Raising and educating kids with dyslexia

Posts tagged ‘reading’

An end to reading support

My son’s special education reading services have been discontinued. Since he was age seven in second grade (he is now thirteen and finishing eighth grade) he has been receiving specially designed reading instruction. This has taken the form of a number of different programs – Orton Gillingham, Wilson Reading System, Read Naturally, Project Read, and others. He has been taught such things as vowel teams, open syllables, closed syllables, and the floss and fizzle rule.

In the public school system, the reading instruction has been provided through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Before reading services could be removed from my son’s  IEP, testing had to be completed to ensure that he demonstrated proficiency in basic reading skills and reading comprehension. Services should not and cannot be removed from an IEP without these proper procedures being followed. This is good news for the child.

So, what does this discontinuation of services look like for our family? For my son, it is like being released. When he enters high school in the Fall, he is free to choose and have more subjects in his schedule. For myself, I have to appraise these changes. Sometimes making sense of the test results is a challenge. The testing may give scores and labels such as low average or high average that enable weaknesses and strengths to be spotted, but ideally, being able to compare the recent testing with previous testing gives a better idea of improvements made, or not. It seems that this is how the Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT) should be used. Comparing the results of this test with results from the same test taken some years previously, my son’s weakness in reading accuracy and fluency was still evident. Dyslexia never goes away. Perhaps the testing for visual stress later this summer may help shed light on this weakness. On the Woodcock Reading Mastery test my son’s word decoding and comprehension on this test came out in the average to high average range. My understanding of dyslexia is that often reading, or decoding words, can take considerable effort for someone with dyslexia, leaving little opportunity to comprehend the passage just read. I have found that when the hard work of decoding is removed, for instance when I have read the same passage to my dyslexic daughter that she has struggled to read, her comprehension of the passage has greatly increased. However, this does not seem to be the case for my son. He performed very well in both reading and comprehension.

While my son’s weaknesses in reading still exist, when I put these together with the positive feedback I have received from his teachers about performance and progress in school this year, and with the removal of reading support allowing an expansion of subject choices for his final four years of school, I think the discontinuation of reading services is okay. In any case, services can always be reinstated, if needed.

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Journey into Dyslexia

The dyslexic student doesn’t fit into the education system. It’s like trying to climb into a box that is too small.

As I watched HBO’s Journey into Dyslexia last night, the documentary emphasized the struggle for the dyslexic person in the education system. The education system was described as having chosen a narrow band of learning in life into which the dyslexic student is expected to enter, and the main way through which he or she can achieve success, or failure. In the documentary, each dyslexic person interviewed had difficulty fitting into the education system. Most of them had emotional scars from this experience. It was heart breaking to hear their stories.

The documentary brought to mind my frustration, as a parent of two dyslexic children, with the education system. Often I struggle with knowing how best my children can survive their time within education and emerge from it as successful and unscarred. My underlying assumption, sadly, is that they are never going to be truly successful. I try to help make the system work for them, but success within it relies too heavily on being able to read and write.

I’ve found that most dyslexic students are offered slower-paced classes, because they don’t read and write with the same fluidity as other students. Slower-paced classes mean that less content is covered. Dyslexic students do not have a problem with understanding  content. The problem is being able to access the content through reading and explain their understanding through writing. Slower-paced classes are not an answer to the problem. Slower-paced classes are an insult to their intelligence.

Dyslexic students are offered reduced curriculum. They are provided with textbooks that are easier to read, but that are also below grade level. Consequently, the content is less challenging. This also is an insult to their intelligence.

Dyslexic students are offered reading, and speech and language services in place of other classes. Often in middle and high school they have to miss out on particular subjects or electives in order to have these services. The classes from which they are excluded are likely to be subjects in which they could excel, given the right teaching. The lack of variety of subjects is an insult to their intelligence. Instead, they have to spend more time on reading and writing in which they are never going to be able to succeed.

All of this is frustrating and it is not an education.

So, what can the dyslexic student do to overcome this? They have to be encouraged to struggle through the current education system or they succeed by going around the education system, and excelling outside of the traditional academic environment.

Having said all this, some credit must be given. Understanding of dyslexia within the education system has improved. At one point, and this was apparent in the documentary but I also know this from experience, dyslexic students were not diagnosed, and instead were told to give up at school, to leave, or seated at the back of the class. There was little hope for them within the education system. Today, the understanding is better. Dyslexia is diagnosed within the education system and help is given with reading and writing. However, there is still an awful long way to go in changing the education system to allow people with dyslexia to be successful. My feeling is that those with dyslexia are the ones who are able to identify areas of change needed within the education system because they are the ones who can think outside it.

Reading methods for dyslexia

My experience as a mother of children with dyslexia is that they can learn to read better, but with some intensive help. My advice, persevere with finding that help.

In my post “I forgot my husband’s name” I mentioned: “if my children read this… they will be blaming my gene pool.” Even as I wrote those words a mischievous thought entered my mind. “I will never get blamed,” I thought, “because my children, being dyslexic, don’t like to read! They will not read this!”

But I was proved wrong and I was caught! My daughter did read my blog post and she read it very well. She stumbled over a couple of words such as “exacerbates” and “Gabrieli” but I was reminded of the improvement in her ability to read. After reading the post, she added nonchalantly that she already knew that dyslexia was on my side of the family.

The four to five years of intensive remedial (I really dislike that word, it has such a stigma attached to it) teaching now shows its positive effect.

The breakdown of that intensive specialized teaching is like this: To begin with my daughter received forty hours of individual ninety-minute tutorials in the Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing (LiPS) program four days each week during the months of July and August for one summer. The LiPS method teaches students to feel the sounds through the actions of their lips and tongues. It’s pretty cool! She also revisited this program five years later. Although, in her opinion, she did not need to do it again. Then followed, though not immediately, four years of individual tutorial during each school day using the Orton-Gillingham multisensory method to teach reading (decoding) and spelling (encoding). When my daughter reads out loud, I can hear her putting this method into practice as she breaks down the words into syllables or parts.

Over the years, I have had a fair amount of skepticism whether these programs were working and experienced frustration as progress has been slow. If dyslexia is a lifelong condition, I’ve thought, can it really be overcome? But, we’ve persevered and I think the intensity and continual application of these teaching methods has paid off. It is not only my daughter’s ability to read that has improved but also, her self-esteem and confidence.

When she finished reading the post, she rightly was proud of her achievement. We had a good laugh too; about the fact I forgot her Dad’s name!