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When Learning Doesn’t Come Easy
From the moment we find out we are expecting a child, our minds and hearts overflow with hopes and dreams for them. My child will be the most beautiful, brilliant, talented little person to ever walk the Earth, right? And they are for each of us!
But sometimes we discover that there is a “problem”. The last thing we want to admit is that there is something different or wrong with our child. It’s a hard thing to do. Not that we love them any less! But let’s be honest, we’d rather sit around other moms and share how our 4-year-old can read a chapter book, do multiplication at 6, and paint like Rembrandt by age 7. Not to mention, they’re also headed to the Olympics in two different sports. Or at least it seems that way when you’re the one quietly listening to everyone else’s children’s achievements!
So let’s get a few things straight… Most likely the other moms are exaggerating a little bit! And there is nothing wrong with your child! Even if your child has a learning disability. She or he simply learns differently than the mainstream! And it’s really cool!
However, I didn’t always feel that way. After struggling to teach my daughter to read for 3 years with little progress, I was getting pretty frustrated and so was she. Every school day ended in tears, and some days started in tears at the mere mention of reading. She had always loved books and being read to and was excited to learn to read herself. So why was it such a struggle? Was I just a bad teacher? Was she too easily distracted and not self-motivated enough?
We finally decided to get tested at age 7. I had noticed a lot of letter and word changes in reading and writing as well as in math. She complained that her head and eyes hurt when she read (and an eye test showed she had 20/20 vision). I needed to know what was holding us back. I knew she was extremely intelligent in so many ways, but we hit a wall. Since we were homeschooling, we decided to have her tested by a private therapist. It took 4 hours to complete and when we were done we were told she had visual and auditory processing disorders.
I then went into mom research mode! And as I read and searched the internet and the library, I became more and more confused and overwhelmed! There didn’t seem to be any really helpful book or website and the ones I found seemed to tell me different things! We decided to go for vision therapy, which of course is not covered by insurance, are any of us surprised? But we felt it was worth a try and worth the money. In therapy, she worked on relearning phonics using A Time for Phonics. We also did assigned therapy at home. After 6 months she finished and I could definitely see a huge improvement! We didn’t do hearing therapy with the therapist because of the cost, but I used a program called Earobics at home. I also found the book, The Out of Sync Child and When the Brain Can’t Hear very helpful.
My search continued to find other ways to help her learn in a way that suited her learning styles. You see, processing disorders and dyslexia don’t have to be a roadblock! There are so many ways to learn. The point at which I realized this was when I chanced upon a book by Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. I encourage everyone to read it! Also check out his website! I kind of hate the word accommodation. It makes it sound like you need extra or special help, as well as allowing you to cheat. There should be no shame in learning differently. Find out what your child’s strengths are and capitalize on those skills. Don’t focus on the standard way most children learn to read. I have been so incredibly grateful that we chose to homeschool because my daughter didn’t have to compare herself to others or be labeled in any way. But even if your child goes to public or private school, remember that your child is not broken, but the system may be. Advocate for your child to have the resources they need to excel and feel connected.
What resources can you use? Oh, there are so many! This is where I was blown away! I will list some of the resources I felt were the best. But look around more and explore the options available!
-Audiobooks are your friend! Don’t fall behind in learning because you can’t read the material fast enough! If your child learns well by listening, try Audible. Amazon also has audiobooks, and so does your local library.
-A reading focus card. You can make your own or buy one. Also try printing your pages on yellow paper, or try colors other than the usual white.
-Use a text-to-speech app like Speak It or Talk to Me, and also a speech-to-text app like Dragon Dictation. Another useful app is Prizmo, users can scan in any kind of text document and have the program read it out loud, which can be a big help for those who have difficulty reading.
-I love Snapwords for learning sitewords! There’s also an app for Snapwords now!
-Fonts and background colors: Software regularly used in schools, such as Microsoft Word, is a good resource for fonts and background colors. Changing the background color to green, for example, can help reading, as can green glasses. Fonts can also enable reading and comprehension; teachers can download free specialist fonts, such as OpenDyslexic, which is free and can run on Microsoft software.
-All about spelling, this curriculum is great for all kids, but the multi-sensory approach based on the Orton-Gillingham methods worked with my daughter! We haven’t tried All About Reading, but I bet it’s a good option.
-We used Rocket Phonics after we finished vision therapy. It was developed by a dyslexic man and it’s fun! There are lots of games involved and interesting stories to read, not the usual boring books that are your typical light read.
-Math has been a struggle for us as well as reading. Remembering facts is a challenge. I found a math program that uses learning by association that uses fact and process memory techniques called Semple Math.
-GET YOUR HANDS ON! Use clay, paint, blocks, magnets, etc. to practice letters, spelling and sounds. Learn to write letters correctly first in sand with your index finger, then move on to writing with a pencil. Make it FUN! Use all senses!
-Play games! Some we have used and enjoy are Sum Swamp, What’s Gnu?, Scrabble, Very Silly Sentences, Boggle Jr. even card games like addition war (put two cards each and add together) or Alphabet Go Fish (you have to say letter sounds), search Pinterest and the internet for fun games to practice math facts and letter sounds or spelling and sight words. Even if your child is older, there are practical ideas that are fun and multi-sensory
Moms (and dads), my point in writing this is to give you some starting points. And to let you know you are not alone! I know it can be disappointing at first to discover that your child is struggling in some way. But it can also feel like a weight has been lifted to know how your child is learning and that there are ways to help and empower your toddler. I know that if you are in a school, you will have to explain to your child why they can be in a special class or take tests differently than the other children. You have to trust yourself to know how to talk to your child. There are children’s books that talk about dyslexia and learning difficulties in a positive light, such as Thank You, Mr. Falcons by Patricia Polacco, The Alphabet War by Diane Robb and for older children May B by Caroline Rose or Niagra Falls, or Do It? By Henry Winkler (yes, Fonzie from Happy Days!)
Try to emphasize his/her strengths and affiliations and not just focus on his/her weaknesses and difficulties. Remind your child that he/she can learn, but that he/she learns in a unique way, and that’s OK! We are all unique and have our own strengths and weaknesses. Love your child for who they are and hopefully they will find the right tools to make learning increase!
I never thought I would see the day when my daughter’s favorite activity was reading! Relax, keep running away, light up and have fun, and love them no matter what!
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