Posts Tagged ‘dysgraphia’

If you have been following my posts you may know how much school has been difficult for my son and myself.  I am also sure that I have made some educators angry when I wrote a post called,  There are bad teachers . . .   If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. 

Between third grade and fifth grade I prayed that my son could survive long enough to finish each school year. I say survive because those three years were torture to my son. With all of his health problems, the school actually made things worse.  I had expected the educators to be the experts when it came to educating children with learning difficulties and health issues.  Unfortunately, I found out that is not necessarily true.

I am ashamed to say, as a result of this elementary school and the information they had been providing me, I had very low expectations for my son. The school drew a bleak picture of a young boy who did not pay attention, was not organized, wouldn’t say hi to his classmates, had difficulty reading, was always sleepy, was struggling with math, could not physically write, was not a self-starter, and made up symptoms to look like Tourette Syndrome. With all of this observations, I truly worried about what would happen to him when he is an adult.

I must say some of the things the school experienced we also experienced at home. For example if you told my son to do three things, you might get one of them accomplished. His bedroom is an absolute danger zone. I used to try to keep up with it, but I gave that up long ago. I keep telling and showing him that everything has a home.

The most annoying situation is when my son misplaces everything. I always joke that he would lose his head if it was not attached. I can’t tell you how many mornings we were scrambling to find this or that before school. I kept explaining to him that if he followed the rule and put everything in its home, then he would know where to find it. I have tried every trick in the book to correct this behavior with no success. What we did do, which I did not realize until he went to school, was we had subconsciously adapted our home activities and behaviors to fit his needs. At home I learned to only give him instructions for one thing at a time, or the night before school we laid out all his clothes and got his back pack ready.  We didn’t do this to be organized.  We did this because we knew we would be looking for something in the morning which would take up all of the time.

My son also has a little OCD. As a result of this, when he loses something he will obsessively be on the hunt for it. I can remember when he was very young, before he was diagnosed with any of his health issues, he had a toy which was a learning toy consisting of an airplane and three animal passengers. The airplane interacted differently with each character. He loved the toy, but as you can guess, he kept losing one or more of the characters. We spent so much time looking for them, and if he couldn’t find them he got very, very upset. Usually we would eventually find them, but there was one time when they were nowhere to be found. I was so tired of his extreme grief, and obsessive hunting, that I went to the toy store and bought a new one. Thank goodness he grew out of that toy.

So I am not surprised to see these issues at school. In fact our neuropsychologist said that my son has impaired executive functions, which includes organizational skills. Since this has been identified as a part of his medical issues, there are objectives in his IEP to improve that behavior or learn other skills to help him remember. The school used a pictorial schedule for him so he knew where he was supposed to be at different times during the day, but that was the extent of what they worked on. Numerous times his homework was left at school. It was a miracle to receive flyers for field trips or book orders.  His assignment notebook came home but you couldn’t read any of it.

Then sixth grade came, which meant going to middle school. I could tell that things operated differently there. At the end of fifth grade, representatives from the elementary and the middle school met with me. The purpose of the meeting was to understand my son’s health and educational needs. It was probably the best and most thorough IEP meeting I had ever had. There was no topic left unaccounted for, and there were indications that they were making a genuine attempt to create a successful learning experience. They also knew that the learning experience starts on the first day of school. Not one week later. Not a month later, which was our experience at the elementary school.

A couple of weeks before school started for the sixth grade, the middle school invited my son to attend four half-day sessions with the purpose of getting used to the school and to know where everything was, such as the gym, the lunchroom, and the health office. They also worked through the procedures of a day, including their schedule, their locker, going to lunch and getting on the bus. It was a great program, and it took some of the anxiety away for starting a new school.

School started and my son was very cautious. Cautious about the new school. Cautious of being a new student. Cautious of his peers and the kids from the upper grades. I will admit I was very anxious for him, and waited with my breath held, praying that nothing happened.  I didn’t want us to go back into survival mode for another three years, with his progress at school continuously slowing down, with minimal forward movement.

His schedule was set up so that all of his core subjects were held with the special education teacher, Mrs. G and a small group of students. The remaining classes were with mainstream teachers and students.  A number of factors happened in the beginning days of school which created a very positive effect for my son. First of all, he did not start school at the same time as the rest of the students, because he was newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. When school started we were in the middle of getting him stabilized and learning everything we needed to do to support his diabetes which was really daunting in the beginning. The delayed school start was good because all of the other students were in a rhythm by the time he started. As a result of this the teachers were able to focus purely on my son with individual all the individual attention he needed.  Not only was he starting a new school, but he had a new health issues that had to be dealt with throughout the day. 

The second thing that occurred was when my son went to his first class in the special education room.  He saw that his assigned desk was beside a girl that he went to school with in kindergarten, first and second grade. They were huge friends.  After second grade she moved and we had no way of contacting her. In fourth grade at the end of the school year the fourth graders from all of the elementary schools in the area participated in a field and track event. It was there that he met up with her again. They kept each other’s company throughout the track event. They exchanged phone numbers and talked with each other for the next year, meeting again at the fifth grade field and track event.

My son walks into class and this girl is his desk partner. Unbelievable! I have since heard from his teacher Mrs G that they are really good friends and do everything together. I think this is one thing that reduced his anxiety about school. In the previous year my son was a victim of a bullying situation, and he was very anxious about running into these students at the new school. Finding his friend eliminated that concern entirely. He knew he had someone to back him up.

The third event that happened during the beginning days of school, my son’s special ed teacher, showed him that a teacher could have empathy.  She acknowledged that things have been hard for him, and said she was proud of him enduring it all.  This empathy from Mrs. G was a total new experience for my son.  She understood his health issues and showed concern.  She had previously taught kids with Tourette Syndrome and understood the disorder.  She didn’t berate hm when he had tic episodes.  She didn’t accuse him of faking it. She didn’t tell him to stop it.  What a relief. 

Another event that happened is Mrs. G  was totally supportive of moving his education forward, and she recognized that praise was a great motivator, or telling him a story that she had some of those problems too.  This was a message to my son that she understood him and had been there herself. 

One of my son’s education issues up to this year has been that he has dysgraphia which are a result of a couple of factors including tremors.  Until recently he could not read his own handwriting, let alone have someone else read it.  In the past there were attempts to use a speech-to-text software program, and to teach him typing, with not much success.  I think if a little more effort would have been done one of these mechanisms would have worked.  As I watched him learn, I realized how important it is to visualize your own writing.  Without being able to do this, it really hampered his ability to learn spelling, grammar, writing complete sentences or capturing information in a report.  Up to now he had missed out on all of this.  Besides providing alternative methods of writing, the elementary school also did not give him extended time to complete his writing.  The combination of all of this resulted in a sixth grade boy who could not write and had not learned language skills.  It just seemed his previous school just ignored the importance of being able to see what you write and how it would affect everything he is doing.

His new special ed teacher, Mrs. G knew about this issue, and beginning the very first week of school she told him that she liked his handwriting and that he was doing a great job.  This little comment was a huge thing for my son.  The day she said this he came home from school and told me what she said and he was so happy.  I suspect she is also giving him the time he needs to do his writing.  Believe it or not his handwriting is improving.  He can read it.  I can read it.  He has a way to go to catch up with the spelling, writing proper sentences, or organization of information, but that is expected.  In the past he had given up writing, even though I tried to work with him.  Today he is writing pages and pages of information.  He has even started a blog discussing video games.  He does the rough draft and I work with him to find corrections, and then he publishes it.

Another new educational experience is that this Mrs. G has the philosophy that she really didn’t care what the kids read, as long as it was appropriate and they kept reading.  My son has been attracted to graphic novels.  At his previous school they would not let him read graphic novels.  His special ed teacher said he needed to read some books with more structure and that were more substantial.  Okay, his beginning chapter books were thirty pages long with limited information on each page.  His graphic novels were about 250 pages long, but in total consisted of more reading than the beginning chapter books.  This year my son has said to me that this school is letting him read the books that he likes and chooses.  As a result of this he is reading all of the time, and now his reading interests have expanded beyond graphic novels.  I can’t tell you how happy this makes me.  I have always been a big reader, and I have wanted him to experience the enjoyment of reading, which hadn’t happened up to now.

Now for the pièce de résistance.  We recently had our first IEP meeting at this school.  Mrs. G was reading the objectives and results that were written by his previous teacher.  For example a goal said, the student must on three out of five attempts, initiate his work in the classroom without reminders from the teacher.  I suspect this is a goal for getting him to be a self-starter.  Mrs. G said that she was not experiencing this issue.  She said that my son is always ready to get his work done and is usually the first one done in the class.  She said she has not had to give him any reminders to start his work.  She also said since he had missed some school, due to his new health issue, he is easily able to keep up with the rest of the student.  She continued through the review of the IEP and all of the objectives had the same observation.  She said, “He is not having and of these problems at school.  Looking at his IEP, it is as if he was a different kid.”  Wow.  That was a big statement.  At one point she questioned me about what was going on.  I explained I didn’t want to get into the details, but I thought we had some teacher issues previously.  Also attending our meeting was the OT specialist who has worked with my son since first grade.  During this discussion he tried to intervene and say that my son had really matured over the summer.  Bull.  Yes, there was some maturing but not to make a night and day difference. 

Anyway, I am so thankful for Mrs G and the Middle School.  She is doing a great job with my son and I am so appreciative.  I am now seeing that he will be okay, and with time will be able to self sustain as an adult.  She keeps in contact with me weekly.  She predicts when my son may have an anxious moment and eases him into it.  I absolutely love her.  This year is going to be a big turning point for my son.  He is loving school which is a big relief.

I want to take a moment to discuss an activity that schools are participating in, but are going through the motions and as a result of this, in my opinion, are teaching the wrong lesson.  If you have read some of my previous posts or followed me on Twitter, I have a son who has some health issues and is on an IEP.  He is now in sixth grade and is pretty much behind by two or more grades.  My son also is integrated in the regular classroom for some subjects and in a smaller group setting for the core subjects.

For kindergarten and the first five grades of elementary school, working with the school was a challenge.  Some of the reasons why my son is behind is because of how they approached educating him.  Yes, he has learning disabilities.  I know the job is not easy, but they could have done better.  They are supposed to be the experts.  During these five years I also learned a few things about the world of IEP, which I can summarize as:

  • Nothing happens quickly.  Every step along the way is full of delays.
  • The education representatives reluctantly participate, and are going through the motions to meet a legal requirement.  Costs are always on their mind and impede a realistic discussion of needs and solutions.
  • Goal setting and progress seems to be erratic and a facade.  First of all goals do not have a duration.  My son basically had the same goals on day one of first grade through the day he left the school in fifth grade.  Even if a goal was measurable, I can not believe they really did document the progress.  For example the goal would be “The student will make progress on  his assignment without teacher assistance three out of five times.”  Do you really think they documented this every day to draw a conclusion?  I doubt it.  In five years my son only successfully completed one goal.  The rest of the goals were labeled “making progress” and usually concluded with a negative comment about my son.  The odd thing is he is in a new school for sixth grade and this school inherited the IEP objectives and conclusions  from the earlier school.  In our first IEP meeting, the administrator and the teacher went through the objectives and comments from the previous school.  They indicated that they did not see the same issues as the previous school had documented.  Their remark was,  “It is as if he is not the same child.  Your son does not have any of these issues that they have described.”  In an effort to possibly explain this, one of the teachers said, your son has really matured from last year.  Yes, he has matured, but that has nothing to do with the supposed “changes.”  Rather than there being a change in my son, I think there is just a change of teachers and perspectives.
  • The school themselves made the parent/school relationship adversarial.  Since they are the experts on education, I expected them to enlighten me regarding what was needed for my son.  Instead, if I didn’t bring forth an idea myself, they would never come up with an objective or a solution on their own.
  • The education participants were not honest with me, and I think the reason is that they knew I would challenge them and they were not prepared to defend themselves.

Enough ranting.  I need to get to the main point of this post. 

Our schools use as a tool called an assignment notebook.  I am sure you have run into them at least one time in your child’s life.  Each student is required to buy one every single year.  I understand why they require it, because it is a good tool.  It is my understanding that the purpose of the assignment notebook is to get students prepared for the upper grades and start being responsible for homework and assignments. It also should guide a student to organize their activities which will be a useful lesson in life in general.  To ensure that the lessons learned from using an assignment notebook are adopted by students, it is important to consistently use it as a tool.  The steps of working with an assignment notebook include:

  1. The students should be given time daily to fill out the assignment notebook with information by subject and specific assignment.
  2. Teachers may also use it as a means of communicating to the parent.
  3. The student is supposed to check it to see what they might have for homework each day.
  4. The student takes the assignment notebook  home.
  5. Parents check to see that homework is complete.
  6. Parents sign it.
  7. The student returns it the next day.
  8. The teacher checks it.

 It’s a pretty simple process and if followed would teach a student about creating to-do’s and organizing themselves.  It also is a great tool for the parent to know what the student is studying and if the child is doing what he is supposed to be doing.  Keep in mind the goal for using an assignment notebook in the early grades is to prepare themselves for when they are in the upper grades and learn to keep track of the work they need to do.  If the teachers, students and parents followed the eight steps listed above, and the process was repeated every day consistently, and was used for every year in elementary school, the process would achieve its goal.  It would become a natural process for a student to make a list and then use the lists to make sure they get their work done.  I applaud the goal and the process.  It is a good lesson for life, and I even use this tactic in my day-to-day work environment.

Now what happens if the execution of using an assignment book goes as follows:

In the morning the teacher writes on the blackboard a list of items that the class will be doing throughout the day.  Typically this list is topical by subject.  Most, if not all, of the items on the list are topics they will be working on throughout the day and are not necessarily what the student needs to accomplish as an assignment.  So it is more like an agenda.

Each morning the teacher gives the students five minutes to get their assignment book out and copy the list of agenda items.  This is where the problems begin with this process.  The students are going through the motions of making a list of things.  Some may make a connection that this is an agenda for what they would be working on for the day, and some won’t.  I suspect it would be more meaningful if the list evolved as the day went by and the assignment book was updated throughout the day, along with the assignments to be done.  The students could then correlate the agenda items with the assignments they must get done, and begin to understand the purpose of the assignment notebook.

Now keep in mind this is an integrated classroom.  There are students in all ranges of capabilities and limitations.  As an example my son has a requirement in his IEP that says he should be given additional time to complete his work.  For five years he was never able to completely write the list of information because he could not do it in the time frame provided by the teacher.

Due to some dysgraphia problems, my son is supposed to be able to use other methods to document information, such as a computer.   He was not able to legibly write for the first five grades of school.  He would try to write, but the teacher couldn’t read it and he, himself, could not read it.  For five years my son was writing down an incomplete list of things in his assignment notebook that nobody could read, making it absolutely useless.

The biggest offense of this is there is one list for all students, but all of the students are not at the same level in the subjects or do not participate in each item on this “agenda” list.  For example my son was not in the regular classroom for reading, language and math.  So the reading, language and math agenda items on the board were not even relevant to the education he was getting for the day.  In addition, the other teachers in charge of his special education, did not use the assignment notebook. 

My son also has a difficult time organizing things and keeping to a schedule.  It is an objective in his IEP.  For five years the assignment notebook came home from school maybe fifty percent of the time.  When it did come home, I signed a page in the assignment notebook that may or may not have a list of illegible things on it.  Over five years I may have gotten five comments from a teacher in the assignment notebook.

So here I have a son who has been taught for five years that he has to write down a list of things every morning.  It is okay to not write down the complete list.  There are no consequences if the list is not complete.  The list of things are not used for anything and have no purpose.  The items in the list do not even mean anything to him because it does not cover the activities that he participates in.  He is also highly aware that not all of the things are relevant to him.  Not all of his teachers use this assignment book .  He is supposed to take it home and have his parents sign it, and then bring it back to school.  If he forgot to bring it home and his parents didn’t sign it, there were no consequences.  This same cycle repeated itself year after year.  So what do you think my son’s perspective is about the assignment notebook?  Will he understand that it is a tool and has a purpose that would benefit him.  Obviously, the answer is no.

In every IEP meeting I had for the last three years of school I brought up this topic about the assignment notebook.  I understand the value of it.  I understand what it would be teaching my son.  I understand that it is a tool that he will use in the future in school and in his life in general.  No one in my IEP meetings ever took me seriously about the assignment notebook.  They totally blew me off.  I told them that if they were not going to properly use it with him with relevant information, then I don’t want him using it at all.  By making him go through the motions it was creating a bigger, detrimental problem, which is not a lesson I want to encourage because it will lead to nothing good.  The teacher, the IEP administrator, the Principal did not have a clue what I was talking about.  They didn’t see the issue.  They didn’t see that they were actually teaching my son  something that will lead to bad behavior in the future.

So, that’s my rant.  It is also an example of incompetent people who were in charge of my son’s education.  The bottom line for me is, if they couldn’t properly teach the goals and usage of an assignment notebook, what makes me think they can teach my son regarding core subjects?  Now I know I am going to make some educators angry with me.  They are going to say the job is hard and they don’t get paid enough to do the job.  They are probably going to blame me or blame my son.  My response to this is, bull!  If you can’t teach something properly, then don’t teach it at all!  Don’t add to the problem that already exists.  Be a positive experience not a negative one.  Care about what you are doing.  There are consequences.  Unfortunately these teachers won’t have to deal with the consequences because they have moved on to the next student.  Not their problem.

As I said earlier my son was put on an IEP in first grade with objectives to help with reading, attention/organization and writing. In second grade at the end of the year his teacher suggested that I pursue getting him help also with math.

By the time my son started third grade they had not added any math support. Third grade was year of whirlwind chaos. With everything going on I could not have predicted what was yet to come.

In the fall of third grade, around the beginning of October, I noticed my son was sniffing his nose quite a bit. At the time I really didn’t pay much attention to it. We live in a colder climate and October is when it starts to get chilly. I suspected he was getting the sniffles.  This sniffing went on for about two weeks or so and I finally took note that he had been doing this for quite some time. It was highly unlikely for a cold to hang on for that long.

One night he was having a hard time falling asleep, which was not a new thing. So I laid down beside him to read a story and hoped he would drift off to sleep. As I was reading I noticed that the sniffing was never-ending. Every breath he took was with this sniffing sound. Soon he fell asleep and the sniffing stopped.  The next morning when he woke up I noticed the sniffing was happening again. At that time I still did not make the connection of what was going on.

Meanwhile at school in third grade they were learning addition and subtraction facts. A big part of the teacher’s lesson plan was to learn math facts so that they would become second nature. In order to do this they used a program called rocket math. To begin with they calculated a student’s writing speed, which created the goal for the rocket math. For example, my son’s goal was to get twenty-six math facts done in one minute. Then the students would practice on a worksheet that covered a specific set of math facts. After they practiced a few times they would then take the actual speed test. If you didn’t reach your goal you could not move on to the next set. The overall goal was to accomplish one set per week or more, and by the end of the year, if everything went perfect, the student would complete the whole rocket math program for addition and subtraction.  It sounds pretty straight forward. The worksheets started out with the simpler math facts and progressively got harder as the students worked their way through the sets.

Meanwhile, due to his tremors, my son still could not write legibly. You can probably predict what happens when you mix dysgraphia with a timed math test. Unfortunately for my son passing a set of math facts also meant the teacher needed to be able to read what he wrote for his answers. Everyone at school was aware of my son’s writing issues, and there were objectives in his IEP that were directly related to the writing issues.  Unfortunately they chose to ignore these for these timed tests and said the writing speed accounted for this.  It was obvious they didn’t really understand the needs of my son.  As you can see there was a lot of pressure on him, but at the time he seemed to be keeping up with the class.  This didn’t happen easily.  He did a lot of work with mom at home practicing rocket math to accomplish this.

Meanwhile, I noticed the nose sniffing continued. This may sound crazy, but it got to the point I thought my son had forgotten how to breathe normally. There were a few nights when I would try to coach him to breathe correctly. We started by trying to do deep breathing exercises. I would join him while I said, “Let’s take a deep breathe, in through the nose, and out through the mouth.” I was pretty amazed that he really could not do this no matter how hard he tried. I finally decided that we would just ignore it and perhaps it would go away.  I known that sounds odd, but I didn’t know what else to do.  It didn’t seem to be interfering in his life.  Not yet, anyway.  No complaints from school.  And a doctor would think I was crazy if I told him my son has forgotten how to breathe.

After about a month, the nose sniffing disappeared, which I was very grateful for. But instead of sniffing, my son started to quietly hum. The humming was like little bursts of short, muffled hums that had a nasal resonance to them. It was like, “Hmm, pause, hmm, pause, hmm, pause.” It was a little like an alarm clock but at a quieter volume.  There were occasions when it stopped, but that did not happen very frequently. He tried hard to stop but he said he couldn’t help it.

Now here is where the guilt begins for me.  The humming became a real annoyance.  I could handle it at home, except at night when he was trying to fall asleep.  It was a little bit more difficult in public or when we were trying to do homework.  Let me be honest, which I am a little ashamed of, especially now with hindsight.  I was beginning to think he was doing it on purpose.  I started to doubt that he couldn’t control it.  I was frustrated.

By the middle of November I had an epiphany about the humming, and more importantly about my son.

to be continued . . .


This is a post that is a part of series of post. To see more on this topic check out the related posts below.

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The beginning of an IEP . . .