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.