I can still remember the day the testing results came back. I was looking at all of the scores, trying to interpret what I saw from an educator point of view while knowing that this was my child. Normal, normal, lower than average and then the diagnosis of…dyslexia. It was like a punch in the stomach, and yet a strange relief. I felt like crying, and then a huge weight was lifted all at the same time.
It is so hard when you have always known. You recognize something, but people tell you that you are seeing things. There are other delays, most notably with reading and retention as well as with writing and comprehension. Comprehending the sounds of words has never been easy. While my youngest daughter was a late talker, her older siblings were quick to mimic sounds and words as babies and toddlers. We aren’t supposed to compare our children, but we do. For each milestone our children reach, we rejoice. And when some of those milestones don’t come? You question.
I am an educator. Before I became a mother, I was teaching and caring for children. The programs I worked in were often preparing children for school and what would come ahead. It wasn’t abnormal to have a child walk out of the classroom I worked in ready to enter kindergarten. Yet, when it came to teaching my youngest child, nothing really stuck. I thought it was me, so I put her in preschool. It still didn’t click, so I put her into Kindergarten. The first day she came home she had two complaints. “I can’t read and naptime wasn’t long enough. I don’t need to go back.” We finished that year and then I began to homeschool. Progress was slow, but there was progress. I knew for sure that what was happening wasn’t quite right.
Why did I need the diagnosis?
I guess I didn’t, but I needed to know it wasn’t all my fault. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying, but I wasn’t teaching her in the way that was right for her. I had strategies, but they weren’t working for my child, despite the successes I had with children.
Enter Dyslexia Outside the Box
Reading Dyslexia Outside the Box by Ellen Nash was so helpful as it opened up possibilities of what could work with my child. More importantly, it gave me the flip side of dyslexia. While so much of what I had found on my own was negative and highlighted the problems children may face, this book helped me to see the strengths that these students have. The most important game-changer with this book was rethinking our struggles. This book also has a wonderful appendix that has so many resources. All of the information I needed was put into one space. Not only has it resourced me to teach my child, but it has also helped me to understand her struggles, abilities and the way she thinks.
This book has helped me to be a better teacher for my daughter and a more effective parent as well.
Beth Ellen Nash has put wisdom and experience into this book. Reading it was like sitting down with someone who could gently remind me of different ways to look at what challenges we have and remember that a diagnosis is simply a starting place. I can’t recommend this book highly enough for all parents and teachers working with dyslexic children.
(For more help with your dyslexic child, visit True North Homeschool Academy’s struggling learner page.)
Rebecca Lundgren lives in South Dakota with her husband Jeremy, three daughters, and their zoo of adopted animals. While her family never intended to homeschool, she has learned a lot along the way. Her background includes a B.S. degree in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from South Dakota State University. Before she began her homeschool journey, she taught in Public Schools k-12, English as a Second Language (ESL) k-6, and directed an Early Childhood program. Since she began homeschooling, she has been involved with working in and then directing homeschooling groups in her area and now teaches ESL online. She loves camping and hiking with her family, reading, crafting, and children’s ministries. Rebecca will be teaching Jr High Science, World Geography and Logic.
When our kids struggle with math, it is often difficult to find a good “fit” to teach skills. Older students who struggle with lower math don’t want something that looks “baby-ish” or has a lower grade level plastered all over it! Here are some suggestions and ideas for helping your struggling learner with his struggles in math.
Finding the Right Curriculum
When you first start homeschooling, you soon realize that everyone’s homeschool looks different. There are so many curriculum options and homeschooling styles it can be overwhelming!! The biggest questions to ask yourself when looking at a curriculum:
- What kind of teacher are you? Do you like to have a script to follow? Do you like to be able to “change” things at times? How much support do you need to teach a subject (how strong are you in that subject)?
- What kind of learner is your child? Every child is different and learns differently. Some need visual, some need more auditory, some are hands-on. Some like colorful worksheets and some are distracted by cute pictures and poems on their worksheets.
When parents sign up for the classes and want a curriculum that will work with our program, I always recommend they look at Math U See. I have used Math U See with my own son, who has Autism. The simple layout of the worksheets and hands-on presentation of concepts through Decimal Street (place value) and the use of the colored blocks, makes math meaningful and visual for learners who struggle. It gives them an image to “see” in their mind when they are trying to find the answer. The introduction of place value addition and subtracting (adding and subtracting 10’s and 100’s) in Alpha has allowed my son to have a strong foundation continuing into Beta. A strong foundation at the beginning allows students to soar higher and faster later.
Why do we love Math U See?
First, there are the video explanations
The video presentation is great for showing parents the concepts behind what is being taught, and how to teach the lesson. Some older students have reported watching the DVD lesson with parents or by themselves to learn the material. I understand how this might work with some students and circumstances. My son needs me teaching him one on one for him to really grasp the concept. The wonderful thing about this curriculum is it is easily tailored to your child’s learning style.
Mastery vs. Spiral
I love the way this program teaches to mastery and is easy to modify for students based on need. I have divided up worksheets into parts to be completed at different times. I have used more or fewer of the lesson and review pages depending on how much practice my son needed for a lesson. Some parents and students do prefer a spiral method. Sometimes, though, a spiral method (where a concept is addressed again and again, each time adding more to it) can be confusing and frustrating for struggling learners, or children with memory issues who need repetition and daily practice to retain and increase skills.
Memorization vs. Strategy
I love the approach to addition and subtraction this program uses, with emphasis on how many it takes to get from 9 to 10 or 8 to 10 in order to help students have a strategy to solve problems, not just memorize facts. Many of the students who come to me struggle with memory problems, and the ability to use a STRATEGY, not just rely on memory enables them to be stronger in math.
Finally, Math U See is great for struggling writers.
Have a child who struggles with fine motor skills? My son does too. When we started our first year of homeschooling, my son could not even hold a pencil. He struggled with writing simple things like numbers and letters. Math U See allowed me to teach him math concepts without having to worry about a lot of writing. I could even write for him on days that writing numbers was too much. I was able to teach to his strengths while supporting his weakness. Because of this, he is thriving in math while we work to support the writing.
Should you use the blocks vs. digital app vs. no blocks?
It is important to have the blocks in the beginning. If cost is an issue, you may be able to buy a set used or even borrow a set for a while from someone. However, I don’t see how you could successfully implement this curriculum as it is intended without the blocks (or at least using something equivalent such as an abacus). The Digital App would work well for visual students or older students. It would allow the same visual concept with lower cost and take up less space.
I have found that when my son begins a new concept, he goes back to those blocks for a day or two until he learns the concepts, then is able to “see” the blocks in his head again to continue working through the concept as he continues through the lesson and test. He needs to be able to touch, manipulate, and otherwise experience the math through the blocks. While we will use an abacus at times (it is easier for travel), it is always the blocks we return to. Also, the blocks are used in the curriculum into Algebra, so they are a good investment if you are planning to stay with the curriculum long-term, and there are enough to use with more than one child at a time.
Whatever your decision, ultimately you have to find something that works for you and your child. For us, that was Math U See.
Do you need additional math help for your struggling learner? Find Live, online class with True North Homeschool Academy’s Struggling Learners Department!
Whether your child is struggling with addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, or fractions and decimals, we have a class for you! These interactive, hands-on games and activities help give students a strong foundation in math to help them whatever their post-high school goals are. Our positive, collaborative learning environment means the students feel supported, and comfortable enough to “try” even if they don’t know the answer for sure!
Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning.
You have a special needs kiddo, and they are in high school. They are not quite up to grade level in Math or English or both, or it takes them a few years to get through what is traditionally a one-year program. The basics and therapy eat through your week, and there is no time for extracurriculars, and the list of concerns goes on. Special Needs parents have unique life challenges, including creating a Special Needs Transcript for their High School years.
Creating a Special Needs Transcript
The Basics of a Special Needs Transcript
- Vocational Transcripts are often 19 credits total, compared to a 24 credit College Prep or 28 credit Honors Transcript.
- You are going to want to list 4 credits of English, 3 of Math, 3 of Science, 3 of History, 1 of PE, ½ credits of Health, Speech and Computer and Bible and other electives
- A credit is generally considered to be 120 hours of work. You can organize this work by book study, lessons, practice, time logs, recitals, performances, hands-on work, etc.
You can list courses and subjects using either a traditional 4 x 4-course grid (which you can find on our True North Homeschool Tribe FB Group) with the subjects along the left-hand side and years along the top, or you can list courses by subject area. My only caution is that if your students hope to go into the military, they might not accept a by-subject transcript.
Transcripts, Special Needs and Graduation
Your special needs student may not be able to handle high school level classes or may struggle with what would be considered traditional high school work in a specific subject area. It is perfectly acceptable to list courses that your students are capable of, regardless of the level or “grade.” If your student is 15 and capable of 4th grade English, list English on the transcript and give them full credit for an entire year worth of work, along with the grade that they earn.
According to Federal law, children with disabilities have the right to stay in school until they complete their school program or until they turn 21, whichever comes first. That is good news as you manage and balance life skills, academic, and vocational training and therapies. Give yourself – and your student! – the time they need to develop and succeed!
Can therapies “Count” for Credit?
Absolutely! You can log PT and OT for PE credit. Special needs tutoring or educational therapies can count towards credit in subject areas. You can use logs to keep track of credit hours.
How About Hobbies and Electives?
Inevitably, parents underestimate what their students have done and what they are capable of. Dramatic or musical theater can count towards Speech, Music, Drama, etc. Working in a computer repair shop can be logged and count towards Community Service, BCIS- depending on how detailed and involved the work was -or sales and marketing.
I worked with a student a few years ago who, at age 16, could not manage writing a complete sentence. This same student successfully co-owned and operated a model train store with his Mom. He had customers from around the world who understood that his speech impediment would in no way impeded the high quality of service and attention to detail that he would offer every customer.
The Power of the Parent
So many parents of Struggling Learners and Special Needs students go above and beyond looking for resources, experiences, tutors, and therapies that bolster and build their students ability to succeed. Too often, the parent doesn’t understand how to transcribe these experiences, travel, therapies, and P.E. opportunities into credits. Boy Scouts, 4-H, etc. and other similar programs can translate into so many academic credits. Think creatively!
Now, where to start?
Parents of struggling learners and Special Needs are often thrust into a world that requires a lot of research and going beyond the normal. High school can be especially daunting. But you don’t’ have to go it alone! Connect with other Special Needs parents and homeschooling companies that partner with Struggling Learners and Special Needs.
Our favorites include SPED Homeschool and of course, our Special Needs Academic Advising, Classes, and FB Group: Survive and Thrive Special Needs Homeschool.
Our Special Needs Academic Advising program was explicitly created to come alongside struggling learners and special needs families. We will do a credit evaluation (and find those “hidden” credits you may have overlooked), recommend curriculum, classes, and programs, develop a Personalized Learning Plan, and provide the support you need to manage to homeschool successfully.
The world of Struggling Learners and Special Needs can be tricky to manage, but thankfully, with the resources available today, you don’t have to go it alone!
You pulled your child from traditional school (or maybe you never started at all) because the environment just wasn’t suited for their needs. Now you’re at home, learning together, all the time. You’ve started to notice little things that are preventing your child from focusing and truly showing their abilities. It’s so frustrating!
Easy Homeschool Hacks for Kids with Special Needs
There are simple ways that you can 100% change your homeschooling story.
Some of these are definitely adapted from the traditional classroom – but only because they work! As with all things homeschooling, do what works best for your child today. Try things out, make some tweaks, and keep on learning together!
Task List or Schedule Chart
One thing that trips a lot of kids with special needs – as well as typically developing kids – up is keeping things in order, knowing what’s next and anticipating changes.
Making a simple visual schedule helps children feel settled and in control. They can see their week, day, morning or even just their current task.
You can totally adapt traditional classroom tools to DIY your own schedule! Grab a hanging single strip calendar organizer with clear plastic pockets and some schedule cards or sentence strips. Write out things that you do in your homeschool regularly. Think: subjects, special activities, breaks, etc. For pre-readers, you can use pictures printed from online. For older kids who can tell time, include a time. You can just add this on the spot with sticky notes or using a whiteboard marker.
Hang your daily schedule in your learning zone or a prominent place in your home. To make a change in the schedule, just swap the cards around. If your child can’t handle a full day of things to do, keep it super simple with just the first 2-4 activities.
Your child will be able to anticipate what’s coming up and feel more confident flowing through the day.
Above the Line/Below the Line
Everyone has things they’d prefer to do, especially kids. For children that push back on learning one particular subject or doing a certain activity, an above the line/below the line chart helps.
Basically, it’s a contract between you and your child. If they can commit to completing 2-4 items of “must do” work, then they can reward themselves with a preferred activity from below the line.
For example, my child must complete Daily Language, one math lesson worksheet/activity and clean up any learning materials used. Then, she can grab a book to read together, choose an educational show to watch or enjoy free time with the music of her choice.
Showing the reward for positive, productive work on non-preferred items is a super motivational tool.
Make your own chart by laminating a piece of construction paper. With a permanent marker, draw a line about ½ to ⅔ of the way down. Above the line, draw as many lines as work items you’d like your child to complete, numbering each line; every day write in your child’s “must do” work. Below the line, using a whiteboard marker, write out the rewards available each day. This keeps things adaptable. Simply erase yesterday’s work and rewards to have a clean slate!
Chunking Work for Success
Plowing through all your work in one big learning session does seem like the most sensible thing to do sometimes. Unless it backfires and you’ve got a meltdown on your hands before half the things are done.
Instead, try chunking out your working time. Work for 5-10 minutes, then take a break and do something else. This is a great time to do physical activity like yoga or “heavy work” – squats, pushups, etc. You could also put on soft music and dim the lights to meditate. Having a healthy snack is another great option!
Building in breaks helps the work seem more manageable. These breaks shouldn’t be super long. Just a few minutes, about 3-5 minutes, is usually enough to reset.
There are two ways to handle the work chunks.
- Work in 5-10 min blocks, continuing with the same task/subject/project until complete before switching to a new task or subject.
- Work on one task for 5-10 minutes, take a short break, then start a new task or project; whatever you get done in each working block is considered good enough for today, you can continue with the same assignment tomorrow if needed.
Sensory Tools to Stay Focused
Ever notice that your child calms down when they’re holding a certain blanket or bouncing on an exercise ball? Use it!
Try these simple sensory hacks to help your child focus:
- Velcro strip: attach a small piece of Velcro – either one side or both sides – to your child’s primary working space; your child can stick and unstick two pieces of Velcro or rub their fingers over their preferred side (rough/soft).
- Exercise ball seating: for kids that wiggle, sit them on an exercise ball – either on its own or as part of a chair system; balancing or bouncing keeps their body engaged, works out the wiggles and helps their mind focus.
- Squishy things: use a stress ball, slime or other squishy things to help your child focus; your child can manipulate the squishy as they work – providing a calming and focusing effect.
- Resistance band chair: stretch a heavy resistance band around the front two legs of your child’s chair; they can rest their legs on it to swing back and forth or push down against the pressure.
- Fidgets: slide beads along a rope, play with a Koosh ball or fiddle with a small car – fidgets can help your child keep their mind more focused by providing movement.
- Get creative! Use what your child already loves; offer a preferred object as a reward or to hold/use while working.
These three simple changes can make homeschooling a child with mild to moderate special needs, like ADHD, much easier.
What are your favorite hacks to simplify homeschooling a child with different learning needs or styles?
(Are you looking for academic advising or online courses for your special needs homeschool student? Check out all of our services at True North Homeschool Academy.)
Meg Flanagan, founder of Meg Flanagan Education, is a teacher, mom and military spouse. She is dedicated to making the K-12 education experience easier for military families. Meg holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. She is a certified teacher in both elementary and special education in Massachusetts and Virginia.
Meg regularly writes for MilitaryOneClick, Military Shoppers, and NextGen MilSpouse. You can find Meg, and MilKids, online on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
To get actionable solutions to common K-12 school problems, parents should check out Talk to the Teacher by Meg Flanagan.
When You Are No Longer Part of the Pretty Party
Does the following sounds familiar to you?
I recently received a diagnosis. I knew something was “off,” but I brushed it aside, telling myself I should work harder, have more robust moral fiber, hurt and complain less, function more clearly and “get it together.” The diagnosis named all of those little things that were “off” and made me aware of some I’d just considered “normal.” My normal is, apparently, not everyone’s.
I did some research, got on some sites, and freaked out pretty thoroughly. My future, in living color, doesn’t look pretty. Literally. Those aches and pains can be expected to get worse. That weak moral fiber I have accused myself of for decades is going to have to be part of my action plan. Others won’t see, and if they do, they’ll pity. I’m judged on something I have no control over, doesn’t have a cure, and while not life-threatening, was definitely not part of my best life scenario.
I cried. I actually cried quite a lot. Not that anything changed, but more things made sense. But the losses seem more permanent with the naming of the thing. No amount of my working harder or smarter will change the outcome. It is what it is. And now, instead of fighting to get on top of a small thing, I will be fighting just to keep going.
The diagnosis changes everything.
This little naming and knowing changes things with what I do and who I do it with. The comments that I have made, observing my own state of being and ability, are straight off the diagnosis page. Who knew?
And now the action plan. What do I need to do? Can I afford to do it? What do I need to grieve and give-up and move away from?
Those other people- the beautiful ones-the ones still at the pretty party; they have what I do not, what I won’t have. I am no longer a part of the pretty party. I haven’t been for a long time, but the knowledge that I know have seems to make it permanent. The pretty party is not all-inclusive, and I am definitely not on the party list.
And so I grieve that too, the fact that I don’t belong. The truth is that I feel judged and that others don’t want to include me – as if my struggle would rub off on them. I feel a desperate need to seek out others who are struggling to make the best of rotten realities.
I find them, and they are welcoming and open-armed. These people are helpful, responsive, and offer good advice. Advice like, go ahead and cry, see this doc, read this article, stay away from this misinformation. Things like, “you can’t be cured, but you can be well.” “You might not have your ideal best life, but you can have a beautiful, good enough life.” And I find myself crying a little bit now, too. I’m crying in relief at having found my people; grateful for the tribe and sorrow that it’s mine. It’s fine to feel both, as you grieve over having lost your ideal.
(Still looking for your “tribe?” Check out our Special Needs Homeschool Facebook group, Survive & Thrive.)
Maybe this sounds familiar because you’ve received a diagnosis.
You’ve just found out that your beautiful child is dyslexic, or autistic, or has a processing disorder. Maybe you’ve found out that your sweet little one is ADHD or on the spectrum. Life will never be the same, but it can still be a beautiful, good life.
Take the time you need to regroup and re-calibrate and realize that this will be an on-going process.
Some tips on getting through a tough diagnosis:
- Grieve the losses. Grieve your new reality.
- Research an action plan
- What do you need to do?
- What can you afford to do?
- Find resources and people who have the same struggles. Find a tribe.
- Give yourself time as you re-calibrate and re-group.
- Give yourself time. Eventually your new reality will be, if not your ideal, o.k. And you will be the one opening arms to others who are desperately seeking their tribe.
Not sure where to start? We can help!
First, check out our post, After the Diagnosis, to form an action plan. Then, when you are ready, seek out our Special Needs Academic Advising, which will help you move your plan into action. If you feel like you just need more, we also offer Summer Boot Camps and Special Needs year-long classes.
Another great resource is SPED Homeschool. Check them out today!