Living with Dyslexia – Part III

 What to do if you think your child may have Dyslexia.

 As a Learning Support teacher, I see a lot of children that have difficulty learning how to read. I work with these children to help them learn the rules of our language. Although these children are often extremely bright, the standard ways of teaching these concepts do not seem to do the trick.

The story at schools is so often the same: Teachers are hesitant to give poor marks to students that know the work, yet are unable to write it down or read the content. Even though the student may be reading or writing two or more years behind grade level, they seem to know their stuff and can recite their knowledge orally. This is actually really good assessment – being able to give oral answers is a very popular way of extracting information from students with Learning Disabilities. However, in the primary grades if a student is reading and/or writing well below grade level it can seem devastating. Our schools are experiencing a seemingly ever-increasing amount of students with special needs. These needs are complex and must be addressed for the safety of the student, the student body and, often, the staff. Many of the children with very high needs are waiting to be tested, and will be high priority.

 What does this mean for students with reading/writing problems?

 We know that many children with reading difficulties exhibit similar symptomology:

  1. They are very bright

  2. They have a hard time reading

  3. They often have difficulties with writing

…and many more that depend on the individual child.

Since we are dealing with bright children, they get by. Teachers give them extra time and accommodations such as oral answers, etc. The problem with this is that they will never get identified by the school if they are passing. In order to be referred for further testing a child must be receiving R’s and D’s.

Many parents (with the required resources) address this issue by pursuing private psychological testing. This is often a much quicker path to identification by the school. The school can use the report to identify the student with an exceptionality in a quick meeting called an IPRC (Identification, Placement and Review Committee). Once the identification is in place, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed by the student’s teachers and the LST. This plan helps to address the individual learning needs of that particular student (using recommendations from the psychological report).

 If you wonder if you should be looking into private testing or being a stronger advocate for your child’s learning at school, take a look at this website. It offers many suggestions on what to look for when your child is having difficulties with reading and writing.

 http://www.dyslexia.com//library/symptoms.htm

 Never hesitate to advocate for your child. They need you!

Unidentified?

Many of the blogs that others have written have been about dealing with “identified” children or persons; but what about the “unidentified” child?  How about the child that falls through the cracks because he or she is not as disruptive as others in school?  Issues are not addressed by teachers because the child gets ‘okay’ grades.

This often leaves the parents dealing with all of the issues, and because nobody else has raised concern, the uneducated parent (in dealing with learning disabilities) may just think they have a sensitive child.

I am one of these parents, and until someone educated me, I tried (and often still try) to ease anxieties by avoiding situations that may cause anxiety. Unfortunately this often led to a child running a house. Something I did not even realize I was letting this happen. Decisions were made based on how my son would react, and whether I wanted to deal with the drama.

Anxiety-words

Add on top of that, parents who are divorced, and do not agree that outside help is needed. Getting my son the help that is needed has been difficult, but he is finally on a waiting list to get further assistance.

I have read many articles and attended seminars about learning disabilities, to try and educate myself. There are definitely anxiety issues, but I do not know if there is anything beyond that. Maybe it is just behavioural, because I feed into his anxiety, and allow him to manipulate me. At least I understand that I am allowing this, and am trying to change, but it is difficult to change a routine to which you have become accustomed (much like the dieter who cannot say no to doughnuts brought into work, or grabbing fast food for lunch because it is easier than taking the time to make something.) It is hard to see your child constantly unhappy, and not want to do something (or not make him do something), that may add to that unhappiness. It is heart wrenching to think that your decisions are the cause of your child’s grief or sorrow, but just as unhealthy to the child, to simply avoid situations that may cause stress or anxiety.

Since my son has yet to be diagnosed, I cannot say for sure that he suffers from an anxiety disorder. There may be more to it than anxiety. Or, as I hinted earlier, it may just be learned behaviour or maybe some combination of the above. Whatever the case, I feel that it is important to take the precautions necessary to help my son deal with life. I’ve been opposed to medication in the past, but can see that in many cases, it can help an individual calm down enough to learn the effective strategies necessary to cope with daily life and its ultimate turmoils.

An anxiety disorder can simply be stated as any worry that is out of control, and children with anxiety can appear oppositional or irritable because they are distracted by their worries. They can also be explosive, moody or tearful.

Here are some of the signs of anxiety disorder:

  • Insomniaanxiety
  • Reoccurring stomach aches, headaches
  • Shortness of breath, racing heart
  • Resistance to participating in social activities
  • Fear of deviating from a regular routine
  • Tantrums or moodiness right before a specific event
  • Exaggerated negative thoughts about future events
  • “Clinginess” – always wanting proximity to a parent
  • Whining/crying when uncomfortable with people, routines and/or situations

I offer the above list to other parents who may be dealing with these symptoms and not realize or understand that there may be an issue. I’m not necessarily saying that I want my child labeled, but I do want to give him every opportunity to succeed. I now realize that going the extra step to get professional help (which could even include medication) could quite possibly give him the extra edge he needs to be successful in life. 

My First Blog – How I Learned About ADD/ADHD

chris and don 001

Christian and Donny

As this is my first blog, I would like to preface it with a little bit of my background. I am the mother of two wonderful teenage boys. I discovered, many years ago, that each one of them has a unique set of learning obstacles they had to overcome.

Before becoming a teacher I had worked with persons with physical disabilities for 14 years as a PSW, then as a DSW, while studying Psychology and then Education at the University. I was offered the opportunity to teach Life Skills at St. Clair College and loved the experience.  I was determined that I was going to become an excellent Special Education teacher. It was around the same time that it was discovered that my sons’ each had a learning disability. That information only made my decision to specialize in Special Education even more salient. Immediately after graduating I pursued my specialist in Special Education and got in contact with the Learning Disabilities Association of Windsor-Essex. I wanted to become heavily involved in order to learn as much as I could about what was affecting Leigh_12our family and to contribute to a great cause.

I have been with LDA-WE for almost 7 years now and have learned so much. I sat on the Board of Directors for 6 years and now my son is the student representative. As well, I have been trained in the Orton-Gillingham Methodology (Dyslexia Remediation) and have been a Learning Support Teacher and Special Education for 9 years.

I am looking forward to sharing information, strategies and advice in the areas that I have had the most experience. My standpoint is not only as a teacher, but as a parent that has been through the trials and tribulations of discovering the challenges of learning disabilities.

How I learned all about ADD/ADHD

I remember the October my oldest son was in Kindergarten. His teacher called us in to discuss our son’s progress thus far. We were invited to sit in the little plastic chairs. She started our conversation by letting us know how much she enjoyed having our son in her class and that he was coming along well in the French Immersion program that we had opted to give a try.
“One thing that concerns me is that Christian does not seem to be paying attention at circle time.” She began. I did not see that coming.hiding under the bed 001
“What do you mean, exactly?” I asked, quite bewildered.
“Well, when we are doing activities like singing or sharing, he is playing with his shoelaces, looking around the room and bothering the friends around him.” She added. I didn’t like where this was going. My son was bothering friends?
“When you ask him a question, does he know the answer?” I asked, now worried that she might be alluding to the idea that my son doesn’t understand what is going on.
“Oh yes, he most definitely understands the questions and is usually able to give an appropriate answer. I’m just concerned about his focus.” She said with a furrowed brow.

I didn’t know what to make of what she was saying. I felt like I needed to defend my son. I was sure this was just a ‘boy’ thing and this teacher was not used to boys. I was in my fourth year of studying Behaviour and Cognitive Neuropsychology and I was positive my son was very clever and had passed all his developmental milestones with flying colours. There didn’t seem to be any issues or red flags, even at the daycare he had attended for many years. Perhaps she just didn’t like him? Questions were flying through my head. All the ideation that was occurring led me to the final conclusion that it was probably her and not my son.

The problem, I discovered later, was that I didn’t know what to do with that information. The missing piece to that puzzle was the next step.

For the next few years Christian had some issues in school, but none of the teachers had any huge complaints about focus or attention – only that he took a long time to get his work done. He was very polite and well-behaved but had a hard time finishing his work in class and would have to bring it home to complete. These times became very difficult because he also had difficulty completing the work at home. I didn’t realize how unusual it was to take such an extended amount of time to complete work.

When Christian was in grade 2, his little brother Donny started JK and a whole different world opened up. I was just finishing up my Bachelor of Education when Donny was finished grade 1 and it had become apparent that French Immersion was not the best choice for the boys. They switched to the district public school to begin their years in grade 4 and grade 2.

Christian’s grade 4 year was a challenge. He had difficulties in math and language, barely passing. His teacher ensured me that Christian knew his stuff, but was having other issues. Now, as a brand new teacher, this was all new to me. As the school year progressed I did begin to notice that he had difficulty organizing his things and initiating tasks. His teacher suggested that perhaps Christian may have an attention problem. I was not very familiar with ADD/ADHD so I began to research. I asked lots of questions to try to understand why it took him so long to finish things. There was a lot of information out there and a lot of different ideas about how it is acquired. The puzzle pieces were coming together though – Christian was a very intelligent student, he just wasn’t starting or finishing his work. After a lot of reading and wondering if this was Christian’s issue, I decided to take him to a doctor (along with his little brother – a subject for future blogs!).

There were very few specialists in the area at the time. I was fortunate enough to get an appointment for Christian with Dr. Sharon Burey. The first appointment with her was an interview with Christian’s father and me, then a second appointment with the boys. After a lot of discussion and review of problematic behaviours Dr. Burey confirmed what was expected… that Christian most likely had some form of ADD. Since he did not exhibit the signs of hyperactivity, it was not included in his diagnosis. Donny was also suspected to have some ADHD (with hyperactivity), but Dr. Burey wasn’t confident that was the cause of his difficulties. She suggested we try medication to see if it made a difference in Christian’s ability to focus and for Donny’s behaviour as well. Although reluctant (very, very, very reluctant), it was a go.

Donny’s trial with medication was very short-lived. It made no difference in either his behaviour or his difficulties (again, a future blog) so it was discontinued after a brief trial. Christian began the medication about half-way through grade 4. It was almost immediately evident from teacher feedback that there was improvement. This improvement was not noticeable at home though. After school Christian would be cranky and often cry. He also was still having difficulties completing homework, although he did have less because he was completing it during the day. After speaking with Dr. Burey about this problem, his medication was changed to Adderall. The change was dramatic this time. Christian was alert and focused at school and was able to complete gradphot 001his homework with very little cueing. The medication was a success! Christian still needed guidance with organization and initiation of his tasks, but he was definitely meeting with more success and gaining confidence in all aspects of his life. His marks had increased from C’s and D’s to B’s and even some A’s.

There was a period of time that his medication was off the market due to concerns. We had to try different types of medication and had some difficulties trying to adjust. However, the medication came back on the market and he continues to take it to focus when necessary.

Later on in school, it was discovered that he also has the added challenge of Executive Functioning Disorder, which can often go hand-in-hand with ADD/ADHD. We have learned many tips and tricks to deal with this learning disability as well and will share in future posts.

Christian has now graduated high school with honours and scholarships and is headed to University to study Chemistry and Physics. We are very proud of his accomplishments. He has learned many strategies through the years to deal with his attention issues. We have discovered that awareness of your own challenges and a great sense of humour are really the most helpful strategies…along with great community support.

I am willing to share and exchange ideas and best practices! Please feel free to share your successes as well.