One in Five Children in the US Has a Learning Difficulty
Did you know that one in five children in the United States has a learning difficulty such as dyslexia or ADHD. These challenges can make
children feel inadequate, misunderstood, and frustrated, yet – if harnessed correctly – they can also be viewed as beneficial and consequently empower the kids who live with them.
As an educator of over two decades and as a homeschool consultant for over a decade, I have worked with many students with learning difficulties. I am always looking for new information to learn new ways of helping my students and families, so when I had the opportunity to interview Don Winn, author, dyslexia advocate, and dyslexic himself, I jumped at the opportunity!
If you are not familiar with Don Winn, you are in for a treat. Winn is a multiple-award winning author of thirteen picture books and the Sir Kaye the Boy Knight series of novels for independent readers. As a dyslexic himself, he frequently addresses parents and educators on how to maximize the value of shared reading and how to help dyslexics and other struggling readers to learn to love to read.
In addition to his latest picture book, There’s a Monkey in My Backpack!, Winn’s first non-fiction book, Raising a Child With Dyslexia: What Every Parent Needs to Know is forthcoming this fall. Find out more on www.donwinn.com
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In the clever and truly helpful new book There’s a Monkey in My Backpack!, Winn explores how learning difficulties affect kids in a unique way that helps children and those who care for them to better understand their challenges. Winn writes from his personal experience as a lifelong dyslexic reader and writer.
There’s a Monkey in My Backpack! follows Anna, a third-grade student who has an unusual companion – a monkey in her backpack! Not everyone can see him, but he causes a whole lot of trouble for Anna by mixing up her spelling letters, distracting her in class, and making it hard for her to keep up with her schoolwork. He causes so many problems for Anna that she wonders if she will ever make it to the end of third grade with the other children. But she learns that her troublesome monkey can also be a big help to her if she learns to understand, accept, and appreciate her unique situation.
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Winn Answers Our Questions About Dyslexia in this Q&A
Q. What are the early signs of dyslexia and what should parents do if they suspect their child has dyslexia? Also, What type of testing is done to confirm that a child has dyslexia, and can this be done at home by me, the parent?
A. What a great couple of questions-and the answers are so complex and multi-layered that I’m just wrapping up a close to 60,000-word book to comprehensively answer them. I’ll answer the last question first: testing must be done by a professional, and unless the parent is a psychologist or diagnostic reading expert, this will mean seeking the guidance and advice of the aforementioned experts for an accurate diagnosis.
The earlier a parent begins reading with their child, the better, and the more they read together, the sooner the parent can spot early signs that point to dyslexia. Some of those symptoms can include: trouble recognizing and memorizing letters of the alphabet, including those of his own name, difficulty with rhyming words and nursery rhymes, mispronouncing words, including persistent “baby talk”, an inability to sound out words or link the sounds of letters with their written form, and heavy reliance on pictures in books to follow the story, rather than learning familiar words. There are many other symptoms, but these are some of the main indicators that a child may have dyslexia. A family history of dyslexia is also a strong indicator that the child may be at greater risk. If you notice any of these tendencies, I encourage you to seek testing as quickly as possible. The earlier a child can be tested, the better, since intervention and accommodation need to begin as early as possible.
Reputable tests to diagnose dyslexia include the Predictive Assessment of Reading (PAR); Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS); Texas Primary Reading Inventory (TPRI); and AIMSweb screening assessments. Thanks for writing in, and all the best to you.
Q. )My son went through OT for his dyslexia type challenge and I’ve been really bad at being consistent on his exercises or having him read daily. When we get back into the swing of things, do I need to have him do OT again or are there some simple exercises we can do to quickly get him back on track?
A. I’m so glad you wrote in, as this is an important question. This is also a hard question to answer briefly. The short answer is, it depends. There are so many different ways and degrees to which a person can be dyslexic, and the more severe the symptoms, the greater the interventions and supports must be to optimize the learning environment for the child. Occupational therapy often includes multi-sensory learning strategies, visual modeling rather than just oral instruction, and repeated letter formation practice to help build muscle memory. Since OT has been recommended for your son, it sounds like he also has some attendant conditions that often go with dyslexia: dysgraphia (trouble writing), dyscalculia (trouble with math, numbers, and sequencing), perhaps dysphonia (trouble speaking and forming words), or dyspraxia (trouble with muscle movements needed to write, hold a pencil, hold a book, etc.). If that is the case, I encourage you to do the OT with him daily, in addition to his reading practice. Here’s the thing, and this applies to all students with dyslexia and its sibling conditions: there’s a small window of time during which a child learns to read, after which he must be able to read and write well to continue to learn. The longer a child struggles to acquire the basics, the farther behind he becomes, and that is both disheartening and a challenge to acquiring grade-level competencies required by law. The more you can involve all of your son’s senses in his learning environment, the better and more comprehensively he will be able to learn. It’s well worth making a priority! It’s also important to be prepared for the fact that struggling readers are reluctant readers, and having an enthusiastic parent beside them as they do the hard work of learning to read and write, can make all the difference.
Q. My 8-year-old son tested with an extremely high (Mensa high) IQ but he struggles so much to get a clear sentence out sometimes. He does these strange pauses that our psychologist noted a couple of years ago when he was tested and diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He can spell words very clearly out loud but struggles to keep the exact word with every letter in the right order. He reads pretty slow though this has improved. He taught himself the letter sounds but struggled so much with keeping them in the correct order in a word. As a homeschooler, we don’t have options for where to seek screening that I can find. My question would be: What signs do we need to watch for as parents and/or home educators and is there a good resource for seeking professional screening that you can recommend?
Your child falls into the category that reading specialists call 2E, or twice-exceptional. It can be a particularly challenging situation, since it means that the child has both a learning challenge (or challenges) but is also gifted or talented in some way. While it’s not terribly uncommon for a dyslexic child to also be on the autism spectrum, to have both of those challenges combined with a Mensa-level intellect presents real challenges to educators and parents. How does one create enough stimulating content to keep that keen intellect engaged, while also providing enough multi-sensory learning opportunities to support areas where processing skills bog down? My best suggestion is to ask your pediatrician for recommendations to local psychologists who are familiar with ASD and dyslexia who can test your son. Once you have a better sense of the type of support and learning environment that will best serve your son, the psychologist can help recommend methods and books that will suit his learning style. In addition, many communities have active support groups for parents of children on the spectrum, and the support of other parents who may also be homeschooling can be an invaluable resource in finding the best match in books, programs, and teaching styles that you can implement at home. Thank you for writing in, and I wish you and your son every success!
Q. My middle granddaughter, age six, has just been diagnosed by a speech pathologist with auditory dyslexia. She says the correct sounds but in the wrong order in words. This is making it very hard to teach her to read. She can sound out the units of a word but when she puts them together, they come out wrong. So she can sound out l-a-d-y-b-u-g. But when she then puts it together, she says dalygub. She will be starting therapy ASAP several times a week. What can we do to help her?
A. Auditory dyslexia that manifests in this fashion is closely linked to dyscalculia, which affects not only math and numbers, but a child’s ability to remember things in sequence. In my own case, remembering multiplication tables, or driving directions that involve multiple turns are a couple of examples of other ways this trait can manifest. Sequencing challenges can affect so many aspects of function, including one’s ability to speak. Her therapy will help tremendously, especially if you and her parents utilize the same techniques at home and read together daily. I can’t emphasize enough the value of daily reading together. The more she loves words and great stories, the more she will develop the needed tenacity and grit to do the hard things she needs to do every day to deal with her dyslexia. Your emotional support is key here as well: children with all forms of dyslexia can get very impatient with themselves, and even verbally abusive to themselves, calling themselves stupid, dumb, or something else. She has a processing issue, not an intelligence issue, and the more you can remind her of that, the fewer traumas she will endure as a result of her condition. I’m so glad she has you in her life! Keep up the good work.
Q. I have a 9 (almost 10) year old boy who will be starting third grade this fall. He was recently diagnosed with ADHD primarily inattentive and dyslexia, which have caused him to struggle in school. I would like to know what IEP or 504 accommodations Mr. Winn recommends as most helpful for students with dyslexia (or ADD / dyslexia combined).
A. My new book to be released this fall goes into great detail on this topic, as it’s a complicated one. The short answer is that most accommodations involve giving the student more time to do his work, and some sort of access to a reading specialist or dyslexia-trained interventionist. Some districts offer audiobooks, tablets, or other technological accommodations as well. Every school district is different, and every district’s policies differ as well. The fact that there are no national standards for IEP’s or 504 plans is an additional complication. However, in most families’ experience, what happens is that the school begins with the simplest interventions first. Maybe an hour a day with a reading specialist, for example, or one-on-one tutoring several times per week, depending on the child’s needs. Once those accommodations have been implemented, you as the parent have the right to ask for follow-up meetings to assess the progress and efficacy of the intervention, or whether there need to be refinements made to the accommodation. When your son was tested, what interventions were offered or suggested? Have they been implemented? If so, have you seen a difference in your son’s comprehension, anxiety levels, and reluctance to go to school? If not, I encourage you to request a meeting as soon as possible to re-design his interventional plan. Another factor I strongly encourage you to consider is to document everything! Document your observations at home as you watch your son do his homework, how often he has physical symptoms of anxiety (kids rarely say, “I’m anxious”, instead, they say, “My stomach hurts.”) Document emails and texts with his teacher, meetings with the 504 committee, and the observations of all involved in his accommodations. It’s not uncommon for the “left hand to not know what the right hand is doing”, so to speak, and so it falls to the parent to keep the school district on track and accountable. It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and passion to persist through the academic maze to get your child what he needs, but he needs you now more than ever, and you can do it! Thanks for writing in, and all the best to you and your son.
Don M. Winn is an award-winning Author, Dyslexia Advocate, Speaker, and Publisher at Cardboard Box Adventures Publishing. He has written numerous articles about dyslexia and helping struggling readers. His blog archives are available at www.donwinn.com
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Actually, this was a joint interview; the members of our wonderful email community and I had the pleasure of interviewing Winn together because the questions I presented to Winn with came from our email community! You, too, can become a part of this amazing community by scrolling to the bottom of our homepage sign up where it says, “Be Part of Our Active Community of Homeschoolers!” Our email community is vibrant and encouraging and, it’s one a homeschooler’s “happy place” for sure!