Saturday, October 15, 2016

October Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness 2016

Time to come of the shadows and stigma of pregnancy and infant loss.  Though it hurts me to talk about my daughter I would not have it any other way.  She was here, she was alive, and she deserves to be remembered. I love you my sweet baby Martha.  

Friday, October 7, 2016

Why Does It Take So Long For Special Education Services?

I had to enroll the children into an online public school.  I needed to do this to take advantage of my of state's program called the Empowerment Scholarship.  It is a program where parents basically waive their rights to FAPE so parents can get a pot of money to send their child to private school or homeschool. We will be going back to homeschooling after our short visit to public school.

Being in the public school has definitely showed me areas where my children are weak academically!  I submitted the request for special education testing within the first week of school (first week of August). The way my state works is that you have a MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team) I meeting to discuss educational concerns and for the parent to turn over any information on your child to show a disability.  I had been writing the blog posts on neurocognitive domains just so I could better explain my children to the team.  First round went to me since the MET group said my kids were suspected of having a learning disability. They decided that there was more testing they needed/wanted to do so the team could appropriately classify them for special education.  That meeting happened on August 17th.

So the days passed and I waited to hear from the school specialists. I heard from the one by one.  I set appointments with them and took the kids to be tested or specialists come here.  Two weeks the kids went though various tests. The MET II meets were set for October 4th and 5th.  I took Joseph and James's together and the next day was Margaret's meeting.  I asked for a copy of the meeting materials that any of the other team members would have access to before the meeting.  This allowed me to be on even ground.  I was able to read the reports the say before.  Is it bad to say I laughed?

Why did I laugh?  Because the reports pointed out SO starkly many of the things I knew to be "wrong" with my children.  Here are some comments from James's report... From the psychologist, "Mom managed the full schedule of the home very well."  Why thank you!  I try though I often wonder how I really do. "He (James) presented as friendly, helpful, talkative, and was a bit of a squirrel/tease at time, which is reportedly not unusual for him."  I have to admit I found this funny.  Yes, James is talkative and he often plays around which makes it hard to tell sometimes when he is being serious. "He was fidgety throughout both sessions, moving about his chair, twisting his shirt into a variety of positions, even lifting it over his head a few times and once taking it off."  ROFL  This really got me! I see James pull his shirt over his head quite often lately.  He reminds me of the character on Bevis and Butthead.  LOL  His shirt was bothering him so much he pulled his shirt all the way off!  Yes, my baby still has sensory issues and has a problem being still due to sensory and ADHD issues.

During his testing for speech she talks about how he turned backwards in his chair several times and only turned around to look at pictures as needed.  "Depite the busy-ness of his body, he still presented as having a calm demeanor. Ja attempted to peek between the barriers this SLP had set up to block his view of the test booklets, when the SLP adjusted them to close the small crack, Ja responded by smiling, chuckling, and saying "Darn it!""  This is James and his perfectionist attitude.  He has anxiety if he thinks he is doing something wrong. "Ja does become "stuck"  on topics of high interest..."  Yes, yes he does!  This is part of his autism and lack of cognitive flexibility.  "Eye contact was appropriate at time, but fleeting to non-existent at other times."  Very much a typical autism trait.  "He was quite verbose and frequently used tangential speech; he required ongoing verbal cues to limit the number of his extraneous comments and keep on-topic."  LOL   Yes, James has a LOT to say but only 50% of the time would I say he is on topic.

You can see how these things are both hard to hear yet funny because you know these professionals are seeing your child for the first time.  I know all these things about James and in the homeschool environment I can build the environment to suit his needs.  I can do some of that in the online public school but his inattention, internal dialog, his dysgraphia, his sensory issues, and his math calculation problems, and I am sure I missing other things, are ALL issues that impede his learning, even online.   I could only imagine if I sent him to a regular brick-and-mortar school what would happen to him with his inability to sit and pay attention along with his general disruptive behavior.

Margaret and Joseph had worse results in their reports.  After about four hours discussion there are a couple of things I forgot for James.  I think James may have a specific learning disability in math calculation (dyscalculia) and I know he has a specific learning disability in written expression (dysgraphia).  We will need to cover this on or before his IEP is formulated.

In the end the MET II team has decided these special education eligibility categories belong to the children so far...

James: Primary: Autism; Secondary: OHI - ADHD (I need to see about adding the SLD: math calculation and SLD: written expression)

Margaret: Primary: Autism; Secondary: SLD: math calculation, SLD: math problem solving, SLD: written expression, OHI - ADHD

Joseph: Primary: Multiple Disability with Severe Sensory Impairment (Autism and Visual Impairment fall under here along with Joseph's problems with math and writing); Secondary: OHI - Ataxic Cerebral Palsy

Do these things shock me in any way?  No.  It is a bit hard to read in a report where everything is written so starkly in black and white. I am thankful the school has identified most, if not all, the children's needs.  Now we are waiting (and it can be up to 30 more days) to work on developing the IEP for the children.  Then the fighting will really begin.  LOL  Once our 100 days are up in public school, near the end of January, I will look at how the kids are doing in school.  I highly suspect that I will be pulling Margaret and Joseph back out of public school for homeschooling once again.  I cannot wait!  The pace of public school is just too fast for them.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Why Good Visual Processing (all 8 kinds) Is Important!

Did you know 65% of the population are visual learners? Now, what do you do when you have a child that has vision loss in one eye, reduced peripheral vision in the other eye, BUT is STILL a visual learner?  Think about that for a minute.  Yes, Joseph, my son with only one "good" eye, is a visual learner. Joseph has problems with visual-spatial reasoning among other visual processing issues.  As it turns out, all my children have visual-spatial problems. They all score in the 5 to 18 percentile in visual-spatial reasoning.  So how does an issue with visual-spatial reasoning impact learning?  I hadn't a clue so I wrote this post to understand!  Hopefully you, dear reader, will find it helpful too!

In a paper by Franceschini et al., there is a strong correlation to visual-spatial attention and learning to read. The children who had the most difficulty with visual-spatial discrimination had most difficulty in learning to read and often went on to be diagnosed with dyslexia.  Mayer et al., found a correlation in visual-spatial reasoning, along with cognitive ability and problem-solving skills, were the deciding factors in determining the scientific reasoning skills of elementary school students. What I really found interesting was the paper by Tosto et al., which studied the visual-spatial abilities of several sets of 12 year old twins. By 12, a bit over half of your visual spatial skills you got from your parents (genetics) but the rest is learned (this was true for both boys and girls).  The part of the paper I found interesting is that the same pathways in the brain for visual-spatial reasoning is used for math and science. Who knew?  This explains a lot as to why children with developmental dyscalculia have issues with processing visual-spatial information.

What are the signs of Visual Processing Disorder?

There are EIGHT types of visual processing disorders. These are:
Visual Discrimination
  • Can't match clothing, socks, or cutlery, especially when the differences are subtle
  • Doesn't noticing the similarities and differences between certain colors, shapes and patterns
  • Will not see differences between similar looking letters and words (eg b / d, b / p, 5 / S, won’t / want, car / cat)
  • Will have a hard time reading maps
Visual Figure-Ground Discrimination
  • Struggles to find information on a busy blackboard
  • Finds it hard to copy work from the board as the child keeps losing his place when copying
  • Loses his/her place on the page while reading
  • Has poor dictionary skills
  • Struggles with map work
  • Struggles to find personal items in a cluttered place
Visual Sequencing
  • Has difficulty using a separate answer sheet
  • Cannot stay in the right place while reading a paragraph. Example: skipping lines, reading the same line over and over
  • Problems reversing or misreading letters, numbers and words
  • Has difficulty understanding math equations
Visual Motor Processing
  • Has difficulty writing within lines or margins of a piece of paper
  • Struggles to copy from a board or book
  • When moving around often bumps into things
  • Has problems participating in sports that require well-timed and precise movements in space
Visual Closure
  • The inability to know what an object is when only parts of it are visible
  • Not recognizing a picture of a familiar object from a partial image. Example: A truck without its wheels
  • Misidentifying a word with a letter missing
  • Not recognizing a face when one feature (such as the nose) is missing
Spatial Relationships
  • Difficulty getting from one place to another
  • Has a problem spacing letters and words on paper
  • Cannot judge time
  • Reading maps and giving directions are difficult
Plus there are other vision processing disorders like Irlen Syndrome, visual dyslexia, and visual dyspraxia.

Who Diagnoses Visual Processing Disorders and How to Treat It?

This is hard to determine.  Visual Processing Disorder is NOT a learning disability be itself.  It is only a learning disability IF it interferes with the learning process.  Ah, the fun of public education! If you homeschool it is easier because you can implement the accommodations and modifications at home to see if academic function improves.

If you are looking to pursue a diagnosis look for an opthamologist, vision specialist, vision therapist, or a neuropsychologist. One of these professionals should be able to run the psychometric tests needed to make a diagnosis.

There are three kinds of therapies that are important to be aware of as you’re considering ways to help your child with visual processing issues.

Optometric vision therapy: It’s important to note that there is more than one kind of vision therapy. Optometric vision therapy has been proven to help with vision problems that involve eye movements or eye alignment. These eye coordination issues are different from visual processing issues. Visual processing issues involve the way the brain processes the information the eyes take in.

You may hear some kinds of optometric vision therapy referred to as “orthoptic vision therapy.” Both can help with eye muscle and eye alignment. These kinds of therapy can help with vision problems such as convergence insufficiency (when the eyes don’t work together properly when trying to focus on a nearby object).

Optometric vision therapy doesn’t “cure” learning and attention issues. But if your child has vision problems in addition to dyslexia and other issues, resolving vision problems can help him devote more energy to finding strategies that can help with the way his brain processes information.

Behavioral vision therapy: This is different from optometric vision therapy. Behavioral vision therapy involves eye exercises that are designed to improve visual perception. These eye exercises are also designed to improve visual processing skills. But there is no scientific research that shows this kind of therapy helps the brain process visual information. For that reason, behavioral vision therapy is considered a controversial treatment for learning and attention issues.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may help some children. But be wary of any treatment that claims to “cure” learning and attention issues. Learn more about how to know when a treatment is reputable.

Educational therapy: Children with visual processing issues may benefit from educational therapy. This type of therapy teaches kids strategies for working around their weaknesses. Learning how to approach problems can reduce frustration, increase self-confidence and lead to greater success in school.

What are appropriate accommodations or modifications? 

  • Use books, worksheets and other materials with enlarged print
  • Read written directions aloud. Varying teaching methods (written and spoken words; images and sounds) can help promote understanding
  • Be aware of the weakness but don't overemphasize it. While helping a child work on the weakness is important; it is just as important to build other skills and function in any setting
  • Break assignments and chores into clear, concise steps. Often multiple steps can be difficult to visualize and complete
  • Give examples and point out the important details of visual information (the part of a picture that contains information for a particular question)
  • Provide information about a task before starting to focus attention on the activity
  • Allow student to write answers on the same sheet of paper as the questions or offer opportunities for student to explain answers orally
  • Provide paper for writing and math work that has darker or raised lines to make the boundaries more distinct
  • Organize assignments to be completed in smaller steps instead of one large finished product
  • Use a ruler as a reading guide (to keep focus on one line at a time) and a highlighter (to immediately emphasize important information)
  • Provide a tape recorder to supplement note-taking
  • Color code important information
  • Have a proof-reading buddy for all written materials
  • Use a tape recorder when getting important information
  • Before writing letters or essays, create an outline to simplify and organize ideas
  • Have a proofreading buddy for notes and essays

I hope you found this post helpful.  I had initially started this post just to discuss visual-spatial processing but as I started to research the subject I found there was so much more to cover!  I think I did a decent job overall to cover everything in a broad way. If I missed anything please let me know!  I you have any questions you can contact me on the blog or though Facebook.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What is Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia?

So what exactly is a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in Math or Writing? The Office of Special Education for the U.S. Department of Education is encouraging schools to use the words Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504s. The except from the letter below contains the link to the whole document.

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) has received communications from stakeholders, including parents, advocacy groups, and national disability organizations, who believe that State and local educational agencies (SEAs and LEAs) are reluctant to reference or use dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility determinations, or in developing the individualized education program (IEP) under the IDEA. The purpose of this letter is to clarify that there is nothing in the IDEA that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in IDEA evaluation, eligibility determinations, or IEP documents.

So now that the terms Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia have been sancuned for use lets looks at what exactly are these little known disabilities.


Dyscalculia is defined as difficulty acquiring basic arithmetic skills that is not explained by low intelligence or inadequate schooling. About 5% of children in primary schools are affected. Dyscalculia does not improve without treatment. Many people with dyscalculia have associated cognitive impairment (e.g., impairment of working memory and visuospatial skills), and 20% to 60% of those affected have other diagnosed conditions such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorder.

Currently (January 2015) a search for ‘dyscalculia’ on the Department for Education’s website gives 0 results as compared to 44 for dyslexia, so the definition below comes from the American Psychiatric Association (2013):

Developmental Dyscalculia (DD) is a specific learning disorder that is characterised by impairments in learning basic arithmetic facts, processing numerical magnitude and performing accurate and fluent calculations. These difficulties must be quantifiably below what is expected for an individual’s chronological age, and must not be caused by poor educational or daily activities or by intellectual impairments.

Because definitions and diagnoses of dyscalculia are in their infancy and sometimes contradictory, it is difficult to suggest a prevalence, but research suggests it is around 5%. However, ‘mathematical learning difficulties’ are certainly not in their infancy and are very prevalent and often devastating in their impact on schooling, further and higher education and jobs. Prevalence in the UK is at least 25%.

Developmental Dyscalculia often occurs in association with other developmental disorders such as dyslexia or ADHD/ADD. Co-occurrence of learning disorders appears to be the rule rather than the exception. Co-occurrence is generally assumed to be a consequence of risk factors that are shared between disorders, for example, working memory. However, it should not be assumed that all dyslexics have problems with mathematics, although the percentage may be very high, or that all dyscalculics have problems with reading and writing. This latter rate of co-occurrence may well be a much lower percentage.

Typical symptoms of dyscalculia/mathematical learning difficulties:
  • Has difficulty when counting backwards.
  • Has a poor sense of number and estimation.
  • Has difficulty in remembering ‘basic’ facts, despite many hours of practice/rote learning.
  • Has no strategies to compensate for lack of recall, other than to use counting.
  • Has difficulty in understanding place value and the role of zero in the Arabic/Hindu number system.
  • Has no sense of whether any answers that are obtained are right or nearly right.
  • Tends to be slower to perform calculations. (Therefore give less examples, rather than more time).
  • Forgets mathematical procedures, especially as they become more complex, for example ‘long’ division.
  • Addition is often the default operation. The other operations are usually very poorly executed (or avoided altogether).
  • Avoids tasks that are perceived as difficult and likely to result in a wrong answer.
  • Weak mental arithmetic skills.
  • High levels of mathematics anxiety.
  • When writing, reading, and recalling numbers, may make mistakes: number additions, substitutions, transpositions, omissions, and reversals
  • Difficulty with abstract concepts of time and direction
  • Inability to recall schedules and sequences of past or future events
  • May be chronically early or late
  • Inconsistent results in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
  • Inability to visualize, appear absent-minded, or lost in thought
  • Inconsistent mastery of math facts
  • Difficulty with left and right orientation
  • Difficulty following sequential procedures and directions in math steps
  • Slow in understanding math concepts in word problems
  • Confuse operations signs or perform them in the wrong order
  • Confuse part to whole relationships
  • Difficulty keeping score during games 
  • Limited strategic planning ability
Since mathematics is very developmental, any insecurity or uncertainty in early topics will impact on later topics, hence to need to take intervention back to basics.

So what can be done to help a child with Dyscalculia?

There aren’t specific therapies for kids with dyscalculia. But you may want to explore educational therapy. This type of therapy helps kids with different kinds of learning and attention issues develop strategies for working around their issues and dealing with frustration. An educational therapist may be able to help your child get better at working with numbers.

Kids with dyscalculia may have trouble reading and articulating the language of math. In these cases, speech therapy could be helpful.

Kids with dyscalculia may also have trouble with visual-spatial skills. For example, they may struggle to judge distances between objects. If this is the case for your child, you might want to explore occupational therapy and/or vision therapy.

Children with dyscalculia may be dealing with other issues that emotional therapy can help with. For example, ADHD and dyscalculia often co-occur. So it may be recommended that your child try therapies to address aspects of his ADHD.

These kinds of therapies may lessen some of your child’s anxiety about school and make it easier for him to perform in class. The same may be said for psychological counseling if dyscalculia takes a toll on your child’s self-esteem or causes anxiety or stress.

Classroom Accommodations and Modifications

  • Allow extra time on tests. Children with dyscalculia will often feel rushed during standard-length math tests. If possible, avoid timed tests of basic facts like multiplication tables, which can be a roadblock for LD kids.
  • Provide frequent checks during classwork. It can be especially heartbreaking for an LD student to finish an entire worksheet, only to be told that every answer is wrong and he’ll need to do it again. Instead, teachers should check after every problem, or every three or four. This way, children can learn from mistakes before moving forward.
  • List the steps for multi-step problems and algorithms. Post clearly numbered step-by-step instructions on the board, or give students a copy they can keep at their desk.
  • Keep sample problems on the board. Students should also copy them down in a notebook for reference.
  • Use individual dry-erase boards for students to work at their desks. Students can complete one step of a problem at a time, erasing any mistakes they may make.
  • Use plenty of brightly colored, uncluttered reference charts and diagrams.Children with dyscalculia benefit from visual representations of math problems whenever possible.
  • Whenever possible, allow calculator use. When testing more complex concepts than addition or subtraction, allow students to use calculators to make these basic steps quicker and more accessible. Then, students can focus on showing what they know — not how good they can add in their head.
  • Reduce the number of assigned problems. Assigning ten problems, rather than a full page, is enough to assess students’ understanding.
  • Avoid memory overload by assigning manageable amounts of practice work as skills are learned.
  • Build retention by providing review within a day or two of the initial learning of difficult skills.
  • Provide supervised practice to prevent students from practicing misconceptions and "misrules."
  • Reduce interference between concepts or applications of rules and strategies by separating practice opportunities until the discriminations between them are learned.
  • Make new learning meaningful by relating practice of subskills to the performance of the whole task, and by relating what the student has learned about mathematical relationships to what the student will learn next.
  • Reduce processing demands by preteaching component skills of algorithms and strategies.
  • Teach easier knowledge and skills before difficult ones.
  • Ensure that skills to be practiced can be completed independently with high levels of success.
  • Help students to visualize math problems by drawing.
  • Give extra time for students to process any visual information in a picture, chart, or graph.
  • Use visual and auditory examples.
  • Use real-life situations that make problems functional and applicable to everyday life.
  • Do math problems on graph paper to keep the numbers in line.
  • Use uncluttered worksheets to avoid too much visual information.
  • Use rhythm or music to help students memorize.
  • Use distributive practice: plenty of practice in small doses.
  • Use interactive and intensive practice with age- appropriate games as motivational materials.
  • Have students track their progress; which facts they have mastered and which remain to be learned.
  • Challenge critical thinking about real problems with problem-solving.
  • Use manipulatives and technology such as tape recorders or calculators.

What would be a goal for the IEP when you have Dyscalculia?

Goal writing is always a pain.  Is the goal SMART?  What's a good goal?  Often I struggle to come up with goals.  I found some help!

Common Core Aligned Goals for Kindergarten and First Grade

Virginia SMART goals (2009)

Goal and Objective Bank - Covers more than math

2nd and 3rd Grade Math Goals

Goal Bank (Tons of Goals for ALL Grades and Subjects)

2nd Grade Math Goals

What else can I do to help my child?

Embrace technology when your child has dysgraphia and/or dyscalculia!  There are great apps that can be used to help you and your child. Here are some apps/software you may find helpful:



Math Cirriculum for Dyscalculia

Policy, Research, Identification and Intervention for Maths Learning Difficulties and Dyscalculia

 Math Programs and Apps for Dyscalculia


Dysgraphia is a specific learning disability that affects how easily children acquire written language and how well they use written language to express their thoughts. Dysgraphia is a Greek word. The base word graph refers both to the hand’s function in writing and to the letters formed by the hand. The prefix dys indicates that there is impairment. Graph refers to producing letter forms by hand. The suffix ia refers to having a condition. Thus, dysgraphia is the condition of impaired letter writing by hand, that is, disabled handwriting and sometimes spelling. Impaired handwriting can interfere with learning to spell words in writing. Occasionally, but not very often, children have just spelling problems and not handwriting or reading problems.

There are several different kinds of dysgraphia. Some people with dysgraphia have handwriting that is often illegible and shows irregular and inconsistent letter formations. Others write legibly, but very slowly and/or very small. When these individuals revert to printing, as they often do, their writing is often a random mixture of upper- and lowercase letters. In all cases of dysgraphia, writing requires inordinate amounts of energy, stamina, and time. Dysgraphia can interfere with a student’s ability to express ideas. Expressive writing requires a student to synchronize many mental functions at once: organization, memory, attention, motor skill, and various aspects of language ability. Automatic accurate handwriting is the foundation for this juggling act. In the complexity of remembering where to put the pencil and how to form each letter, a dysgraphic student forgets what he or she meant to express. Dysgraphia can cause low classroom productivity, incomplete homework assignments, and difficulty in focusing attention. Emotional factors arising from dysgraphia often exacerbate matters. At an early age, these students are asked to forego recess to finish copying material from the board, and are likely to be sent home at the end of the day with a sheaf of unfinished papers to be completed. They are asked to recopy their work but the second attempt is often no better than the first. Because they are often bright and good at reading, their failure to produce acceptable work is blamed on laziness or carelessness. The resulting anger and frustration can prevent their ever reaching their true potential.

Common symptoms of dysgraphia include:
The symptoms of dysgraphia fall into six categories: visual-spatial, fine motor, language processing, spelling/handwriting, grammar, and organization of language. A child may have dysgraphia if his writing skills lag behind those of his peers and he has at least some of these symptoms:

Visual-Spatial Difficulties
Has trouble with shape-discrimination and letter spacing
Has trouble organizing words on the page from left to right
Writes letters that go in all directions, and letters and words that run together on the page
Has a hard time writing on a line and inside margins
Has trouble reading maps, drawing or reproducing a shape
Copies text slowly

Fine Motor Difficulties
Has trouble holding a pencil correctly, tracing, cutting food, tying shoes, doing puzzles, texting and keyboarding
Is unable to use scissors well or to color inside the lines
Holds his wrist, arm, body or paper in an awkward position when writing

Language Processing Issues
Has trouble getting ideas down on paper quickly
Has trouble understanding the rules of games
Has a hard time following directions
Loses his train of thought

Spelling Issues/Handwriting Issues
Has a hard time understanding spelling rules
Has trouble telling if a word is misspelled
Can spell correctly orally but makes spelling errors in writing
Spells words incorrectly and in many different ways
Has trouble using spell-check—and when he does, he doesn’t recognize the correct word
Mixes upper- and lowercase letters
Blends printing and cursive
Has trouble reading his own writing
Avoids writing
Gets a tired or cramped handed when he writes
Erases a lot

Grammar and Usage Problems
Doesn’t know how to use punctuation
Overuses commas and mixes up verb tenses
Doesn’t start sentences with a capital letter
Doesn’t write in complete sentences but writes in a list format
Writes sentences that “run on forever”

Organization of Written Language
Has trouble telling a story and may start in the middle
Leaves out important facts and details, or provides too much information
Assumes others know what he’s talking about
Uses vague descriptions
Writes jumbled sentences
Never gets to the point, or makes the same point over and over
Is better at conveying ideas when speaking

Does Dysgraphia occur with other learning disabilities?
Children with impaired handwriting may also have attention-deficit disorder (ADHD)—inattentive, hyperactive, or combined inattentive and hyperactive subtypes. Children with this kind of dysgraphia may respond to a combination of explicit handwriting instruction plus stimulant medication, but appropriate diagnosis of ADHD by a qualified professional and monitoring of response to both instruction and medication are needed

Dysgraphia may occur alone or with dyslexia (impaired reading disability) or with oral and written language learning disability (OWL LD, also referred to as selective language impairment, SLI).

Dyslexia is a disorder that includes poor word reading, word decoding, oral reading fluency, and spelling. Children with dyslexia may have impaired orthographic and phonological coding and rapid automatic naming and switching. Phonological coding refers to coding sounds in spoken words in working memory. Phonological coding is necessary for developing phonological awareness—analyzing the sounds in spoken words that correspond to alphabet letters. If children have both dysgraphia and dyslexia, they may also have difficulty in planning sequential finger movements.

OWL LD (SLI) are disorders of language (morphology—word parts that mark meaning and grammar; syntax—structures for ordering words and understanding word functions; finding words in memory, and/or making inferences that go beyond what is stated in text). These disorders affect spoken as well as written language. Children with these language disorders may also exhibit the same writing and reading and related disorders as children with dysgraphia or dyslexia.

So what can be done to help a child with Dysgraphia?

There are many things that can done for remediation with dysgraphia.  Here is a list of possible accommodations and modifications:

  • When considering accommodating or modifying expectations to deal with dysgraphia, consider changes in
  • The rate of producing written work
  • The volume of the work to be produced
  • The complexity of the writing task
  • The tools used to produce the written product
  • The format of the product
  • Change the demands of writing rate
  • Allow more time for written tasks including note-taking, copying, and tests
  • Allow students to begin projects or assignments early
  • Include time in the student's schedule for being a 'library assistant' or 'office assistant' that could also be used for catching up or getting ahead on written work, or doing alternative activities related to the material being learned.
  • Encourage learning keyboarding skills to increase the speed and legibility of written work.
  • Have the student prepare assignment papers in advance with required headings (Name, Date, etc.), possibly using the template described below under "changes in complexity."
  • Adjust the volume
  • Instead of having the student write a complete set of notes, provide a partially completed outline so the student can fill in the details under major headings (or provide the details and have the student provide the headings).
  • Allow the student to dictate some assignments or tests (or parts of tests) a 'scribe'. Train the 'scribe' to write what the student says verbatim ("I'm going to be your secretary") and then allow the student to make changes, without assistance from the scribe.
  • Remove 'neatness' or 'spelling' (or both) as grading criteria for some assignments, or design assignments to be evaluated on specific parts of the writing process.
  • Allow abbreviations in some writing (such as b/c for because). Have the student develop a repertoire of abbreviations in a notebook. These will come in handy in future note-taking situations.
  • Reduce copying aspects of work; for example, in Math, provide a worksheet with the problems already on it instead of having the student copy the problems.
  • Change the complexity
  • Have a 'writing binder' option. This 3-ring binder could include:
  • A model of cursive or print letters on the inside cover (this is easier to refer to than one on the wall or blackboard).
  • A laminated template of the required format for written work. Make a cut-out where the name, date, and assignment would go and model it next to the cutout. Three-hole punch it and put it into the binder on top of the student's writing paper. Then the student can set up his paper and copy the heading information in the holes, then flip the template out of the way to finish the assignment. He can do this with worksheets, too.
  • Break writing into stages and teach students to do the same. Teach the stages of the writing process (brainstorming, drafting, editing, and proofreading, etc.). Consider grading these stages even on some 'one-sitting' written exercises, so that points are awarded on a short essay for brainstorming and a rough draft, as well as the final product. If writing is laborious, allow the student to make some editing marks rather than recopying the whole thing. On a computer, a student can make a rough draft, copy it, and then revise the copy, so that both the rough draft and final product can be evaluated without extra typing.
  • Do not count spelling on rough drafts or one-sitting assignments.
  • Encourage the student to use a spellchecker and to have someone else proofread his work, too. Speaking spellcheckers are recommended, especially if the student may not be able to recognize the correct word (headphones are usually included).
  • Change the tools
  • Allow the student to use cursive or manuscript, whichever is most legible
  • Consider teaching cursive earlier than would be expected, as some students find cursive easier to manage, and this will allow the student more time to learn it.
  • Encourage primary students to use paper with the raised lines to keep writing on the line.
  • Allow older students to use the line width of their choice. Keep in mind that some students use small writing to disguise its messiness or spelling, though.
  • Allow students to use paper or writing instruments of different colors.
  • Allow student to use graph paper for math, or to turn lined paper sideways, to help with lining up columns of numbers.
  • Allow the student to use the writing instrument that is most comfortable. Many students have difficulty writing with ballpoint pens, preferring pencils or pens which have more friction in contact with the paper. Mechanical pencils are very popular. Let the student find a 'favorite pen' or pencil (and then get more than one like that).
  • Have some fun grips available for everybody, no matter what the grade. Sometimes high school kids will enjoy the novelty of pencil grips or even big "primary pencils."
  • Word Processing should be an option for many reasons. Bear in mind that for many of these students, learning to use a word processor will be difficult for the same reasons that handwriting is difficult. There are some keyboarding instructional programs which address the needs of learning disabled students. Features may include teaching the keys alphabetically (instead of the "home row" sequence), or sensors to change the 'feel' of the D and K keys so that the student can find the right position kinesthetically.
  • Consider whether use of speech recognition software will be helpful. As with word processing, the same issues which make writing difficult can make learning to use speech recognition software difficult, especially if the student has reading or speech challenges. However, if the student and teacher are willing to invest time and effort in 'training' the software to the student's voice and learning to use it, the student can be freed from the motor processes of writing or keyboarding.

  • For some students and situations, accommodations will be inadequate to remove the barriers that their writing problems pose. Here are some ways assignments can be modified without sacrificing learning.
  • Adjust the volume
  • Reduce the copying elements of assignments and tests. For example, if students are expected to 'answer in complete sentences that reflect the question,' have the student do this for three questions that you select, then answer the rest in phrases or words (or drawings). If students are expected to copy definitions, allow the student to shorten them or give him the definitions and have him highlight the important phrases and words or write an example or drawing of the word instead of copying the definition.
  • Reduce the length requirements on written assignments -- stress quality over quantity.
  • Change the complexity
  • Grade different assignments on individual parts of the writing process, so that for some assignments "spelling doesn't count," for others, grammar.
  • Develop cooperative writing projects where different students can take on roles such as the 'brainstormer,' 'organizer of information,' 'writer,' 'proofreader,' and 'illustrator.'
  • Provide extra structure and intermittent deadlines for long-term assignments. Help the student arrange for someone to coach him through the stages so that he doesn't get behind. Discuss with the student and parents the possibility of enforcing the due dates by working after school with the teacher in the event a deadline arrives and the work is not up-to-date.
  • Change the format
  • Offer the student an alternative project such as an oral report or visual project. Establish a rubric to define what you want the student to include. For instance, if the original assignment was a 3-page description of one aspect of the Roaring Twenties (record-breaking feats, the Harlem Renaissance, Prohibition, etc) you may want the written assignment to include:
    • A general description of that 'aspect' (with at least two details)
    • Four important people and their accomplishments
    • Four important events - when, where, who and what
    • Three good things and three bad things about the Roaring Twenties

What would be a goal for the IEP when you have Dysgraphia?

Back to that goal question again.  Sometimes they are so hard to come up with them on your own so I thought I would include some ideas.

IEP Goals for Writing , Keyboarding, and Copying

Did you know these were the only goal examples I could readily find.  If you find any others please let me know!

A little off topic but important to know...How to get the school OT to treat handwriting issues.
OT Services in the IEP: Handwriting

Apps to help those with Dysgraphia






Information on Assistive Technology

General information on AT

Your Child’s Key to Great Writing: Assistive Technology for Dysgraphia and Writing Disabilities
Journal Article on Assistive Technology for Dysgraphia - June 2015

I hope you found this information useful.  This article was written mostly for the public school crowd but MANY of these ideas can be used and utilized by the homeschooling parent.  This article is littered with links!  Please click on all the links.  Some are used a reference to the material quoted in the article.  Other links are to items I found interesting but not specifically needed for this article. Please leave any comments or question you might have.  I will answer them as promptly as I can!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lack of Effort or Slow Processing Speed?

Kids at the aquarium.  From Left to Right is
Joseph, James, and Margaret
Slow Processing Speed.  What the heck is that and what does it mean for my child???  I know I was wondering that same thing when Margaret and Joseph tested as having impaired processing speed.  James tested average on memory processing speed.  Margaret tested as impaired on the WISC-IV for memory processing speed and is a relative weakness for her.  Joseph's processing speed is significantly slower than his other neurocognitive abilities suggest which is not surprising since considering much of the processing speed depends on visual skills (Joseph is blind in one eye). With two kids have very impaired processing speeds I needed to find out what this means for me and for them.

What Impact Does Slow Processing Speed Create? 

Don’t automatically presume that the child is being oppositional, ‘lazy’, unmotivated, etc. because he/she takes longer to initiate or complete a task, or to respond to a task demand. Keep in mind the possibility that his/her behavior is the result of slow processing speed. Processing speed is the pace at which you take in information, make sense of it and begin to respond. This information can be visual, such as letters and numbers. It can also be auditory, such as spoken language. It is important to be alert to the possible emotional impacts that a child can experience in the face of slowed processing speed, and to provide emotional support and encouragement, as well as practical interventions.

Slow processing speed can cause negative impact to three main areas of someone's life. These are
Image courtesy of
academic, social, and self-esteem. Academically, slow processing speed can lead to the following types of problems: slowed execution of easy academic tasks; slowed acquisition of new material; becoming overwhelmed by more complex academic demands; the need for extra time in responding to even well-practiced and automatic tasks; and difficulty making correct conceptual decisions quickly.

Socially, slow processing speed can lead to difficulty keeping up with normal give-and-take conversations among peers or with adults, or appearing to be ‘not-with-it’ by others, with the potential of being made fun of or mislabeled as a result.

With respect to self-esteem, the fallout from the problems described above can have a negative impact on self-esteem, leaving a child vulnerable to feelings of incompetence, self-consciousness, and/or depression. Many children with slow processing speed wrongly end up feeling that they are stupid, because they are aware that it takes them longer to get things done, or to understand some concepts.

Examples of slow processing speed, when a child with slow processing speed sees the letters that make up the word “house,” she may not immediately know what they say. She has to figure out what strategy to use to understand the meaning of the group of letters in front of her. It’s not that she can’t read. It’s just that a process that’s quick and automatic for other kids her age takes longer and requires more effort for her.

Saying too many things at once can also pose a challenge. If you give multiple-step directions—“When you come downstairs, bring your notebook. And can you also bring down the dirty glasses, and put them in the dishwasher?”—a child with slow processing speed may not follow all of them. Having slow processing speed makes it hard to digest all that information quickly enough to finish the task.

Slow processing speed impacts learning at all stages. It can make it harder for young children to master the basics of reading, writing and counting. And it impacts older kids’ ability to perform tasks quickly and accurately.

Slow Processing Speed, 2e, and ADHD

There is a newsletter for twice exceptional children (Gifted/2e) that has a WONDERFUL article on slow processing speed written in May 2013. In the article Steven Butnik, Ph.D outlines the issues with slow processing speed. It is common for gifted students to have slow processing speed.  Slow processing speed itself is not a disability.

Children with the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD may have a sluggish cognitive tempo. They typically daydream, stare off, and appear spacey. They may be mentally foggy, underactive, slow moving, and lethargic. Their work is often slow and error prone. Their brain activity shows patterns of under arousal in the portion of the brain associated with focus and planning.

In addition, children with ADHD typically exhibit poor executive functions, brain-based behaviors that contribute to effective functioning. (see my blog post on executive functioning) Executive functioning is often impaired in ADHD individuals.

Some children take more time to complete tasks due to trouble with activation. A student may not begin a task due to problems organizing time or materials, or due to reluctance, uncertainty, lack of confidence, or anxiety. Other children may take more time to complete tasks because of problems maintaining focus. While time is passing, these students may be distracted or daydreaming, drawn to other, more interesting stimuli.

Effort includes processing speed as well as mental stamina. When effort is a problem, the child’s work pace is very slow and he may complain that his “brain is very tired.” When the problem is emotional, on the other hand, children find it hard to regulate their feelings. They might melt down when starting to work or encountering a frustrating task; or they may refuse to work, be argumentative, or have tantrums.

Problems in working memory can add to the time it takes a child to complete tasks. After reading a paragraph, a child with poor working memory may forget what she just read and need to read it again; or he may stop working on a class assignment because he forgot the directions. Finally, when action is a problem, the child has trouble sitting still, fidgets with objects, or may want to stand or walk around when working.

An additional issue that children with ADHD face is having a poor sense of time. For them, time seems to go more slowly during the tasks they feel are boring while moving more quickly for tasks they find interesting. When planning work tasks, a child with ADHD may underestimate how long the task will take; and when playing, the child may be unaware of how much time has passed. Taken together, poor executive functions and poor time sense can make homework take hours to complete and create major stress.  Trust me on the stress!  Even homeschooling I can have issues with poor time management and starting work. I can only image if I sent my children to public school!  You can see in the image below how processing speed effects the effort (number 3) needed for executive functioning along with working memory (number 5). It is easy to see how executive functioning is impacted.
Image courtesy of

How to Test for Slow Processing Speed? 

So how do we test processing speed?  I highly recommend in seeing a neuropsychologist. If you cannot then I suggest seeing a developmental pediatrician or pediatric psychologist.  In the executive function blog post I explain why.  If you need to the school to preform the testing then I highly suggest you tell the school you want testing in executive functioning, memory (working, long-term, and short-term), sustained attention, and processing speed. At public schools you cannot specify they use specific tests, but if they ask, tell then you want the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children ® - Fourth Edition (WISC ® -IV).

Who can administer this test?

Tests with this qualification require a high level of expertise in test interpretation, and can be conducted by individuals with:

  • A doctorate degree in psychology, education, or closely related field with formal training in the ethical administration, scoring, and interpretation of clinical assessments related to the intended use of the assessment.
  • OR
  • Licensure or certification to practice in your state in a field related to the purchase of the test.
  • OR
  • Certification by or full active membership in a professional organization (such as APA, NASP, NAN, INS) that requires training and experience in the relevant area of assessment.

More Information and Training on Score Reading

On WISC-IV's on page, at the bottom of the page next to the product details tab, there are a couple of other great tabs you may want to research.  Under the Resource tab there are several technical reports.  A couple that caught my eye included Technical Report #6: Using the Cognitive Proficiency Index in Psychoeducational Assessment and Technical Report #5:WISC–IV and Children’s Memory Scale, and Technical Report #2: Psychometric Properties.  There are also some training on WISC-IV Interpretation & WISC-IV Integration along with a training on advanced topics of WISC-IV.  Don't forget to peek at the FAQ tab while you are there. There is also a Processing Speed Damian Case Study that has been produced.  I think it provides wonderful information if you are curious to see if your child has processing issues.

So how do we read the WISC-IV report?

This gets a bit more technical.  Please ask questions in the comment section and I will try to answer them as best as I can considering this is NOT my area of expertise (I am not a psychologist nor have I had training). 

Processing speed is an element of intelligence, as measured by many tests of cognitive ability, including the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (4th Edition). Scores for both the Working Memory and Processing Speed subtests make up the WISC-IV’s Cognitive Proficiency Index. These abilities are separate from the WISC-IV’s General Abilities Index, a measure of core intelligence derived from an individual’s Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning Indices (verbal and nonverbal abilities).

Each of these three subtests taps different abilities that contribute to the Processing Speed score. 
  • Coding, which requires children to draw symbols, is heavily influenced by grapho-motor demands. Children with poor handwriting or dysgraphia may struggle with this task. 
  • Symbol Search has less emphasis on motor output but requires rapid differentiation of abstract symbols. 
  • Cancellation, the supplemental Processing Speed subtest, makes use of concrete images rather than symbols.
According to Steven M. Butnik, Ph. D., LCP, the Processing Speed subtest assesses the abilities to focus attention and quickly scan, discriminate between, and sequentially order visual information. It requires persistence and planning ability, but is sensitive to motivation, difficulty working under a time pressure, and motor coordination. It is related to reading performance and development. It is related to Working Memory, in that increased processing speed can decrease the load placed on working memory, while decreased processing speed can impair the effectiveness of Working Memory.
The Working Memory subtest assesses the ability to hold new information in short-term memory, concentrate, and manipulate that information to produce some result or reasoning processes. It is important in higher-order thinking, learning, and achievement. It can tap concentration, planning ability, cognitive flexibility, and sequencing skill, but is sensitive to anxiety too. It is an important component of learning and achievement, and ability to self-monitor. 

Tests of educational achievements make use of processing speed on subtests that measure academic fluency. For example, the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement include three subtests of fluency:
  • Reading Fluency. For three minutes the student quickly reads simple sentences and answers yes or no to each.
  • Writing Fluency. Using three words and a picture, the student quickly writes simple sentences for seven minutes.
  • Math Fluency. The student rapidly performs simple calculations for three minutes.
Children who have trouble activating, are inattentive, or have sluggish cognitive tempo may struggle on all of these tasks. Children with slow motor output would have less trouble on Reading Fluency but would do more poorly on the Math and Writing Fluency tests. Working memory problems would likely have a greater impact on Math Fluency than on the other fluency tasks.

A subset of children with reading disorders display marked difficulties with verbal and visual processing speed and that may indicate a subtype of reading disorder. Individuals with impairments in both RAN (rapid automatic naming) and phonemic awareness had the most severe reading problems when matched on phonological skills. Individuals with worse RAN scores had poorer performance on timed word recognition and comprehension tests.

Other tests that measure Processing Speed and Working Memory

So there are other tests that measure processing speed and working memory. Other tests that may be used at the school include the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of AchievementWechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) and the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence™ - Fourth Edition (WPPSI™ - IV). The last test , the WPPSI, is for children ages 2.5 years to about 7.5 years old. Each of these tests have components that can measure processing speed.

The Woodcock Johnson IV can measure cognitive processing speed and working memory. 
Cognitive Processing Speed is the ability to quickly perform both simple and complex cognitive tasks, particularly when measured under pressure to sustain controlled attention and concentration. This cluster includes Letter-Pattern Matching (locating and circling two identical letter patterns in a row of 6 patterns) and Pair Cancellation (locating and marking a repeated pattern as quickly as possible). 

In the WJ-IV the short-term memory subset measures the ability to capture and hold information in immediate awareness and then use it or manipulate it to carry out a goal. This cluster includes Verbal Attention (answering specific sequence questions when provided with a series of animals and digits from an audio recording) and Numbers Reversed (holding a span of numbers in immediate awareness while performing a mental operation on it).

Image courtsy of CultofPedagogy

Processing Speed's Impact on Learning and Emotional Issues

Slow processing speed is not a learning disorder. To be considered to have a learning disorder, a student must have the following:
  • Average or better intelligence
  • Patterns of substantial processing differences
  • A significant difference between abilities and achievements.
However, research has shown that processing speed is linked to reading development and reading performance. Specifically, processing speed may be a factor in these situations:
  • Reading disorders such as dyslexia
  • A subset of reading disorders in which individuals display marked difficulties with verbal and visual processing speed
  • Grapho-motor problems (dysgraphia). Individuals with dysgraphia have serious trouble forming letters and numbers; their handwriting is slow and labored; they may have trouble with spacing between words; they mix upper- and lower-case letters; etc. Because neatness only comes with their taking much time, their written work can be very strained and painful.
So what does slow processing speed look like?  Kids might have trouble with:
  • Finishing tests in the allotted time
  • Finishing homework in the expected time frame
  • Listening or taking notes when a teacher is speaking
  • Reading and taking notes
  • Solving simple math problems in their head
  • Completing multi-step math problems in the allotted time
  • Doing written projects that require details and complex thoughts
  • Keeping up with conversations
Image courtesy of

Parents and teachers may notice that a child:
  • Becomes overwhelmed by too much information at once
  • Needs more time to make decisions or give answers
  • Needs to read information more than once for comprehension
  • Misses nuances in conversation
  • Recognize simple visual patterns and in visual scanning tasks
  • Take tests that require simple decision making
  • Perform basic arithmetic calculations and in manipulating numbers, since these operations are not automatic for them
  • Perform reasoning tasks under time pressure
  • Make decisions that require understanding of the material presented
  • Read silently for comprehension
  • Copy words or sentences correctly or to formulate and write passages
  • Has trouble executing instructions if told to do more than one thing at once
Some key things to note:
  • Slow processing speed can affect the ability to make decisions quickly.
  • Trouble with processing speed can affect a child’s executive functioning skills.
  • Having your child evaluated can reveal problems with processing speed.

So what can I do to help my child learn?

The key instructional strategy for students with slow processing speed is to reduce the time pressure associated with a task. This can be done in three essential ways:

  • Give the student more time for their work
  • Allow longer response time for the student to respond orally to questions in class
  • Complete seatwork assignments in class
  • Allow suficient time to make decisions when offered a choice of activities
  • Allow extra time for tests, usually time and a half
  • Provide extra time for the student to complete in-class assignments
  • Develop keybording skills
  • During writing intensive exercises allow the use of a computer or other word processor
  • Reduce the amount of work the student is required to do.
  • Shorten the assignment so it can be accomplished within the time allotted
  • Focus on quality of productions, rather than quantity
  • Shorten drill and practice assignments that have a written component by requiring fewer repetitions of each concept
  • Provide copies of notes rather than requiring the student to copy from the board in a limited time
  • Allow student to answer orally for written tests and other assignments when possible
  • Provide direct and explicit instruction in strategic problem solving, reading fluency, and organizational strategies
    • I haven't read it but it looks interesting.
    • For example, teach him how to use graphic organizers to plan writing assignments or to enhance reading comprehension. Help him improve his visual imagery so as to support visual working memory, and show him how to use mnemonics such as acronyms, acrostics, and pegwords to learn new information.
Build the student’s efficiency in completing work through building automaticity.
  • Provide instruction to increase the student’s reading speed by training reading fluency, ability to recognize common letter sequences automatically that are used in print; and sight vocabulary
  • Provide timed activities to build speed and automaticity with basic skills, such as:
    reading a list of high-frequency words as fast as possible and calculating simple math facts as fast as possible
  • learning simple math calculations through flash cards, educational software exercises, and music
  • charting daily performance for speed and accuracy
Train the student in time management techniques to become aware of the time that tasks take.
  • Teach the student to use a stopwatch or to record his or her start and end times for assignments to monitor the time spent on each activity. Set a goal for the student to gradually reduce the time needed to do these tasks.
Assessment strategies emphasize power tests that focus on the knowledge the student has, rather than on speed tests to complete a large number of questions within a limited time.
  • Emphasize accuracy rather than speed in evaluating the student in all subject areas
  • Replace timed tests with alternative assessment procedures
  • Allow extra time for tests and exams. Give the student supervised breaks during the test
  • Provide a reader or text-to-voice software to read test questions to the student to accommodate for slow reading fluency
  • Provide a scribe or voice-to-text software to record the student’s answers on tests to accommodate for slow writing fluency
  • Use test formats with reduced written output formats (e.g. multiple choice, True / False, fill in the blank) to accommodate for slow writing fluency

I hope you have found this blog post helpful.  I know it was for me in researching and writing it.  I learned a lot about myself and a lot about my children.  Please feel free to leave comments including any questions or concerns.  I will answer to the best of my ability. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ideas for Homeschooling a 3 year old with Learning Disabilities: You Can Do It!

Photo Credit:
Three is still so young. The name of the game is to keep it fun and simple. At three they are still young. Here is what I suggest for preschool activities.

Here are some links for pre-writing activity worksheets. Maybe do one per day. It depends on your child but the hand strength and hand-eye (visual motor) coordination needs to be there or a lot of one-on-one help will be required. If you are concerned about handwriting talk to your Occupational Therapist. They should be able to help with hand strength, grip, and/or special tools to help handwriting.

Work on colors and numbers. This can be done by watching TV shows like Team Umizoomi, Blues Clues, Peg + Cat, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, Super Why, Word World, Veggie Tales and other educational shows. I HIGHLY recommend letting them watch TV IF it's educational. We use PBS and stream TV. To stream TV you can use a laptop connected to your TV via HDMI cable, have a smart TV, or use a device like a ROKU. We use ROKU and have for about 10 years. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have a TON of appropriate kid programming with little to no commercials. YouTube can be good source also but you have to monitor it. There is a KidsTube app that's more appropriate for private viewing.

There are songs for learning....
This is a good site for ANY teaching song.


Therapy apps

For PE/physical therapy we use this YouTube channel

I hope this gives you some ideas. More likely than not special needs kids will needs LOTS of repetition to be able to acquire new information and to shift it to long term memory for storage. The name of the game is to switch stuff up, keep it fun, and to teach them without them knowing. I hope this has been a help. Please leave comments below. Thanks!