Teaching Tips

Check back regularly for new tips and information gleaned from all over!

Is dysgraphia a "medical condition"?

posted Jun 28, 2017, 9:47 AM by LD Teacher

A recent posting on Facebook asked is a medical condition.  Dysgraphia is a condition that falls under the huge umbrella of the Americans with Disabilities Act, even if it is not officially noted as a "medical condition".  I'm not sure who is saying it's not something that can be "diagnosed" -- any input on that?  You a reliable source to get a definitive answer.  The key information you need is that the child be professionally evaluated so that they can receive the needed occupational therapy to help with the muscle movement component of dysgraphia. The bulk of dysgraphia, however, is happening in the brain as the child struggles to 1) think of what to express -- hence it may be linked to expressive language delays; 2) think of how to organize the information they choose to write, 3) struggle to remember how to form the letters AND/or spell the words they want to write; and 4) deal with the left-to-right placement of words on each line, AND recall all those rules for mechanics of punctuation and capitalization.  Other than all that, writing should be a snap, right!?😂  Seriously, if you suspect the child has neurologically based dysgraphia (not just fine-motor weaknesses), please get them started on typing and have an OT evaluate --someone who is a specialist in this area.

Dangers of toxic contaminants in car seats!

posted May 21, 2017, 4:54 PM by LD Teacher

Hi Judith,

Parents rely on car seats to keep kids safe every day—on the way to daycare, school or the grocery store. But many car seats aren't as safe as they could be. In a recent study, 87% of car seats tested contained flame retardants. Car seats produced by Baby Trend, Cosco, Evenflo, Graco, and Safety 1st all tested positive for these toxic chemicals.

Flame retardants, specifically halogenated flame retardants, have been linked to an array of negative health effects, including hormone disruption, reproductive harm, and obesity. These chemicals migrate into dust where children can inhale or ingest them, or even absorb them through their skin. Think about how much time kids can spend in their car seats each day! 

Some companies have already made design changes and material choices that reduce or even eliminate toxic flame retardants from their car seats without any loss in fire safety or crash safety. That's why we've teamed up with the Ecology Centerand other groups to launch the Car Seat Detox Challenge.


Beth Kemler, Mobilization Director
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families works with supporters like you to fight toxic chemicals in our homes, workplaces, and products we use every day.

Speech delays in youngsters using handheld devices?

posted May 21, 2017, 1:16 PM by LD Teacher

The following information was posted by National Association of Special Education Teachers in a weekly blog.
Handheld Screen Time Linked with Speech Delays in Young Children

As the number of smart phones, tablets, electronic games and other handheld screens in U.S. homes continues to grow, some children begin using these devices before beginning to talk. New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests these children may be at higher risk for speech delays. Researchers will present the abstract, "Is handheld screen time use associated with language delay in infants?" on Saturday, May 6 at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco. The study included 894 children between ages 6 months and 2 years participating in Target Kids!, a practice-based research network in Toronto between 2011 and 2015.By their 18-month check-ups, 20 percent of the children had daily average handheld device use of 28 minutes, according to their parents. Based on a screening tool for language delay, researchers found that the more handheld screen time a child's parent reported, the more likely the child was to have delays in expressive speech.

American Academy of Pediatrics. "Handheld screen time linked with speech delays in young children: New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting suggests the more time children under 2 years old spend playing with smartphones, tablets and other handheld screens, the more likely they are to begin talking later." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 May 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170504083141.htm>.

Using Assistive Technology to help your Special Needs learner

posted Apr 23, 2017, 11:15 AM by LD Teacher

The arrival of technological assistance has totally altered the landscape for struggling learners. I can remember as I first began teaching over 30 years ago that a simple typewriter was considered "assistive technology" for a student in my class who had illegible handwriting!  It made a world of difference for him as he learned to demonstrate what he had learned so that others could read what he had to say.
Fast forward 30 years!  Technology has totally transformed basic tasks in learning, entertainment,  and communication (such as audio-books, voice-dictation software, gadgets that respond to voice commands, and so much more.)  While specific technologies can make the difference in whether a student can show what he has learned, other technology enables many students to learn despite a variety of previously limiting disabilities that include limited vision, hearing, auditory processing, and learning disabilities such as dyslexia. 

Browsing online today, I found a GREAT resource that I wanted to share. Check out all the offerings at https://blog.hslda.org/2016/05/24/guilt-free-apps-for-special-needs/.  I suspect you will find some terrific ideas to enrich and sometimes entertain your child.  If you have an Apple device or Mac computer, you should check into their website where they list literally hundreds of options for special needs students!  https://www.apple.com/education/special-education/

These apps are available for little to zero cost, but they are priceless in the benefits they offer!  I have also listed numerous apps and technologies on my private web page,  "www.portaportal.com. You use a "Guest" login: "LDTeacherRetired" to view the alphabetically listed options. Some I've included are for fun, many are educational sites, and others introduce you to the technology that can support your learner.  For an in-depth coverage of the use of assistive technology, please check out the chapter in my book!

Should parent seek diagnostic testing for autism from public school?

posted Apr 8, 2017, 7:10 AM by LD Teacher

I understand your caution about working through the public schools -- it is very typical for homeschool families. Let me offer a perspective that may help you decide what to do about getting an evaluation. If your son had puzzling physical symptoms that "might" indicate a certain disorder or disease, would you be content to wonder and see how he progresses (or does not seem to be getting better)? I suspect you would want a specific diagnosis -- and your reasoning would be that without a diagnosis by a well-trained professional, you would not be certain you were providing the most specific and appropriate care! The situation with autism is really very similar. You are not looking for a "label" - you need a complete and thorough diagnosis in order to ensure your plans to help him are right "on point". Having a diagnosis from a professional will also open doors for the intensive therapy that is indicated by his non-verbal status right now. I cannot speak to insurance for such therapy - the whole autism/insurance coverage for therapies seems a mixed bag right now. The public schools can do a comprehensive evaluation that in no way obligates you to use any of their services, speech/language therapies, etc.

Is your APD child being stubborn when he does not do what you say?

posted Mar 3, 2017, 8:03 AM by LD Teacher   [ updated Mar 3, 2017, 8:05 AM ]

Thinking that an Auditory Processing Deficit child is disobedient or stubborn is one of the most common comments I hear from parents! If that were true, one might have to believe the the child WANTS to get in trouble all the time.... but I don't think that's likely. It's important when you have the difficulty some parents describe as "stubborn" or "disobedient" that you realize that the APD makes it almost impossible for your child's brain to keep up as you are giving directions or talking with him. (If you are old enough to remember phonograph records, you remember that some were 78 rpm speed (fast) and some were 33 rpm (revolved slowly). The APD child has normal hearing ears that can hear. When you speak, your information is coming at him at at 78 rpm-- but his APD brain often processes what you are saying at 33 rpm! So there are gaps, or simple "drop out times" when nothing is going in or he simply cannot keep up.
It's impossible for him to describe that brain activity - so he either looks zoned out or he doesn't respond as you expect! To put yourself in his shoes, try to recall one of the radio ads that runs all the "fine print" of an offer spoken at an impossibly rapid rate that they hope you cannot fully remember! It's like that for your child! So...how can you help? Slow down! One article I read suggested you say to yourself "1000" between each sentence. If you have a list of directions for your child, you'll probably need to tell him one (maybe two) things to do, and then get his attention all over again and deliver the rest of the directions. Create chore lists with check-lists and/or pictures. Once you appreciate what his world is like, I suspect you'll have lots more empathy and stop viewing him as "stubborn."

My dyslexic child does not want to try any work I assign him.

posted Mar 1, 2017, 11:12 AM by LD Teacher

Unfortunately, I've seen this over and over during 30 years of working with students who have various kinds of LD. The best reason I can offer is that they would prefer not to try when they are pretty sure that if they DO try, it's going to be a failure. SO...to protect their self-esteem, they simply appear to "give up".The trick is to adjust assignments with tasks that they CAN do - providing just enough support to get them on the success side of things. It's called "Scaffolding" in education jargon - but it's critical to get them through this period of time. Another related situation for these struggling learners is 'learned helplessness" - they have learned to stop trying...again, the answer is to generate tasks in which they can have success. That may mean adding some helpful technology (books that are read aloud, software that allows them to dictate what they want to say instead of using pencil/paper tasks, etc.)

What You Need to Do When Your Child Continues to Struggle

posted Feb 28, 2017, 7:49 PM by LD Teacher

If your child consistently has had trouble with learning and schoolwork, you probably are wondering if you are doing something wrong.  You may even have asked yourself whether the child needs a different teacher or whether your child might be a “slow learner”.  Perhaps, you have wondered whether you are not teaching him with the right “learning style”.  Let me offer some reassurance!  After helping hundreds of homeschool families, I can promise you that a parent is almost never the primary cause for a child’s learning struggles! 


Where do you go to figure it out?  First, check whether you are using effective techniques in your instruction.  For example, do you review prior before you introduce new skills?  Do you provide specific feedback, clearly stating both what was done well, and what the child should improve?  When your child becomes “stuck”, do you stop to analyze the task and check whether he lacks pre-skills he needed to do that new skill? 


Let us say you are using effective teaching strategies. What else might be causing his problem?  Your child may be “curriculum disabled”!  His struggles may be due to poorly designed curriculum or teaching materials!  That is because not all books and materials sold to homeschool families are well designed or logically organized.  (Some texts do not even present the foundational skills your child needs to move ahead.)  Does your child’s textbook present information in a well-sequenced way or does it skip from topic to topic?  Does the math or vocabulary book overemphasize drill?  Does it provide adequate practice?  Remember that even if a particular program worked splendidly for one child, that program may cause problems for another.  If so, you can and should choose a different curriculum or program.  (Visit my website www.helpinschool.net to learn how to select an appropriate curriculum for your child.)


After you check both your teaching and the curriculum, let’s look within your child.  Many factors can affect educational development: diet, environmental toxins, allergies, emotional and social issues, prematurity, communication deficits, sensory issues, and ADD/ADHD.  You start by checking physical factors: vision and hearing.  If you suspect a learning disability, there are helpful websites, such as www.ldonline.org or www.ldaamerica.org that offer checklists of what to look for that can help you narrow down your search. 

If you decide your child may have a learning disability, do not wait to see if things improve!  A delay in getting a firm diagnosis is simply lost learning time! A clear diagnosis gives the parent the information needed to select the best teaching strategies and the most helpful books that really work. The more you understand the nature of how a particular diagnosis is affecting your child’s ability to learn and show what he has learned, the more you will have realistic expectations.  As a result, you and your child will have a more successful homeschool experience.  


For more help and support, get Judi’s book, Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School (on Amazon.com).  

Is it necessary to test and keep records for homeschool students?

posted Feb 23, 2017, 9:08 AM by LD Teacher

When browsing thru some Facebook posts this A.M., I came across the following post which I believe highlights one important reason that ALL parents need to do some form of record keeping for their child. Here's one story:

"Sad story:
Our state is very easy. We can go through the county or register with what is called an umbrella school. County - annual testing or portfolio review. Umbrella school - depends on the school, but typically attendance and potentially work samples.

Friend's child decided to try for a competitive public/charter school program. Parent, not even seeing it on their radar, didn't keep detailed records, course path or grading, or tracking of all the curriculum used.

School is requiring records... transcripts, report cards, testing scores... something... to verify that child is able ad ready to handle the advanced classes this competitive program offers. The child will most likely not be accepted because of incomplete record keeping"
In other words, without adequate documentation, parents cannot satisfy requirements for great opportunities for a child or may not be able to satisfy administrators who administer qualifying tests that the student must pass to gain entrance to post-secondary education or jobs! 

The OTHER key reason to keep records is that without good record keeping, it is difficult to determine whether the child has made adequate progress -- so the parent does not really know if what they are doing is working! 

Need help choosing curriculum?

posted Feb 23, 2017, 8:08 AM by LD Teacher

While following Facebook posts on several different groups, I read many requests from parents asking other members of the group to recommend a text or a curriculum. The requests are made because moms need advice, and the mothers who respond do so in good faith -- BUT....there is a problem with that approach! You're taking recommendations from moms who have NO idea what your child's particular strengths and weaknesses are!  Every one means well and wants to help....but think about it If I asked you to recommend a medicine for me, you'd immediately say that you don't know what I need medicine for, right?  Same thing applies to choosing texts for a child.
It's important to size up what your child can do well - then look at the specific weaknesses. After that, it's time to look at something like Cathy Duffy's amazing website where she describes characteristics of probably all the possible homeschool texts and curricula so you can have a better idea of which one might meet your child's needs. Another option would be to get my book and study the chapter on choosing curriculum. You might even look for it on Amazon and browse the chapter on the "look inside" feature on the website - don't know if you can select that one or not, but you could try. The book is Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School. I wrote the chapter to guide parents through the process of making curriculum choices based on the child's needs. Hope this helps.

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