Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Dream of High School Graduation!

Okay, maybe I should clarify...I've already made it through high school and even college but the graduation I am referring to is my oldest son's high school graduation.

I think I under estimated Ben's insightfulness when he was younger. Starting at the age of 5, Ben would end each school year, thanking his teachers and telling them he appreciated what they had taught him but he would not be coming back because he was going to start working. It's funny now that he is in high school, I am the one that would like to be making that same statement...thanking his teachers but letting them know that we're feeling done with school and Ben is just going to go to work. For me, getting Ben through school is work and here's why...

A. He would rather be working earning money than going to school.
B. The new school year means it is time to update Ben's letter of introduction to his new teachers and advise them of his 504 plan and what it means to be Dyslexic, ADHD and LD.
C. A new year means new teachers, new teaching styles, different methods of testing...trying to make it all work for Ben.
D. Each year I begin to monitor Ben's grades to see if he is staying engaged, working hard or requiring some motivation or incentive and then putting that plan into place.
E. Each year I try to keep the line of communication open between Ben and I so we can work together to figure out where the challenges are and how he needs to adjust and compensate.

Our school district and most of Ben's teachers have been wonderful to work with...but it is work. I have over the years figured out some things that really work well for Ben's situation. In the next few posts, I will describe those in detail.

The first one is taking the time to write a letter of introduction to Ben's teachers. Helping them to understand how Dyslexia affects Ben along with opening a line of communication has been crucial. A mistake a lot of parents make is assuming their teacher has been trained to work with their child's disability. Each of our children is different and a label doesn't tell a teacher what Ben's particular issues are. Here is Ben's intro. letter:

Subject: (Child's Full Name)

Dear Staff,

I wanted to take a moment to introduce Ben and our family. Ben will be a freshman this year. Ben attended St. John’s Lutheran Academy from 3 year preschool-6th grade. He was homeschooled most of his 4th grade year through a program from NACD ( He attended (Child's school) Middle School for the last two years.

A little history about Ben. Ben was born on (birthdate). Ben began speaking at a very early age and was talking about articulated dump trucks by the age of 2. He was extremely industrious, thoroughly enjoyed puzzles, legos and anything to do with construction equipment. Ben often built lego creations just by looking at the picture and could build them in 3 dimensions perfectly although he only saw a one dimensional picture. When I asked Ben how he was able to do that, he would look at me and say, “Don’t you see it, the back and the sides?”

Ben was fascinated by tools and began using power tools at the age of 3. By 5 he was driving a riding lawn mower, at age 7 he learned how to weld, at age 8 he was operating large construction equipment including an overhead crane. Ben began collecting his tools at the age of 4 when he decided he would rather have Home Depot gift cards instead of any toys or gift cards for toys. Ben now has one of the most comprehensive set of tools I have ever seen. Ben has been going to my husband’s shop, since he was 5 years old. He can’t manage to wake up for school but gets up without an alarm clock every Saturday at 5:30 a.m. to eat breakfast with the guys at the truck stop and then to go to work with his Dad. Ben takes apart old heating/air conditioning units and turns in the scrap for money. With this money Ben has been able to purchase his own dirt bike, a brand new Yamaha snowmobile for Christmas and has managed to put a good amount into his college fund. He continually purchases tools and his favorite gift card of choice to date is Snap On. Ben’s favorite Christmas gift was an equipment dolly.

We knew early on Ben was unique. We could walk into a room and when we left the amount of detail he could tell you about was astounding. He would ask his Grandma where things were if he saw something moved or different in her house, it sort of became a game. He could describe people and equipment down to the color of their shoe laces or the color of the paint scrape that was on the tire.

We thought school was going to be a breeze since Ben seemed extremely intelligent and willing to learn. Ben started at St. John’s in 3 year old preschool, he seemed to only observe and rarely participated. In 4 year preschool he began to tell his teacher when she did things differently than the year before and participated more readily but mainly in those areas that interested him. In Kindergarten they began to work with letters and reading, this is where we quickly picked up on a problem. Ben had difficulty blending words, writing anything and would get extremely frustrated when asked to do so. His teacher felt he would grow out of it, I felt differently.

At the age of 7, Ben was tested by a psychologist from Achievement Associates. It was then we learned that Ben was diagnosed Dyslexic, ADHD and Learning Disabled in Reading, Writing and Spelling. We chose to keep Ben in his private school because the school was willing to work with us, we wanted a Christian education for Ben, he would have a great deal of one on one attention due to a very small class size, the curriculum was extremely challenging (Core Knowledge Curriculum,, and the school would focus on his strengths instead of his weaknesses. I did a lot of research on Dyslexia, Ben had a tutor, and we attended many sessions and workshops on ways to help Ben with his learning issues including a 3D Learner Program in Florida. The first 4 years were very rough, a lot of peaks and valleys and unfortunately in 4th grade Ben’s disabilities overtook his abilities.

I pulled Ben from 4th grade and chose to homeschool him through the National Association of Childhood Development, Along with Ben, we have a daughter Danielle who is 12 and our youngest son Sam who is 8 and has Down Syndrome, a brain injury, apraxia, dysphagia and bilateral conductive hearing loss. Sam has been on program with NACD since he was 18 months old. I will not say this was an easy year but it was definitely needed to help Ben. We worked on so many core areas of Ben’s neurodevelopmental profile. Ben’s visual processing was at an 8 to an emerging 9 but his auditory processing was at a 5, which is the equivalent of having a 5 year old in your 4th grade class. His coordination and fine motor skills required a great deal of work. He and I learned how to work together, how it was easier for him to be active while learning, we did spelling while riding bikes, history while digging a hole and bounced a ball while working on processing. We researched people with Dyslexia like Walt Disney and Charles Schwab and learned how despite their learning issues they succeeded in life. To bring up Ben’s reading level we did high intensity reading which for Ben meant we read Bronco Builder magazine, Caterpillar literature, John Deere literature and the history of the Yamaha Corporation. When Ben returned to school in the 4th quarter for testing to see if he could return the following year his teachers were amazed. They were sure we had medicated Ben, but we didn’t, although at times I was tempted. Ben returned to school with an increase of 2 years in his reading ability, his auditory processing at a 7, and his self esteem back in tack. Ben has done well over these last few years. We still have an occasional D or F in the course Ben decides he is not interested in and he still struggles significantly with writing and spelling. This has been an interesting journey for Ben and us as his parents. Ben is a very bright boy, he is going to do well in this world, but he needs help in learning how to work with his disabilities in reading, writing and spelling. He has always chosen to work on his issues with me at home because being in a small school there was no one else there like Ben and he didn’t want to stand out as being different. However, I have learned in working with Ben that he will choose what he wants or doesn’t want to do. We have purchased both Kurzweil and Dragon Naturally Speaking for Ben to use but I know he will have to decide if it is helpful to him or not therefore choosing if he will use it or not. Ben’s 7th grade school year went well but one of his teachers felt he would benefit from the LD program. I disagreed because I think Ben needs more challenge in order to stay focused, if the work is easier he tends to drop both his effort and attitude and his behavior can escalate. He has done well in most of his 8th grade classes with the occasional need to have us help him get refocused and engaged but his teachers have been great in letting me know when he seems to be dropping off.

Ben has taught me a great deal in how to work with him and his little brother. We are both nervous and excited about Ben coming to the High School. His self esteem is good right now and by far that is the hardest area to work on when it gets out of whack. I would ask that his teachers keep me in the loop on how he is doing, what he is excelling at and what he seems to be struggling with. We have also asked (child's counselor) to be Ben’s go to point when he is not understanding, struggling or requiring additional help. We are working on having him advocate for himself. He is a great kid but if he gets bored his behavior can take a turn. Ben will need to sit near the front of the class, not in the front row but limiting the distractions will be helpful. Because I have worked one on one with Ben I am more than happy to share my experiences with his new teachers. Please understand that Ben’s issues do not have to do with intelligence or his ability to understand what you are teaching, but instead deal with his ability to show what he has learned in a written form. I have included further information on Dyslexia to help you understand how it affects Ben.

Thank you for taking time to read this. Thank you for working with us to insure that Ben has a bright future and reaches his full potential. I have expressed many times that raising 3 children, 2 with learning disabilities was not the program I signed up for. But Ben, Danielle and Sam have taught me so much and I am enjoying each of their journeys which as you can imagine are each very different. Have a great school year and please stay in touch!


Jeff & Sue Mayer

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