing skills) age appropriate?
  • Do they have difficulty regulating their speech?  [For example: Do they talk too loud or too soft? Do they use a lot of fillers (umm, you know, etc.)?]
  • Do they have trouble naming people or objects?
  • Do they often mispronounce words?
  • Do they have difficulty staying on topic?
  • Do they have difficulty re-telling what has just been said?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty rhyming?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty counting?
  • Do they avoid reading and  writing?
  • Do they or did they confuse similar-looking letters and numbers? or often reverse letters and numbers?
  • Do they or did they have difficulty associating letters and sounds and blending sounds into words?
  • Do they, while reading, guess at a word rather than sound it out?
  • Do they have illegible, or nearly illegible, hand writing?
  • Do they have difficulty understanding instructions or directions?
  • Do they find it almost impossible to organize a task or activity?
  • Do they have difficulty sustaining attention(or is easily distracted) in work and/or play?  and/or lack self-control at times?
  • Do they have difficulty ‘joining in’ with peers? and/or not respond appropriately to others?
  • Do they appear awkward or clumsy?  and/or have trouble with buttons, learning to tie, or holding a pencil?

If you notice many of these characteristics in your struggling child, you may want to ask that an educational evaluation (or core evaluation)  be done as soon as possible.  For more advice on how to request an evaluation, see my earlier post entitled:

Requesting an Educational Evaluation: How to Get the Right Evaluation for Your Child