My Top Six Tips for Motivating a Child with LDs

First,let me preface this list by saying that it is not scientifically based. I am not forming this list from a series of studies, or even one study. Rather it is based on my own experience raising two LD kids and being LD myself. I have in no way reached a guaranteed, 100% success rate with motivating my boys, and this continues to be a learning process for me. But I have found certain things to be indispensable, and here they are:

1. Understand that your child has a built-in shut down defense mechanism for when the going gets tough. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, it is the one piece of information that is simply indispensable to raising a child with LD. When you are frustrated because you see your child giving up too soon, or throwing out answers to your questions without even processing your questions, or dropping his pencil in disgust while telling you it’s not important whether he completes his homework, this is a defense mechanism. Even when your child knows the answer, he may shut down because it simply feels so overwhelming to them to keep moving forward. This is particularly difficult to work through as a parent because your child is shutting down instinctively, not because he’s given his situation considered thought and he believes shutting down is the best solution. He may not even realize he does this.

2. Use this understanding to gently but firmly walk your child through the shut down process to reach the other side, which is successful completion of his or her homework. This may take more fortitude than you ever believed you had, but if you react negatively, it will only fuel your child’s defense mechanism to shut down. Tutors are a great way to alleviate some of the tension between you and your child if you can afford it and can find someone you feel is qualified. If you cannot access a tutor, take a break for a few minutes. Change your child’s focus and help her relax by thinking about something she enjoys. When the break is over, offer positive feedback by reminding her that you understand this is difficult but that anything is possible with a little patience and perseverance. As the Brits say, keep calm and carry on.

3. Be willing to hold your child accountable if they aren’t willing to do the hard work. I know, this sounds contradictory to number 2. But all kids are lazy sometimes, and for kids with LD, there is even more incentive to be lazy because they have to work so much harder than other kids do. Sometimes when your child tells you that other people make fun of him, or when he says he can’t do something, you just have to give some tough love. Use your inner parenting thermometer to judge when to indulge them with nurturing patience and when to say “I know it’s tough, but we’ve entered a no excuses zone….” Arm yourself with anecdotes about successful people who have overcome LD to hold up as role models to your child. You can find these lists on many websites including or by searching for celebrities/politicians/business people/etc. with learning disabilities through a search engine.

4. Don’t forget to praise your child, and that praise includes letting them know that you understand how much harder they had to work for their success than non-LD kids. Your child knows he’s different. He sees it every day in the classroom as he watches his peers. His peers probably know he is different, despite your child’s best efforts to hide his differences. He knows he has to work harder. Acknowledging this difference is part of the process to show your child that being LD is okay. Failing to acknowledge your child’s efforts won’t insulate him from the knowledge that he is different. It will only make him think that being different is bad because you don’t talk about it.

5. Be consistent and honest. Sometimes your child with LD will be really, really angry with you for making her do the hard work. Remember that she needs somewhere to release all the anger and frustration of dealing with her challenges, and you are the safe place for that. You are the person who will still love her no matter how much she acts out those frustrations. It is the most painful part of being the parent of an LD kid, with the exception of seeing them sometimes not reach their potential because of their LD. You may need to give her some space to pout or scream, but when she’s in a calmer place, talk to her rationally. Be honest about her disability. Ask questions about how it makes her feel if she’ll talk about it. But let her know that your expectations are still high and that you believe she can achieve them. And stick to your guns when it comes to requiring them to work with the support you have in place, whether that is extra time with their teachers, meeting with tutors, taking summer classes, etc.

6. Understand that most specific LDs and behavioral disabilities come with developmental delays. For example, my son with a profound global executive functioning disability is developmentally delayed in several areas of maturity. Most boys will begin to understand in ninth grade that their performance in high school is important enough that they will begin to buckle down to maximize achievement and by the end of tenth grade, as one of my son’s teachers told me, “the maturity fairy has come.” But as I have been advised by a special education director, for LD kids, this realization is often delayed and may not kick in until eleventh grade or beyond. As a parent, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your child, capable of so much more, unable to maximize success because he just doesn’t have the maturity yet to apply himself regularly and thoroughly. You can support your child with the tools of LD support (educational plans, teacher involvement, tutors, assistive technologies, etc.) but you cannot make your child understand a developmental concept that his brain is not physically ready to understand.

These are my top tips for dealing with the motivational aspects of LD. You may find it helpful to tie your child’s efforts to rewards, but not all children are well motivated by reward systems. Give your child options to control their development when you can (you can take this class or you can meet with a tutor one-on-one over the summer; or you can let me help you study your vocabulary or you can meet with your teacher at such and such time, etc.) Experience is a great teacher and you never know who might have the perfect solution for your situation in their toolbox. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help through a cognitive behavioral specialist (licensed psychologists who understand LD issues) or from an organizational “coach.” Every state has an office of support for parents of LD children, funded through the Americans with Disabilities Act, that you can access to get information on these types of services, or you can check with the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

What are your top tips for increasing motivation in an LD child?

Posted in Executive Function, Learning Disabilities, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summer Reading Fun for the Picture Book Crowd

If you have young children in your life and are looking for fun summer read aloud picture books, here are some of my recommendations:

 

A Frog in the Bog by Karma Wilson This one is just so much fun to read.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, A very humorous read about being true to yourself.

Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore Sid will have you cheering for him!

Ella Takes the Cake by Carmela and Steven D’Amico Beautifully illustrated, this is a heroine that every kid can enjoy.

Senor Don Gato by John Manders Senor Don Gato is simply an amazing guy.

Belinda the Ballerina by Amy Young Belinda’s big feet are so much fun.

Night Cat by Margaret Beames A great book to read when the lights are low!

Olivia Forms a Band Olivia in the summer is as sparkling as the Fourth of July.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson Karma Wilson really knows how to make a read aloud gather steam.

Slinky Malinki Opens the Door by Lynley Dodd Another hero you will cheer for.

The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown They are just so darn cute.

Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin You can never trust cows. Especially once they get their hooves on a typewriter.

Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi Some swashbuckling fun.

Madeline and the Bad Hat by Ludwig Bemelmans If you can’t enjoy the guillotine lines, there is seriously something amiss with your sense of humor.

Cat Up a Tree by Ann Hassett An oldie but a goodie.

I hope you enjoy this selection with a child near and dear to you! Happy Summer reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Connecting in the Digital Age

Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I am an active supporter of environmental and human rights causes. My Twitter feed is littered with retweets of news and opportunities to speak out from various environmental and human rights organizations. These things matter to me.

I have been very vocal, also, about my own journey with being learning disabled and raising two learning disabled kids. So when the hashtag “YesAllWomen” popped up on Twitter, I was moved by the comments other women were making regarding issues of women’s rights that have been in the news lately with the abduction of 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria and the firing of a prominent editor after she asked for equal pay. It struck a chord in me, and made me think of all the little, and sometimes big, ways in which I have experienced discrimination or sexual harassment as a woman over the years. And I tweeted about a few of them.

I was genuinely surprised by the response these tweets generated. For the most part, I put my tweets out there and they make a tiny splash at best. These tweets were getting immediate reactions, being retweeted and marked as favorites. I didn’t think my comments were remarkable in any way, but they seemed to strike a chord in other women and occasionally men.

And then a man retweeted a tweet that I had posted about my experience of being LD and it being dismissed when I was a kid because of the attitude that “girls aren’t good at math.” The man who retweeted my comment thought it was “LOL” for me to complain about it. He mocked the whole thread of the hashtag, but two of my tweets he particularly singled out to ridicule.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been bullied by a non-family member. The last event of bullying by a classmate or stranger that means enough to stick in my memory is of a night my college roommate and I were walking home from a bar and we were followed and harassed by some girls who picked on us because they were a different race and didn’t like ours. We kept walking and they let us, but I still remember how intimidating they tried to be.

So when I saw that my tweets had been mocked, I was surprised not only by my own surprise that my tweet could be met with ridicule, but that I had such a visceral reaction to the ridicule. For me, being LD has had a huge impact on my choices in life and therefore my outcomes. It has shaped every part of who I am and what matters to me. And watching my sons struggle with LD is even more painful than having been through it myself.

When I looked at the man’s other tweets, it was easy to see why he would mock me. His feed was full of far-right statements, both social and political from Second Amendment gun issues to hate speech about anyone who didn’t support ultra-conservative political candidates. I know these people exist. I have seen their use of hate speech and insults to express their views. It didn’t take long for me to distance myself from the man or his comments.

But my reaction to the idea that LD could be something to mock, and the feeling of vulnerability that comes from the need to step away from his attempts to marginalize what has been so destructive in my life, has been profound. It is not the individual bully we react to. The man who made these comments is not of consequence in my life, he holds no power over me. But the deep sense of unfairness, of a need to fight against my emotional trauma being marginalized, is like a beast inside of me that has to be calmed.

It’s not just bullying that leads to this kind of response. As an attorney working for a personal injury firm in my early days as a law student, I often saw families who had lost a loved one to someone else’s negligence desperately clinging to the need for that loss to be acknowledged. People tend to think of plaintiffs in personal injury suits as money-grubbing, vicious people who will sue anyone they can. There are people like that out there. But the vast majority of our clients cared much more about their loss and pain being acknowledged, especially the pain that their loved ones had suffered, than about the money. The money was just a way to get that acknowledgement. When they did get the acknowledgement, when a defendant was able to admit to doing something wrong that had caused so much pain, the money became a tribute to that acknowledgment, and even in some ways distasteful to the families that had fought for it for so long.

So I thought about this reaction I’ve been having and it reminded me in a visceral way of what it felt like when I was sometimes bullied in middle school and high school. It reminded me of the raw anger at the unfairness of being bullied I felt then, because I still feel it. This man’s ridicule of me was small and unfair and twisted. But now I have the words I need to marginalize those who would try to marginalize me, and I can use those words in my writing, both in my fiction and in this blog, to fight back. And this makes me feel not only empowered, but honored to be a writer, especially for kids and teens. If my experience can be written about so that it helps even one child or teen who also knows the pain of being LD, then I am proud to be a writer. I want to be a writer because I want to open an email someday from some kid who has struggled as I have and read him or her say “I felt this, too, and I needed to know I am not alone.”

As my friend Lillian says, Write On. Because we don’t have to be afraid to connect in the digital world. Our writing speaks for itself.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Ruminations on Mothers’ Day for parents of LD kids

With the exception of my birthday, a random day on the calendar, I don’t have any holidays that celebrate me. I’m not a Veteran. I’m not Irish, technically at least. I do count quite a number of Irish immigrants as family, but there is no blood between us. They are the kind of family you make rather than grow in an uncultivated garden. I don’t even qualify for labor day since I don’t have an employer.

So the idea that there is a day set aside to celebrate me at all, let alone the work I do to try to raise other human beings to be happy, healthy, productive people, should be something I embrace. My husband, who has a very successful career, was once disappointed when he brought home yet another accolade and I made the lukewarm reply, “that’s nice.” In a very hurt, rhetorical tone he said “Boy, you just aren’t proud of me at all, are you?”

I knew I should be more excited for him. But it was the fourth or fifth Super-something title he’d brought home in a month and it simply underscored, highlighted, and italicized how little what I do is appreciated. No one has ever given me an award for being the best-throw-up-cleaner-upper or a certificate recognizing my achievements in being the only person in our house who can push the disgusting bathroom trash down so that it doesn’t overflow. No one celebrates my achievements when I successfully calm a nightmare or FINALLY make a teacher understand why my learning disabled child can’t do things the way the teacher wants him to. No one celebrates me for providing a proper funeral, despite a muddy hillside and clay soil, for my daughter’s beloved cat before racing down to the animal shelter before they close to get a “new” cat. Only on mothers’ day do we generally take the time to thank our moms for all the things they do for us like this, the things that won’t make it into the newspaper or provide us a nice plaque for our wall. I should really, really love Mothers’ Day.

Mothers’ Day for me, however, is an annual reminder that two of my kids have specific learning disabilities. It’s a day that reminds me that, no matter how much I love my kids, no matter how much I wish I could give them a wonderful life, there are limitations to what love can do. One of my LD kids has had to really struggle to be properly diagnosed and accommodated. He struggles with developmental delays that make him less able to accept his condition and deal with it directly. He is a volcano of frustration and fear and resentment and the only safe place for him to pour all that hot lava inside of him is on me. So he does. And there isn’t enough love in the universe for me to fix his world, no matter how much I wish there were. I’ve given him all the tools at my disposal, and now he needs to roll up his sleeves and use them. It’s not an uncommon story for parents of kids with LDs.

I enjoyed posts from my friends on social media about their wonderful kids giving them a wonderful Mothers’ Day. Two of my wonderful kids did go out of their way to let me know that they love and appreciate me. But for me, Mothers’ Day is truly a reminder that sometimes the hardest part of being a mom is to shoulder the pain of your kids, even when they resent you for it. Sometimes it’s dosing some tough love because you’re pretty sure that’s the right thing even though it hurts enough to break your heart. There are no awards for it. No accolades or plaques. Sometimes there is not even a thank you waiting at the end of the long road ahead. Just a lot of worry that they may not figure it out before their best opportunities expire. But you’re still their mother, and you still love them, more than your own life. So you do the hardest work of all and let them hate you. I’m just not sure I need a day to remind me how hard that is.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Celebrating National Poetry month with Book Spine Poetry

 

My book spine poem…what’s yours?

bookptry

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a poem that I learned when I was a teenager. It remains a favorite of mine. Although it’s fairly simple, and, in the second verse, a bit pedantic, it surprises by reaching into the depth of human importance and puts it all into perspective:

Song, by  Christina Rossetti (1848)

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

What are some of your favorite poems?

Posted in Poetry, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours: My Writing Process

Last week, one of my fellow Lesley University Alums, Audrey Camp (have I mentioned that I love the community that is Lesley?) tagged me to participate in the My Writing Process Blog Tour. Audrey is an American expat and freelance writer living in Oslo, Norway, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley in 2012. Her essays have appeared in Forge and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. You can check out her take on her writing process at Audrey Camp, The Girl Behind the Red Door .

1. What am I working on?

One of the most difficult and fun aspects of my writing process is that my writing life reflects my personality. I like to call it eclectic. Some might call it scatter-brained, unfocused, or just plain weird. My husband tells me I’m the only person he knows who has the classical station jammed between the oldies rock and the country station on my car radio pre-set channels. I came to Lesley’s MFA program with several projects in various stages of completion. I also began one new project, a YA fantasy novel that became my thesis. Following graduation in January, I revised a completed draft of an historical fiction YA, a picture book, and one poem. Now I am trying to settle back down to complete my fantasy novel, but I admit that other projects, new and old, are clamoring for my attention as well. Just like my children, each of them shouts “Look at me! Look at me! No, REALLY look at me!” So I have begun to set monthly goals to try to corral the unwieldy herd into submission for submission’s sake.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I think this question could probably be answered in the same way by every writer: my work differs from others of its genre because of that elusive thing we call voice, which is made up, in part, of those aspects of our experience which inform us and drive us forward. We imbibe a character’s voice with aspects of that character’s personality, gender, ethnicity, sense of place. Similarly, my work as a writer is imbued with my voice-my experience as a person, my world-view, my sense of justice, worth, and import. These are the pieces of the world that influence and inform my writing, which is what sets it apart from other work in the same genre.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Audrey said “When it comes to writing stories, I have no choice.” This is true for me as well. When I was a kid, I read voraciously and I created my own stories with equal enthusiasm. It was my way of creating a utopian world, one that made sense and functioned as I knew the real world should. Now, story is for me the same kind of safe harbor, creating worlds that seek to make sense of the inconsistencies and injustices of life. When we write, we get to play God, and it is as close to understanding how difficult a job that might really be as we can probably come.

4. How does my writing process work?

Well, most days I would have to admit it doesn’t. Instead, I covet success to feed my guilty pleasure. It would be a luxury to be able to say “I’m a financial success as a writer, therefore I’m justified in spending time on my writing as if it were a real job.” I admit I have pangs of envy for writers who can treat themselves to whole days of writing, researching, and networking while knowing there will be a paycheck at the end to justify this time.

I have three kids, one husband, and four cats. My schedule shifts and morphs on a minute by minute basis at times. I try to plan my week, but usually there will be some event that changes all my plans. Last week, it was a cat in sudden renal failure, a child with a fractured thumb, and the list goes on from there.

I try to maximize time by networking (twitter, facebook, etc.) while I have time that is otherwise difficult to use (waiting at doctor’s appointments, drum lessons, etc.) I try to write a little each day, but there are often days where that doesn’t happen. I do think about my writing every day, planning my plot lines and getting to know my characters in my head, so I count that as writing, even if it’s happening while I’m driving, or walking, or doing laundry. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you must write every day to be successful. You just have to be dedicated to finishing projects on whatever schedule is feasible for you.

I like when I have deadlines to meet (whether for submission periods or self imposed) as it helps me to focus and stay on track. And, recently, I have begun to make use of two alumni groups where we check in with goals at the beginning of the month. Finally, I try to use my weekly writing group session as a deadline to the next chapter.

With respect to projects, my process is varied. Wherever the idea strikes me, at whatever point in the story that is, I begin. Sometimes it’s a scene in the middle. Sometimes it’s the climax, sometimes the first page. The seed that starts the story is my jumping off point. If it’s not the beginning, I get the crux of the seed down, then go back to the beginning and work toward the idea that started it all. From there, I usually continue in chronological order. I never start with endings, as it’s hard to know what will be needed in them, even if I know what the ending will be (I’m a happy ending person. There’s enough misery in the world that I don’t feel the need to add to it with my endings. I know some people will criticize me for this, but I haven’t yet found a legitimate reason in my work to veer from this philosophy, and I hope I never will.

So that is my working process. Next up, you can check out the writing processes of some of my completely awesome Lesley friends:

Michael Anthony, A Veteran’s Perspective…

Kyra Renee Clay, Traveling to Me: The Road towards living (a Dream)

Alexis Marie Writes

and Cynthia Platt, Scribbling in the Garret

I hope you’ll check them out. A writer friend of mine, Patricia Easton, likes to quote the legendary children’s editor, Dinah Stevenson, with the following words of wisdom (and one of my favorite nuggets of writing advice): Your process is your process. Honor your process.

 

 

 

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Functional Shift: What it is and why every writer needs it

While researching the topic of my third semester craft essay at Lesley last year, I came across the term “functional shift” used by cognitive scientists to describe a slow down in brain processing when we encounter language in fiction that makes us hesitate to understand it. Authors are universally taught that clarity is one of our main goals in writing. So while it doesn’t sound like making your reader work to understand what you are saying would be a good idea, it is, in fact, a trick used by many highly successful authors. From Shakespeare to Dr. Suess, authors who can successfully manipulate the functional shift engage their readers more significantly than those who do not use this technique.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fmri) technology, scientists have gained new insight into how our brains react to the language of fiction. By studying subjects reading Shakespeare, cognitive scientists have isolated this principle of a functional shift.

Shakespeare used 17,677 words in his works, making up approximately 1700 of them, or 10 per cent. He did this by changing the parts of speech, integrating foreign words, adding prefixes and suffixes, inventing words, and connecting separate words together. These intentional syntactic errors shift mental pathways in the reader, which causes the brain to become stimulated. By comparing the language of Shakespeare to the same meaning rewritten in simple prose, scientists were able to discover that the challenge of Shakespeare’s word usage engages the reader, making the subject excited rather than confused. Among examples of Shakespeare’s intentional syntactic mistakes are “thick my blood” from The Winter’s Tale (an adjective made into a verb); “the cruelest she alive” from Twelfth Night (a pronoun made into a noun); “He childed as I fathered” from King Lear (a noun made into a verb); and “him have you madded” from King Lear (an adverb made into a verb). As we read these sentences, our brains hesitate to understand the new use of the word encountered, yet that use is familiar enough to us that we do not discard it as nonsense. We experience a slight delay to process the word and the functional shift is created.

On the other pole of this spectrum, Dr. Suess often used the same type of error to engage young readers, such as when he substituted the word “chimbley” for “chimney” in How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Although “chimney” could have worked as an imperfect rhyme for “nimbly” in the previous line, Dr. Suess’ invention of a word so close to chimney, and yet acting as a perfect rhyme, works in the same manner as the inventions that Shakespeare used. The reader accepts the word as something that can be understood after a slight hesitation.

As writers, understanding how and why this functional shift occurs allows us to manipulate it in our own writing. As with all rules, we must understand the rule in order to break it. If the attempted shift is recognized by the brain as nonsense, the brain will hesitate and reject it, and the shift will not be effective, the brain will not be stimulated. A writer must be in control of the technique when he or she uses it for it to produce the intended result.

If you’d like to learn more about the functional shift, this article by Daniel Honan is a great place to start:

http://bigthink.com/blogs/how-to-think-like-Shakespeare.

What are some examples of an effective functional shift that you have read or used in your own writing?

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

My Top 5 Revision Tips

Working on revisions this month for my historical YA novel, I used some revision techniques that have proven especially helpful. I hope that by sharing them, your revision process will be made a little bit easier.

1. Find your weeds:
It’s difficult to tailor specific revision techniques to the varying types of writing an individual author bring to their work. So the first thing you must do is to identify your own propensities for disaster. You must be able to see the weeds in your garden in order to pick them out. How do you do that if the sun is blinding you? First and foremost, get the opinion of other writers or publishing professionals. Look though their comments for patterns to identify mistakes you regularly make (such as problems with point of view, dialogue, world building, or sentence structure). Put your work aside for at least a week, preferably much longer, and then come back to it and actively look for patterns yourself. Too many sentences in a paragraph that start with “I”? Too many confusing beginnings that are not properly anchored in time to other the scene/chapter before? Too many lulls in tension? You must be able to identify your areas of weakness if you are going to address them. Make a checklist so you can refer back to it to remind yourself of things to look for when you revise (see below).

2. Use technology to your advantage:
There are tons of benefits to using the “find” feature in Word. Do you tend to repeat a phrase too much? Are your characters nodding non-stop? Use “find” to check the number of times your narrator says “I knew” or is biting her nails. A little bit of sweating or throat tightening to show fear can be highly effective. But if your character does these things every time you have a vampire encounter, your reader will become annoyed. When you begin to notice those pattern from above where your character repeats things, use “find” to get an idea of just how often your are doing it. You may be surprised at how often you are slipping into a bad habit.

3. Make a revision checklist:
As you look for those patterns I’ve talked about, consider consulting a general revision checklist as well as making your own. This may even help you find your specific weeds when you step back and look at your garden from a more removed, clinical place. The following list may help to get you started, but you can add or delete items as appropriate:

Themes
Plot
Subplot
Character development
Dialogue
Tension and Conflict
World building (Setting)
Point of View
Internal goals
External goals
Character arc
Word choice
Verbs
Adjectives
Pronouns
Paragraphs
Chapter arc
Openings
Closings
Transitions
Scenes
Inference
Sentence structure
Punctuation and grammar
Cliché
Title
Climax
Surprise
Devices

4. Honor Your Process:
My friend and mentor, Pat Easton, is always telling us that iconic children’s book editor and publisher Dinah Stevens says “Your process is your process. Honor your process.” By this she means, as interpreted by me, that it doesn’t matter if you write longhand or on a computer, in a café or in your pajamas on your bed, or if you start in the middle and fill in the beginning and end. You may write too much and then have to cut, or you may not write enough and have to add in order to make it clear. (Pat Easton describes this as writers being like belly buttons: some are innies and some are outies, and both are okay). As long as you are producing, it doesn’t matter the method you use to get there. This is true even for revision, as long as you do revise thoroughly. Writers always talk about “drafts,” but I don’t think in drafts. To me, my work is one consistently changing draft. This is my process. But it is a draft which I weed regularly and thoroughly.

5. When you think you have revised enough, get a second opinion:
Just as it is wise to get a second opinion when it comes to your health, it is wise to get a second opinion when you feel something is ready to send out into the world. Don’t ask your mother, your spouse, your friends. Ask people who will tell you the truth.

What are your best tips for revision?

Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

Dyslexia Support

It’s difficult to offer concrete help for children with dyslexia in a forum such as this because Dyslexia itself is a broad spectrum term encompassing any reading learning disorder. We commonly think of dyslexia as a problem where the brain reverses the images of letters and numbers, but dyslexia is much more complicated. Dyslexics struggle to read for many different reasons, all involving how the brain processes written language. Many dyslexic people struggle with phonetic comprehension, reading comprehension issues such as inference (what a sentence is implying rather than stating outright), and word identification (especially with sight words such as conjunctions).
One type of assistive technology that is generally recommended for people with dyslexia is audiobooks. When my son was first diagnosed with dyslexia five years ago, his diagnostic provider suggested that I have him listen to books on CDs. I tried this, but it was difficult to get CDs for the books he wanted to read and if I bought them from a bookstore they were very expensive. In addition, the readers of commercially produced audiobooks speak at a steady pace for someone who is listening, but at a pace too fast for a child trying to visually engage with the text at the same time. My son just couldn’t keep up. So even if I managed to find the CD for the book he wanted at the bookstore or the library, he would soon give up on them as he couldn’t “read along” with what was being spoken.
Instead, he struggled through on his own or would ask me to read to him. Sometimes he would read to me, but generally he had to struggle so much that he preferred when I read to him. He would often stop me to ask questions because the amount of inference required was too much for him to process, especially at the very beginning of a book. He also struggled with pronunciation of words, especially if the words were based on another language like Greek (yes, the irony of Percy Jackson). It seemed to me that, in the advent of a technological onslaught, there was no place for my learning disabled son. We tried electronic readers, but with Borders going under and the instability of the market, we weren’t sure where to turn. Barnes and Noble’s Nook device provided auditory read along, but only for picture books. My son needed middle grade titles.
I had been getting solicitations for a charitable organization called Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. I kept thinking that I should investigate the organization, but was so overwhelmed with the day to day management of my two learning disabled children in addition to regular life that I placed it on a mental to-do list and often forgot about it. The organization changed its name to Learning Ally, and I finally began to look into their mission. They said they had thousands of books on audio. I decided to give it a try.
What I received was well beyond my expectations. I had to provide them with my son’s diagnosis, which I honestly wasn’t very comfortable doing, to become a member. We downloaded our first book, and my son, who was skeptical as well, seemed happy. Not only could he hear his book, he could see the text, which was highlighted where the reader was reading, and he could speed up or slow down the speaker. He can download to any device he wants that is not content controlled by the manufacturer (such as the Nook): his computer, his iphone, an ipad, my computer. At first, he only asked for the books he had to read for school. But over time, he began asking for books just to read. I was overwhelmed.
He still likes to hold a copy of the book in his hands (a wee bit of his mother in him), but the audio/electronic text version enables him to read with confidence, especially when he chooses a challenging book.
I have become a vocal fan of Learning Ally (which also offers webinars for parents on learning issues and strategies related to dyslexia and visual impairment). A similar organization is Bookshare.org, which has a compatible mission to Learning Ally but does not have a membership fee.
One in five people is dyslexic. I believe this type of assistive technology is the most important technological tool that we have as parents and educators to help our dyslexic children become independent readers. A dyslexic child still needs the individualized help of a caring and qualified reading specialist. But this type of technology empowers a child to use the skills learned in reading support in a way that just isn’t available for them otherwise. It gives them a sense of independence, and allows them to work at their own pace without feeling as though they need to meet the expectations of anyone else.
What has been your most valuable support for dyslexia? What other support strategies would you recommend to others?

Posted in Books, Dyslexia, Learning Disabilities, Parenting, Reading | Leave a comment