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 that to each of us!
But sometimes, we discover there is a “problem.” The last thing we want to admit is 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 would rather sit around other moms and share how our 4 year old can read a chapter book, do multiplication at age 6 and paint like Rembrandt by age 7. Not to mention, they are also on their way to the Olympics in two different sports. Or at least it seems that way when you are the one quietly listening to all the achievements of other people’s children!
So, let’s get a few things straight… Most likely those other moms are exaggerating a wee 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 really, that is kind of cool!
I didn’t always feel that way though. After struggling to teach my daughter to read for 3 years with little progress I was getting pretty frustrated and so was she. Each school session ended in tears and some days started in tears with the mere mention of reading. She had always loved books and being read to and was excited to learn how to read by 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 testing done at age 7. I had noticed a lot of letter and word reversal while reading and writing as well as in math. She complained of her head and eyes hurting when reading (and a vision test found her to have 20/20 eyesight). I needed to know what was holding us back. I knew she was extremely intelligent in so many ways but we were hitting a brick wall. Since we homeschool, we decided to have her tested with a private therapist. It took 4 hours to complete and when finished 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 library, I became more and more confused and overwhelmed! There did not seem to be any truly helpful book or website and those I found seemed to tell me different things! We did decide to go to 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 re-learning 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 did not do auditory therapy with the therapist because of cost, but I did use a program called Earobics for 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 fit her learning styles. You see, processing disorders and dyslexia do not have to be a roadblock! There are so many ways to learn. The point where I realized this was when I happened to find a book by Ben Foss, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. I encourage everyone to read it! Check out his website also! I kind of hate the word accommodations. It makes it sound like you need extra or special help, sort of like you are being allowed to cheat. There should be no shame in learning differently. Figure out what your child’s strengths are and harness those skills. Don’t focus on the standard way most kids are taught to read. I have been so incredibly thankful that we chose to homeschool because my daughter did not have to compare herself to others or be labeled in any way. But even if your child is in public or private school, remember 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 got overwhelmed! I am going to 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 get behind learning because you can’t read the material fast enough! If your child learns well by listening, give Audible a try. Amazon has audiobooks as well 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 other colors other than the usual white.
-Use a text-to-speech app such as Speak It or Talk to Me, and also a speech-to-text app such as Dragon Dictation. Another helpful 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 to those who struggle with reading.
-I love Snapwords for learning sitewords! There is also an app for Snapwords now!
-Fonts and background colors: Software that is 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 with reading as can wearing green glasses. Fonts can also enable reading and understanding; teachers can download free specialist fonts, such as OpenDyslexic, which are free and can run on Microsoft software.
-All About Spelling, this curriculum is great for all children but the multi-sensory approach based on the Orton-Gillingham methods clicked with my daughter! We have not tried All About Reading but I would bet it is a good option.
-We used Rocket Phonics after we had finished vision therapy. It was developed by a dyslexic man, and it is fun! There are many games involved and interesting stories to read, not the usual boring books that are your typical easy reading.
-Math has been a struggle for us as well as reading. Memorizing facts is a challenge. I found a math program that uses learning by association, employing fact and process mnemonics called Semple Math.
-Get HANDS ON! Use clay, paints, blocks, magnets, etc. to practice letters, spelling, and sounds. Learn to write letters correctly first in sand with index finger, then move to writing with a pencil. Make it FUN! Use all the 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 (lay down two cards each and add together), or Alphabet Go Fish (you have to say the 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 hands on 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 that you are not alone! I know it can be disappointing at first to learn your child is struggling in some way. But it can also feel like a weight has been lifted to know how your child learns and that there are ways to help and empower your little one. I know if you are in a school setting, you will have to explain to your child why they may go to a special class or take tests differently than the other kids. You have to trust yourself to know how to talk to your child. There are books for kids that talk about dyslexia and learning issues in a positive light such as, Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, The Alphabet War by Diane Robb, and for older children May B by Caroline Rose or Niagra Falls, Or Does It? By Henry Winkler (yes, Fonzie from Happy Days!)
Try to emphasize his/her strengths and affinities and do not simply focus on his/her weaknesses and difficulties. Remind your child that he/she can, indeed, learn but that he/she learns in a unique way, and that is OK! We all are 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 soar!
I never thought I would see the day when my daughter’s favorite activity was to read! Chin up, keep plugging away, lighten up and make it fun, and love them no matter what!