Friday, June 21, 2013

Dysgraphia

Back in January, I sent this email out to a select few of my homeschool friends regarding my oldest son:


I have a question and decided to ask you few ladies.
My son has struggled for years with penmanship. He writes very neatly and very well in his handwriting book.
If he writes on his own, on a blank sheet of paper, he just can't do it.  If he writes anything, it's a mess. He can't express his thoughts on paper because he struggles so much to remember how to physically form each letter. 
I've tried keeping a penmanship alphabet in front of him, but he will look up for almost every letter.   
I've been putting off dealing with this for the past two years. I have said, "He'll snap out of it." "One day it'll all click for him."  But he's close to 10 years old now and he's feeling "stupid" (his own words) because he "can't write."
Today, I sat him down to try to find out the problem and he said he simply can't remember how to form the letters. (He later told me when he tries to write on blank paper, he feels like he's choking.)
He's smart. He does well in math and is currently working a grade above his "official" grade level. He does math on Teaching Textbooks and loathes having to write out any math problems. He would rather sit there 5 times as long and do it in his head than write it down.  (He does get the problems correct; even multiplying 2- and 3-digit numbers.)
He loves history; he reads and comprehends well. He prefers (and seems better at) cursive over printing. (We use Handwriting Without Tears.)
These things make me feel like it's something related to how his brain is processing writing. Should I have him tested? Do places like Kumon and Sylvan deal with this type of issue?
In the meantime, he's loving typing and is very motivated to become proficient so he will never have to write.
Since he's mid "4th grade" I can't put off making him write. He has more and more writing coming down the pipe and I can't write for him forever. (I have been.  I'll dictate his verbal answers, copy down math problems so he can work them, etc. Now I'm admitting we need some help!)
Any ideas? If not, prayers are cherished!! He is far from dumb and I don't like him feeling that way. 


I have beautiful friends who offered ideas and encouragement.  The Internet has been another source of invaluable information.  Months after sending this email, I found a "diagnosis" for dysgraphia. My son fits many of them, specifically "dyslexic dysgraphia:"

- neat handwriting when copying from an example, but illegible handwriting otherwise
- prefers cursive over printing
- holds pencil too tight and presses down too hard, adding to fatigue
- does not remember how to form the letters
- abnormal spacing of letters

There were a few "symptoms" that he didn't fit, but everything I read said no child fits the exact mold.  My son reads and comprehends well.  He also spells well, which isn't always the case for people with dysgraphia.  He recently memorized pi up to about 15 places, so memorization isn't a problem when he's motivated.

A quick email sent to our Austin homeschool community let me know that Scottish Rite Hospital does assessments and therapies for kids with Dysgraphia.  I don't know all of the details yet, but am hopeful that they will be able to provide some professional advice.

In the meantime, I've scoured every corner of the internet and have learned:
- Lots of people struggle with dysgraphia, one form of which is dyslexia.
(One day, when my son was feeling "stupid," we googled and found this!)
- Typing is not cheating! He already loves to type and prefers to type.  I've always been reluctant to do this, feeling like it was giving him an "easy way out."  I now know better.  If he were in public school and officially diagnosed with dysgraphia, he would get a laptop as his accommodation.  A homeschool mom even suggested letting him use our label maker to print and stick answers on worksheets. How brilliant!
- Graph paper is a must for math.  He won't be able to work problems in his head forever.  I will not allow him to use a calculator.  I'm so glad we have Teaching Textbooks!  That program, along with having him use graph paper, will help him continue to flourish in math.
- We will pick his preferred writing method (cursive) and only worry about neatness when he does handwriting practice.  He does need to master writing to a certain point, but there is no need in making him learn two systems.

As his mom and teacher, there is a lot of freedom in knowing that it's okay.  It's okay for him to type. It's okay that I act as his scribe sometimes.  Over the past two years, I've struggled with feeling like it's my fault that he was struggling.  Did I teach him wrong?  Did I push him enough?  Too much?  Where did I fail?  Learning about dysgraphia was given me a feeling of relief for both my son and myself.  We have a game plan.  We know the root of his writing struggles.  We have hope!

Closing Out the School Year

The last week of school at TSD was an exciting one, filled with some very cute programs and field trips.  Both boys loved their teachers and made several good friends.

Tian amazes us daily with his ASL and spoken English skills.  He loves us to read books and doesn't care if we sign ASL or read aloud in English.  He'll pay close attention either way.  Tian is completely on-track with his peers and will do great in pre-k in the fall!  We just gotta work on his "obeying" skills.  At home and at school, he often thinks it's cute and/or funny to disobey, then produce a huge ear-to-ear grin.

Travis will be moving on to Kindergarten in the fall!  Ken and I were prepared to keep him in pre-k one more year due to his language delay, but the teacher and counselor feel that he can move on to Kindergarten since he is academically ready.  Travis is counting, identifying letters and numbers, writing letters, sequencing, and all the other things kids need to be doing to be ready for K.  He comprehends ASL signed to him, but still struggles when it comes to his expressive language.

The counselor let us know that he would likely begin expressing more over the summer, then the structure (on which he thrives) and nature of Kindergarten would draw it out even more.  Sure enough, Travis expressive language has grown my leaps just over the past few weeks.  In the days leading up to his birthday, we talked about his birthday, counted down the days, packed the door prizes, and named his friends who would be attending.  That single event motivated him to talk about future events more than he ever had before; they also led to him telling about past events.  Once the party was over, he continued to talk about it for days.  Monday morning, he told his teacher all about the party.  That in itself was huge process.

Over the summer, we are doing a lot of reading, then having Travis (Tian, too) re-tell the story.  I'm still editing a video that I'll post soon.  I made a set of sight word cards and we plan to label everything in the house so that Travis can start identifying basic words or at least understand that the words mean something.

I'm SUPER excited about the teacher Travis might possibly have next fall, but don't know the details definitively, so I'll save posting about that for later.

Also on the school front is news about TJ.  I'll save that for the next post....

Monday, June 3, 2013

Winds of Change

The first third of 2013 was fairly uneventful.  Ken changed jobs, but otherwise, the kids all rolled along with school, TJ turned 10 and I worked part time as a Video Interpreter for ZVRS, and we actively sought out a church home.  Otherwise, there wasn't much to report.

(We did have stuff going on. You may not guess the way I sometimes blog, but I don't share everything on here; probably not even a 5% of what's going on in our lives.)

Ken has always been an entrepreneur at heart.  He has some pretty amazing product and business ideas.  (He had the idea for this service, which we now happen to use and highly recommend, way back in the mid-1990s.  Certainly before its time.)  He's innovative.  He's forward-thinking.  His co-workers both in the law enforcement community and in telecommunications industry have called him a "maverick."  One person meant it as an insult, but he always saw it as a compliment.  Some of his friends call him "Deaf MacGuyver," which fits him to a tee.  

At the beginning of the year, Ken took on a new job, looking forward to the challenges and projects.  But it just wasn't "fitting."  He was feeling burned-out and restless; so he approached me with a proposition: Let's switch roles for a while.

Since we've moved to Austin...well, let me be honest...since a few months leading up to our trip to China, I've felt "off" regarding homeschooling.  I mean, we check most of our boxes.  The kids keep up with their Three Rs.  They read a lot.  We read together a lot.  We did a few science crash-courses.  Did I mention that we read....a lot?  But we weren't getting the structure that I desired into our days.  For the past few years, I've asked Ken to take a week off work and "do school" with us to help me find some solutions to work out the kinks, but it's never panned out.

When Ken first told me about his desire to resign from his job, I was scared.  That fear lasted about 60 seconds, then turned into excitement.  He needs this.  My kids need their dad!  I still have vivid memories of the semester my dad stayed home while mom worked full time.  I remember watching The Price Is Right and eating grilled cheese before Dad walked me to afternoon kindergarten.  How precious that my kids will get those same "daddy" memories.

We make a good team.
Through thick and thin.
 I've been homeschooling for 8 years now.  For 5 of those years, I homeschooled exclusively, not working outside the home more than once every two years.  I've always loved my professional job.  As an independent contractor, I can make my own hours, both in weekly scheduling as well as total volume of work.  Because of that and because I'm truly passionate about interpreting, I don't get burned out. 

So, we saw this as a great opportunity for both of us.  Ken turned in his notice and is no longer a sales engineer, but a stay-at-home dad/homeschool instructor!  

Over the summer, we'll work together on a plan for the school year.  We still have a lot to prepare and to pray over, but we both feel a sense of relief and excitement.  For now, we're committing to six months, but just might keep going if we both love it.  I'll be working more hours at Z (the absolute best work environment, I'm telling you) plus picking up some contract work in the community.  **Shameless plug: Request me or contact me if you need interpreting services in Austin!**

While this change is scary and I certainly have a few fears that dance around in my head, I'm excited!  Prayer coupled with my trust in Ken have given me peace about this new adventure.  We cherish your prayers always.

Upcoming Blogs: Travis's Fifth Birthday, End of the School Year, Our Search for a Church (That rhymes)!