Finally An Educational Program That Conveys Meaningful Academic Benefit

Aleczander has specific learning disabilities. It’s important for public school special education teachers, and most particularly special education program administrators, to understand that kids who have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and oral motor disfluency don’t suddenly develop these learning problems when they hit kindergarten, they are born with them.

Texas Education Code (TEC) §38.003 defines dyslexia in this way:
(1) Dyslexia means a disorder of constitutional origin manifested by a difficulty in learning to read, write, or spell, despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and sociocultural opportunity.
(2) Related disorders includes disorders similar to or related to dyslexia such as developmental auditory imperception, dysphasia, specific developmental dyslexia, developmental dysgraphia, and developmental spelling disability.
(http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/ED/htm/ED.38.htm#38.003)

Kids like Aleczander need multi-sensory instruction which Aleczander now receives. In addition to being enrolled in a third grade classroom at a private school, Aleczander also attends an after school dyslexia program at the Scottish Rite Learning Center.

 

From the Texas educational code, we read about the major warning signs of dyslexia:

At the Preschool level, children with dyslexia may:

  • talk later than most children
  • have difficulty with rhyming, have difficulty pronouncing words (i.e., busgetti for spaghetti, mawn lower for lawn mower)
  • have poor auditory memory for nursery rhymes and chants
  • be slow to add new vocabulary words
  • be unable to recall the right word
  • have trouble learning numbers, days of the week, colors, shapes, and how to spell and
    write his or her name.

As a toddler, Aleczander displayed all of these symptoms and his parents sought and received special education interventions for him through the Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (Odessa ISD) and through Early Childhood Intervention Services (Permian Basin Rehab Center). After Aleczander and his family moved to San Antonio, parents attempted to enroll Aleczander in similar programs. Sadly, despite his previous assessments and record of special education services, Aleczander was denied admittance to PreKindergarten and wasn’t assessed for any special education services at all until he was six years old.

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Third Grade Begins

 

9.1.17          Third Grade Begins

Aleczander, age 8,  has dyslexia, dysgraphia, and oral motor disfluency. He’s been struggling to learn to read, write and talk like other boys and girls for his entire life.

He’s a behavior problem, public schoolteachers told parents. Parents, mostly Mom, coddle and indulge him, special education assessment staff and teachers explained.  And yeah, as you might imagine, school staff members sounded condescending as all get out . . .

The actual name for Aleczander’s congenital medical condition is developmental dyspraxia. On 9.20.16, Dr. Jerry Tomasovic provided Aleczander’s medical diagnosis. Teachers who tell you that Aleczander is going to learn to read, write, and talk like other children, mostly easily and effortlessly, aren’t mistaken or misinformed, they are lying to you, Dr. Tomasovic told Mom.

By this time, Aleczander’s parents had given up on public school and enrolled Aleczander at Salem Sayers Baptist Academy. It’s easy to tell from this video that Aleczander still needs speech, OT, PT, and academic therapy; after all he’s 8 years old and working at Kindergarten Level. But good teachers are good teachers and Melissa, his second and now third grade teacher, is already working miracles again this year for Aleczander. Listen to her encourage him! He starts out literally sweating because the work is so tough for him. Fifty seconds later, he’s smiling and saying, “Tell Mommy and Daddy I can do my work! I only have one line left!” And what is truly amazing about this particular work sample is that, for the first time in his entire life, Aleczander has written the letter /u/ without turning his paper upside down and writing /n/’s. Aleczander’s favorite animal is the turtle, and I’m beginning to understand why. Turtles are slow, but they are determined, just like Aleczander!

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Lunch Bunch 2016-17

Lunch Bunch at Alamo Heights UMC has been going strong for 44 years . . . Last Thursday over sixty volunteers geared up to serve close to two hundred meals to almost two hundred people.

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Aleczander November 2015-May 2017

November 2015: I met Aleczander when he was halfway through first grade and his parents asked me to help them figure out what was going so badly wrong for him at the public school. Aleczander’s articulation skills were less than those of most two-year-olds, and he was having a difficult day asthma wise when I first met him, but he was sweet and totally compliant with all my requests. I couldn’t understand too many of his words, however, as long as his mother was present and he was able to use gestures and objects, I was able to understand the words he spoke during that assessment session. See a portion of the video assessment report that I created for Aleczander’s mom to take to the school to request services for his obvious speech and learning disabilities. partial November 2015 assessment report here.

Now, over a year later, I believe that my efforts to help only made things worse for Aleczander at his public school. It is true that Aleczander’s IEP team did increase his special education services during his first grade year, however his school continued to deny that he had ANY learning disabilities and to insist that he was able to do grade level look when he was sufficiently motivated to do so. It is very much an understatement when I say that the teachers weren’t overly nice to him, and the kids took their lead from the adults. Aleczander’s situation became increasingly grim as his articulation skills regressed. By May of 2016, Aleczander had developed fluency problems. In other words, he was stuttering; the secondary stuttering characteristics made him look as if he had developed Tourette’s syndrome. The school district continued to insist that “Aleczander has all the sounds he needs” and to state that the stuttering behaviors were simply Aleczander’s way of getting attention. Several weeks before first grade ended, at the same time the teachers were insisting that Aleczander had mastered his goals, made a year’s worth of progress, and was doing just great, a speech therapist friend agreed to provide Aleczander with a pro bono speech assessment.  See a portion of May 2016 language sample here.

Fast forward again . . . After a disastrous first grade year (2015-16), Aleczander attended summer school at San Antonio’s best school for learning disabled children–pro bono. Heads up, we have another good news bad news story coming here. . . Aleczander had become so terrified of educational settings that he spent the first week of summer school cowering under the Lego table and the last three weeks telling teachers that no matter what they tried to tell him, or teach him, he knew better . . . “I can’t read!” he wailed. In July, at the end of summer school, the lower school director told Mom, “we love Aleczander, but we can’t help him. He needs intensive speech therapy before he can benefit from academic therapy. And get him to pediatric neurologist ASAP. He looks to us like he might be having petit Mal seizures.”

At this point, three years after they had just moved into the school district with Aleczander already diagnosed as having developmental dyspraxia, Aleczander’s parents didn’t have many options. They were sure of one thing however, Aleczander wasn’t going back to the public school! The private school that they found couldn’t provide the speech therapy Aleczander needed, nor did they have trained dyslexia and dysgraphia teachers. However, the new school’s  teachers did know how to determine present levels of performance and base instructional strategies on current levels of functioning. Within a month, Aleczander had learned to trust teachers and his fellow students again. He started to smile– and he made friends. Gradually he got to the point where he could benefit from academic instruction in the presence of other children. He began to learn to read and write. Check out this video, done in May 2017. Aleczander is reading at beginning kindergarten level so he’s still got a long way to go, but he’s finally heading in the right direction. He smiles, he talks, and he doesn’t stutter!  See Aleczander reading a CVC word here.

 

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First of All, Do No Harm

Aleczander, age 7,  had been getting speech therapy for the entire school year  when this language sample was done. Noelle, the therapist who had been seeing Aleczander in a small group for 30 minutes a week and 1-1 for 15 minutes a week toward the end of the school year, continued to reassure parents that Aleczander was making excellent progress. “He has all the sounds he needs,” Noelle trumpeted loud and long. “He can talk just fine when he slows down and uses his words.” The fact that Aleczander never displayed this skill to parents at home or to others in the community appeared completely irrelevant to school staff. The fact that he’d started stuttering was concerning.

It isn’t as if parents had been doing nothing. During Aleczander’s first grade year, they requested and received additional evaluations in the areas of specific learning disabilities (including dyslexia), gross and fine motor functioning, and speech and language development. The Full Individual Evaluation conducted by the school district had stated that Aleczander had no cognitive processing weaknesses, severe academic deficiencies in all areas assessed, and severe behavior problems caused by attention deficit disorder. Parents knew the ADHD thing wasn’t right, but had no idea what was wrong! Continue reading

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Multisensory Teaching in Action

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Aleczander’s Communication Skills Midway Through First Grade

MIGDAS Preschool Diagnostic Interview

11/3/15

During the MIGDAS diagnostic interview conducted on 11.3.16, Aleczander played appropriately with sensory toys as well as his own familiar and favored toys. He never lined toys up, refused to share, or insisted on performing his own routines. No rigidity was observed. During the structured activities, interactive play activities, and familiar and unfamiliar tasks, his behavior was appropriate for his age and skill level. When presented with language-based requests Aleczander was attentive and compliant. He never appeared confused by verbal and nonverbal prompts, and frequently looked to his mother to clarify his responses. He demonstrated none of the behaviors that are generally seen in a child with an ASD. While a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, NOS can’t be ruled out due to Aleczander’s history of delays in speech, fine and gross motor skill development, it does not appear likely as if an ASD is the primary causality factor in his academic difficulties. Continue reading

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It’s Been Three Years Since I Quit My Day Job!

It’s been three years since I quit my day job, and it’s time and then some for me to create a new bio. This is an adaptation of one that I wrote for REDNews, the commercial real estate publication that I write for.  janis-and-balloons-1“For me, this is absolutely the best second act,” Arnold says of her new career as a full-time writerwriting coach and teacher, private practice educational diagnostician, and pro bono special education advocate. “These days I get to do what I love–write, and I’m also passing on what I learned while doing literally over one thousand early childhood assessments.” For over fifteen years Arnold worked as the Child Find coordinatior  for a formerly good school district; these days she is committed to supporting the next generation of dedicated teachers and educational diagnosticians who want to make a difference in the lives of children.

Janis Arnold’s writing credentials include: Daughters of Memory and Excuse Me For Asking, literary novels published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, numerous magazine articles, and too many to count psycho-educational assessment reports and educational treatment plans. Presently she’s writing literary mysteries, Shade Island and McKenzie Park, that feature characters and settings from small town Texas, a locale eerily similar to the Brookshire-Katy area where Arnold grew up.

In between fictional projects, Arnold, who lives in San Antonio, works as a pro bono advocate for children with learning disabilities. Related to her advocacy work, she is writing Aleczander’s Story, a first hand account of how public education failed a little boy and how the community around Aleczander, galvanized by his parents’ persistence in seeking solutions to Aleczander’s educational woes, is working together to help Aleczander learn to read, write, and talk!

A second creative nonfiction project, One Starfish At A Time, is a series of interviews that revisits concerns about free appropriate public education programs (FAPE) and suggests solutions to the literacy crisis in our country. The Starfish stories are planned as a follow-up to Louise Clarke’s 1973 Can’t Read, Can’t Write, Can’t Takl Too Good Either, a book that led to the implementation of PL 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, back in 1975. This act required all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education and one free meal a day for children with physical and mental disabilities. Public schools were required to evaluate handicapped children and create an educational plan with parent input that would emulate as closely as possible the educational experience of non-disabled students. The intentions of Congress way back when were good; unfortunately the ways in which this law has been implemented in Texas schools has been nothing short of abysmal. Special education does consume massive amounts of taxpayer dollars, however the cash appears to be devoted to the creation and maintenance of an elaborate beuracracy rather than to any real efforts to teach kids to talk, think, read and write. Arnold hopes to change that–working One Starfish at a Time.

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Marie Curie, The Theory of Radioactivity and the Law of Unintended Consequences

iur (1)Over the years, I’ve observed multiple examples of the effects of unintended consequences imposed upon those of us (myself frequently included) striving to improve upon nature for the common good. Some of the unintended consequences that I’ve experienced have caused this thought to run through my head: Well if I’m not hoist with my own petard, then I don’t know who is. Until recently, I confess that I had no idea of what a petard even was, although I speculated that it had something to do with a person either being publicly skewered (current times) or crucified (Roman times).

Shakespeare first used the phrase hoist with one’s own petard in Hamlet, and thus the Bard is credited with the popularization of a a pithy expression that continues in use to this day. On some fronts it has been speculated that William Shakespeare deliberately misspelled the word petard, substituting petar, which means to flatulate, as an off-color pun. I rarely read the Bard these days, I must confess, as my undergraduate English degree totally put me off reading literature as it is taught on college campuses. These days I’m more of a Criminal Minds fan, and I’m no longer vaguely ashamed of once having owned every Nancy Drew book the Carolyn Keene team of writers ever cranked out!

Recently I came across an article about Marie Curie, who was credited with establishing the theory of radioactivity. The story of Marie Curie’s life gave me pause . . .

Marie Curie, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, died on July 4, 1934 of aplastic anemia caused by radiation exposure. She is responsible for establishing the theory of radioactivity; unfortunately, Marie Curie also learned the hard way of the fatal effect that radioactive substances can have upon an individual’s health. It is reported that, even as she neared death, she was unwilling to acknowledge the dangers of radiation exposure.

Most of us can be stubborn, and likely there are times when the most open-minded among us resist knowledge of the unintended consequences of our actions.  Today, many of Marie Curie’s books and papers are available for scholars to study, but even her cookbook is ‘too hot to handle’. Those who wish to read from Marie Curie’s documents must remove them from the lead-lined boxes in which they are housed; then, they are required to wear protective clothing while in proximity to the documents. Truthfully, while I might like to know which recipes she favored, I can’t imagine that I’d find even her cookbooks interesting enough to risk exposure to the radioactivity they continue to emit.

So who was it, do you think, who got a Nobel Prize for discovering the Law of Unintended Consequences? Next time . . .

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Some Kids Just Break Your Heart

andy, age 4 years, 6 months

Andy, age 4 years, 6 months

This little guy  enrolled in one of the two bilingual PreK Classrooms on an Early Childhood Campus and was referred for assessment by his teacher and mother. My play-based early childhood assessment team (educational diagnostician, school nurse, school psychologist, bilingual PreK teacher, Special Education Teacher, Speech Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist) spent no telling how many hours during his PreK school year trying to figure out what was up with him. Just about the time we’d gotten him all figured out, the school year was over and it was time to send him to big school, an elementary campus!

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