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Afterschooling for Dyslexia

textgram_1448053916What do you do if your child has an official diagnosis of dyslexia and yet is not receiving specially designed instruction at school? Perhaps you are fighting for your child’s right to an IEP. Or maybe the IEP team offered to pull your child out of general ed and put him in a resource room with students who have a wide variety of other issues. Possibly your school district offers no dyslexia-specific services to students with dyslexia at all. You hear rumors of other states where dyslexic kids receive sixty minutes of the Wilson Reading Program a day and you weep.

Take a deep breath. Square your shoulders. Concentrate on hope instead of anger.

You can help your child immensely!

Be your child’s advocate, find a dyslexia tutor (if you can afford one), and start afterschooling.

I’m not the best person to talk about special education advocacy or finding a dyslexia tutor (hint: email Susan Barton or contact your local Decoding Dyslexia chapter), but I’ve spent the last sixteen years honing my skills as a K-4 teacher turned afterschooling mom.

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

Don’t wait for the school district to deliver meaningful dyslexia intervention to your child. Piece-work together a plan that works for your child in the interim. Keep advocating, but also start afterschooling. Something is better than nothing.

I wish I could offer guarantees that what works for my student will work perfectly for your son or daughter, but I cannot. My strategy is to not rely on any one program or method but instead to hedge my bets. You can use the framework of my afterschooling plan to create something that will make a meaningful difference for your child. Think of this as a sample plan for what might work for you.

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Step #1: Buy an iPad or tablet.

A lot of the ideas you will read about in this post could also happen with a computer, but in my experience the tablet makes things easier for kids.

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Step #2: Sign up for subscriptions to Nessy.com, Dreambox Learning, and Learning Ally.

More about Nessy here.

More about Learning Ally here.

I’ve also tried out Reading Eggs, but like Nessy better for kids with dyslexia. If your student prefers Reading Eggs, go with that.

Dreambox Math is an online math program that helps kids understand “the sixteeness of sixteen” instead of relying on rote memory. It’s Common Core aligned, and will mesh well with whatever math curriculum your school uses. Since there’s no writing involved, dysgraphia won’t get in the way. However, Dreambox is not specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. Occasionally it includes games that might frustrate kids with weak working memory. As an afterschooling program though, it is really easy to implement. It’s much better than worksheets, and less involved than a complete homeschooling program like Right Start or Math U See.

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Step #3: Order All About Reading and All About Spelling. (Full disclosure: I am an affiliate.)

AAR and AAS are scripted programs which means all you need to do is read from the teacher’s guide. It involves a giant magnetic board with phoneme tiles, a box of flashcards, decodable readers, fluency practice sheets, and the occasional cut and paste game. Both programs are based on the Orton-Gillingham Approach which has a proven track record for helping kids with dyslexia.

In a homeschooling situation it would be easier to plug away at AAR and AAS in big chunks of time. With afterschooling, you have to be more creative. But it’s definitely doable. Plus, you have the comfort of knowing that your son or daughter is receiving an Orton-Gillingham based intervention with or without the school district’s help.

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Step #4 Buy the Handwriting Without Tears “Wet, Dry, Try” App.

You could also try purchasing the entire Handwriting Without Tears curriculum. But definitely start with the app first because it is cheaper and easier to implement in an afterschooling setting.

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The app has the added benefit of being user friendly. It’s something that small kids can do on their own without adult assistance. The actual HWT curriculum is of course marvelous, but it requires an adult.

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Step #5 Be creative so your child doesn’t hate you.

No kid wants to hear “Guess what, Timmy? You’re going to do an extra seven hours of school every week, after you’ve already gone to school!” That would be horrible. A smart parent is clever about marketing and generous with bribes.

I’ve found a lot of success with rewards charts. I use my computer to make a new game sheet each week. On the sheet are pictures of all of the afterschooling tasks my student will do. For really big things like an All About Reading lesson, I divide it out into the reader, the fluency workbook, and the magnet board. I also throw in fun things like read to the dog.

Remember how I mentioned the importance of marketing? Instead of a boring rewards chart, I call mine “Bingo,” “Candy Land,” or “The Mall.”

Here are what sample Bingo boards look like:

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Bing Snip

Here’s a closer look at the top half of the Candy Land board:

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Now for a peek at “The Mall.”

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Prizes include everything from stickers, candy, $2 dollar bills, hair ribbons, gum, and erasers, to trips to Chuck E. Cheese’s and the indoor swimming pool. I change the prizes every week to keep things interesting. Yes, buying all of these prizes costs money. But when you ask a child to do an extra seven hours of work each week you need to reward them.

#6 Afterschool between the cracks.

Fitting an extra seven hours of work into an already busy week is intense, but doable. Shoot for two hours on Saturday, two hours on Sunday, and then about 30 minutes a day during the school week. Here’s how you can squeeze that in:

While you drive in the car:

  • The Handwriting Tears App.
  • Listening to a Learning Ally story.

While you wait around at sporting or musical events for other siblings:

  • All About Reading reader.
  • All About Spelling or All About Reading flashcards.
  • Fluency practice from the All About Reading Activity Book.

20 minute intervals at home:

  • Nessy
  • Dreambox
  • The All About Spelling and All About Reading magnet board.

#7 Learn to say “No.”

Afterschooling for dyslexia is a huge time commitment. With my student, we shoot for six hours a week in addition to a one hour session with a private tutor. That means my student is working an additional seven hours a week above and beyond what’s happening at school, and not including traditional homework. Yikes! This schedule is grueling but creates positive results. It also requires sacrifice from everyone involved.

Sacrifice means saying: “No, I cannot volunteer for X, Y, Z,” and “I’m sorry, but we don’t have time for piano lessons right now.” It also means closing your checkbook to school fundraisers because you are already spending so much on your afterschooling program.

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At the beginning of this post I mentioned that I have been honing my afterschooling skills for sixteen years. For the past three years I’ve done process of elimination to find out what strategies do not work for afterschooling and dyslexia. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I’ve stumbled upon perfection. I have developed a deep faith in parents’ abilities to make meaningful impact in their children’s educations.

Not every school district is “helpful.”

Not every family can afford to spend $20,000 for an expensive dyslexia program.

But every child deserves to become a strong reader.

I believe you can make a difference in your child’s education!

What to do if you suspect your child has dyslexia

All children learn at different rates and the developmental range of what “normal” looks like is huge. But what should you do if your child is struggling with learning to read despite everyone’s best efforts?

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#1 Learn the signs

Up to one in five people have dyslexia, so it is important to know the signs. Here are two great resources to find out more information:

Red Flags for Dysleixa Quiz

Dyslexia Symptoms

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#2 Check your child’s eyesight

Go to the actual eye doctor, not just the pediatrician. Really investigate your child’s vision. When I was a K-4 teacher I knew of a child who struggled learning to read who turned out to be blind in one eye.

 

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#3 Seek out professional assessment for dyslexia

If parental intuition tells you that your child might indeed have dyslexia, research your child’s rights to receive assessment through your local school district. However, understand that the IEP process is long and involved. If your child is performing close to grade level–even though they exhibit a multitude of dyslexia symptoms–the school district might not feel assessment is warranted. In that case, you might consider having your child privately assessed. Decoding Dyslexia will have more information about practitioners in your state who can assess your child. Expect to pay anywhere from $2,00-$5,000 for private assessment.

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#4 Start immediate at-home intervention, just in case

On my blog, Teaching My Baby to Read, I talk a lot about “Afterschooling.”

Afterschooling is when parents introduce a core academic pursuit that is in support of, or in addition to, what their child is already learning in school, and when the parents organize this instruction in a meaningful way.

You might feel ill-equipped to Afterschool for dyslexia, but the truth is that parents can help their child make tremendous progress with time, encouragement, and patience. I have a whole list of multisensory activities that teach reading right here, but they are not specifically designed for children with dyslexia. I think a better approach would be to sign your child up for a Nessy.com subscription, which only costs $10 a month.

Nessy is a reading program from England specifically designed for kids with dyslexia. It’s a phonics-based approach full of fun games and videos. If it turns out that your child does not have dyslexia after all, Nessy still would have been beneficial. Think of it like “reading insurance.”

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#5 Read. Read. Read!

Read to your child every day, no matter what. Make books fun. Make they enjoyable! Convey to your child a true love of literature. Be clear that “ear reading” is every bit as acceptable as traditional reading.

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#6 Stay positive.

Finding out more information about your child does not change how smart they are, how much you love them, or forecast anything about their future. Information is only that: information. When you find out more details about how your child’s brain works, you’ll be able to better help your son or daughter learn to read.

When Something is Wrong

What do you do as a parent if you suspect there is something wrong with your child’s learning? If your son is three-years-old and not speaking? If it is the end of Kindergarten and your daughter still doesn’t know her letters? If it is the end of second grade, and your child is still struggling to sound out simple words?

Many parents do not know about the myriad of laws that govern seeking out, assessing, and administering services to children who need special help. Luckily, there are lots of websites and parent organizations that can help you out. Here’s one of my favorites: National Center for Learning Disabilities.

In simplest terms, if a child would potentially qualify for special education services before the age of three, then your pediatrician would refer you to the county in which you lived. County services could include everything from speech therapy, to an early intervention preschool. Once a child turns three, then the school district takes over from the county.

Younger than Three = Go through the county.  Three or older = Go through your school district.

At three years of age, a child who needs special education services would qualify for an Individual Education Plan with his or her school district.  An IEP is a legal governing document specifying accommodations and learning goals for the course of one year. An IEP is decided upon at a meeting with parents, teachers, school district personnel, and in some cases, the student. (For more information on the IEP process, please see here.)  Even if your child is homeschooled or goes to private school, they could still qualify for an IEP if they met the criteria for special education.

If your child is already in grade school when you notice something amiss, your first course of action would be to discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher. Next you might have a conference with the classroom teacher, the school principal, or perhaps a counselor.

These meetings might lead to a recommendation for formal assessment to be administered, which would require your written consent. There is a way to bypass this entire process by writing a letter to the Special Education office in your district requesting immediate assessment. However these learning assessments are costly, time consuming, and can be stressful for children, so it is always best to go through your classroom teacher first.

In addition to pursuing help through the school system, you would also want to bring your concerns to your child’s pediatrician, in case there were services your health insurance could provide.   There are also private agencies that can help your child such as the Shiloh School of Language Development in Edmonds, or Lindamood Bell Learning Center in Seattle.

Phew!  Just writing about all of that stresses me out a bit, even though I’m just talking about hypothetical situations.  Parenting a child with learning disabilities can be a rough road.  But it is important to remember that there is help available.  So take a deep breath, square your shoulders, start a file folder to document everything, and plan for success!