Archive | Help for Different Disabilities RSS feed for this section

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!!!!

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!

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

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders and Special Education

20 Jul

Some children have disabilities that affect their ability to behave in the expected way while at school.  For some of these students, their educational performance is affected and they may qualify for special education.   A child with an emotional and/or a behavioral disorder (EBD) that qualifies for special education will have special protections given to them that other students will not have.  If you suspect that your child may have EBD, or they have already been diagnosed, you may want to think about getting them qualified* for special education services to protect them.  Without a special education (sped) qualification, some students with EBD will be punished for behavior that it out of their control.  Some students are even suspended or expelled from school for their behaviors.  Most parents do not want to see their child miss out on their education because they have a disability, but are unsure how special education professionals can help their child.

Some children with EBD have externalizing behaviors.  This is acting out behavior that gets them into trouble with authority figures.  A child that is receiving sped services will not be able to be suspended for more than 10 days in a school year, or expelled, without a hearing to decide if the behavior is a result of their disability.  Also, if your child’s disorder becomes too acute for the school to handle, the school will have to place them in another educational setting. Other children have internalizing behaviors.  These are behaviors directed at themselves, such as feelings of self-hatred, depression, or suicidal thoughts.  Most schools have professionals on staff that can help students deal with these kinds of behaviors while at school. If the school cannot help the sped student with internalizing behaviors with the resources they have, the school will have to offer an alternative educational placement.

What children with EBD qualify* for special education?

Students must have a behavioral or emotional disturbance that will last over a long period and to a degree that it is affecting their ability to achieve at school.  What this means is that if a child experiences an emotional shock (such as a death of a parent) and begins to act out, they would probably not qualify for sped because they haven’t been experiencing the disturbance over a long time and the effects of the shock may improve.  Also, the disturbance must be severe enough that is affecting the students ability to do well in school.  For example, a student that is mildly depressed may have some difficulties, such as a poor self-image, but they may not be severe enough for them to need special services while at school.  Here are 5 factors that will qualify a child with EBD for sped services:

1.  Low academic achievement that cannot be explained by another reason (such as a learning disability)

2.  Low social skills (can’t keep up relationships with peers and teachers)

3.  Unexpected behavior in normal circumstances

4.  Depression or pervasive unhappiness

5.  Fear and anxiety associated with school issues

Specific illnesses that qualify children with EBD are:  attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), depression, and bipolar disorder.

*For more information about qualifying your child for special education, see earlier posts.

What is a Core Evaluation? (Educational Evaluation Description)

12 Jul

These are the components of a comprehensive educational evaluation (or core evaluation). Of course, not every student would be given all of these individual evaluations, but a good evaluation should produce a complete profile of your child as a learner and include more than one assessment. I believe that each student that is suspected of having special educational needs deserves to have a comprehensive evaluation that looks at each area of suspected need in an in depth way. I do not believe that adequate educational plans can be written without a complete learning profile of each student evaluated. A learning profile shows a child’s learning strengths and weakness and details ways in which your child would learn information best.

Here is a list of what a comprehensive educational evaluation could include:

History of the Student This section of the evaluation should include the results of previous testing and instructional approaches tried with the student. Information should be gathered from a review of the student’s records, such as cumulative folder, report cards, and standardized testing scores. Information should also be included about the child’s health and development, such as was the child born prematurely and did they reach developmental milestones at the expected ages.

Language Evaluation This section of the evaluation should include the results of testing in all the areas of language: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Reading areas that should be tested are phonemic awareness, phonological processing, phonics, and reading comprehension. A writing evaluation should include spelling, handwriting, sentence organization and cohesion, and conventions. A listening (or receptive language) evaluation would include following directions and listening comprehension tests. A speech and language evaluation would look at the student’s ability to correctly make sounds and say words and their ability express themselves in a variety of situations.

Math Evaluation A math evaluation measures a student’s mathematical reasoning skills and their number concepts and intuition. A math assessment would look at the following areas: number sense, functional and applied mathematical skills, problem solving, calculation, and the meaning and relationship of algorithms.

Cognitive Evaluation This area of the evaluation would measure the student’s brain functions and assess their potential to learn new skills and information. Areas that may be assessed are working memory, executive function, visual-spatial processing, problem solving, pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, and intellectual ability.

Emotional/Behavioral Evaluation This part of the evaluation would include information about the child’s emotional state, self-concept, and ability to maintain expected behavior and adherence to the rules of school. Areas that may be assessed are anxiety, attention span, hyperactivity or arousal level, impulsivity or self-control, defiant or non-compliant behavior, and depression.

Health Evaluation This evaluation would be included if a student is suspected of having a health-related issue that is effecting their ability to access the curriculum. The student’s pediatrician or a specialist in the area of concern usually does this evaluation. Types of health evaluations that can be done are vision or hearing evaluations, neurology, respiratory, or developmental.

Occupational or Physical Therapy Evaluations These types of evaluation are done is a student is suspected of having a delay or disability in the area of fine motor (such as tasks involving the use of the hands) or gross motor skills (such as tasks involving the use of the legs and feet). More increasingly, occupational therapy evaluations are including sensory integration assessments that measure a student’s under-reactiveness or over-reactiveness to sensory stimuli.

Good luck and remember that a good educational evaluation should produce a profile of your child’s learning strengths and weakness, as well as the ways in which they would learn best.

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

11 Jul

If you decide that your child needs an educational evaluation, you will have to put a request in writing to your school.   The wording of your letter is important and can determine the quality of the evaluation your child gets. If your letter simply asks for an evaluation to be done, and does not specifically state your concerns, your child may receive a very basic evaluation that does not assess the specific areas you are concerned about.

I recommend you ask for as many assessments as you think your child needs in that letter.  The more extensive the evaluation is, the better chance that an accurate diagnosis will be made. A good evaluation should produce a very detailed picture of your child’s learning profile. It will state their strengths and weaknesses, and should compare them to other children their age. It should include formal assessments, such as a cognitive test (sometimes called IQ test) and an educational achievement test. The evaluation should also include some formal tests in the area of concerns for your child. So if you are concerned about your child’s reading ability, the school should have administered a formal reading test, in addition to the educational achievement test. The evaluation should also include some informal assessments, such as an interview with you and/or your child , an observation, and a collection of work samples.

In order to assure that this gets done, you need to send a letter that is very specific about your concerns and what you want areas you want assessed during the evaluation. Areas of possible concern could be reading, math, writing, spelling, phonological (letter sounds) processing, sensory processing, attention, behavior, emotional needs, speech, oral language, social skills, self  image/concept, motor skills, hearing, vision, and cognitive processing issues/memory (this not a complete list of possible issues that affect school-age children).

Here is some sample language that you can use in your letter requesting an evaluation:

  • This letter is a request for an educational evaluation to be done on my child__________.
  • I am requesting this evaluation to be done because I suspect that ________may have a specific learning disability in ______.
  • I am requesting this evaluation because ______ has failed to make academic progress and I suspect he/she may have a disability in the area of________.
  • Because of my suspicion that _______ may have disabilities in the areas of _______, I am requesting that as part of the evaluation,  _______ assessments be done. [Be specific here. Use the list above as a guide or research other possible disabilities.

An evaluation that is not very thorough will only include an educational achievement test and perhaps a few other informal assessments (such as a classroom observation). While some good information can be obtained through an achievement test, they usually do not pick up on specific learning disabilities because these tests look at a very broad range of academic areas. Also, the test results can be interpreted different ways by different people, depending on their experience level and directives from their superiors (meaning some school systems will deny services to children that score in the low range on achievement tests because of budget constraints). Also, your child may have other issues impacting their ability to achieve, such attention, sensory, or emotional issues.  Therefore, you want your child to have a range of assessments given to them so that no one test will be used to decide if they need special education services.

There are laws about the amount of time the school has to complete the testing once they receive your letter, so find out what that time line is in your state. Once the testing is complete, you should get a copy of the results a few days before the meeting with the school.  If you feel that your child did not receive a comprehensive evaluation from the school, you need to tell them right away verbally and in writing. The school will then have to discuss with you either doing further testing themselves or paying for an outside evaluation.

Good luck and remember to be specific about your concerns and what kinds of evaluations you want done.

To Medicate or Not to Medicate Your ADHDer?

10 Jun

As a teacher, one of the more common concerns I hear from parents is about medications for children with ADHD.  As a parent, I’ve had to decide if I wanted to give my child medication for ADHD.  I know what a tough decision this is for a parent.  You may be thinking:  I love my child’s love of life and endless energy!  I get a kick out of my son’s goofy personality.  My child is not sick, so why am I giving them medicine? My child is smart, they just struggle to get the work finished.  Knowing what I know about ADHDers in the classroom, I decided to give my child the meds.  There are 3 types of ADHD:  inattentive (the daydreamer), hyperactive/impulsive (the mover and shaker), and combined type (the whirlwind).  I have a “whirlwind” and a “mover and shaker” in my family, but I’ve seen all 3 types in the classroom.  Here’s what I know, as a teacher, about the effects of ADHD.

ADHD Meds From a Teacher’s Point of View

There is a child in my class that has enormous academic potential, but because they suffer from the effects of ADHD they are not producing what they could be.  They are struggling with motivation and self-esteem issues because they cannot make themselves meet the expectations of the teacher and their peers.  They try, but continuously fail because it is beyond their control.  This child cannot focus on oral instruction because they are so distracted by things in their environment (other students, something out the window, noises from the hall, what’s hanging on the walls, etc.) and miss up to 50% of what is happening in their classroom.  This child has trouble working with a group of his classmates because they say something or do something before thinking it through (they misuse the materials, grab things before others can get a chance, blurt out answers, speaker louder, and make more body movements than the others) and this annoys the other students.  This student requires many more reminders than other students, so they hear their name being called by the teacher (or lunch aid or bus driver, etc.) many more times than other students (_____ pass in your homework, _______ put your name  on your paper, _______ return to your seat, and so on and so on).  This child cannot sit still so they sometimes get into other children’s space, knock things over, get hurt on the playground, or fall out of their chair.  These are just some of the ways that ADHD can affect a child at school.  Because there are 3 types of ADHD, it does look different in different children (especially in girls).  However, the overall effects are the same… lower self-esteem due to the fact that they have the academic potential to do well in school but struggle because of a condition that is beyond their ability to control.  I have seen medication do wonders for some children with ADHD.  One day they have all the side effects of it, the next day they come in and the symptoms are gone.  I have also seen some children (not many though) not get that affect from medication.  Generally medications for ADHD work really well and the children are happier  because most of what they struggle with goes away and they are able to reach their full potential. Friendships become easier to make and keep for some students and school becomes a happier place to be.

As a parent and teacher, I feel very strongly that parents should not arbitrarily dismiss medication for their child.   It is wise to first put yourself in your child’s shoes.  Imagine what they struggle with daily.  For your child, being at school for 6 hours with un-medicated ADHD may be like an asthmatic running a marathon with out an inhaler.  If your child is old enough, ask them how they feel about having ADHD and about medication.  Talk about the positives and negatives with them and get their opinion.  Observe your child in the classroom, compare their attention and movement level to their peers.  Watch other child react to them.  Deeply consider all the ways that their ADHD might be affecting them (socially, emotionally, academically).  Medication may not be right for your child, as their parent you are best suited to make this decision.  However, I caution you to put aside any personal judgements you may have about medication and try to make the decision that would best benefit your child.  Keep this in mind:  I know more than one adult with ADHD that often says, “I wish my parents had gotten me help for this when I was a child.”

What Could Happen if I Put My Child on ADHD Meds:

  • They may be able to concentrate better on instruction.
  • They may develop better peer relationships.
  • Their grades may improve.
  • They could stay up later or have trouble falling asleep.
  • They may not struggle as much with homework and classwork.
  • They may not get into as much trouble at school and at home.
  • They may not eat as much and may lose some weight.
  • Their self-esteem may improve because they are struggling less.
  • School may be a better place for them.
  • They might wonder why they need to be on a medication when they are not sick.
  • They might feel “right” or calmer or less worried.
  • They might feel happier.


Qualifying for Special Education

5 Jun

In order to receive special education services your child must meet two requirements.  First, they must have a qualifying disability and second, they must not be making progress that would be expected for their age and grade-level.  What this means is that even if your child has a qualifying disability, they may not qualify for services because they are making progress without them.  According to the federal act IDEA, there are 10 types of disabilities that can qualify a child for special education services.  These disabilities categories* are:

  1. Autism:  PDD, Asperger syndrome
  2. Developmental delay:  Cerebral Palsy, Downs syndrome
  3. Intellectual impairment:  Cognitive impairment, mental retardation, chromosome disorders
  4. Sensory impairment:  Hearing or vision impairment or deafness or blindness
  5. Neurological impairment:  Brain injury, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy
  6. Emotional impairment:  Anxiety or mood disorders,  ODD, conduct disorder,  schizophrenia
  7.  Communication impairment:  Speech and language disorders
  8.  Physical impairment:  Muscular Dystrophy, spina bifida
  9.  Health impairment:  ADHD, asthma,
  10.  Specific learning disability (LD):  Dyslexia(LD in reading), dysgraphia(LD in writing), dyscalculia (LD in math)
*I have listed some examples of some diagnosis that might fall in these categories, but this is not a complete list and some disabilities may belong in more than one category.

Leveling the Playing Field with Accommodations

3 Jun

In order to be successful in school, many children need accommodations.  An accommodation is a change to an assignment or test, making it accessible to the disabled student.  It is not a different assignment or test, just a change to the format, timing, setting, response, or presentation.  If your child qualified for SPED services, then accommodations will be written into part A (General Curriculum) of their IEP.  If your child has a disability (such as ADHD, anxiety disorder, or dyslexia) but did not qualify, you can ask for a 504 plan.  A 504 plan is another type of document written for children that outlines the accommodations they can have in the general education classroom.  Both IEPs and 504 plans are legally binding documents and are confidential (meaning they are not part of your child’s official school records).  As their parent, you have the right to ask for a 504 plan and to take part in writing it.

In order to guarantee that your child gets the accommodations that they have a right to, a written document is highly recommended.  You should ask for one if your child has a documented disability, even if they’re not receiving failing grades.  Some schools will insist that they give all students accommodations or will say their teachers differentiate their instruction for all students.  This may be true, but unless your child has an IEP or 504 plan, the teachers are not obligated to make accommodations for your child’s disability.  Having them written will benefit your child and you because you can refer back to the plan if your child begins to struggle.

Examples of some common classroom accommodations are:  extended time for assignments and tests, allowing students to use a computer for writing assignments, not marking down for spelling errors, having a student take a test in a private setting, providing books on CDs or MP3, having the teacher give the directions in writing and orally, minimize punishment and use positive reinforcement instead, allowing students to use a reference sheet, give student a study guide, give the student a peer role model, and provide students with breaks or allow to leave the classroom for short breaks.

For more examples of accommodations you can ask for your child, go to http://www.fape.org or search for “classroom accommodations.”