I am single mom of a very active and bright 10 year old Dyslexic boy who learns in a very unique way. In fact we like to say Dyslexia is his super power! Most of my time is spent doing mom things but I also love to read, draw, hang out with my dog Zoe, hike, Crossfit and figure out my greater purpose in life. Life is what I call crazy/beautiful and I wouldn't change any of it - it certainly has its ups and downs but with good people by your side anything is possible :)
When I started this blog I planned on adding to it at twice a week and that quickly went out the window because life happens. It has been close to a month since I last wrote and I am a little sad about that. The truth is it wasn’t about so much finding the time as it was being focused enough to writing something meaningful and not just bologging for the sake of blogging.
These past two months have brough about a lot of changes and shifts, and the biggest being Clinton starting his new journey at White Oak. I have to admit that this has been an adjustment just as much for me as Clinton with the biggest challenge being knowing when to turn Mom Shark off. It is hard to step in the shoes of parent like myself if you have never stepped foot in the world of Special Education. Without a doubt, White Oak is a fantastic school with amazing supports provided by amazing staff, but here is the thing I am being asked to just blindly trust said staff no questions asked and in all honesty that is a tall order that takes time.
A new school isnt a magical solution, Clinton is still Clinton, he has the same struggles, same obstacles except he has a greater awareness of just how far behind in certain areas he is. His struggles go well past reading and writing, being considered Atypical means self-regulation is a struggle for him, it means he is sensory sensitive in certain ways when it comes to sounds, lights and textures and it also means socially he needs some coaching on how to interact with peers. A new school also does not mean your done dealing with those who wronged your child, you still have IEP meetings, you still have your advocate and you still have to face how far your child has to go despite being in a new school. At Clintons IEP meeting on October 25th thirty-one different classrooms accomodations became available to Clinton, and that doesn’t include his speech therapy, occupational therapy or Assistive Technology. Now, most parents of a child with different learning challenges would rejoice in that and while I am grateful those options are available to him I can promise you to hear that your child needs that much support brings about a lot of mixed emotions.
Yes, Clinton is happier child at White Oak and yes I sleep better at night knowing he goes to a school where all learning styles and personalities are embraced, but there is a life after White Oak that we have to prepare him for. Clinton will always have a unique learning profile which at times he gets frustrated with and I get frustrated with myself because enough never feels like enough, because the same bullies that passed him along in the public school system are out in the world ready to judge him and break him down. To be a parent to child like Clinton takes a balance that I have yet to find. I try everyday to not look back, but to keep moving foward focusing only the good up ahead. I try everyday to not only forgive those who wronged my son but to see their position. I try everyday to trust those who work with my son seven hours a day. I try everyday to trust the process and that everything will work out like its supposed to. I try everyday to be a mom that doesn’t feel like she is getting it all wrong all the time and needs a coffee IV to get through the day. Mostly, I try everyday to believe that Clinton will find his way, his purpose and his tribe in the crazy world.
I hope if your struggling today, in anyway you know that you are not alone and that you are doing a fine job.
“Elimination of illiteracy is as serious an issue to our history as the abolition of slavery.” ~ Maya Angelou
There are some moments in life that you will never forget,defining moments where your life changes and just cannot go back to being what it was before that moment. I remember my son slowly getting off the bus after his third day of 4th grade tears in his eyes and shoulders hunched over. The mom in me knew this was something bigger and deeper than a disagreement on the playground or a lunch he didn’t like, it looked as though a weight was on his shoulders.
We went inside and he looked at me crying telling me how his teacher called on him to read aloud in class and when he couldn’t she proceeded to call him lazy and tell him that unless he started “paying attention” he would never read. It took all I had to hold my absolutely disgust for this teacher and what she said inside and comfort my son. That next morning after an unproductive meeting with the principal I contacted the Special Education Director of Westfield where I was told my son was “intellectually impaired” and that he would most like be a grocery bagger for the rest of his life and I needed to accept this. I do not know any mom that would think that of her child let alone accept that was her childs future. Within one week we had an emergency IEP meeting organized, I hired an Advocate and I was changed forever by what I saw, heard and went through.
Clinton is now thriving in his new school, that fourth grade teacher was fired and I can breathe a little easier knowing my sons future is bright, but my heart still hurts thinking of those children and parents still deep in that fight and that pain. I will never forget the shame and embarassment on my sons face that day in fourth grade. Illiteracy is a nationwide problem. I do not know exactly how and where the tide turned and children just started getting past through not even close to grade level. I do not know why some teachers are not supported in their schools. I do not know why our childrens futures are coming down to dollar signs and budgets. All I know is that we have to do better, day by day we have too.
Illiteracy statistics are frightening and will only continue to worsen if nothing is done. Approximately 32 million adults in America are considered to be illiterate and about 14% of the entire adult population cannot read. Readind material becomes more complex for students around the fifth grade and some 30 million adults are not able to comprehend texts that are appropriate for 10 year olds. Between 40 and 44 million adults or roughly 20 to 23% of adults in the United States are limited to reading at basic or below basic proficiency levels. The one most outrageous to me is that among developed nations, the United States ranks 16th for adult reading skills.
Illiteracy has a profound impact on every area of a persons life. I am firm believer everyone can learn to read but sadly not everyone does. Illiteracy can be a major barrier to young adults who might be interested in going to college or finding a stable job. Without a goal to work towards or a means of earning a living, engaging in criminal behavior may become a real possibility. Studies suggest that two-thirds of students who struggle with reading by fourth grade will run into trouble with the law at some point. Approximately 85% of youth who come into contact with the juvenile court are considered to be functionally illiterate, meaning they read at a basic or below basic level. Literacy rates aren’t much improved among the adult prison population. About 70% of male and female inmates score at the lowest proficiency level for reading.
The impact of illiteracy is almost immediately felt at an individual level, but there is a trickle down affect that touches the economy as a whole. In terms of lost productivity , it is estimated that the portion of the population that can not read costs the nation a staggering $225 billion each year. It can also impact the health care system to the tune of $100 billion annually.
I have thrown some cold, impersonal numbers at you which may be big but may not mean much on a screen. I ask you to remember that behind those numbers are people even perhaps people we know and love, our neighbors, friends, family or even our child. The bad news is there is no quick fix but there are help and resources out there for adults and adolescents. If you know someone who is struggling but they are too embarrassed to reach out for help, let them know they aren’t alone. Sometimes that is all it takes to make a change in someone’s life.
The Orton-Gillingham Approach is a direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive way to teach literacy when reading, writing, and spelling does not come easily to individuals, such as those with dyslexia.
Samuel Torrey Orton (1879–1948), a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist at Columbia University, brought together neuroscientific information and principles of remediation. As early as the 1920s, he had extensively studied children with the kind of language processing difficulties now commonly associated with dyslexia and had formulated a set of teaching principles and practices for such children.
Anna Gillingham (1878–1963) was an educator and psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. Working with Dr. Orton, she trained teachers and compiled and published instructional materials. Gillingham combined Orton’s teaching methods with her analysis of the structure of the English/American language and with Bessie Stillman, she wrote what has become the Orton–Gillingham manual: Remedial Training for Children with Specific Disability in Reading, Spelling and Penmanship. First published in 1935/6, this work is updated and republished regularly.
What Orton–Gillingham Focuses On
Orton–Gillingham focuses on teaching kids to read at the word level. While it can help develop reading comprehension, that’s not the primary goal.
This approach uses multiple pathways to help kids learn. For example, students might learn the letter sby seeing it, saying its name, and sounding it out while writing it with their fingers in shaving cream.
Orton–Gillingham also puts a strong emphasis on understanding the hows and whys behind reading. Students might explore why the letter s sounds one way in the word plays and another way in the word snake. Once they know consistent rules and patterns, they’ll be better able to decode words on their own. Orton–Gillingham is a well-regarded approach to teaching kids who struggle with reading. That’s why many teachers use Orton–Gillingham-type strategies in their reading instruction. Having students walk around the floor in the pattern of a letter, for instance, is an activity inspired by Orton–Gillingham. Reading specialists use the approach and programs influenced by it more comprehensively with students who have dyslexia and other reading issues. Some schools provide Orton–Gillingham-type instruction through a student’s IEP or response to intervention.
What Orton-Gillingham Is
Language-based: The Orton-Gillingham approach is based on a technique of studying and teaching language, understanding the nature of human language, the mechanisms involved in learning, and the language-learning processes in individuals.
Multisensory: Orton-Gillingham teaching sessions are action-oriented and involve constant interaction between the teacher and the student and the simultaneous use of multiple sensory input channels reinforcing each other for optimal learning. Using auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements, all language skills taught are reinforced by having the student listen, speak, read and write. For example, a dyslexic learner is taught to see the letter A, say its name and sound and write it in the air – all at the same time. The approach requires intense instruction with ample practice. The use of multiple input channels is thought to enhance memory storage and retrieval by providing multiple “triggers” for memory
Structured, Sequential, and Cumulative: The Orton-Gillingham teacher introduces the elements of the language systematically. Sound-symbol associations along with linguistic rules and generalizations are introduced in a linguistically logical, understandable order. Students begin by reading and writing sounds in isolation. Then they blend the sounds into syllables and words. Students learn the elements of language—consonants, vowels, digraphs, blends, and diphthongs—in an orderly fashion. They then proceed to advanced structural elements such as syllable types, roots, and affixes. As students learn new material, they continue to review old material to the level of automaticity. The teacher addresses vocabulary, sentence structure, composition, and reading comprehension in a similar structured, sequential, and cumulative manner.
Cognitive: Students learn about the history of the English language and study the many generalizations and rules that govern its structure. They also learn how best they can learn and apply the language knowledge necessary for achieving reading and writing competencies.
Flexible: Orton-Gillingham teaching is diagnostic and prescriptive in nature. Teachers try to ensure the learner is not simply recognizing a pattern and applying it without understanding. When the confusion of a previously taught rule is discovered, it is re-taught from the beginning. John Gabrieli, Ph.D., from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said, “If we can identify children at risk effectively very early, we know the literature supports that early interventions are most effective not only for learning to read, but we also hope in any discouragement the child might have about his or her first major educational experience. If you could identify a problem before it plays out you can support a child in a way that doesn’t make them feel defeated.”
In my personal experience with Orton-Gillingham it is an approach that benefit EVERY child in the classroom. Having a Dyslexic son who has been taught this method for a year now I can tell you it does work and I have seen measurable progress, but the trick is finding a school that utilizes this approach and more importantly tells you they have it. Some schools and school districts will not tell you they have Orton-Gillingham trained staff because Dyslexia is thought of as an “expensive need” and to be honest they just do not want to deal with it. Another reason is that even though its true that the Orton–Gillingham (OG) approach is well-regarded in the field of dyslexia there’s no research that supports the claim that it’s “the best” way to teach kids with dyslexia. One of the reasons for the lack of research is the fact that OG is an approach, and not a program of instruction.
In closing, my firm belief is that children do not learn by word and text alone and we must stop teaching them that way. Children are born explorers and once they hit school we do all we can as a society to make them sit still for hours at time and expect them to learn the same as the child next to them while maintaining individuality. This world is meant to be explored that is why there are so many different methods and ways to learn and that is what I love about Orton-Gillingham it incorporates all the senses. You, of course are your childs best Advocate but I hope I was able to shine some light on an approach that has helped my son.
Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. —Kofi Annan
Clinton has dysgraphia and I can tell you first hand how frustrated he gets, it is though he is often fighting with his own hands to work at times. He has trouble not only holding a pendcil, but holding it correctly and maintaining the correct hold. He has trouble cutting, stirring or mixing his food together. More times than not he asks me for help tying his shoes and while I will never refuse helping him, it really did not have to be this way. Clinton was receiving Occupational Therapy at school in 30 minute sessions twice a week from the age of three until the age of nine. In my heart I knew he wasn’t ready to be discharged however the schools Occupational Therapist was very combative and I felt even continuing sessions with her would not yield progress as she had taken her stance and made up her mind. It is something that frustrates me because when it comes to Occupational Therapy you have a small window before patterns are set to change them. Though I could continue Occupational Therapy for Clinton I have decided not to, reason being he already has so much on his plate that I prefer him in the classroom versus being pulled out for Occupational Therapy sessions.
Though the picture below is not of Clinton’s handwriting this is similar to what it looks like at its worst and by worst I mean when he is tired after a long day. It is a shame to say but a lot of people would assume handwriting this poor is a sign of low intelligence or illiteracy and that just is not the case. This is why proper accomadations and modifications are so necessary in the classroom, it can take the light off the child when it comes to something they struggle with and allow it to shine on their strengths. In this day and age with all the technology, therapists, services and resources it’s unacceptable that people with these diagnosis still struggle in school and life. The information below is take from understood.org which is an amazing resource of information and support.
What Is Dysgraphia?
Many experts view dysgraphia as an issue with a set of skills known as transcription. These skills include handwriting, typing, and spelling.
Trouble expressing yourself in writing isn’t part of dysgraphia. But when kids have to focus so much on transcription, it can get in the way of thinking about ideas and how to convey them.
One of the main signs of dysgraphia is messy handwriting. These are some of the key handwriting skills kids may struggle with:
Spacing letters correctly on the page
Writing in a straight line
Making letters the correct size
Holding paper with one hand while writing with the other
Holding and controlling a pencil or other writing tool
Putting the right amount of pressure on the paper with a writing tool
Maintaining the right arm position and posture for writing
Trouble forming letters can make it hard to learn spelling. That’s why many kids with dysgraphia are poor spellers. They may also write very slowly, which can affect how well they can express themselves in writing.
How to Find Out If Your Child Has Dysgraphia
For years, dysgraphia was an official diagnosis. It no longer is. (But there is a diagnosis called specific learning disorder with impairment in written expression. This refers to trouble expressing thoughts in writing, rather than transcription difficulties.)
Evaluators still have ways to identify the transcription challenges, though. Some tests for writing include subtests for spelling. There are also tests for fine motor skills (the ability to make movements using the small muscles in our hands and wrists). And there are tests for motor planning skills (the ability to remember and perform steps to make a movement happen).
A few types of professionals evaluate kids who have trouble writing. Occupational therapists and physical therapists can test motor skills. So can specialists who work with kids who have developmental coordination disorder (DCD).
Trouble with writing can be caused by other learning challenges, too. For example, poor spelling can be the result of reading difficulties like dyslexia. Poor handwriting might be caused by DCD (sometimes referred to as dyspraxia).
To get the right help for your child, it’s important to know what’s causing your child’s difficulties. A free school evaluation can help you understand these challenges, along with your child’s strengths.
What Can Help With Dysgraphia
There are a number of things that can help your child with dysgraphia challenges. These include supports and services at school, therapies outside of school, and strategies you can try at home.
Here are some common types of help for dysgraphia.
Therapies: Occupational therapy (OT) is the main way to help kids who struggle with handwriting. Therapists can work with kids to improve fine motor skills and motor planning. Physical therapy can help with arm position and posture.
Now I understand there is a fair amount of information here and it is easy to feel overwhelmed but please do not. If you have concerns that your child might have Dysgraphia I strongly urge to seek private, outside testing by a neural party whose only interest is facts and data to show what your child truly needs. Stay strong, you got this.
So if your like me you may often wonder if your life is truly balanced or at times if balance really exists. I recently accepted a job at a local University and started the same day my son started his new School and yes I am thrilled to be working at a job I enjoy with people I enjoy but I am not without conflict. While my son is safe and supported in a wonderful school with highly trained staff I still feel torn as to if I should even be working – you see I have been my sons voice and advocate for so long that it will ALWAYS be a challenge to know when to pull back. My purpose for the last decade has been my son, his education, his needs, his wants, his likes, his dislikes, his diagnosis, his doctors, his hobbies and though completely necessary it came at a cost. I can say with 100% certainty that making my son my whole life for so long took its toll on me mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially and I believe had I practiced finding balance more I would not have paid such a high price.
I will never regret the hard work or tireless nights I put in for my son and his future but being completly consumed by that only was not only not healthy but really did not get me anywhere. I lost me, I lost what gave my life fullfillment, I stopped connecting with my husband, I stopped being creative, I stopped growing, I stopped living, stopped loving – I was merely surviving. I should add that in my early 20’s I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder and while I was taking medication I still wasn’t practicing self-care or any sort of balance and there were times I spiraled showing only a shadow of who I used to be.
If I could tell the mom I was ten years ago one thing it would be to stop and “Breathe” I would tell myself that I matter too. That I am more than just Clinton’s mom or Charlie’s wife. I would tell myself to take care of me. I would tell myself to eat healthy, take naps, exercise, read a book and stay in touch with myself. I would tell myself that I was a good mom and that I was good enough. I would say trust yourself Cathie. There is so much thrown at you when you have child who has profound obstacles that you really do not know which way is up andyou just start throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. There is an absolute overload of information thrown at you without an equal amount of support, it’s like being a rat in a maze but you never get the cheese. I love my son and I wouldn’t change him if I could, hes amazing and these last ten years have taught me so much far beyond Dyslexia, ADHD, Autism, scores, benchmarks or Special Education – I just wish I had put it together soon.
Balance is tricky because we live in a society that is always telling us every chance it can we aren’t good enough, fast enough, thin enough, pretty enough, successfull enough so we are in the cycle of more. We feel behind the eight ball before our feet have even touched the floor in the morning. There are days I am still a hot mess and nothing goes right and my clothes don’t even match, but when I get to the end of my day if I know I did my best and gave it my all – I let it go and try again tomorrow. I enourage you to ease up on yourself, be kind to yourself, take time for yourself and love yourself – Your worth it and if you need help, ask for it. Being a mom is not easy let alone being a mom to child who has different abilities and that’s not because of the child it is because the world tries to make your square peg fit into a round hole. Trust yourself. Listen to your child especially what they don’t say and take time to breathe, take time for you, for your spouse.
“Out of Line” or “Out Spoken” is something I have been called alot in my life but never more then when I had to be my sons voice. I make no apologies for being my sons voice, making those in positions of so-called power uncomfortable or for being “that mom.” If your like me your child is your life and you will do anything and everything for them including getting completely out of your comfort zone and ruffle whatever feathers need ruffling on their behalf – with no apologies. I was never rude or disrepectful to teachers, administrators or any staff I refused to let my sons needs not be met and you should to.
Rewind a year my son exited his bus in tears, shoulders slumped over telling me how his 4th grade teacher told him he would never read and I knew by the look in eyes he was crushed. Thats when my foot hit the gas and I didn’t look back. I hired an amazing educational advocate, called an emergency IEP meeting and we had my son removed from that teachers classroom. That meeting was one that I think about every damn day, the silence in that room, the lack of ownership and accountability by all present, the excuses, the lies and the tears in that room lit a fire in me that only gets stronger by the day.
Under the advice of my very experienced advocate I pursued outside private evaluations and that is something I highly reccomend. One thing you must understand is that testing performed by the school, inside the school might save you financial expense, but I can promise you benefits only the school, not you and certainly not your child. The benefit of private testing is that private testing gives accurate data and facts that you can take to a meeting and that data and those facts give you ammunition to fight for your child.
One invaluable evaluation was the Neuro Psychological testing. The most beneficial factor of neuropsychological assessment is that it provides an accurate diagnosis of the disorder for the patient when it is unclear to the psychologist what exactly he/she has. This allows for accurate treatment later on in the process because treatment is driven by the exact symptoms of the disorder and how a specific patient may react to different treatments. The assessment allows the psychologist and patient to understand the severity of the deficit and to allow better decision-making by both parties. The specific sub-tests done are discussed by the doctor with the parents and varies from child to child based on symptoms and medical history.
The second evaluation that gave us valuable insight and date was an assistive technology evaluation. Assistive technology (AT) is assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities or the elderly population. People who have disabilities often have difficulty performing activities of daily living (ADLs) independently, or even with assistance. Our son had his done by the wonderful specialist from Commuincare I cannot say enough how amazing this company is.
The third evaluation that gave us a most complete picture of my son was a thorough speech and language evaluation performed by UMASS in Amherst, MA. They sit with you and go through not only the medical history of the child but who this child is, they listen to the parents and that in my opinion and experience is something that is not valued enough. They test not only for speech and communication disorders, but perform hearing tests and check to see if the mouth and jaw are working together properly.
I cannot tell you how many meetings and meetings about meetings I have been a part of but I can tell you I had seven meetings throughout grade four alone. In those seven meetings alongside my Advocate armed with facts and data I took my power back as parent, I took my son’s future back and handed it to him in the form of White Oak, I gave him something more important than education – I gave him hope, I gave him a community who understands. The road was anything but easy and I am learning everyday, but as I look back how everything over the last ten year played out, the good and the bad I will not regret being called Out of Line or Out Spoken and neither should you. Fight with dignity. Fight with grace. Fight with Love.
Today was my son Clintons first day at White Oak which is a private school for children with non-verbal learning disorders such as Dyslexia. It is small, about 80 students spread out over 12 grades, but that is only part of what makes White Oak unique. It is very supportive, nurturing envirornment full of specially trained staff who truly give their all to these children. That is not to say that public schools do not have that, but unfortunately the special education system is broken and children like my son who have different abilities are getting just passed thru because their needs are expensive.
I can remember the start of last school year everything was different – it was very heavy. I knew from day one of 4th grade something needed to change for my son. He came home from that first day head hanging low and in tears saying his teacher had told he would never read and that he was a distraction, he was too fidgety, he was lazy, he wasn’t trying. My son receieved a Dyslexia diagnosis at the age of 5 and he has an IQ of 95 (average range) and he was placed in what Westfield Public Schools call an “Essential Life Skills” class. Essential Life Skills classrooms are made for children who are functioning at a lower cognitive ability (IQ range 50-70’s) well thats not my son. He was a Dyslexic child with an average IQ who had Atypical qualities – he did not belong in Life Skills. So I demanded an emergency IEP meeting, hired an educational advocate and had him moved to more appropriate classroom settings, one of which was an Orton-Gillingham based classroom. To be honest, yes his spirit improved, his smile returned and he started to love learning again but our battle for his future had just begun. What followed was more testing which included a Neuro-Psych evaluation, an assistive technology evaluation, outside speech and occupational therapies, meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call, hundreds of emails, faxes, texts, and questions. I did not want my son to be anyone but who he is in his truest form but there are skills he needs that I cannot teach him such as writing, reading, math and social.
With each small victory came double the defeat, errors big and small were revealed, some willingly and some forced. Everyday felt like groundhog day I knew where Clinton needed to be, but I just didn’t know how to get him there. There was no peace for me during that year as I was also recovering from a rotator cuff surgery that I was not prepapred for – I wasn’t able to work, I was stressed, I wasn’t sleeping or eating right – I was drained but somehow everyday I got up to fight another day.
Fast forward to this year I had never seen my son so happy on the first day of school! He was all smiles, he was excited, energized and joyful and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in 10 years. When I picked him up he actually gave details about his day instead of one word answers, he said he felt he belonged like he was home. White Oak isn’t a magic pill they still have the same issues other schools have, but what differs is how they handle it. The treat each child as an individual, they give them realistic goals and expectations, they encourage communication and parent involvement. Isn’t that what we all want? to be heard? thats what I wanted – so many times in those meetings I felt as though I was being talked over and not listened to as though I didn’t even know my son because I didn’t know what all the scores and terminology meant. While future meetings will be far better I have not forgotten about the child who cries or the parent who cries with them. I have not forgotten the anxiety, the pain, the sadness, the confusion and the anger. I do not have all the answers but I do know that thru this process of helping my son – I discovered my purpose – To help those where I was.
The Oak Tree
by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr
A mighty wind blew night and day It stole the oak tree’s leaves away Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark Until the oak was tired and stark
But still the oak tree held its ground While other trees fell all around The weary wind gave up and spoke. How can you still be standing Oak?
The oak tree said, I know that you Can break each branch of mine in two Carry every leaf away Shake my limbs, and make me sway
But I have roots stretched in the earth Growing stronger since my birth You’ll never touch them, for you see They are the deepest part of me
Until today, I wasn’t sure Of just how much I could endure But now I’ve found, with thanks to you I’m stronger than I ever knew.