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.

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

The Importance of Self-Advocacy

knowledge_is_power1The more you know something or have a keen awareness of a subject, the more comfortable we are talking about it. These discussions are valuable for solving problems that may arise.

In the case of having Dyslexia – talking about the fact that he has a problem with reading, spelling and writing, my son Donny has decided that this disability is becoming more like a challenge accepted.

 I believe that his knowledge and awareness of his own unique challenges have helped him to become a more confident individual. He sees Dyslexia as a challenge in that he has to figure out how to take a task (like reading a novel) and make it work for him (buy/download the MP3 file of the that book, start earlier and budget more time, etc.). This is what teachers have been trying to do for ages!

 Since he was diagnosed and identified with Dyslexia, he has been kept informed of all the information he could handle at that time. In grade four he knew that he had a really difficult time reading, spelling and writing, but that was it! He did well in math and all his other subjects, as long as text was read to him.

 By grade eight, Donny was attending his own IPRC and helping decide his pathway based on recommendations made by the Learning Support Teachers, Counsellors, etc. He was also a strong advocate of his Individual Education Plan. He knew what was on it and what was best for his learning.

 Donny was a graduate of the Orton-Gillingham program and is familiar with the program so he has been encouraged over the years to help with tutoring (by listening to young students read). He also has the opportunity to sit on the Board of Directors for the Learning Disabilities Association – Windsor Essex as the students representative.

 Each experience and each chance to learn about LDs empowers him even more. He has been on The

Donny Rotary

Bridge radio show on CBC radio and was featured in Communiqué magazine. Last night I was very proud of him as he spoke in front of a group of Rotarians about his Learning Disability and the challenges he faces. He did a great job!

If your child is able to understand information about his or her learning challenge, empower them! Simplify things, but let them know that their challenge is not with everything – it is specific. This can create a shift in attitude. The idea that there is only a couple of challenges to face the task seems more manageable than if you feel that you don’t understand anything.

Empower your child! Talk with them about their learning issues. They will know what they are good at and what they have a hard time with. You can guide them through the tough parts and help to find strategies that will work for them. As they get older, ideally they will adopt these strategies as their own and know what works best for their own learning.



Climbing down mountains


Today marks my 8th blog post; I want to start working up to something different for my 10th post.  I am well aware of habits and routines, and how a routine becomes a habit.  Each of my posts have been written once a couple days before my post, then almost entirely rewritten the morning I post.  Each of my posts have featured a picture of some sorts and about 1000 words (wow, that’s already 8000 words, mainly about myself.)

When I applied to be an author for this post, I offered my perspective as a person with AD(H)D and a teacher.  As I can recall, the majority of my family’s struggles were related to school.  I never had any issues with sports, friendships (when I was young) were never difficult, and I did help out around the house about as much as any other kid.  I can remember the fights, the tears, and the pains from bringing home notes, report cards, and calls home from school.  They have been such a part of my mother’s life that she retells the stories like an old war veteran, rocking on her front porch chair.

I’ve already shared many of the stories with you; the non-existent support, the overly intimidating IPRC meetings, the time I did get support, etc.  What I didn’t tell you is the problems other parents face.  I write these blogs every day from my own perspective, my own life, my own problems.  Solutions that I have brought forward are not universal, they may not even be transferable; it’s just a perspective.

This brings me to my topic de jour.  Although we are all different, and we each bring with us our own strengths and weaknesses, there are some universal solutions we can, will, and do adopt.  During my years as a student of our province’s educational system, some of these solutions were only in their infancy, others were not even a twinkle in the ministry’s eye.  

First, and most importantly, is differential instruction.  This idea is so simple, yet so oddly new that education systems in the United States are only now beginning to adopt it.  Differential instruction is using a variety of teaching and evaluation methods based off of the concept that every student learns differently.  This idea was only accidentally used when I was in school, and before that, teachers were taught how to deliver instruction in almost a militant form.  By using DI, students are able to learn the way that best suits them, and demonstrate their knowledge in their strongest form.  For some students, reading is easier as a learning tool, while others learn better with open discussions.  When it comes to evaluations, you may find that one student can show her knowledge better on paper, than in practice.  DI is all about finding the best in the student, not the comfort zone of the teacher.

For the students that require more than DI (or teachers that do not use DI), we now inact individual education plans (IEP.)  This program is fairly new as it did not exist when I was in school.  IEPs are created when students are struggling to perform but do not have a formal diagnosis.  This is very useful in cases where students may either not have an identifiable disability or there is a large wait time for a formal psychological evaluation.  They may include some alternate forms of evaluation, or accommodations; some may include, using a computer instead of handwriting tests, have a scriber in class, and relearning past curriculum.  The latter seems to be one of the most alarming for parents, as I will discuss.

The Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC) is very similar to the IEP with a few additional doors that open.  Where DI is implemented by the teacher by choice, and an IEP mandates that teacher to use DI, an IPRC identification is a legal mandate to the board and teacher that they must use DI to accommodate a student.  I currently provide tutoring and advising services for parents that have students that learn differently, and as part of that position, I always recommend that parents pursue IPRC whenever possible.  With a formal IPRC identification, students are allowed extra personal resources that may not have been available before.  Unfortunately, many parents with these students are told that there is an exhaustive wait period before their students may receive a psychological assessment.  For some parents, this process may accelerated with a private psychological assessment.  Such assessments may cost more than $1500 and a full day of school/work; a cost that for many parents that is just too much to bear.

Within all of these acronyms and edu-babble, it all unfortunately boils down to the parent.  A parent that is well informed and involved will almost always find success with their student.  There are many teachers out there that work hard, and will ensure that every student is taught with DI.  But when things don’t go right, parents are always the first line of defense.  My parents were there for me, and my siblings, and we all made it through each finding their own success.  I advise many parents that are met with struggles, but find solutions with efficiency.  

As with being the strongest defense for their students, parents can also be the obstacle too.  Often parents are given unwanted advice and do not take the time to learn what it all means; such as medication, therapy, identification, or modification of curriculum.  When a parent hears about modification, they may think that their student is going to be pushed back a grade or two.  In reality, modification means that a student may learn grade 5 math, rather than grade 8, however, this is likely because the student has no knowledge of grade 5 math curriculum.  By continuing to push students in grade 8 math, those students that need to learn earlier math will continue to fail.

And in the end, the most important thing for a student to be successful in school, is confidence as a learner.  A student that brings home level 4+ in grade 5 math is much more likely to feel better about themselves than a student bringing home 1- and Rs in grade 8 math.  With the proper modifications and accommodations, along with some tutoring, those students can quickly catch up to their peers while building their confidence as a learner.

I can remember exactly when and how I started to fall behind in school.  I also remember when and how I regained confidence in myself as a learner.  For me, it was my 6th year in high school, and it happened the same year I was given the proper support I needed.  So, for the parents out there fighting, keep fighting; when you finally win that battle it will make a difference.  For those parents that feel lost, talk to someone, read some articles, and pick up a phone.  Communication with the school is always the first step, and knowing that you’re reading this blog, you’ve already started your research.  We’re all different, and it’s by understanding how we are different that we find our success.


High School’s Highs

I apologize for those of you who enjoy the early morning blog reading.  As with many aspects of my life, I was challenged by AD(H)D this morning and forced to adapt!  Before I dive into my blog post, I want to share a part of what happened today.  For any of those who know, or are, someone with, AD(H)D, you understand the importance of routines and rituals, and the struggles to plan ahead.  As an adult with AD(H)D, I have found that the best way to combat AD(H)D is by establishing well formed rituals for mundane tasks (such as the order of showering, breakfast, getting dressed, in the morning.)  By allowing my muscle memory to take over this aspect of my life, it frees up my mind to focus on other, more important things.  The pitfall of this is the chaos that is followed when your rituals are interrupted.  That happened to me this morning (I just moved into my first house, so everything has been chaotic) and as a result, I forgot to post my blog before leaving this morning.  I received an email reminder around lunch and that super attentiveness kicked in.  I knew I forgot.  I knew I had to get that posted.  I knew I couldn’t post until I got home.  What.  Could.  I.  Do.  ?.  My heart filled up with uncombatted tension.  This was the super attentiveness.  This was the super fixation, concentration, and frustration that is hardly spoken of in the circles of AD(H)D.  I could not take my mind from thinking of it until I got home.  Now I can breathe, adjust my blog, and post it.  I can turn this experience into an opportunity to make my blog more real, more relative, and more thoughtful.

Richard’s last post featured a cartoon that I have posted on my facebook page already.  It’s a great one.  I try to advocate for education amongst other things on facebook whenever I see the opportunity (yes, I’m one of those!)  I wanted to share another image that I feel relates to Richard’s comic:

As a teacher, I understand that standards are hard to meet, given, every student learns and does differently.  We can’t force students who excel at verbal communication, to fail at written communication.  In real life, those people become radio hosts, newscasters, etc.  They do not force themselves into jobs like journalists that would challenge them to not be fired everyday.  Our school systems need to match the way the real world works.

This was part of my undoing in school.  I will be frank, I take as much responsibility for my education as should any person under the age of 18; absolutely none.  I believe by 18 you reach a level of maturity (or around that age) that allows you to better understand choice and consequences.  Argue with that as you will, but as soon as you accept that concept, getting students to succeed (no matter who they are as learners) becomes almost too easy.

I entered high school already socially challenged by both my social disabilities associated with AD(H)D, and the issues that come with changing schools in grade 6.  Friends did not comes easy.  Despite my desire to play sports, that didn’t come easy either.  Academics were never my strengths either, so I was left with very little to make me fit in at my school.

I managed to make a few friends, some of which were great, some of which I now understand to have been disguised as friends.  My first day of class I was all over the place.  It took me half a period to find my grade 9 English class and when I entered, I was immediately told to leave.  Apparently the answer to being late, was not to be in class.  I skimmed by with a 51 in that class, having never read a book.  It took me a week before I figured out how to skip classes.  In business, it took me 3 days to figure out how to copy and paste the mind numbing typing exercises, and another 4 days to figure out how to just copy files from the other class.  My mediocre grade 9 year finished with an average of 60 and one failed class.  My parents met with my business teacher to work out a deal; if I upgrade my English credit in summer school, she’ll pass me in business.  Logic I still don’t understand.

That summer my IPRC (identification, placement, and review committee) meeting came up.  A very intimidating site.  Here’s how it felt as a student:

I was there to be judged by my principal, a psychologist, a student councillor, teachers, and some board people.  My only friends there were my two parents, and I wasn’t gonna say nothing if I didn’t have to.  The meeting started and almost abruptly reached the conclusion:

“Your son will be placed in the basic program at century where he can focus on workplace skills.”

My mother tells me this story all the time, and my own memory helps me form the next part:

“Oh really….” asked my mother.  “And what assistance did you offer him this year to prevent him from failing?”

You’re probably thinking now that I never mentioned anything.  Well….I had nothing to tell you about.

“Well, there doesn’t seem to have been much offered, but clearly your son is not interested in school.”  answers some bigwig.  I never once heard someone say “clearly school is not interesting for your son.”…hmmm….

The rest of the conversation was very one sided.  It ended with the IPRC allowing me to not only remain at Massey, but register in the enriched courses as well.  This was my request.  I loved math, always understood it, and wanted to be great in it.  The IPRC also promised better support, and more resources for the following years.

Grade 10….57 average, two failed courses.  No support.  No resources.

Grade 11….54 average, two failed courses.  No support.  No resources.

Grade 12….52 average, three failed courses.  No support.  No resources.

By the end of grade 12, I was skipping classes more often than I was attending them.  I scored in the top 25% of Canada in two math competitions, finished my second year on the swim team, and was getting into drugs.  I could feel my future in the balance.  Then my parents received a call from Mr. Cousineau.