When learning is not easy

From the moment we discover that we are expecting a child, our minds and hearts are overflowing with hopes and dreams for them. My son will be the most beautiful, brilliant and talented little person who has ever walked the Earth, right? And they are that for each of us!

But sometimes, we discover that there is a “problem”. The last thing we want to admit is that there is something different or wrong with our child. It is a difficult thing to do. It’s not that we love them less! But let’s be honest, we prefer to sit down with other moms and share how our 4-year-old can read a chapter book, do multiplication at 6, and paint like Rembrandt at 7. Not to mention, they are also on their way to the Olympics in two different sports. Or at least that is what it seems when you are the one who silently listens to all the achievements of other people’s children!

So, let’s get a few things straight … Chances are, those other moms are exaggerating a little bit! And nothing happens to your child! Even if your child has a learning disability. She or he just learns differently than the mainstream! And really, that’s great!

However, I didn’t always feel that way. After struggling to teach my daughter to read for 3 years with little progress, I was getting quite frustrated and so was she. Every school session ended in tears and some days began in tears at the mere mention of reading. She had always loved books and being read to, and was excited to learn to read on her own. So why was it so much fighting? Was she just a bad teacher? Was he too easily distracted and not motivated enough?

We finally decided to do the test at the age of 7. He had noticed a lot of inversion of letters and words when reading and writing, as well as in math. He complained that his head and eyes hurt when reading (and a vision test found that he had 20/20 vision). I needed to know what was holding us back. I knew he was extremely smart in many ways, but we were crashing into a brick wall. Since we studied at home, we decided to test him with a private therapist. It took 4 hours to complete and when we finished we were told that she had auditory and visual processing disorders.

Then I went into mom’s research mode! And as I read and searched the internet and in the library, I became increasingly confused and overwhelmed! There didn’t seem to be any really useful books or websites and the ones I found seemed to tell me different things! We decided to go to vision therapy, which of course is not covered by insurance, are any of us surprised? But we felt it was worth a try and it was worth the money. In therapy, she worked on relearning phonetics using A Time for Phonics. We also did assigned therapy at home. After 6 months it was over and I could definitely see a big improvement! We did not do hearing therapy with the therapist due to cost, but I did use a program called Earobics at home. I also found the book The Out of Sync Child and When the Brain Can’t Hear very helpful.

My search continued to find other ways to help her learn in a way that fits her learning styles. You see, processing disorders and dyslexia don’t have to be an obstacle. There are so many ways to learn. The point where I realized this was when I came across a Ben Foss book, The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. I encourage everyone to read it! Check out their website too! I hate the word accommodations. It seems that you need additional or special help, as if you are allowed to cheat. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to learn differently. Find out what your child’s strengths are and take advantage of those skills. Don’t focus on the standard way most children are taught to read. I have been so incredibly grateful that I chose homeschooling because my daughter did not have to compare herself to others or be labeled in any way. But even if your child is in a public or private school, remember that your child is not broken, but the system can be. Advocate for your child to have the resources they need to excel and feel connected.

What resources can you use? Oh, there are many! This is where I was overwhelmed! I’m going to list some of the resources that I felt were the best. But look further and explore the options available!

-Audiobooks are your friends! Don’t be late in learning because you can’t read the material fast enough! If your child learns well by listening, try Audible. Amazon also has audiobooks and so does your local library.

-A reading focus card. You can make your own or buy one. Also try printing your pages on yellow paper, or try colors other than the usual white.

-Use a text-to-speech application such as Speak It or Talk to Me, and also a speech-to-text application such as Dragon Dictation. Another useful application is Prizmo, users can scan any type of text document and have the program read it aloud, which can be of great help for those who have difficulty reading.

-I love the Snapwords to learn the words of the site! There is also an app for Snapwords now!

-Fonts and Background Colors: Software that is used regularly in schools, such as Microsoft Word, is a good resource for fonts and background colors. Changing the background color to green, for example, can help with reading, as can wearing green glasses. Fonts can also allow for reading and comprehension; Teachers can download free specialized fonts, such as OpenDyslexic, which are free and can run on Microsoft software.

-All about spelling, this curriculum is great for all kids, but the multi-sensory approach based on the Orton-Gillingham methods clicked with my daughter! We haven’t tried All About Reading, but I bet it’s a good option.

-We use Rocket Phonics after finishing vision therapy. It was developed by a dyslexic man, and it’s fun! There are many games involved and interesting stories to read, not the usual boring books that are the typical easy read.

-Mathematics has been a struggle for us as well as reading. Memorizing facts is a challenge. I found a math program that uses association learning, using fact and process mnemonics called Semple Math.

-Let’s do it! Use clay, paints, blocks, magnets, etc. practice letters, spelling and sounds. Learn to write letters correctly first in the sand with your index finger, then move on to writing with a pencil. Make it fun! Use all the senses!

-Play games! Some we’ve used and enjoyed are Sum Swamp, What’s Gnu ?, Scrabble, Very Silly Sentences, Boggle Jr. even card games like summation war (put two cards in each and add), or Alphabet Go Fish (has to say letter sounds), look on Pinterest and the Internet for fun games to practice math facts and letter sounds or spelling and sight words. Even if your child is older, there are practical ideas that are fun and multi-sensory.

Moms (and dads), my point in writing this is to give you some starting points. And let you know that you are not alone! I know it can be disappointing at first to learn that your child is struggling in some way. But it can also feel like a weight has been lifted by knowing how your child learns and that there are ways to help and empower your little one. I know that if you are in a school setting, you will have to explain to your child why he may go to a special class or take tests differently from other children. You have to trust yourself to know how to talk to your child. There are children’s books that talk about dyslexia and learning disabilities in a positive way, such as Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, The Alphabet War by Diane Robb, and for older children May B by Caroline Rose or Niagra Falls, OR Does it? By Henry Winkler (yes, Fonzie from Happy Days!)

Try to emphasize your strengths and affinities and don’t just focus on your weaknesses and difficulties. Remind your child that he can indeed learn, but that he learns in a unique way, and that’s okay! We are all unique and have our own strengths and weaknesses. Love your child for who he is and hopefully you will find the right tools to make learning soar!

I never thought the day would come when my daughter’s favorite activity was reading! Cheer up, keep connecting, rejoice and make it fun, and love them no matter what!

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