There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you-Maya Angelou

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”  Maya Angelou.  Have you ever had a difficult time getting your words down on paper?  Probably not.  My kids have amazing stories in their heads that they desperately want to get out.  Luckily, they are able to speak and relay their stories.  Unfortunately, I worry that many of their stories and ideas will never be heard because they will be trapped inside them.

The words are trapped due to a neurological condition called dysgraphia.  Dysgraphia.  Most people have heard of dyslexia (most do not completely understand it, but dyslexia in general is a whole other post).  However, very few people have ever heard of dysgraphia.  Dysgraphia is a learning disability that effects writing.  It can be displayed in spelling, handwriting and getting your thoughts down on paper.

Dysgraphia is a learning disability that probably doesn’t affect you; however, in our house it is prevalent-in all three ways!  My two boys are able to spell well on spelling tests (especially when the tests are oral-usually they get all correct), copy words/sentences/paragraphs with beautiful handwriting and dictate amazing sentences/stories with fantastic plots.

Now put them in another scenario.  When they write in their journals each day, the writing looks much different.  In fact, if I didn’t know it was the same person writing it then I probably would not believe it.  Suddenly the spelling is crazy (usually spelled phonetically), the handwriting is almost illegible and the sentences are short and choppy (and usually not complete).

I have known that one of my kiddos has dysgraphia for two years now (obviously, he has had it his whole life but it wasn’t officially diagnosed until two years ago).  I have also had a pretty good feeling that my third kiddo is following in his footsteps and now I am positive.

So the question is, what to do with kids who have a difficult time writing?  Well, this is what we have done so far.  We continue to work on spelling even though it doesn’t transfer over immediately.  Eventually, the words will become part of the person’s memory and he will write them correctly.  My goal for my oldest son this year was to be able to spell the majority of sight words correctly while free writing (as in his journal).  So far, he does this about 75% of the time.  When he reviews his work, he is able to catch his own misspellings which is a huge accomplishment.

We also started working on cursive with all of my kids.  My youngest has struggled with handwriting all year.  Over the past month, we have switched to cursive and it is going much better.  Cursive prevents the letter confusion (such as b and d reversal) and blocks the letters together for each word.

We also work on writing from dictation.  We do this in two ways.  One: Spelling words are dictated as words and then in sentences.  Second: Paragraphs/stories that each child wants to write is dictated to me.  I scribe the information for them and then they copy it.  Lined paper works best.  We started with paper that had a block for each letter (similar to graph paper) and now have found that wide ruled lined paper works well too.

So far, we have not switched to typing or to using a speech to text software such as dragon speak; however, I do plan to use them more in the next few years.  There are many tools out there to help people with dysgraphia.  For now, we are still working on writing even though I know that in high school or college, they will need to know how to type and dictate into a program.  Thank goodness, we have a few years!

Disability? Not Now…Maybe Later

Endless Possibilities

Endless Possibilities

I am working with another parent to start-up a support group for parents who have children with dyslexia, dysgraphia and/or another type of reading disorder.  We started talking about this a while ago, and we never got it up and going until recently.   I have to admit that I do not even think about it much anymore.  I decided to go back through my blogs (since they are basically my journal for this journey) to see what has changed.

One of the areas I read through was about why we homeschool.  The words in this section evoked a few emotions that I had not felt in a while, and they got me thinking.  My son and I have a learning disability according to the world.  We both have dyslexia and dysgraphia.  As I have written about in previous posts, I did not have much of an issue with it growing up and nor do I now as an adult.  Well, the neat part is that it is not much of an issue for Sims any more either.

Let me explain.  In therapy, people have impairments or something that is not functioning the way it should.  Most of us have some type of impairment (flat feet, poor posture, bad teeth, etc).  Think about something that is “different” in you.  How does it affect you?  Does it?  If it has no effect on your daily life, then you probably do not think anything about it.  However, if you suddenly decide to start a running program with flat feet-you may quickly realize that your flat feet are going to affect your life somehow.  When this impairment impacts your life, then it becomes a disability.  “Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives.” (Wikipedia-Disability)

So what do flat feet have to do with our reading and writing issues?  Well, pretty much nothing.  Except for the fact that, yes, we have dyslexia and dysgraphia.  They are impairments for us now in our current situation.  I think back to when Sims was in school.  While attending Montessori school, he was a happy kiddo who did his work.  He tried very hard  and was willing to ask for help when he needed it (this is how we found out he had something going on.  He asked me to come into his classroom to help him with his reading.  Big sign that was ignored until it blinked in neon in my face…non stop….for days..months..you get the point).  He never felt any social push that he was different.  He was learning a lot.  However, he was not learning how to read, spell or write.  In this situation, he did not have learning disability.

We changed his school so that he could get services through the public school system.  When we made the switch from Montessori to traditional school, we thought we were helping him.  We thought that we were preventing him from having a disability down the road.  We all know that in the fourth grade, most kids transition from learning to read to reading to learn.  In my mind, the school would have the resources to help him make this transition.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  I took him from an environment where even though he had an impairment, he did not have a disability.  He now was in a learning environment that was all teacher lead.  The teacher taught by standing in the front of the classroom while the kids sat and took notes (for most kids, this is not an issue.  I am not slamming public school or the teacher here.  Just trying to explain the teaching style).  I quickly lost my fun, loving, happy kiddo.  He did not like school (something that he always loved).  He was struggling to keep up in class.  He was unable to perform his work.  He was unable to learn in the environment he was in.   I gave him a disability.

As awful as that time was for him and for me as a mom, the experience brought us to homeschooling.  We are now at home where he can learn in an environment that works for him.  He can use multisensory learning.  He can research topics and use those topics to motivate him to read and write.  I know many people’s first thought is, “yes, that is great but homschooling is not the real world.  He needs to learn to be in school taking notes and tests.”  Well yes, I do get to shelter him from being picked on when he is reading aloud. However, overall he is learning how to be in the real world.  He is given the time and the freedom to utilize the tools he needs; such as Learning Ally to read a book, going to a dictionary to find out how to spell a word, learning cursive to write because this comes easier (this is not taught in schools in our district unless there is extra time), asking how to pronounce a word, utilizing a multisensory spelling program (All About Spelling) and having the time to rewrite his work.

So as I read through my blogs, I think about how much has changed in just two years.  My son went from an environment where he was impaired, happy, and not learning all that he needed into an environment where he became “disabled,” unhappy, and still not learning and now into an environment where he is impaired, confident, happy and learning more than I ever imagined.  In addition to that, he gets to be a kid, explore nature, build with his hands and meet some amazing friends who he never would have met.  As I have stated before, we will take homeschooling one year at a time.  But for now and for as long as I can, I will give my son the chance to focus on his abilities rather than put him a situation that brings the focus to his disabilities.