Monday, December 14, 2009

Study help

This year, my son entered the world of final exams. Last week, he brought home huge study guides for three of his classes. He had never seen so much homework in his life.

He survived last week and is looking forward to taking his exams and enjoying the winter break. Tonight, a parent of a student in his Texas history class sent the other parents a link to an amazing web site called Quizlet ( Some young 15-year-old genius created the site a few years ago while he was studying for a French quiz. There had to be a better way, he thought, and Quizlet was born.

Quizlet allows you, or preferably the student, to create flash cards and sample tests. In my son's case, his history study guide include more than 100 questions and his friend's parent entered the questions into Quizlet and an electronic study guide was created.

Quizlet's founder is now a student at MIT and the site boasts hundreds of millions of scores logged. You can follow Quizlet on Twitter, connect on Facebook or read their blog (

It will be interesting to see if the electronic tools hold my son's attention longer than his multi-page, handwritten efforts. Check back and I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

School anxiety

 My son experienced some anxiety at school back when he was in the third grade. The anxiety was so bad at one point that he felt physically sick about going to school.

That part of his life passed about four years ago when he started attending a private school for kids with learning disabilities but anxiety has reared its ugly head in our home again.

My daughter does not have any known learning disabilities. In fact, most people would say that she is quite bright and capable in school. Unfortunately, she doesn’t “feel” capable and her entire academic world began to crumble a few weeks ago.

Her biggest issue is overcoming her fear of writing. This year, fourth graders must pass the state writing test so teachers are working hard to make sure they write every day and can put together a well-written paragraph. She can write well but her anxiety is giving her stomachaches, headaches and a blank page.

With her teacher’s help, we’re trying a few things that might be helpful if you have an anxious writer in your house. Her teacher is going to give me the topic they write about in class ahead of time so that my daughter can talk through her thoughts before she sits down to write. The teacher also is breaking up assignments into smaller pieces so that a long story is actually written over a few days rather all in one sitting.

For her assignment last week, we talked about it at home and she wrote down a few key words to help her remember her thoughts the next day. A tape recorder is also a useful tool when kids can talk about a topic but then they can't remember their thoughts when it comes time to write them down.

So far, we’re making some progress. Her journal will come home next week so she can try to make up some of the entries she hasn’t even started. In my daughter’s case, confidence is key and she’ll be getting lots of positive encouragement each time she writes.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dyslexia Becomes Cool

October was National Dyslexia Awareness Month and while I missed all the hoopla surrounding such a notable event, I did catch an article posted on CNN that listed 11 famous people who overcame dyslexia.

Every month is Dyslexia Awareness Month at our house as my almost 13-year-old son continues to overcome his language-based learning disabilities. I decided to share the list with him hoping to give him some inspiration as he began to tackle another evening of homework.

He was barely impressed; most of the “famous” people listed barely got a shrug. He had no idea who Henry Winkler, “The Fonz,” was and swears that he’s never seen “Happy Days.” He was slightly more interested in Keira Knightley who stared opposite fellow dyslexic Orlando Bloom in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Most on the list received nothing, not even a hint of name recognition from my son. Charles Schwab, Agatha Christie, Alyssa Milano, Bruce Jenner, and Ingvar Kamprad (founder of IKEA) fell into this category. Whoopi Goldberg, Cher and Jay Leno had recognizable names but he still did not seem to care one iota about their reading struggles.

The big payoff came from an unlikely role model, Ozzy Osbourne.  I can’t say that I’d ever choose to have my son to look up to ol’ Ozzy but in my son’s mind, dyslexia became cool last night all because of aging rock star.

A more complete list of famous dyslexics is posted at For some reason, Ozzy didn’t make that list! 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I know that the topic of ADHD medications is hotly debated, especially by parents who have chosen not to have their child on medication. I won't debate the topic -- I've known many, many families who have benefitted from the medication intended to help a child stay focused so they can learn.

Frankly, I'm jealous of these other families. My son has tried three types of medications and a fourth is sitting at the pharmacy. Two of the three left him with facial tics within a couple of hours and were not taken again after the first dose. The third medication had no effect on his ability to concentrate at school and made him angry at home.

Am I looking for a magic bullet? Maybe. Really what I want is for my son not to miss another year of school because he's just getting by and not learning to the best of his ability.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Amazing Race

The Amazing Race is one of my favorite shows and one that I watch frequently with my kids. I love that there will be an adult with Asperger's in the race this year!

Friday, September 18, 2009


In my search for a full-time teaching position, I found myself saying that I understand what it takes to motivate students with learning differences and ADHD. 

I must confess that is a total lie. What I understand is that for some kids (mine), motivation seems to be completely unattainable.

My son is in 7th grade and his cell phone became the center of his universe over the summer. He lost his cell phone privileges the second week of school when he brought home a string of Fs on his school assignments. 

His mid-term progress report showed one C and he needs all As and Bs to get the phone back. I thought he would be motivated to keep the grades that were good and work on that C.

Instead, he’s struggling even more and it doesn’t appear to be a lack of ability. On a practice test he took in school yesterday, he answered “True” to a statement saying there were no tornadoes in Texas. True? From a boy that has spent many nights asleep on the bathroom floor waiting for the next round of warning sirens?

Carelessness seems to be the major culprit. Is it the ADHD? Lack of motivation or concern about school in general or his grades?

He’s now lost computer privileges on school nights until those grades are back to As and Bs but I wonder if that’s going to make a difference. 

Is anyone else in a similar situation? What’s the answer?

Monday, September 14, 2009

New friends

I made a new friend last week. Her daughter is in fourth grade at the same school as my daughter and she started talking to me last week as we waited for the girls to get out of school for the day. 

She is from Israel and explained that her family had just moved here three weeks before school started. Her daughter spoke very little English but was doing well adjusting to her new school. We invited them over one day after school so she and my daughter could get to know each other better. 

She told me about her son who is a year older than my son and also has ADHD. He's in the public school that my son would go to if he weren't in private school. She told me that in Israel, her son was able to go to a different school that allowed him to choose the classes he wanted to take. As a result, he focused better and learned more.

I have to admit, I'm jealous. Not that I don't think my son's school is wonderful, but to see him interested in what he was learning, to see him able to make choices about his future, would be wonderful. My son is still on the sidelines when it comes to his education. He's in class but he's still just going through the motions.

We had a long discussion about our school districts efforts to treat every child the same, even when they are clearly different. Some places have charter schools which sound similar to what she described in Israel but we're not so lucky here. There are no charter schools nearby and private school is becoming cost prohibitive.

I'm interested to hear what other parents of kids with learning disabilities are doing, especially as the kids get closer to high school. Our local high school boasts a 97% rate for seniors going to college and is said to administer more AP tests than any school west of the Mississippi ( 

I'm not sure what this means for my son. I would love to have a choice — a public education choice — that gives him an education where he is engaged and interested in his learning and can be with kids with similar interests. 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Back to School!

I have to admit, I am not one of those moms who get weepy when the kids go back to school. I'm quite the opposite and have to restrain myself so the kids don't pick up on how happy I am to escort them out the door on that first day back to school each year.

We're looking forward to a good school year this year. My son is in his fourth year (7th grade) at a private school for kids with learning differences and my daughter is starting her second year (4th grade) at the neighborhood public school. Both kids were happy to be going back to school this week and they quickly fell into the normal routine of early bedtimes and even earlier wake up times.

One of the things we've learned from my son's school is the importance of helping kids get organized with their school work. After four years, my son expects his binder for school to be set up a certain way and this year, we set up my daughter's binder in much the same way. Her papers last year took on a life of their own and became nearly impossible to manage. She didn't have a binder and neither of us knew what was finished, what had been turned in and what was to be left at home. 

There's nothing fancy about the organization of the binder. There's a daily assignment planner in the front and an additional monthly calendar for long term assignments. Next there are two  pockets — one for "to do" items (homework or other unfinished assignments) and one for "finished" assignment (items ready to be turned in). In my daughter's binder, we added a third pocket for "leave at home" so that the papers she no longer needs are not mixed in with the assignments that need to be done or turned in. 

My son's school sends all of his "leave at home" papers in an envelope on Thursday. I love that! He and I can go through the week's work together and there are no extra papers cluttering his binder. Actually, there are plenty of extra papers with drawings of bizarre contraptions on them but a binder can't solve every problem! 

There are also dividers for every subject which rarely get used in my son's binder. I think the intent is for him to store papers by subject that he might use for studying. 

We're stumbling through our first week and it's already obvious that my son will have to step up his efforts this year. We're hoping to transition as much work as possible to the computer this year and he's going to be learning more about how to ask for the kind of help he needs (self-advocating). Each week, his class rotates between classes for life skills, study skills, speech, computer and art.  Did I mention that I love his school?

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Great Equalizer

My son has a crush on a girl. He didn't tell me that, I just figured it out after he took his phone charger to a baseball game so it wouldn't run out of juice and he could continue exchanging text messages with her. 

I'm not a big fan of texting with all the cutesy little shortcut words but as I peered over his shoulder, I decided that texting may be the great equalizer when it comes to some kids with learning issues. My son can be slow to express himself verbally but he didn't seem to have any problems keeping up with their texting conversation.

And, spelling doesn't count when texting. At one point, he asked me and his dad how to spell tomorrow. I started to tell him and his dad told him just to put "tmrw" and she would understand what he meant. Personally, I would definitely spell it out (correctly) but I'm thrilled that my son can communicate with a girl without having to explain why he has trouble spelling things or writing by hand. 

I'm sure we have more than a few conversations ahead of us about the appropriateness of how he uses that cell phone, but for now, I'm happy he's found a way to fit in with his peers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Building a better mousetrap

Last week, my son and his friend decided they were going to tackle a little problem we have around the outside of the house -- mice. My son has tried chasing them with a broom which has an immediate payoff of getting them back over to the neighbor's yard and taking his adrenalin level up a notch, but it doesn't do much to solve the problem.

Looking for a more permanent answer, these two 12 year olds decided they would build a mousetrap. If you know any kids with ADHD, you can appreciate the difficulty of the task they were undertaking. Both have short attention spans and run at the same speed -- fast and constant. Other summer projects for them have included building and sleeping in condos made from cardboard boxes and attempting to catch fish by any means available at the neighborhood pond. However, most of their activities involve taking things apart rather than putting them together.

It was with great interest that I watched them gather up the tools they would need for their mousetrap -- wood, nails, a hammer and some sliced cheese. They came up with a plan to build a wooden box without a top and an opening at one end presumably for the little critter to enter. A loose piece of board sits on top of the box and a nail sticks into the box in the back. The nail is to hold the cheese.

They explained to me that the mouse would crawl in to get the cheese and the top would fall on him either trapping him, or killing him. 

So far, I've only witnessed ants inside the trap eating the cheese but I am very impressed with the boys ability to a) come up with a somewhat logical plan and  b) execute it without any injuries. They worked together and completed their project with no adult help whatsoever. They even remembered to bring the tools back inside! 

I don't know if all of their creative projects add to their educational experience in any way but I know that they're having fun and staying focused on one project long enough to see it through to completion. That alone is a big deal in my son's world.

I think the fish and the mice in this neighborhood don't have much to worry about, at least not from these two but you never know! They seem determined in their efforts and determination and perseverance often pay off. 

Personally, I hope they don't succeed because I am not equipped to handle the deceased critters!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Reading

My son just finished the 3-part “Island” series by Gordon Korrman while I took on some not-so-light reading with Etta Brown’s,  Learning Disabilities – Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges.

Brown’s book is filled with information for parents trying to navigate their way through the public school system. She thoroughly discusses the laws, what “free and appropriate education” really means and what effect being placed in special education can have on a child’s education. 

I loved the organization of this book, particularly the action points and summary at the end of each chapter. She goes into detail about specific challenges, what each disability looks like at home and in the classroom and what a parent should do to help the child with classroom accommodations or professional help. She’s obviously well educated and promotes encouragement and understanding on behalf of learning different children. 

My only complaint about this book is the hard line Brown takes on parents. The first chapter reminded me of when my son was first evaluated for speech therapy at 18 months and the therapist asked if I ever talked to him. I don’t agree with Brown’s assessment that many learning disabilities are caused by neglect or abuse of the child. Certainly no families that I have ever met with children with learning disabilities fall into that category. Her chapter on ADHD is sure to upset more than a few parents who have made the difficult decision to use medication to help their child. 

I agree with many of Brown’s points, even if they are hard on parents. Leaving a child’s education completely in the hands of the public school is probably not a good idea. The school system is not going to make sure that every child meets their full potential or that learning disabilities are remediated. It’s a parent’s job to fill in the gaps and Brown does not mince words in making that point. 

For more info on Brown and her book, her web site is


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Educational Testing

At the end of the school year, my son completed a battery of tests administered by our local school district to see what type of support he’d be eligible for if and when he moved to the public school. The results were similar to previous tests and the results were the same – based on their criteria, my son does not qualify for special education services due to a learning disability. 

At about the same time his test results came in, I began the process of getting certified to teach special education. I’ve attended many seminars before about special education because I’m always looking for a better understanding of how my son will get educated enough to graduate from high school and possibly go to college or a technical school. 

I learned several things about how the education system works in that seminar and was left with one glaring fact – teachers aren’t any happier with the system than parents are. 

The statistics shared in that seminar were staggering. Nationally, more than 11% of the school-aged population receives special education services. Since 1990, the number of students receiving help has increased more than 32 percent. 

But parents, like me, are still frustrated. I remember the first time I was told my son wasn’t “far enough behind” to qualify for services. He was 6 and his speech and language test scores revealed that he was in the 12th percentile for kids his age meaning that 88 percent of kids his age would be expected to perform better on that test. He needed to be in the 7th percentile to receive help. I remember clearly looking at the school personnel in that first pre-IEP meeting and saying, “But I’m not raising a kid to be in the 12th percentile of the population.”

 My son qualifies for special education services under Other Health Impairment (OHI). In Texas, ADHD is not considered a disability category but students who have a diagnosis of ADHD and it impacts their ability to learn, can qualify under OHI. Any medical diagnosis that affects a student’s ability to learn can be considered to qualify a child to receive help from the school. 

My son’s learning disabilities have been well documented by professionals but in the public school setting, they are not severe enough. I’m thankful that my son continues to make good progress year after year but I’m still not willing to accept that he’s a 12th percentile kind of guy.  

Monday, June 15, 2009

Low blocks and high kicks

I was less than thrilled the first time my son said he wanted to try tae kwon do. I pictured a little 5-year-old ninja running loose in my house kicking and hitting everything. Within a week of his first class, my impression had completely changed and I became a huge fan of our local program.

Teachers started telling me that my son “lacked focus” sometime around his second birthday. I was completely unaware that any two year old had focus so, for the most part, I ignored them. But seeing my little ninja out there with the other kids, I began to understand their concerns. 

My son wiggled and wandered and interrupted with the most off-the-wall comments. He fell on the floor. A lot. 

The instructors encouraged him to stand still and taught him to gain better control over his body. As he earned new belts, a transformation began to take place. He fell less, his coordination improved and he stopped being so fidgety in martial arts class. His confidence grew and he felt very successful and strong. 

Unfortunately, we moved when he was 6 years old and our search for a new martial arts home began. I soon found out that not all martial arts programs are created equally. We tried two in Wisconsin, both were less understanding of my son’s personality and learning issues and he was miserable. Basically, they both lacked that critical "fun" factor. We found a better program when we moved to California but for a variety of reasons, we didn’t stick with it. 

Earlier this year, I signed both my kids up for tae kwon do in Texas. My 8-year-old daughter lacks confidence to try new things and tae kwon do was the first sport she was willing to try. My son wasn’t interested at all because he’s 12 and 12 year olds don’t want to do anything their parents want them to do. 

Six months later, I couldn’t be more proud of both kids. Our new martial arts home is a perfect fit with kids of all different abilities working side by side. Some are wigglers, like my boy. Some are timid, like my girl. Some learn differently and some are very bright and successful with everything they do. 

I know several parents who have kids with learning differences that tell similar stories about their kids in martial arts. Martial arts programs that accept kids of all abilities and encourage them to reach their personal best in a positive way can give kids that don't always fit in a place to shine. 



Tuesday, June 2, 2009

School's Out!

Yesterday began the first full week of summer vacation for my son. His friends are out of town and he’s already bored. In that past, I’ve filled his summers with speech therapy, occupational therapy and tutoring. I’ve bought the Summer Bridge series workbooks for so many years only to pass them down, almost completely blank, from him to his sister. 

This year, I’m giving him a break. I have no educational camps, therapy of any kind or tutoring planned for the summer. Instead, his schedule will be filled with chores around the house (life skills!) and fun camps for tae kwon do, chess and video game design. 

Yesterday, we joined a neighborhood rec center and I spent the afternoon getting beat in ping pong and air hockey. He can ride his bike to the center and to a local pool. There is also a pond in the neighborhood for fishing although I’m not sure what he would do if he actually caught a fish! 

For the first time in many, many years, my son is going to enjoy his time off this summer without the constant reminder that he learns differently. I’m excited for him and nervous about “wasting” a great opportunity like the summer to increase his academic skills. 

I expect that he might grow a couple of inches taller this summer and I hope that he’ll gain some maturity as well. Maybe by fall he’ll be ready to tackle those books again. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's in a job?

When I picture my son behind a desk at work, all I can see is a grown up version of the same kid spinning around in a chair as fast as he can. And breaking pencils. I often wonder whether he’ll go to college and what he might do to earn a living as an adult. 

Last summer, my kids started coming home from day care with handfuls of “tickets” for prizes at their school. At first, I was so proud that they were doing so well in this academically oriented daycare. Then I learned the truth. 

My son figured out that he could sell time on his Nintendo DS to the other kids for tickets and the tickets could then be redeemed for candy. A good deal for him, a good deal for his consumer. He quickly enlisted his sister’s participation and the two of them became “rich” feeding off the electronic dependencies of their peers. 

This was about the point that I stopped worrying about how he was going to earn a living. Okay, maybe I still worry a little. Scholastically, he’s got some problems but socially, he may be the king of networking. In our last neighborhood, he was dubbed “the mayor” by one of the other parents because he got all the kids together to play. What was most interesting to me is that the kids were all different -- some smart, some athletic, some older, some younger -- and my son was the common friend among them.

I’m not sure what this will all add up to – a career in sales? Politics? A street hustler?


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Captain Chaos

I decided to clean my son’s room yesterday after two months of letting him “handle it.” Before I stopped badgering him to clean his room, I set up some ground rules mainly that there was to be no food in the room and clothes that weren’t put in the laundry room on Saturday didn’t get washed. I foolishly thought that if he had to wear a dirty uniform to school, he’d get the message and start picking up his stuff off the floor. He's worn the same socks to school for two weeks and I'm not sure where the clothes are coming from. Still there's been no attempt to straighten his room.

I’ve read 100 times that kids with ADHD have “poor organizational skills.” What I haven’t read is an accurate description of how incredibly messy that can be. Sure, his binder and school papers are shoved in his backpack with little hope of ever finding them again. But his room achieves a whole different level of disorganized and “poor organizational skills” doesn’t begin to cover it. Pure, complete chaos seems more appropriate. 

I’ve tried to help him. He has a dresser with drawers for clothes, shelves for books, bins under the bed and in the closet for toys and boy stuff, a bedside table for a clock radio and a lamp, a desk and even an organizer for his cell phone and iPod. 

The bookshelves were empty, clothes were on the floor, bins were empty and his “stuff” was everywhere. The bedside table was clean, the lamp and clock radio across the room were connected by an elaborate mass of extension cords. His desk was home to a 2-ft. long Lego vehicle (the extra pieces are still sticking to the bottom of my feet) and there were parts of broken toys, victims of his endless curiosity, everywhere. 

When I ask him to clean his room, I write down specific tasks so that when he gets distracted two minutes later, he can, theoretically, look back at his list and get back on track. It worked better when he was younger and not so curious. The last time I left him alone to clean his room, I returned 15 minutes later to find him finishing a pulley system made with dental floss so that he could open his bedroom door by moving his chair across the room. 

I think a sparse room with no “stuff” is the answer. Rubber walls might not be a bad idea either. Anyone else have any ideas?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Extra help

At times during my son’s educational career, it has become very clear that whatever assistance I had to offer wasn’t going to be enough. Usually, this was during the time periods where I worked full time and didn’t have the time or energy to work with him after school. Or he simply needed more expertise than a mom with a degree in communications could give him. 

There are a lot of great educational resources out there. I've preferred to stick with one-on-one help rather than learning centers that often cost just as much.

Tutoring – 

What’s worked – An educational therapist. They’re typically more expensive but they have the education and experience to warrant the added expense. The one I hired worked on language processing, memory and attention issues. She also attended IEP meetings with me which was invaluable. 

What hasn’t worked – me, at least not all the time.  It’s not easy to work with your own child. I get frustrated. He gets frustrated. Pencils get broken, papers get crumpled. I can’t begin to count the number of times his binder’s been closed for the night without homework completed because of the strain it caused between us. 

What’s worked – Hiring a tutor who is also a special education teacher. The one I hired one summer was encouraging but firm and set high expectations for my son. They covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. 

What hasn’t – using tutors that don’t know the material.  I knew things were bad this year (sixth grade) when my son’s homework tutor sent me an email saying she didn’t understand his math homework.  

Much of what I’ve learned about my son has come from the professionals that worked with him. I’m not sure who has been educated more by his tutors, him, or me. I didn’t know what ADHD looked like until I saw my son work with the educational therapist. The work was hard, he had to think and he was wired. The placid little guy that watched TV with his face glued to the screen was gone and he was sent into perpetual motion. I saw my son in a new way and now can appreciate the challenges his teachers face on a daily basis.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shaky hands

Around the time my son started to talk, his speech therapist noticed that his hands trembled whenever he tried to color with crayons, drink from a cup, put food in his mouth or grasp small objects. An MRI showed everything was fine and we were told that these hand tremors or what we called, “shaky hands,” were here to stay.

I quickly accepted that my son probably would never become a neurosurgeon but I didn’t realize the effect that poor fine motor skills and “shaky hands” would have in the classroom. Writing is tiring and mostly illegible. Over the past 10 years, the schools have tried to help and I’ve sought help from outside professionals but the problems persist and handwriting remains his biggest obstacle in the classroom. 

Poor Handwriting (dysgraphia)

What’s worked – Using an AlphaSmart or small portable keyboard. I bought him one in third grade, he’s now in sixth and he’s finally accepting that it’s his friend. (

What hasn’t – A well-meaning occupational therapist with the school district tried placing a weight on his wrist to steady the shaking. It didn’t work at all and was painful! She also tried a contraption made of string that made him hold the pencil differently, also ineffective and very distracting. 

What's worked – Cursive. Despite being told by his third grade teacher that he’d never write cursive, his private school requires it. Using cursive, he has no letter reversals and there is space between his words. He still tires easily and it’s not always legible but it’s an improvement over his manuscript writing. Handwriting Without Tears has a good program for teaching handwriting at home. (

What hasn’t – Big pencils, small pencils, mechanical pencils, triangular pencils, pencils with squishy grips, pencils without squishy grips, paper with raised lines, paper without raised lines, graph paper, paper with huge spaces, paper with regular lines, blank paper. 

Thankfully, my son has adapted very well to using a computer and type, type, typing away. I keep telling him that the day will come when no one sees his handwriting. After all, when was the last time any of us wrote a note by hand?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Do you hear what I hear?

Auditory processing disorder has become a common diagnosis among children with learning differences in the past several years. Most professionals agree that it’s hard to distinguish between an auditory processing issue and ADHD. Often, a child might have both.

An audiologist determined that my son had a “moderate” auditory processing disorder when he was in first grade. To be quite honest, it’s very hard to tell if any of the products or interventions has been effective, none provided immediate results but it’s possible that his improved listening and processing skills are a result of early interventions. 

Auditory Processing 

What’s worked – small class size, quiet work environment, sitting in the front of the class. 

What hasn’t – My son completed both sets of Earobics exercises, dozens of hours of computer listening time. The cost was relatively low ($69 per set) but there was no noticeable change. 

What’s worked – My son and another child in his second grade class had a speaker on their desk and the teacher wore a microphone. It seemed to help keep his attention longer but it was deemed ineffective by the school after a short trial period. 

What hasn’t  – a 90-hour listening program (the Tomatis Method). It was very expensive ($5,000) and required him to be in the administrator’s facility for two hours a day for weeks. The program is best known for helping autistic children speak but did not have a noticeable effect on my child's learning or ability to focus.

There’s an interesting book on auditory processing called “Like Sound Through Water,” by Karen Foli. The book has a wealth of information and resources on auditory and language processing and it’s a good read as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's worked and what hasn't

When I meet other parents of kids who learn differently or have other special needs, the topic of what interventions we’ve tried and found successful always comes up. This is a sticky subject because kids are different and every variable imaginable – from the quality of the teacher or therapist to the willingness of the child -- could affect whether a particular intervention is successful or not. 

That said, I’ll share my list of what’s worked or at least been worth the investment and what hasn’t. This is just my opinion of what’s worked for my son and shouldn’t be taken as any kind of recommendation for your child. I’ll tackle one subject at a time over the next few posts. There’s not much I haven’t tried to help my son be successful so the list pretty long! 

Educational setting

What’s worked – small class size with kids that are grouped by skill level. 

What hasn’t – large classroom with pullouts for small group teaching in core subject areas. This didn’t work for my son because he quickly figured out that if he just waited long enough, he’d get pulled out of class. He learned to avoid virtually all of his classroom work. 

What’s worked – organized teachers who check to make sure that homework assignments are recorded correctly by the student. Organizational skills are lacking in many LD students, my son has done well with daily and weekly assignment sheets. 

What hasn’t – public humiliation by a teacher when assignments are missing or incomplete. My son’s name ended up on the board 11 times in third grade because of missed assignments. Not 11 different times, but repeated on the board 11 times. Once he lost count and had no way of ever catching up, he stopped doing homework all together. 

Future topics – what's worked and what hasn't for speech and language issues, individualized tutoring, auditory processing, occupational therapy, handwriting

Monday, April 27, 2009

A reader among us

I come from family of readers. We’re not you’re your average two or three books a year readers but hard core, Book-of-the-Month Club, multiple-books-a-month readers.

When my son was in second and third grade, he was well behind his grade level in reading. In fourth grade, he began attending a private school for kids who learn differently and his reading world slowly began to change.

Maybe it’s because he’s had an additional language arts class dedicated to reading for the past three years or because the librarian at his school can perfectly match a book with a child but my son is now a reader, the kind of reader that devours a new novel a week and follows an author through multiple titles.

Did I mention that he’s 12, in sixth grade and reading on grade level or above for the first time in his life?

I asked my son last night who his favorite authors were and his face lit up. First he said Paul Zindel, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose books started coming into our house last fall. Lately he’s been hooked on Gordon Korman and is going through his books at a pretty good clip. (Check out the authors’ websites:,

I picked up “Schooled” by Korman last week after my son finished his book report. I only read a few pages but I’m hooked. I’ll be adding it to my reading pile! 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Patience, patience

I am not a patient person. If there’s one quality the parent of a child with learning disabilities should have, it’s patience and I don’t have very much.

Yesterday was a typical afternoon at my house. My son got home from school at 2:45 p.m. and I reminded him that he had a book report to finish before he could play with friends and before Tae Kwon Do class at 5:45. Three hours, plenty of time. The afternoon unfolded something like this:

3:00 p.m. -- Finished snack and checking on his online game he had left running all day. Computer gets turned off. 

3:05 – He looks outside to see if the rabbits had eaten any of my new plants. No damage to report as of yet. 

3:07 – I hand him his AlphaSmart and his book. He sits on the couch to begin working. 

3:12 – He goes outside to check on rabbits and starts building a trap to catch them. 

3:35 – I ask how it’s going. He says “Good” even though I see the AlphaSmart on the couch. I take it outside. 

3:45 – From outside he calls for help. As I check on his progress, he says, “I think there’s only one rabbit living under the deck” and he starts banging on the deck with a golf club to encourage the rabbit to make an appearance. 

3:49 – Back inside, I wonder if it’s too early to have a glass of wine. 

4:01 – The phone rings and a friend invites him on a walk. He asks me how long it will be until he finishes his homework. Good question. I tell him about 15 minutes if he could sit down and write. Finally, some motivation. Back to the couch. 

4:17 – After a flurry of activity, he hands me the AlphaSmart to read his report. Not bad, just needs a final paragraph to wrap it up. He heads to a friend’s house to swim at 4:35. 

7:45 -- After Tae Kwon Do and dinner, the report is transferred to the computer and, amazingly, in one sitting, he corrects and formats his report. 

8:00 – I finish that glass of wine I’ve been thinking about since 3:49.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Another fun word to say

I first heard the term “perseverate” when my son was in first grade. The school counselor said he tended to perseverate and was not able to get back on task with his work. That sounded serious, any word with “sever” in the middle got my attention.

She explained it meant that he would get stuck on a topic and couldn’t seem to let go and return to his schoolwork. 

I learned firsthand how this could be a problem when I tried to enroll my son in a private Montessori school. He was in third grade and had just gotten a James Bond 007 video game the night before his interview with the school. Every question they asked came back to the guns and violence.

“What’s your favorite subject?” Science because I can blow things up.

“What do you like to do in your free time?” Play video games with guns and he went on to tell which models of guns were his favorites.

Needless to say, his application was rejected and I learned a lot about how quickly a child could be judged and misunderstood.

I’d love to be able to channel that ability to focus on one topic into other parts of his life! 

Have you had success in redirecting your child's thoughts when they're obsessing about something? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Aye Ticonderoga!

Homework struggles in my house are usually defined by the number of pencils that get broken. On a good night, no pencils are broken, but on a bad night, look out. We’ve had many homework sessions where two or three of the little guys met their demise.

I probably should have invested in Ticonderoga pencil stock several years ago. I’m not partial to that particular brand, I just like saying the name but I have found that wooden pencils are the easiest to break thus allowing my son to return to his homework more quickly.

I’ve tried lots of techniques to help get through homework with less angst but I can’t say I’ve ever been very successful. Timers were good when he was younger but now that he needs to slow down, I’m looking for new ideas.

What’s worked for you? Tell me and I’ll put together a Top 10 list in a future blog!

In the beginning

I don't really know where to begin. The earliest years of my son's life were normal, blissful, happy. He didn't talk much but communicated in his way and we seemed to share some innate ability to understand each other. 

Around his second birthday, his pediatrician finally convinced me to have him start speech therapy so she "could hear his beautiful voice." 

Speech therapy was successful but came with what seemed at the time like an ominous prediction from his speech therapist. "Watch out for language-based learning disabilities as your son gets older."

Ten years later I'm thankful for the recommendation. That speech therapist was right on the money, the language deficits my son experienced as a baby and toddler were indicative of problems he would experience with reading and writing and language in general.

My hope for this blog is to share some experiences and to encourage other parents to share theirs. My son has had many successes in his educational career and I've done my best to stay on top of all the latest research, therapies and educational issues. 

Most importantly, I love to tell stories. My kids' stories are the best. When I lost my job last week and my son and I were discussing what was next, he suggested I write a book. (Actually, his first suggestion was that I get a costume and stand out on the street corner waving a sign for a local business, but I digress.)

I asked him what the book would be about and he said, "It'd be about us. We've lived lots of places and done lots of things. First you could talk, then I could tell my side, then J (little sister) could tell her side."

Great idea. But, since his mother shares his short attention span, a blog will have to suffice for now.