Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When learning is hard......

As parents we make what we feel are the best possible decisions for our children. Sometimes things don't go as planned however and it is so easy to second guess yourself. You know what they say, "Hindsight is 20/20". We ran into a triple whammy recently that has thrown me for a bit of a loop.

Nine months ago our oldest two daughters (10yrs and 8yrs) were in public school and I was fully looking forward to sending our next three children to preschool that fall. We were doing what every family does and honestly never thought twice about it. Then came the fateful day that changed our lives. We decided to pull our girls out of school and homeschool them. We didn't make this decision lightly but we felt it was what was best for our children and decided to take the leap.

It took a bit for us to find our groove and get settled in to our curriculum choices. It was then that I started to see that something wasn't right with our 8yr old. I fully expected to have to make adjustments for our oldest daughter who is autistic but to see how badly our second daughter was struggling was shocking. I knew from the notes home from school that she was "slightly behind" in reading and had been receiving some supplemental help. What I was seeing now that I was acting as her one on one teacher was very different. She was a lot more than "slightly behind" and not just in reading either her math was just as troublesome.

It was at this time that we also became concerned about her hyperactivity and inability to focus on anything without fidgeting and going off topic. We had obviously known for quite some time that she could go either way on the ADHD diagnosis but she seemed to be doing well in school so we did not go forward with medicating. When we realized she was not doing well in school and was having trouble focusing we decided to have her evaluated for ADHD. Turns out she did in fact have it and was prescribed medication to try and help balance out her hyperactivity and difficulty with focusing. The second medication she tried worked wonders with no side effects. I almost cried the first time she sat still for an hour and worked on a project she was designing for her fort.

We started addressing the school difficulties by simply dropping her back a year to the beginning of second grade. The step back was helpful for math as it took her back to introductory subtraction with regrouping which was a very difficult concept for her to understand.  I however became even more concerned when she was unable to read any of the material presented in the beginning 2nd grade reading curriculum.

I watched her closely as she was "reading" and saw that she had memorized the majority of the commonly used words. The words she didn't know by sight she just skipped or made up her own version of the sentence. She didn't understand how to sound out any of the words and seemed to have missed a vital step between connecting the phonetical sound of a letter together with other letters to make words. Once we started working on sounding letters out I became really concerned when she kept sounding the words out right to left instead of left to right. Adding that to the fact that she was still writing many of her letters and numbers backwards I started to fear we were dealing with dyslexia. I asked her a few non leading questions and couldn't have been more surprised with the answers. Apparently the letters and words were "wiggling" on the page. I guess in this age of tablets and computer screens it never seemed odd to her that words on paper would be moving around. We made yet another appointment with her pediatrician, this time to discuss dyslexia. While we were there I figured I would make sure all our bases were covered and ask about her eye sight as well.

When I expressed my concern for her eye sight while reading the tech administered the standard eye  chart on the wall test having her stand back against the wall on the far side of the room.  We were then moved in to see the Dr who assured me her eyes were perfect and not the reason she was having trouble reading. Um.......you administered a test for nearsightedness (seeing things far away) when poor eye sight while reading is called farsighted and done through a completely different test (having a person read something close up). He wasn't listening however so I moved on before I turned purple. After securing a referral to see a developmental pediatrician to discuss dyslexia we left as quickly as possible.

I called my husband as we were leaving the pediatricians office informing him that we were going straight to an eye doctors office. He decided to join us which I was very happy about. We arrived at the eye doctor and she was taken straight back by the tech to administer a few tests via a machine that I am not even going to pretend I know the name of. We were then moved to the exam room where the Dr took one look at the results from the test and announced that she was farsighted and needed glasses. Simple. Done. Glasses ordered and we were on our way.

The wait to see a developmental pediatrician in our area is one year. You know I wasn't going to wait a year to get my child help with her reading. We decided to switch her curriculum once again, this time to a dyslexia curriculum that started at the beginning and used a cursor. A cursor is simply a business card with the left top corner cut out. While she is reading I move the cursor over to expose just one letter at a time from left to right while the card underlines the word making it less "wiggly".

We went with the Dancing Bears curriculum and couldn't be happier. She is reading! Not fast or for long periods of time but she is reading! She has mastered all the phonetical sounds and can sound out 3 letter words with the use of a cursor. We are working on 4 letter words but adding in the blends, "ar" "or" "ch", is proving difficult for her. The cursor has to expose both letters at once to get the sound correct and she is having trouble reading from left to right again. She will get there but it is a very tiresome experience for her.

So my child who was "slightly behind" in reading in public school is now known to have ADHD, is farsighted, and more than likely is dealing with dyslexia. Do you have any idea what that feels like to a mother? How could I have not seen this? How did *I* her mother not know all this before? How could I have missed it and let it get to this point? Hindsight is 20/20 after all. I went through a period of really beating myself up on this one. I took for granted that she was on track educationally because that was what I was told. I took for granted that she was doing well and was healthy as a horse. I took a lot for granted. It wasn't until I gave her 100% of my attention in an educational setting that I saw the deficits. I would like to think that I, or someone in the school system, would have seen what was going on at some point in the future but I am not sure we would have. I now understand how you can have kids in high school that can't read. They get really good at faking it. If you were not looking at the page and following along word for word with her reading you would never have known there was a problem. She was very convincing at making it up as she went along.

So what are we doing now? Well she hates the glasses but wears them while reading. She is on grade level work for math and doing really well with it, although she still hates subtraction with regrouping. She is working very hard at learning to read but I do have to face facts on this one. She may never read fluently. That is a hard one for me. I adore reading and really hoped to pass that love affair on to my children. She does love hearing stories however so we are doing a lot of audio books while she follows along in her books. I do a lot of her writing for her via dictation, she loves writing stories about mermaids and I am happy to help her get her thoughts on paper.

We also do a lot of hands on activities to "cement" the concepts we are covering. For History she colors corresponding historical pictures while I read aloud. For Science she updates her notebooks with her "notes" while I read the text to her and completes lots of hands on experiments and observations. I have found that the more ways I can come up with to teach her without textbooks and worksheets the better grasp she gets on the material. This was more than a little bit of a learning curve for me as a brand new homeschooler. I automatically wanted to gravitate to the preplanned worksheet centered curriculum since they were easier to "grade" and see how she was doing. We have now learned how to go with more of a Charlotte Mason style approach with lots of short lessons, narratives, and hands on time out in nature.  I no longer worry about grading her work or administering tests. I can see clearly how well she understands the material simply by asking her to talk to me about what we just read or by how difficult her day's math work is to her.

How does she feel about all this? Well how do you feel when you have to do something that is extremely difficult and confusing? She does it but not happily. Reading is something she HAS to do and she knows no amount of whining is going to get her out of it. I am completely honest with her and do not sugar coat it. Yes this sucks. Yes you shouldn't have to work this hard. Yes it would be easier to just skip reading work for the day/week/month. Life is not fair and sometimes things just suck. This isn't going to suddenly get any easier and it is best to approach it with a sense of determination instead of frustration.   You can do this, you ARE doing this. One 10min reading session at a time we will get through this and to the other side. I am right here holding your hand and cheering you on. I will always be your biggest cheerleader. You are an amazingly strong and beautiful young lady and I couldn't be prouder of you!

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