Archive for the ‘Learning Disabilities’ Category

Email: What to do with a struggling daughter

Monday, November 26th, 2012


I get lots of questions about kids with learning disabilities and language processing disorders. While it’s important to get the right help for those neurological issues, you can do a lot to change the mood around learning by creating an entirely different context for education. In some cases, you’ll discover that what you thought was a learning disability was actually resistance to tedious, poorly executed lessons. You are key to creating a brand new, sparkling environment for learning. My answer to Lisa follows her note to me.

Hi Julie,

I came across your site through a home school message board. My daughter is in 7th grade and is new to homeschooling as of last month. She has some pretty significant learning issues with dyslexia and she literally can barely write a sentence. But… she has a very high IQ and is very creative and can learn very quickly when she wants to. On top of the learning issues she has a severe mood disorder and EXTREME anxiety. She is an absolute perfectionist with herself and this is one of her biggest obstacles. She absolutely hates reading and also refuses to use audio books. She was in private school K-4 and did ok. She transferred to a remedial school for 5th & 6th grade and this year we tried to go back to a small private school that offered support for learning issues. She had so much anxiety and went into a deep depression. As a result I decided to pull her out and try homeschooling. So… having said all this, I am struggling to find curriculum that she will enjoy and comply with. I had her journaling and doing some free style type writing but she is so hard on herself.

She cannot spell and gets so frustrated with herself. No level of support or love can help her get over this perfectionism in herself and it’s very crippling. I have spent a lot of time on your website and it looks really neat. The Arrow program looks good even though my daughter is a 7th grader since her reading level is low. I am just not sure if this program will work for her but I am very encouraged. Do you have any good results with kids with learning/mood disorders? I love the idea of the online class for the accountability but she would probably have a nervous breakdown worrying about the instructor and how “bad” she writes. Any advice you could offer would be appreciated. Thanks so much!!


Hi Lisa.

Your daughter needs some deschooling. No “school” for a little while. Give her trips to art museums, do craft projects, take up baking and sewing, sign her up for Taekwondo where she can learn to be tough and defend herself and show strength. (These are suggestions, obviously, not prescriptions.) The point, though, is that she is damaged from all the pressure of school. 7th grade is still young. Celebrate the joy of learning together. Watch “Downton Abbey” (the PBS show) and learn about war, and costumes of that era, and have tea, and discuss hierarchy and classes, and then watch everything Maggie Smith is in, and then discuss acting, and then try memorizing a speech together from a movie and acting it out.

Get OUT of the school mindset. Get into the learning one.

One of the best things I ever did with my kids was to learn about art history in front of them. I got books from the library, watched the “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting” videos (dark ages!) with my kids in the room. I dragged them with me to the art museum. I brought my own pencils and sketch book to draw what I saw and take notes. These kids became so interested in art, they’ve continued to love art museums and know famous painters and trivia about their lives.

The point is this: you have a bright, creative, energetic daughter who is damaged from school. Writing, as important as it is, must be moved away from school and back into a natural part of life. That comes from not requiring it and living it in front of her. But if she has nothing new to think about or consider, she will have nothing to write about.

Her perfectionism is her defense against judgment and failure. She’s trying really hard not to fail. So take away the “failure” by eliminating the need to perform… for a good long while.

Try poetry teatimes (these are low stress, HIGH results experiences). Go to a Shakespeare play; knit; read Harry Potter aloud; get out in nature and record the temperatures, the trees, the birds; visit the zoo; see movies in the middle of the day.

YOU read newspapers and non-fiction books about history and then talk freely about what you’re learning in her presence (not as a lecture, but in that “I was really struck by…” kind of way). Let her hear you learn. Take up some new pursuit yourself and see how you learn!

Write a Christmas letter together. Let her take the photos and lay it out and contribute her ideas. You write it. Mail it together. Have her address the envelopes (if she will). Let her type. Let her use spellcheck on the computer.


The Arrow is great, but it can feel like school to a girl like yours. So get it for you so you understand how to talk about literature naturally with her (let it teach you). Don’t force ANYTHING on her. You might even listen to a book on CD over lunches that YOU want to hear and if she listens, great. If not, that’s okay too. Get into learning and you’ll discover how to help her too.

Lastly, a cafe au lait at Barnes and Noble is a great way to shift gears. Take her OUT of the house, and share that things are changing at home, that her input matters, and that you want her to feel happy and successful and will take your cues from her… then invite her to tell you what she would LOVE to do all day long and then go DO IT!

Hope that helps!


Follow up to yesterday’s post

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Hi everyone.

I heard from two of our instructors yesterday with excellent feedback related to our post and discussion about writing between parents and children. Here’s what Rita has to say:


I think one reason parents freak about spelling is they don’t follow the entire Writer’s Jungle process. They never take a child-selected writing piece once a month and work through the editing process you outline. That is where kids learn about all the picky stuff and they see that they can have a finished piece that people look at and praise.

Without the whole process over the course of months, parents give up on trusting the freewrite and kids don’t understand that a freewrite is about getting ideas on paper for a selected “big finish.” That big finish is where it all comes together and kids have an opportunity to care about how it looks or how it’s spelled–and to show it to someone with pride! The whole process encourages everyone to embrace and trust the freewrite. Parents whose kids are afraid to write are more afraid of that once a month editing process. Then everyone spirals downward again when the freewrite loses its steam. I hear this over and over again in Dynamic Revision (one of Rita’s classes that she teaches for Brave Writer).

Also, introducing kids to electronic dictionaries–now on phones and easier than ever with Siri–can really help the kid who is picky about spelling. They are more willing to just underline words that they don’t know how to spell, while they freewrite, once they can see how easy it is to go back after and electronically “fix” their perceived errors–before anyone else sees it! Their need to be perfect is easily met, so they are able to trust waiting.

Lastly, be aware of this: kids who can’t deal with the misspelled word may have no strategies for spelling. Kids who rely on how words look and don’t attend to phonemes and the default graphemes have no clue how to “just write how you think it’s spelled.” They may have to be taught how to write what they hear. Again, the electronic/on-line dictionaries help here: write what you hear, then check it by inputting those letter choices into the search. Spell-checkers reward those efforts in a way the old tomes never could.

Just some thoughts.

I would add: The Wand (created by Rita) gives parents the tools to teach spelling strategies to your kids. For older kids, The Arrow and The Boomerang give your kids practice with spelling through copywork and dictation. Use someone else’s writing to work on mechanics.

For kids struggling with handwriting, one of our instructors, Susanne Barrett, recommends Dragon Speech-to-Text Software:

Hi Julie,

Keith bought me the Dragon speech-to-text software; he found it at Costco for half price ($40). It’s wonderful; I can speak into the headset, and my words magically appear on the screen; I can even punctuate, capitalize, italicize or bold, even open files all by voice commands. The advantage for me is that it saves my swollen hands from painful typing.

However, I was thinking that because it’s dictation-based, it might be an option to mention for some of our families, either with kids in the partnership stage of writing or for students with dysgraphia or dyslexia.

It took about half an hour to set it up and train it to my voice. And we’re off and running! I’ve had problems with dictating in e-mails (I’m typing this), but I wrote half my new fan fiction chapter in Word with it Saturday within an hour of opening the box, and I can dictate responses to students within Brave Writer after setting the cursor at the right place. Yay!! My hands have really been bothering me lately, so this software is helping immensely.

Just wanted to let you know….

And there you have it! Our instructors have great ideas to keep you and your families writing. You may want to sign up for a class this spring. Just sayin’! :)


Late Readers

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

I shared a bit about my family and their reading habits. Let’s look at what you can do with late readers in yours.

First of all, don’t fall for the idea that if your kids were in school, they’d be reading. Plenty of kids fall through the cracks in school too, and many are put in the wretched position of having to be identified as poor readers by virtue of being gathered together into a late reader’s group! Not only that, the primary function of school is to get a group of kids to assimilate skills and information at about the same pace. That means falling behind is a problem to be solved. It means that your child is a problem to be solved. At home, there is no “falling behind.” Your child is not a problem.The only goal is to move at a pace that supports and affirms your child’s progress.

Email: Working with language impaired kids

Wednesday, July 16th, 2008


I would like to say thank you for The Writer’s Jungle and your Brave Writer site. It has freed us from “grade level” writing, that my oldest son isn’t able to do.  Jonathan is 12 and has some learning disabilities that effect his spelling as well as some motor skills that are delayed that make the mechanics of writing hard for him. He has Aspergers as well. We have completed some Keen Observations with me acting as scribe, and we have added a Tea Time for everyone .  We are really enjoying what we have started. We were already doing dictation/copywork 3-4 days a week and read aloud daily.  We school year-round so we don’t have to pack our days to full.  We started Freewrites today. It went pretty well; he picked a topic (westerns) and kept the pencil moving for the whole 10 min.  Here is the list he wrote:

The Pooke a dat Bandit (The Poke-a-dot Bandit)
6 shooter
gun singer (gun slinger)
sarp siter  (sharp hooter
Dooll (duel)
5 shooter
Fast Drall
1 shooter
Fast soot (fast shot)
roy rodgers
Canuvou Kiler (Carnival Killer)
Pat Bradey
Dell eviss (Dell Evans)
Boollit (Bullet)
rifefooll man (The Rifle Man)
John wain
bat matens (Bat Matheson)
big vallley
gun gun
spers (spurs)
wid west (wild west)
stiky bad gie (stinky bad guy)

I praised him for keeping writing and picking a neat topic. I just don’t know were to go from here. What I was thinking was to have him pick something from his list and narrow his focus for our next free-write.  Do I just not worry about the spelling at all? He is having another educational evaluation in July, and we are going to talk about voice recognition software.  He has a great imagination. My goal for him is to be able to use that for his personal satisfaction. He is a child with a lot of struggles and I would love for him to find a way to be successful. Any thoughts or ideas, would be great appreciated.  I know you are out of town, if you have time when you get back I would love to hear your thoughts.

Will you be having the class for children with learning issues again this fall?

Thank you so much for your time.


This email was sent last year. I wanted to share it today because we are offering a One Thing Workshop: Copywork and Dictation this fall (dates now announced: October 6 – 31) that is designed with special needs kids in mind. The instructor, Rita Cevasco, is a trained specialist who is educated in the up-to-date research and strategies for helping kids who have language processing disorders and other learning delays. This workshop is also appropriate for kids who don’t struggle with these issues.

Trisha is a terrific mom. Her approach to her son, her instinctual supportive presence in his life combined with her awareness that learning evaluations may also shed light on his struggles make her a fine example of a home educator who is successfully building the skills and confidence of her special needs child.

If you have any questions about the class or how it helps, please post in the comments below. The Copywork/Dictation Workshop truly transforms how moms understand the power of these practices in language arts and education. Don’t miss it!

Colleges that support LD kids

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

Brave Writer Instructor Rita Cevasco (who teaches kids with learning disabilities – LD) sent me the following information related to finding colleges that make accommodations for kids who struggle with traditional learning. My son, Noah, benefited a lot from an LD program at the University of Cincinnati. They tested him, assigned him a note-taker (paid the note-takers $100 per quarter to take notes for Noah – these would be then typed up and delivered to him weekly), and gave him the opportunity to take all his tests without time limits by taking them in the learning center.

I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have accommodations for your student if your child is a non-traditional learner who has ADD, ADHD or any language processing disorders. Some schools are deliberately seeking students who need that extra support. The University of Cincinnati turned out to be one of them.

To find schools in your area with similar goals, you can use the following link.

Check out this website: I just found this one by Google Search. It provides links to lots of schools. Some schools have “supportive” programs and others have “comprehensive” programs. The “comprehensive” programs typically offer more assistance than supportive programs. They characteristically have specially trained full-time staff members assigned to serve the LD student and may offer unique services to this population.