Mom Shark blog

Special Education Does Not Mean Less Education

Create More, Panic Less — March 29, 2020

Create More, Panic Less

“To create is to live twice.”
― Albert Camus

Today it was announced that in my state, Massachusetts schools will be closed till at least May 4th. My personal thought is that my son along with so many will not go back to school until the fall and I am not filled with panic or worry that he will regress in anyway. I in no way minimize how important academics and the social interactions they are, but I choose to take this time to incorporate other things in my sons day as well. Clinton’s outlet right now is creating a comic book with one of his teachers that he meets with thru google classroom and I think its beautiful. I firmly believe that that process is helping him process the pandemic or “hibernation” as I call it.

I acknowledge the seriousness of the situation, how important physical distancing is and why so many feel afraid, but I choose hope. I choose to believe that on the other side of this we will be better to each other, kinder to each other and maybe even appreciate one another a little. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the hysteria, the fear, panic and posts that flood our feed. It is so easy to forget that these moments as scary as they are can be life changing for so many.

We are all held back by some sort of fear whether it be fear of failure, fear of success, fear of criticism, fear of being noticed, fear of fading away or a fear we cant define and that is OK but do not let it paralyze you. In this time of uncertainty, helplessness, fear, panic, frustration, unemployment, sickness, sadness, political agendas and toxicity I urge to take all that ugliness and make something beautiful. That book you want to write? start it. That business you want to start? research it. Those health goals you want to reach? do it.

Do not let this shutdown be your cage, dedicate a little bit of time everyday to something you want to learn, something you want to do do not just sit in fear and more importantly do not let your children sit in fear. They will not remember the academics they learned during the pandemic, but they will remember your resiliency, they will remember the laughter, they will remember you did not just stay stuck.

Trying to replicate a school day or even a work day while trying to do everything else in the middle of this pandemic is recipe for not succeeding at any of it. I knew as soon as the school closures started that if I attempted to try and replicate a school day not only was it not going to be successful, but I would cause unneeded stress, so I backed off. We spend roughly about 2.5 – 3 hours a day with academics which isn’t consecutive and then we spend time together and apart working on creative projects.

I firmly believe everyone is creative in their own way, that everyone can needs a creative outlet and I also believe it does take time to find that outlet. Being creative does not just mean paper, pencils, markers, crayons or even writing – it can be refinishing furniture, decorating, planting a garden, making clothes, sewing, knitting, cooking, having fun with legos etc. Use that excess energy and create you just might surprise yourself and you just never know who you might inspire.

Get Inspired.

Home Based Educational Resources — March 14, 2020

Home Based Educational Resources

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
Robert Frost

If you have a child chances are they are out of school and you out of work for at least the next two weeks possibly more depending on where you live and how things unfold. Different schools and states are approaching this unique situation differently some are using google classroom, some are mailing work home, some are emailing and some may still be figuring out the next step. I decided to make a post about the resources available to parents/guardians/teachers while school is not in session.

Please note: I have tried out some, not all the sites/programs listed below therefore I have limited experience to draw from and do not endorse or condemn any, but considering the current situation I found it important to share . I will put an asterik (*) next to ones I have tried and share my thoughts and experience.

Resources

I have not separated teacher from parent resources because right now we are all both those titles. Please feel free to comment with any experience you have had or sites you think might help others.

  • www.ixl.com – Individualized math, science and language arts curriculum*
  • teacherspayteachers.com – Teachers Pay Teachers is an online marketplace where teachers buy and sell original educational materials.*
  • learningally.com – high-quality, human-read audiobooks, Affordable and Educator-Friendly. Learning Ally Audiobook Solution is compatible with PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, Android and iOS devices*
  • mysteryscience.com – K-5 science curriculum.
  • BrainPOP.com – lesson planning, school to home connection, professional development.
  • Kahoot!.com – read-to-play games, play live in class or share student-paced challenges, and dive into game reports to assess learning. Create, play and share fun games with your family and friends for parties, trivia nights and other occasions.
  • bookcreator.com – Book Creator can be used in any subject, with any grade level. Book creator helps you focus on assignments that allow the student to get creative and demonstrate their understanding. *
  • Bookshare.com – Bookshare makes reading easier. People with dyslexia, blindness, cerebral palsy, and other reading barriers can customize their experience to suit their learning style and find virtually any book they need for school, work, or the joy of reading.*
  • WeVideo.com – Empower students to collaborate and easily create videos, podcasts, slideshows and more.
  • MobyMax.com – MobyMax helps struggling learners quickly catch up to grade level and closes learning gaps for all your students.
  • Seterra.com – Seterra will challenge you with quizzes about countries, capitals, flags, oceans, lakes and more!
  • Typesy.com – The same comprehensive keyboarding curriculum used by top schools nationwide. Very Affordable.*
  • Pinterest – A little bit of everything for when you want a break from school stuff.

This is by not a complete list of all the available resources out there and I understand its easy to feel overwhelmed, but if I can offer one piece of advice during this tough time – Have Fun! Laugh with your kids, play games, go outside, cook with your kids, watch movies, create something cool – It doesn’t have to be a full school day at home, do what works for you. This is a learning experience for everyone and no one has it figured out and this is going to be around for a while. Your kids will be ok and so will you.

Like I tell my son every day I drop him off to school – Have fun, learn some stuff, be kind to yourself and those around you.

Sending calming thoughts to everyone.

Fear is Contagious — March 13, 2020

Fear is Contagious

“Hysteria is Only Possible with an Audience” – Chuck Palahniuk

We all have our own thoughts and opinions on the current Coronavirus and I am not here to go into any detail about the virus itself, there is already enough information in all its forms being thrown our way. I am here to talk about how our children look to us in these times and how we respond to situations like these.

I wish that in this situation I could say I have seen kindness, patience and calm but all I have seen an every man for himself mentality full of fear, panic and hysteria which for some reason has cleared all the shelves of toilet paper. Now if it is scary for me to understand as an adult how people can turn on one another so quickly, what is that like for a child? especially one with special needs. Now,I like to have an open dialogue with my son and I asked him if he was afraid or scared in anyway, and not just about getting possibly sick but how the whole situation made him feel. He said the virus doesn’t scare him but seeing how people were acting in stores, being told to wash his hands even more than he does, being told to use hand sanitizer even more than he does made him afraid and anxious, but not the virus.

I believe in all this hysteria, madness, fear, hand washing, hand sanitizing (which has its downfalls too), constant news coverage we have forgotten that we are setting the example of how to respond to situations like these. I do not watch the news I get what I need from the reliable internet sources and I do not spend hours looking at it either. It is important in times like these to try our very best to keep our children’s routine, to keep letting them be kids, to play, to laugh and to not make them “adult” before their time.

In response to overwhelming stress in young children:

  • The brain drives the “fight or flight response” and release of stress hormones.
  • The young child has limited capacity to manage this overwhelming stress and experiences increased arousal — fear and anxiety (physical and emotional sensations).
  • Excessive fear and anxiety and excessive cortisol (stress hormone) can affect the capacity for stress regulation as well as development and higher functions of the brain, and
  • Significant early adversity can lead to lifelong problems (physical and mental health).

(National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2005, 2007, 2010)

A lot of us have not been in this situation before and it is ok to not know what to do. I will say that again IT IS OK TO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO. However having our children see us be ugly to each other, being encased in fear and panic, constantly watching the news. It is ok to be aware of the situation and take precautions, it is even ok to worry but don’t let it take over your life. Everything is being postponed, cancelled or shut down including schools and work places for indefinite periods of time. Let us make sure in this difficult time to not cancel being a family or cancel being there for each other, or cancel being a kind human or cancel having fun or laughing or hugging our loved ones. Fear is contagious but so is calm, so is laughter, so is love.

Here are some links below that I hope can help you in this difficult time.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
Dalai Lama XIV

Normal is an Illusion — March 9, 2020

Normal is an Illusion

If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.
~Maya Angelou~

The dictionary definition in noun form is – The usual, average or typical state or condition.

The dictionary definition in adjective form is – conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected.

My definition is that there is no definition of normal – it is an illusion. It is something made up to keep us reaching for something that doesn’t exist, something to keep us all feeling less than in some way. That word has been something we all have struggled to attain, rebel against, break the standards of or just plain ignore. That word along with others that describe normal such as typical, average in my sons world comes with a weight no child should have to bear. It sets an imaginary, unreachable bar that does only harm, no good.

My son is diagnosed with Dyslexia is considered Atypical Autistic and struggles with something called Dysgraphia. I do not use these words to put my son in a box to say that he is those things only because he is not, they are part of him, part of what makes him special, unique, creative, kind and so many other awesome non-normal words. I have attended dozens of IEP meetings all of which tell you a whole lot of what your child isn’t doing, cant do and will never do. I have sat across from teachers, support staff of all kinds, therapists, administration and so many with so many letters after their names and none of them can tell you who Clinton really is. They will highlight his deficits, his struggles, his challenges, label him lazy, distracted, disruptive completely omitting his diagnosis and proceed to teach him in the “normal” way, change nothing about their teaching styles and continue to blame him for not learning their way.

I, myself was diagnosed as a teenager with Bi-Polar 2 disorder. The dictionary definition of disorder as a noun is – a state of confusion. The dictionary definition of disorder as a verb is – disrupt the systematic functioning or neat arrangement of. Folks my mind has never been in neat arrangement and nor would I want it to be, but I am far crazy, psychotic, violent, aggressive or unstable. Yet, when you are diagnosed with this disorder these are the hurtful, ignorant words you are called. I was placed on high doses of mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, hospitalized, given intensive therapy and not once did anyone ever ask me how I was doing, how I felt or what I thought might help. I was told what to do, what to take, how to be and if I strayed for the normal track everyone was trying to put me on I was called crazy, imbalanced, manic, unstable, mad or told I didn’t know what I was talking out because I was all those things. I remember feeling and still feel at times like my voice has been ripped from my throat as though my words even if they could get out fall on truly deaf ears.

I never want my son to feel as though his voice does not matter or that he gets no vote in how he is taught. I want him to self-advocate to the best of his ability and know I will listen. I want that for every child. I want to strip down theses “normal” barriers that society has constructed and tear them down. I do not want children to feel less than because they learn in a different way, I want teachers to teach according to the student not standardized tests or scores that in the grand scheme of things mean nothing. I want us all to lose the word Normal. Normal is an illusion. The dictionary definition of illusion is – a false idea or belief; a deceptive appearance or impression.

Think of how many children sit in a classroom everyday thinking that something is wrong with them because they don’t fit “normal” standards or have “normal” testing scores. Think of how these children struggle to sit still because their brilliance cant be given a number, their creativity has no chance to shine so they dull that shine to fit in with a “normal” system that is failing them. Their bullied in the classroom, at lunch, at recess, on the bus, by their classmates, teachers and adults and they are told if they cant learn this way then there is no may for them. We wonder why we so many children are plagued with depression, anxiety, drop out, act out or give up? because we are asking them to fit into a box that doesn’t even exist. We are asking to reach for something that shouldn’t define them in anyway. We are asking them to not be who they are.

Isn’t it about time we remove the “normal” from our vocabulary? I think it is.

Live Your Dreams — March 7, 2020

Live Your Dreams

How often do we hear phrases such as the one pictured above? All too often, while heart warming and motivational it doesn’t really tell you how to live your dream, follow your heart, be your best self etc. There’s no instructions just a pretty quote followed but a pretty graphic which may brighten your day but gets you no closer to living the life you dream for yourself. While I cannot give you big complete answers to big incomplete questions I can tell you how I have chosen to live my dream and follow my heart.

On August 29th 2019 on Clintons first day of school I started my new job, not a career but a job at local University bookstore and I was excited. You see even though it was a part time/temporary position I didn’t care I was just happy to work to feel productive again. Let me explain, you see 2019 for me was about fighting school districts, advocating for my son, tests with more numbers than I can remember, meetings, meetings about meetings, doctors upon doctors, phone calls, emails, stacks of paperwork, no sleep, constant worry and doing this all mostly one handed because I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery – 2019 was and wasn’t my year in a lot of ways friends.

I liked the job and they liked me so they hired me as a part time employee and I felt even more excited, but the excitement was short lived. It was a nice place to work with nice people to work with on a really nice college campus but I wasn’t happy, I kept telling myself I was but I really wasn’t. Sure, it felt great to work, earn a paycheck, meet new people, learn some stuff and it worked great with Clintons schedule but it wasn’t enough for me. I started to feel frustrated, I started to not want to go in more than I wanted to, I started to not feel productive, useful and worse – that my presence made no impact and really served no purpose. I tried branching out and talking to my manager/supervisor about learning more, doing more but it was clear that was not going to happen. Still I told myself that I NEEDED this job this job that paid minimum wage, provided no benefits, no growth, no promotions, no opportunity, no future, no security, no creativity a job that wouldn’t notice me if I was gone. After a series of events not related to me took place hours got cut across the board for everyone, not management but everyone else and that was it for me.

I reached out to my supervisor expressing my concerns only to be told 12 hours (not 30 like I was used to) at minimum wage was going to be the new normal. I tried like hell to go in on my next scheduled day, but I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t going to give my all to this job for even for 1 hour a week, I wasn’t go to fight for hours, I wasn’t going to lose sleep over this, I wasn’t going to wait till they let me go so I did something I don’t like to do and I let the job go, I quit. I wish I could tell you I have this fantastic plan to earn a living that all my financial worries will be over and I will be living my purpose, but I cant tell you that. All I can you is that I know I will be alright.

How do I know this? I know this because after many years of scrambling trying on all these shoes in the form of jobs that don’t fit I am taking the message the universe is sending me and trying something different. I realize to some this might sound ridiculous, but I truly believe we all have a purpose on this earth and a responsibility to make a difference. I couldn’t stay stuck behind that counter anymore counting the minutes and hours down – I couldn’t do it because I wouldn’t want Clinton to do it. As my son gets older and finds his purpose I want my him to always feel like he is living his best life doing what he loves. I do not want him to feel stuck or stifled, I want him to feel fulfilled. Honestly,I do not know what the future holds but I know I will be ok. Until next time.

Love and Gratitude,

Cathie

Everyone is Unique — January 25, 2020

Everyone is Unique

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious” Albert Einstein

When I first began to notice Clintons challenges at the age of 15 months I did not know what lay ahead for him or us. I was scared, for him, his future, how society would treat him, if he would be able to live on his own, if he would be picked on or even if I was the mom for the job. When I was pregnant with Clinton I made a promise to him that no matter what I would be there and that he would never be alone, but what I did not account for was how hard it was going to actually get or how cruel the world could actually be.

From employers who fired me because Clinton had too many appointments, to health insurance who fought me on all those appointments, to the doctors at the appointments who left me with me more questions than answers and to the teachers who just wouldnt answer questions. There are thousands of books and websites and organizations out there on every learning disabilty you can imagine, but not one of them is written on your child and none of them really prepare you for the journey your on or the road blocks you will hit.

It never bothered me that Clinton flaps his hands out of excitement or that he is a little uncoorniated or that he is Dyslexic or that he is Autistic. I love how Clinton sees the world, I love how excited he is about life and learning, I love all his unique little quirks and I love how his brain works. What I do not always love is how cruel the world can be, how even grown adults can be cruel to a child, how ugly the public school system can be, how my best was always judged not good enough by someone, how many nights I just dont sleep or how many times I just felt alone.

“Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg” – Paul Collins

I know a lot of parents who focus solely on the academic part of their childs life, the benchmarks, the scores, grade level standards just words and numbers on paper and while I do not judge – that isnt me. I never want Clinton to feel like he is only the sum of his academic perfomance or lack there of. I never want him to sit in a classroom thinking about how hard it is for him and internalizing that to shame or low self-esteem. I always want him to feel complete as he is. I always want him to embrace who he is inside and out and use that to find his purpose in life whatever that may be. I always want him to celebrate himself realizing his differences make him unique and so valuable to this world even when the world may not celebrate him.

To all the parents who struggle, I see you and I send you strength and so much love. Please remember we did not choose this battle but our little ones chose us because they knew we could handle it, they trusted us so lets trust ourselves.

Dyscalculia — December 27, 2019

Dyscalculia

Clinton has never been formally diagnosed with Dyscalculia, but it has been something that has been talked about over the years and pondered. What makes it hard to disagnose is the fact that Clinton has overlapping challenges in the forms of Dyslexia and Dysgraphia and it would make sense that he could possibly have Dyscalculia. I chose to not put him through further intense testing because he is getting adequate supports in math and most likely the results would be borderline because of his other challenges.

“Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding.” —William Paul Thurst

Dyscalculia is a condition that makes it hard to do math and tasks that involve math. It’s not as well known or as understood as dyslexia. But some experts believe it’s just as common. That means an estimated 5 to 10 percent of people might have dyscalculia. It’s not clear whether dyscalculia is as common in girls as in boys. Most experts think there’s no difference. (It’s also a myth that boys are better at math than girls.)

People don’t outgrow dyscalculia. Kids who have a hard time with math may continue to struggle with it as adults. But there are strategies that can help them improve math skills and manage the challenges. Difficulty with math happens at all levels. It can be as hard to learn addition as it is to learn algebra. Basic concepts like quantities can also be a challenge.

Common signs of dyscalculia include trouble:

  1. Number sense, counting, and numbers
    • Starting to count at a later age than siblings/classmates
    • Taking more time to memorize and learn to write the numerals
    • Counting on fingers instead of using math facts from memory
    • Using a number line is difficult, no representation in their memory
    • Larger numbers are often copied in the wrong order by children with dyscalculia
  2. Operations and procedures
    • Confusion over math concepts
    • Difficulty memorizing math facts, in particular multiplication tables
    • Repeated mistakes with Math vocabulary
    • ‘Misreading’ a number sentence: add instead of multiply etc.
    • Difficulty selecting essential information and choosing the operation in a word problem
  3. Measurement
    • Difficulty selecting the larger of two small quantities without counting
    • Issues with perception of shapes and relative sizes
    • Difficulty with changing to another unit (days – weeks, pints – gallons)
    • Confusion over telling time on a digital and an analog clock
    • Children with dyscalculia have difficulty making a rough guesstimate
  4. Behavioral characteristics
    • Uncomfortable with activities involving counting or numbers
    • Making wild guesses or just jotting down random numbers
    • Working slowly and inconsistently
    • Seems to ‘get it’ one day, ‘forgets’ it the next
    • Deliberately avoiding math tasks, while being OK with other subjects

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes dyscalculia. But they believe it’s at least partly due to differences in how the brain is structured and how it functions.

Here are two possible causes of dyscalculia:

Genes and heredity: Dyscalculia tends to run in families. Research shows that genetics may also play a part in problems with math.

Brain development: Brain imaging studies have shown some differences between people with and without dyscalculia. The differences have to do with how the brain is structured and how it functions in areas that are linked to learning skills. Researchers aren’t just looking into what causes dyscalculia. They’re also trying to learn if there are strategies that can help “rewire” the brain to make math easier. 

Accomodations for Dyscalculia in School:

  • Allow extra time on tests
  • Provide frequent checks during classwork
  • Keep sample problems on the board
  • Give students individual dry-erase boards to use at their desks
  • Use plenty of brightly colored, uncluttered reference charts and diagrams
  • Reduce the number of assigned problems
  • Whenever possible, allow calculator use
  • List the steps for multi-step problems and algorithms
  • www.ixl.com – this is perhaps the most helpful math website we have been given the gift of being set up with. It not only reads the questions and answers but provides pictures and illustrations with both the questions and answers. It provides a completely customizable curriculum for students in grades K-12, provides suggestions based on current performance and sends results to the teacher.

Accomodations for Dyscalculia in the Home:

  • Point out math wherever you can
  • Play math games
  • Work with your child on managing time
  • Help with homework
  • Be understanding
  • Post tables and charts prominently
  • Make use of planning technology

These are suggestions and some, all or none may work for you, but I can only speak on my experience and what has help myself and my son. The more knowledge we have the more we can help our children and students who need it. Math is everywhere there is no escaping it and that can be very overwhelming for those who struggle with Dyscalculia. The best tip I can offer is to be understanding and to be patient, pressure and criticism only increases anxiety and can make the symptoms worse. There is no cure, no magic solution but I have included some links which I hope you find helpful.

Resources

Illiteracy — October 14, 2019

Illiteracy

“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.

RESOURCES

Orton-Gillingham — October 4, 2019

Orton-Gillingham

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 s by 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 OrtonGillingham (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.

If you have kids who are struggling with dyslexia, the greatest gift you can give them is the sense that nothing is unattainable. With dyslexia comes a very great gift, which is the way that your mind can think creatively” – Orlando Bloom

Below are some resources I hope you find helpful

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.

Dysgraphia — September 25, 2019

Dysgraphia

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:

  • Forming letters
  • 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.

Supports at school: Kids with dysgraphia may get help at school through an IEP or a 504 plan. There are a number of accommodations for writing. Kids may also get assistive technology and other tools. These can range from simple pencil grips to dictation software.

Here are some additional links that I have found beneficial.

Learning Disabilities Association of America

Wrights Law

International Dyslexia Association

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.