Archive for the ‘Learning Disabilities’ Category

Exploring Learning Differences: ADD, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Autism, Dyslexia

Exploring Learning Differences

In the recorded broadcast below we talk about learning differences, and I hope that our family’s journey gives you some food for thought.

I know how much it helps me to read other parents’ stories. In our case, I want to say: go with your gut. You are your child’s parent. If you suspect that there is something to look at, try out different learning contexts to discover it. And never feel badly about tailoring your child’s learning to his or her needs.

Also here’s the resource guide mentioned in the broadcast, Working Memory and Copywork.

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Email: What to do with a struggling daughter


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

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’! 🙂


What To Do about Late Readers

Late Readers

Let’s look at what you can do with late readers in your family.

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 readers 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.

Second, reading is a challenging skill to adopt. It’s a bit like learning to ride a bike. At first, the reader’s “balance” is all off. The sounding out of certain letters comes quickly while putting them together, skipping silent ones, adjusting to capital letters after being used to lowercase (and vice versa) creates lots of stall outs (where you think your child has made progress and suddenly she slips back to bleary-eyed pauses). Support your daughter’s attempts by modeling sounding out, putting your finger under the letters, affirming good attempts, and so on. Just like training wheels.

On bikes, some kids use training wheels a lot longer than they need to. They like the security. Same with reading. Your children may prefer to put their own fingers under the letters, may like to look to you for confirmation that they are sounding out correctly, they may memorize certain pages of a book to help them “feel” like they are reading. These acts are all part of a normal progression toward reading and are not to be dismissed.

Eventually, a breakthrough moment occurs and your child will “get it.” In fact, when a child catches onto reading, he skips all kinds of phonetic steps and is suddenly reading digraphs and several syllable words that you never taught him because he “caught” on to what reading is, feels like. Just like bike riding – a sudden balance. You only learn to read once. It’s a kind of art and skill that can be transferred to any language, any alphabet once mastered. It does happen for just about everyone who attempts it, if they persist in their attempts to get it.

Still, if your child hasn’t caught on by 8, 9 or 10, panic is totally reasonable! I’ve lived it. The trick is to not shame your child into reading. I know this approach doesn’t work because I’ve tried it. It’s too easy to criticize your child as not trying hard enough, not paying attention, ignoring your perfectly clear explanations for how letters make sounds that blend together. But with a motivated a child? A child who wants to read but is not successful? What are the odds that he or she is being willfully resistant or lazy? Totally unlikely! In fact, if anything, a mounting internal pressure is growing. Shaming your child for failure adds to that pressure and makes it even harder to learn!

Late Readers

Think of it this way: you shouldn’t shame your child for not yet reading the same way you wouldn’t shame your child for bedwetting. It’s hard enough to be a kid who can’t read at 9 years old! There are plenty of kids in Sunday school, on the soccer team, at the slumber party who can read, who can play board games with cards, who can fill out forms and read billboards and menus, to remind your non-reading children that they not yet successful.

Your job is to support your child through this difficult passage by reminding her that she will definitely, most assuredly, absolutely read one day. That a day is coming and will come when reading will “click,” and on that day, you will have the most fabulous celebration! Until then, here’s what you will do to help.

1. Try various phonics programs.

Don’t assume that one didn’t work so none will work. A process of elimination is a good idea. Listen to your child. If he or she doesn’t like a program, then that’s a clue that it’s not right for that child.

2. White boards are wonderful.

Write short notes or single words and leave those up for a day. You might even try all sound alike words (we did this a lot). Listing sound alike words like cat, hat, mat, fat, bat then reading them, then looking for those items to tag in the house with the words can be a way to jump start the process of putting sounds with letters with items.

3. Take extended breaks.

Don’t keep pushing, pushing, pushing. If you reach a threshold, take a week or month off. Tears, resistance, and more tears are your clue that a break is a must! Take it.

4. You might try a different alphabet.

I know this sounds absurd. But see if you can approximate for your own experience the struggle it is to read and sound out by forming words with the Greek alphabet, for instance. It may help you to remember what you have to do to remember which letter makes what sound. If you struggle with your child, you’ll be on the same team (not one who knows it all and one who knows nothing).

5. Reward all progress.

Hugs, kisses, laughter, cookies. Then take a break.

6. Intercede for your child.

If you know your kid will be in a context with readers and reading matters to the context, give a private head’s up to the leader (Brownies, Sunday School, art class, piano lesson, camping trip). Ask the leader not to call on your child to read anything aloud, and ask the leader to assign someone as a buddy to your child to do the reading on his or her behalf. If you forget to do this, you may face the uncomfortable moment where a leader mocks your child as pretending not to be able to read to get out of group work. I’ve experienced this and it is painful and horrific so don’t forget to prepare the circumstance to support your 9, 10 year old who can’t yet read!

7. Read to your non-reader every day.

Keep the joy of reading uppermost! Help your child experience the pleasure of reading vicariously so that the motivation to work on it remains high.

8. Don’t be afraid to get help from a language and reading specialist.

I did it for two of my kids and that help was invaluable! If your child is really struggling then it’s well worth the money to have an expert analyze and offer you some strategies you may not have tried yet.

Hope these help!

Stuff Every Parent Needs to Know About Reading