The Steps of Progress (19 years and Counting)!

For those of you who are parents, you know (especially when you have children with learning disabilities) progress is sometimes a slow crawl on a long journey towards adulthood. It’s hard to know if the decisions you have made in your child’s younger years are going to become the roadblocks or bulldozers that they deal with in their adult lives.

When I first discovered that my daughter was having difficulty learning, I admit to feeling apprehensive. I went to the people that I presumed where the experts (her teachers), but I found myself facing what I considered to be a brick wall. Most people thought that I should allow her to just be “happy” and let everything else (learning and education) go.  I don’t understand why we think that a child facing an obstacle should be forced to make the choice between learning and play. However, when it comes to learning disabilities, I find that is often the first response.

I can’t explain what that feels like.  I can only tell you that it is insulting.  It was so insulting to me that I determined in my own head that I wanted my daughter to have more than an enjoyable childhood – I wanted her to enjoy her life as an adult.  For that reason, we began writing and reading at home, tutoring over the summer and practicing those skills in other non-academic situations. What I mean by this is that I found a book and I scheduled our days, we would work for an hour or so and play for an hour or so.  If we took a trip to the zoo or the museum, we broke that trip down and wrote about it (wrote while doing it). We would walk to the library and read out loud.  If we saw a movie about something, we researched it to find out more.  When she was older, we took notes, practiced responding to questions and we dove into things that were unfamiliar.  It was not easy and sometimes she fought me, but we pushed on.

I recall other parents telling me that doing this was abusive. One parent told me that my daughter would grow up and become ‘wild’ because I had her practicing her writing when she could have been outside playing and enjoying her life like all the other kids her age. I cannot tell you how often I questioned my choices, especially those years when it seemed like my daughter was not making any progress or when she would take a test at school and come home feeling defeated and sad.

The only thing that kept me motivated during those times was the idea that my daughter was going to struggle as badly as I did if I did not find a way to help her. I thought about the insecurity she could face as an adult if she could not read and write and that was all that I needed to keep pushing forward.

This week, my daughter called and announced to me that after her graduation from college in May (with a BA in Business Administration), she will be moving on to a one-year graduate program. She is also hoping to spend part of her summer over seas. I leapt for joy – physically and emotionally.  I was so excited that I announced her good news over Facebook before she had the opportunity to share it herself.

When I look at her now, I still see that little bitty kiddo, struggling to hold her pencil. I see that kid who could not stay in her seat. I see that little one crying because the words in the book were hard to read. I see the kid who called herself stupid. I see the child who was picked on for being different. BUT, I also see an amazing and beautiful woman with hope and love and joy for any and every second that life provides.

I still question my choices. Maybe that is the price we pay as parents. However, I no longer question them as bad choices. I wonder what I could have done better, what would have made things easier, what skills can I develop to help parents in the same position I found myself in those years ago.

My advice at this point is – DON’T GIVE UP! People with limited vision will tell you that what you are doing is stupid, that your child should play instead of learn, that you are being mean for working for a future for your kid. Hold on to your vision! Do NOT let it go! Don’t let it drive you crazy, but use it to fuel your child to a lifetime of victories. I have faith in you all and I hope you have faith in yourselves!

I wish you a happy and Joyful THANKSGIVING!!!

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Everything I know about the subject of learning disabilities will ONLY ever be a drop in the bucket of what I have yet to discover

I write this blog post today as a mother, a special educator and as a student with exceptional needs.

The key to really helping students in exceptional educational programs, whether they are in gifted and talented (GT), on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a learning plan (LP), or even mildly struggling in a general education program, is a three way partnership between parents, teachers and students.

I know this sounds like something that always happens, but the truth is that it does not always happen (for various reasons on all sides). I have noticed that parents do not always realize how much they can do at home, teachers don’t desire to burden parents and children who already face challenges, and students are sometimes unprepared to fully and actively participate in their own learning. Full and active participation has nothing to do with excitement. Any SPED teacher can tell you stories of how excited their students are.

However…. There is one problem that I have as a parent…

As a parent, I find that I tend to OVER HELP my children. What I mean is that, through no fault of my own, I give assistance (or scaffolding) where it can cause more harm then good. Let me give you an example:

My daughter was highly verbal when she was born. At some point, she stopped speaking. I knew that we had some stress in the house, so I began to cater to her signals. I got things down from the cabinet when she pointed to it and I just allowed her to have her own space and communicate in her own time.

One day I had a friend babysit. Before leaving, I explained to him that she was non-verbal (for now) and to just let her point, she was a really good child – just quiet.

When I returned home I could hear him outside the door say, “No. Nope. I am not going to get it until you speak to me.” She was crying at this point and the mother in me wanted to swoop in and save the day. I found some way to control my person and I walked in and just waited. My daughter looked to me to save her and I didn’t – I wanted to see what would happen. When crying stopped working and saving was no longer an option my daughter spoke her first real sentence in over six months.

“May I please have a peanut butter sandwich?

It was music to my ears. It was also a good reason for me to stop the internal hate that was growing for the person who stood there and pushed my daughter to speak.

My daughter has not been quiet since and if she is quiet –something is going on…lol.

That was nearly 17 years ago.

The point is still the same. I was scaffolding my daughter because I noticed that she had a deficit in an area. My scaffolding would have been helpful had my daughter become completely non-verbal. Unfortunately, I had never fully tested the situation out in order to determine if this was a permanent change or a temporary change. It felt permanent because of the amount of time this had been going on. I had begun to give up on hearing her speak again and I had been researching how to teach sign language. What this taught me was that all I actually needed was to stand and wait and use two of the most powerful letters in the English language, “N” and “O”. NO!

Disclaimer:

Now: before anyone begins to post about the word NO being negative… I state here and now that NO is POSITIVE. It is the best way to defend oneself. Children need to know how to voice it and how to show it in body language (as do adults – for me this is an important skill for all people). A child who cannot say, “NO”, is at risk. There, I said it. I hope we all feel better and can move on.

I need to be clear about something else – had my friends test proved unsuccessful – I might have been really angry with him. But, it is important for me to understand that just doing the test (whether she spoke or not) was the only true way to discover what my next steps should have been. My friend showed me that I was OVER HELPING and that was causing a lot more damage then facing the situation head on and dealing with my daughter directly.

This post is my way of asking parents and educators to step into one another’s shoes. I believe that most of us want what is best for our students with exceptional needs – it’s my hope that those who do not want that will look for wonderful careers outside of education – I did say hope – so please no hate mail.

I have the same capacity to OVER HELP and Under Stimulate the learning of my students, if I am not careful. As an educator, I must always remember the lesson this situation has taught me. I must be willing to research, to test, to try harder, to try new things, to step away, to let another try, to seek additional answers even when I am sure I understand the problem.

As I said before, everything I know about the subject of learning disabilities will ONLY ever be a drop in the bucket of what I have yet to discover.

New News is Good News

It has been a long and interesting week here in my house.  My sons both underwent testing with a specialist in the field of cognitive disabilities.  There are varying reasons why, but the important part was that they both needed answers and this testing was going to provide that.  My oldest was diagnosed ADHD with sensory issues and my youngest was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. The oldest has additional testing he needs to complete.

I was not sure that I was ready to receive the news myself.  Yes, I have LD, ASD with SPD and I have a daughter with ADHD, SPD, and LD. I even knew my oldest son had LD’s.  Yet, the information impacted my sons and I in a strange way. Allow me to take a step back and tell you all about that day.

Knowing we were going to have the results meeting on this day, I took the liberty of taking the boys out of school. I had no idea that doctor would find anything. I felt that the testing had been stressful and even if nothing was wrong, the boys needed a day off.

We slept in that morning and took our dogs on a long walk. The mood was light. We were laughing and joking.   We mutually decided that we would have breakfast together.

As we loaded into the car, the mood began to change. It was silent. Then out of the blue we found our selves behind an advertisement that read “Stump Removal and Daughter”. We could not figure the sign out – even the picture on the advertisement was odd. And it quickly got us laughing.

I cannot explain how hard it was to point out the ordinary things in life, just as you are driving down to the unknown.  We had breakfast and watched President Obama address the Nation on the monitor in the dinning room. My sons had all these questions about Russia and the Ukraine. It was surreal – watching the news and watching the clock – hearing about this conflict as we had our own internal struggle about our own day.

Finally, it was time. We got to the elevators – walked to the office and I was eventually asked back to hear the results. The doctor and I then broke the news to the boys. My oldest had a few questions. My youngest quietly took it all in.

After we sat in the car for a little while. The boys both felt heavy and finally asked if we could do something fun.  I then drove them to the store, purchased real record players, bought albums, and took each son on a private walk to figure out if they could say the things that they were having trouble saying.

There were the obvious questions. What is this illness? Am I sick? Do I have to take medication? Then there were the other questions. Why me? Did I do something wrong?

Each new day brings more questions, as one might expect. Knowing though has had a great many benefits. It has helped my son to answer questions about themselves that had been unanswered for years. It has allowed my husband and I to take a second look at our children and focus on them over their grades. It has opened conversations at school that are helping our sons to navigate school better because they know what is happening and they are trying to avoid the pitfalls.

Parents as you consider testing, especially if you are worried about the labels that you child could potentially have, my advice to you is to take a deep breath and accept what comes. I only regret waiting this long to do this.  As we step out into the future, I plan to keep you all posted on our progress.

Kind Regards,

Dr. Richmond

H.Res. 456: “Calling on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications”

This weekend I took the time to begin discussing disability advocacy.  What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we address it?

It was my pleasure to discover that Congressman Bill Cassidy and Congresswoman Julia Brownley have written a resolution calling for the House to acknowledge that impact of dyslexia on students. Decoding Dyslexia- Co said that Congressman Cassidy said that

“the resolution is designed to urge schools and educational institutions to address the impact of (dyslexia) on students”  

In another quote posted by Decoding Dyslexia – CO, Congressman Cassidy says:

“Dyslexia affects millions of Americans, including many students. We know that many with dyslexia are among our brightest and most successful. If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs. This resolution pushes schools and educational agencies to address this challenge and provide evidence-based solutions for dyslexic students.”

This bill currently only has a 2% chance of passing, but this is low because people do not know about it.  It is up to us as citizens and especially those of us who deal with the impact of dyslexia to encourage our Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucasus.

Why is this important?

According to Dyslexia World:

A person suffering from dyslexia disorder experiences difficulty reading, writing, with letters, words, and numbers, as well as reversing letters and words. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the children suffer from Dyslexia.”

But from personal experience, I understand that dyslexia is a life-long condition. It has taken me years to learn to learn and to teach my children to learn.  My hope, my call to my elected officials and to the rest of the United States is that you do not allow another student to struggle as hard as I did – as my children have/are.

If I could sit down with these men and women today – I would walk them through what it felt like to copy a text book cover to cover, to read – reread and reread information hoping to make it stick, to feel what it is like to confuse what is written and what is said – to have the thoughts get stuck, to feel stupid when you know your not and to wonder where on earth the information went that you spent so much time trying to remember.

If I could share a lunch with them, I would ask, if they understood that I have no desire to take something from another student in my quest to give students the same opportunity to learn.

I ask you now to reach out and write letters and ask your Congressmen and Congresswomen to stand up for these children and adults.

I will be posting this letter on all of my social media outlets and I ask you to consider posting it too.  Better yet, write your own and share it.  My voice is not the only voice that needs to be heard.

Special Thanks to:

Decoding Dyslexia – CO (https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaCo)

Congressman Bill Cassidy (https://www.facebook.com/billcassidy)

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (https://www.facebook.com/RepJuliaBrownley)

May we continue the effort to build awareness!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Beginning of the Dark Woods: Not stupid after all!

When teachers dismiss children with learning disabilities

I write this post in dedication to my son, Alexander the Great!

When my son was 8-years-old he experienced a very traumatic event. An educator dismissed him at his school. This educator told our family that we needed to accept that our son “was not going to be able to learn, because her daughter was unable to learn.”  At some point this educator (speaking to another teacher on staff) called our son stupid within earshot of our son. This experience was very damaging to my son.  He had been trying so hard to cope with the all of his problems in school. Besides, he was 8. What she did was like punching him in the face and I had no ice to sooth it.

It was a very difficult situation to navigate as a mother.  I knew my son had this amazing mind, but I was unable to bring it out. If you remember, in an earlier post, I cautioned parents to determine if they SHOULD be the one to educate their child(ren). When my son began showing signs of LD, it was after he taught his 4-year-old brother to read. On his own, he would come home and sit down and teach his brother everything he knew about sounds and letters and phonics. Yeah, he spoke slowly. Not incorrectly. Not incoherently. He just seemed to be at his own pace.

He was not like my daughter; my daughter broke down into tears and cried like I was beating her. He would get distracted, talk to me, daydream, wander the room, distract, evade, and stall. He knew the letters, he knew their sounds, but he could not read without falling asleep, and it just took a long time for him to get a sentence out whether it was speaking to someone or reading aloud.

I noticed that my tone of voice often lead him to frustration. It was not the typical frustration my daughter had expressed. His frustration would lead him to near uncontrollable tears. I tried to use the same tactics I used with my daughter, without any success. We were not good learning partners because he was so much like me that all of our gaps (academically) were in many of the same areas. So, I determined that the best support I could give my son was to support the teachers who were supporting him. We found a tutor at our church, we put him in school and I followed the lead of teachers when it was time to assist with homework. I also began volunteering in his classroom.

One day his teacher asked me to participate in a group reading that included her, my son and me. We each held the same book and my son began reading. What he read did not make sense; it was gibberish. The teacher and I stared at each other and then we asked my son, “What did you just read?”

My son looked down at the book. Placed his finger at the end of the sentence and began to read backward on the page. A few seconds later, he looked up surprised and said, “Oh, I did that wrong.” He then started over reading from the beginning of the sentence.  He continued reading, but struggled all the way through that little book. Each time he started the wrong way, we visibly watched him take a deep breath and try again. He was yawning, tears came to his eyes and he nearly fell asleep as we watched. Talk about a light popping on.

The teacher requested an IEP evaluation and we began planning a strategy on how to help my son. Unfortunately, the school was not so supportive. The special educator (a woman with over 20 years of experience) felt that we were pushing to use resources that the school did not have. She was angry that I had pushed for an IEP. She said that I made my son think he was dyslexic and so he was acting like he was. She even accused him of faking it. It is one thing to read backwards, but he was also “mirror writing”. He had motor issues on one side of his body and he struggled with his speech. By that I mean that it took him a long time to force the sentence out – he would strain to find the right words or any words. These were just a few of the symptoms we had seen.

I like to believe my children are smart, but smart enough to fake this at the age of 8 would have been a stretch.  Similar to my daughter’s situation, the school discounted medical and psychological evaluations.

What stifled our IEP meeting was my son’s performance during the IQ portion of the test. We were informed that my son put his hand in the air and told the psychologist that he was done and started falling asleep. The tester could not rouse him to continue and they felt that my son should have finished the test so that the school could have had a better measurement of his IQ. We asked how long the test was, it was 2 hours long and he was tested in school before lunch. We asked why they did not retest at a better time. Our son was an early riser; he was out of bed and waiting for school by 5 am, which meant that he must have been exhausted by lunchtime. They said that he (my son) would know how to respond if he was given the opportunity to test again. Did I mention that he was 8?

The psychologist who performed the IQ evaluation said, “He performed better on parts of the test then I could have, so he will remember the test and the answers will not be spontaneous.” We countered that my son did not know the correct answers; he might only know what he already answered. Still they would not be moved to help him or to retest his IQ, even though there was over a 29+-point discrepancy between what they could measure of my sons IQ and his actual performance in school. The IEP was refused on the basis that my son was showing progress in class after the teacher and I began working with him on the day we saw him read backwards.

According to the school, he was 2-grade levels behind his classmates, but he had the “possibility” of improving because in the 45 days between our discovery and the reading of the test results, he was able to better perform some tasks in class that he had previously been failing. When we explained that he was spending 3 to 5 hours at home doing homework. They agreed that this was bad and requested that we drop it to 20 minutes only. When his teacher explained that we had tried this and his performance plummeted, the committee shrugged it off. Either we let him only work for 20 min, allow him to  fail and have limited to no progress without additional help or we work with him alone with no assistance from the school. Additionally, my son was NOT allowed to participate in Science clubs or after school academic clubs because he was “not academically ready” for such challenges and being apart of those groups could make it harder for our son to keep up with the other children. What that meant to us was that our son was not going to get help and he was going to be punished for having learning disabilities.

This situation, however, took a drastically different turn when that special educator called my son stupid. I could not resolve it by yelling at her. That would have only served to hurt my son more. But, I was angry. I wrote the principal and the superintendent of my district. They didn’t do anything about it, from what I saw, but at least it was a start for me.

That evening, my son had a dream. What he described to me was amazing. He said he was an elf and he lived in the forest that was his hair. Because he had thick, beautiful black hair, the forest was called the Dark Woods. In his dream there was a king and queen Sphinx.  Their kingdom had been split in half by a terrible fight. On one half of his head, lived the queen. The queen’s land was surrounded by clear water because the queen believed in justice. My son said that justice was pure because it required the truth. On the other half of his head lived the king. The king’s land was surrounded by blood. The blood represented the strictness and sacrifice of that came from the word of the law. He said that law did not require truth or justice, it only believed in what was written.

In my sons dream he was sent on this heroic journey, by an angel, to bring the two kingdoms back together. It was so profound. I knew I could not let that dream go away. I owed it to him to do something with it.

I expressed to him how proud I was that he shared that dream with me. I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper and I wrote down his dream. That weekend we decided to turn it into a book. He picked characters, chose their names, decided what they would be like and where they lived. He decided how many chapters would be in each book, how many pages were in each chapter and how much detail he could handle reading at one time. This was important because books that were too thick discouraged him. We had so much fun.  We did not care about typos of form. We tried our best to recreate the plot that our son had described to us.

I printed the book through an on-demand publishing company in order to give him something tangible that he could hold in his hands. This was something that was his. It was something that the teacher could not take away from him. He could see that he was NOT stupid. He had written a book. He was so proud.

Not long after my son was a reader. He may have been a slow reader, but he was a reader nonetheless. I moved my son to another school, in a completely different district. At that school he was placed in programs that pushed him and he was given the opportunity and support that was refused to him by his old school.

I attach a link to the first book in our tiny series. May you enjoy the story that came from a young boy who someone nearly discarded, because she didn’t understand that having an LD does not make you stupid. A person who did not know that having an LD it does not mean you can never learn, and it does not mean that you should be punished and not allowed to participate in programs that other children participate in; a person who ironically took a position to serve people with disabilities.

Every time I write a post and share a part of my personal history I think about this situation. I think about what could have been lost. What if I would have taken that persons advice? What if I would have accepted something that would have damaged my son for the remainder of his life? I pray often that I never fail him in this area.

To every parent who has been through something similar, I say keep pushing forward. Academic potential is a measurement of choice, based on a formula that is standard to only one kind of learner. That school could not measure my son’s potential, because they had no idea how to measure his version of genius. Do not allow your child to be stifled by the crutch of someone else’s potential, rather, allow your child to build their own formula and develop potential of their own.

You can purchase the book here: Purchase a Hard Copy of the book Image

You can even get the book on your Purchase on KINDLE

Until Next Time…

Things I wish I would have known: The battle of the Experts in the writing of an IEP

Something I wish I would have understood when I started to advocate for my children

After the initial shock wore off, regarding my daughter’s learning disabilities, I made the determination to put her into school. Her birthday was behind the deadline, which meant that she would have been required to wait another year before enrolling in school. Fortunately, the work we had been doing at home allowed her to test in anyway. This was important to me because I wanted her to be challenged and having her in school was going to help to push her in areas where her LD was causing her to struggle.

By her 3rd grade year, however, we were noticing that she would pass a spelling test at the end of the week, but she was unable to spell those words by Monday morning. We approached her teacher and were informed that the school, at that time, was already providing a service to my daughter. We knew that she was on an ILP (individual learning plan). Her ILP was to have us do extra work at home with reading and writing, but we did not know our daughter was being pulled out of class.

We then demanded to know why. Why were they pulling her out of school without notifying us about it? We were told that since she was obviously passing her tests, then it didn’t matter if they pulled her out. We then asked to see the tests that made it important for them to take her out of class – even for a short while. In our opinion there must have been some cause for concern for them to take such an action – especially without bringing the parents in on the plan.

The school showed us exams/evaluations that ranged from the lowest 15% to up to 39% of the average test taker in our daughter’s age range. Something they had never shared with us during any meeting we had had for our daughter’s ILP.

Immediately we demanded that our daughter be tested for an IEP (Individual Educational Plan). If our daughter was doing extra homework at home, being taken out of classes for a pullout program and still showing such low test scores, we wanted to know why.

Simultaneously we had heard about a developmental diagnostic program at our local Children’s Hospital, so we signed up to get her tested hoping that these findings, in conjunction with the school findings would help our daughter.

When we finally met as a team, 45 days later, the school refused to even look at the diagnostic paperwork. They casually explained that an “educational” diagnosis and a “medical” diagnosis were different. That it did not matter what the doctors wrote – if our daughter was responding in some way to intervention, then the school did not have to take those records into consideration. Even if our daughter forgot the intervention (something we already knew to be true) – she was still passing on Friday and this was important to the school.

When our daughters state exams were brought into the discussion, the same was stated – she was very behind but responding to intervention. Yes, she did have a great discrepancy between what she produced and what she could do. This did not matter in the grand scheme of things.

After a 4 –hour meeting, in snowy weather, it was finally concluded that my daughter would receive an IEP. This IEP was not based on the diagnostic evaluation created by our local Children’s Hospital, but rather, it was on the Optometrist results, showing that in addition to a lazy eye our daughter’s eyes were making it difficult for her to read. In my opinion an Optometrist is a medical doctor, but this is what happened.

The conclusion for the school was to place my daughter BACK on the rote-memory program that she had been using and that this was all the intervention that they could provide to my daughter and our family.

I now understand that I have a right to push the school to accept a medical diagnosis from a specialist. I did not have to sit by and have them refuse to look at the evaluation. At the time, I was scared. I was not an expert. I had limited understanding of what I was supposed to say. I had requested an advocate and learned, during this meeting, that the person I had requested was friends with my daughters Principal, that individual went quickly from standing firm with our family, to pushing us to take what the could said they had to offer.

I was livid at the time. I wanted to slam doors, and scream and yell. Those things, while cleansing, were not going to help me help my daughter. It was clear that my family did not have a partner – educationally. The school was going to do what was best for them and not what was best for our daughter. We agreed to let them use that ONE tool they said that they could use for our daughter and I started volunteering at the school and working with my daughter after school let out.

If you are an individual or parent and you are facing this issue, I encourage you to get educated on what your rights are and to stand firm.