Thursday, September 8, 2011

Behavior Problem, Learning Problem, or Both?

Here's my latest theory about what went wrong for Younger Daughter at Natural Friends.

It's clear that YD has language delays, probably caused by not enough attention in her first 16 months of life in an orphanage. YD started speech therapy at 5, and she's still going. When she began, she was collapsing all her consonant sounds into just a few -- d, m, and s, maybe? Speech therapy helped a lot and she is now speaking quite clearly, although her syntax is uneven and she has odd vocabulary blocks. She's said several times, for instance, "Can I help you plant the lightbulbs?" and I'm still trying to convince her that the ones you plant in the ground are just plain bulbs.

Given YD's difficulties with language, it's no great shock that she's a late reader. Back at Natural Friends, they teach reading with Reader's Workshop, which has nothing like the intensive phonics instruction that YD actually needs. So YD was in a very small class of (mostly) very verbal kids, who were (mostly) able to read with minimal phonics instruction. Over time, YD became increasingly intimidated and frustrated by watching other kids who seemed to magically understand reading in a way that she just couldn't grasp. But, like all kids in this situation, she was ashamed of not understanding, and it would never have occurred to her to ask for help. Instead, she just faked it and tried to get by as best she could.

Over time, her frustration led to anxiety and increasingly impossible behavior. I think she was almost in a panic -- we got descriptions of her constantly interrupting the teacher, grabbing things out of kids' hands, unable to sit still for a moment.

So then we started getting complaints from the teacher, and we made the rounds of various specialists. They were pretty useless, frankly. YD didn't need "more structure", or "clearer expectations", or (the school's suggestion) an aide to follow her around all day, and pull her out into the hallway if she was causing a ruckus. She needed teaching methods that would work for her, so she could learn to read and do basic math, and she wouldn't be constantly frustrated by stuff going over her head.

Will Local Public Elementary teach her better? Who knows? I've learned not to count on schools to actually teach my kids. I'll work hard with YD on the reading, and eventually on math too. If school can just be a reasonable social experience for her, I'll settle for that.

If nothing else, YD will be closer to the middle of the class at Fragrant Hills, since there are twice as many kids, spanning a wider variety of abilities. She won't feel like she's on the spot so much. Also, she has her own desk with inbuilt storage, instead of just a seat at a round table, which I think will give her a sense of control of her personal space and belongings.

So far, YD's gotten off the school bus looking happy, and we haven't gotten any complaints from the teacher. She told me last night that she likes her new school, and asked if she could go again next year. I said "sure, if this year goes well." Knock wood!


  1. Wilson tutoring was great for my dyslexic kids. They drill relentlessly in phonics and relentless drill is what you need if you don't have phonemic awareness. And it has to be conducted carefully, moving at the child's rate of attainment from the easiest to the hardest sounds. I thought I could homeschool my kids in phonics by just picking up lots of phonics stuff from teacher's sources, but they needed the organized approach of Wilson. Orton Gillingham is also excellent, I believe. For what it's worth I think you're right not to trust the school to do it. My older son needed several hours of drill every day at the Oakland School (for dyslexic kids) to get it (he's 10 and now just barely reading.) Unless a school is designed to teach LD kids this way, they won't do that kind of drill.

  2. Just to make it clear, I'm not assuming your daughter needs the level of intensity my son did (my second son, not autistic). My daughter is learning steadily in public school, just more slowly than most of the other kids. So we also did Wilson once/week before she went to kindergarten and 2x/week over this last summer. She's nearly on track now in 1st grade.

  3. Rosemary, thanks for the helpful tips. For the moment, we're coaching YD, and I'm waiting to see what the school does. We might need one of those organized programs ... I'll look into it ...

  4. I think she will like the larger number of kids there if nothing else.