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7 Resources for Homeschooling Kids With Learning Disabilities

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Since making the decision to leave the world of public school and the special education system, I had to find a way to provide the resources my children needed on a tiny budget. I have six school age children. Four were internationally adopted, so we have had the ESL aspect to consider for them along with their many learning disabilities. Five of them were on IEPs by the time our family finally left public school for our emotional and educational well-being.

It’s one thing to research and advocate as a parent-member of an IEP team, and entirely another to be the only one responsible for calling the shots. I was beyond frustrated and disappointed at the lack of progress my children were making in public school, but bringing them home meant I became the one responsible for ensuring just that.

I am happy to say we successfully completed our first year of homeschooling in June, and are set to begin again after Labor Day! I feel like it took me a year to really get it sorted out, but I finally found programs and apps that work for my kids and are affordable. My 5 kids with learning disabilities have quite a mix of diagnoses, including auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and visual impairments. Four of my children are also English language learners.

I’ve compiled a short list of things that have made our homeschooling journey with learning disabilities successful.

1. Learning Ally. This app has thousands of pre-recorded books for visually impaired and dyslexic individuals to access. The books with VOICEtext show the text as it’s being read with the current sentence highlighted. The user can change the text size, background color, highlighter color, and text color. Because many dyslexic kids are able to read better with color overlays, this is a fantastic feature. The app also allows the user to slow down or speed up how fast the book is read to them. Some of my kids with processing issues or visual impairments cannot keep up with a typical read-out-loud speed, so they can set the speed to super slow to allow their eyes to keep up with what they are hearing.

To access Learning Ally, there is a very quick and easy qualification process required to ensure the child has a disability that requires this type of adaptive technology. An IEP, an evaluation from a reading specialist, or another type of evaluation diagnosing their difficulty with reading will suffice. The yearly fee can be waived for those who can prove a need for financial assistance. This app has allowed my children who have comprehension years above their reading ability to enjoy books they otherwise cannot read.

I also want to give the Epic and Farfaria apps a shout-out. At $3.99/month they are wonderful apps with large libraries of audio children’s books to select from. We have also used Brain Quest books and games, and Sentence Building Puzzles as needed for more practice on certain skills.

2. Dyslexia often coexists with dyscalculia. We have a computerized math program called Teaching Textbooks that is wonderful for teaching the kids in a way they can understand. If a child gets a problem incorrect, the program goes over how to solve that problem before moving on to the next one. Grades are recorded in a grade book so I can see how they’re doing, and I have the option of deleting a lesson that was failed. Sometimes I will delete a lesson three times in one day for a child to redo before they are finally able to pass. I tell them it’s not a big deal how long it takes them to “get” something. The important thing is that they do. We have an abacus so kids who need manipulatives can visualize the problems.

3. We plan to purchase Touch, Type, Read, and Spell this year. TTRS is a multi-sensory course that teaches touch-typing skills to help children improve their reading and spelling. TTRS can be used as a stand alone touch-typing course and is especially useful for those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

4. We purchase materials from Dyslexia Games to use along with our reading and math programs. “Dyslexia Games is a series of workbooks packed with learning activities that empower your student’s brain with new abilities and new brain connections for literacy.” The Dyslexia Games workbooks series A, B, and C specifically addresses issues with handwriting, reversals, and letter or number confusion. The DIY Homeschool Journals allow us to use library books to create our choice of topics to cover. Dyslexic kids are often very creative, so having a curriculum that allows them to choose what they want to learn about has made school much less stressful. My daughter loves coloring the pages and working through the “Dyslexia Therapy.”

5. Netflix. We cannot stream movies where we live, but we subscribe to the Netflix mail order program and I select educational movies for the children. Netflix has many of the classics on DVD such as “Oliver Twist,” “Moby Dick,” and “The Secret Garden,” as well as many IMAX documentaries. Their streaming library is even better, but we make it work with just the DVDs!

6. The local library. I take the kids to the library at least once a week to pick out books, movies, and audio books. We have four library cards and have been known to max them all out. While Learning Ally is fantastic, nothing quite replaces holding a book in your hands. I have always loved reading and adore libraries. I feel that the joy of books is quickly being lost in this technological world. I want my children to understand that while Google is great, the library is also a vast source of knowledge and entertainment.

Our library allows me to select books to place on hold from three different branches online. This has saved me so much time and is a wonderful free tool to have at my disposal when I want to teach about a certain topic. We have also participated in their summer reading program, in which the kids could pick food coupons from our local restaurants as their weekly reward for reading. Watching my dyslexic children struggle to read and begin to hate books broke my heart. I want to pass on a love for reading and feed their natural thirst for knowledge. Libraries are an often-overlooked resource that allow children to search for and find things they genuinely want to learn about.

7. Homeschooling co-ops. We have joined a co-op this school year and are looking forward to the new friends we are making and all of the great lessons and activities we have planned. Our state has a large number of homeschoolers. The rise of social media has made finding each other very easy. To meet other homeschoolers who are usually more than happy to answer questions and offer advice, search for homeschool groups in your state, city, or county on Facebook. Not all co-ops are a great fit for children with learning disabilities, but we have finally found a group of moms and kids with similar teaching styles, needs, and interests.

I hope this list encourages other parents out there who wish they could homeschool their children with learning disabilities. I see many parents discouraged with the special education system, yet uncertain that they can do any better at home. My advice is don’t doubt yourself! As parents we naturally know when something is or is not working for our child. We are their best advocates while they are in the school system, but sometimes, public education ceases to become the best choice for our children. If that’s where you find yourself, know that you too can successfully teach your child at home.

Happy Homeschooling!

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The Life of a Person With a Learning Disability Who Supposedly Wasn't 'College Material'

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I am a person with a learning disability and a language impairment. Diagnosed at the age of 3, I am the only one in my family with a disability, and I received special education services throughout my school career. My goal in life is to support people with disabilities in gaining independence and becoming as successful as they can be— just like me.

My areas of weakness are reading comprehension and written expression, as well as mathematics. After high school, I wasn’t expected to go on to college to earn a bachelor’s degree ­­or even an associate degree. In high school I was advised by a counselor to go into child care because I was not “college material.” My high school counselor and those who followed obviously did not know who they were dealing with!

My college education started right after high school, and I spent the next 12 years working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in the area of Rehabilitation Services Independent Living Track (supporting people with disabilities in the community). I started my educational journey by attending St. Louis Community College —Meramec, where I received an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education. I then decided to further my education and take classes that would transfer to a four-year university.

woman with a learning disability at graduation I had many people tell me I should quit school because they did not think I could handle it. I showed them how determined I was to obtain my Bachelor’s degree by graduating in 2011! I chose to obtain a degree in the field of Rehabilitation Services because I belong to a unique social group. This group has evolved over the past 15 years. The eleven members of our close­-knit group are unique because all of us experience a mental, physical, or educational disability.

I am proud of the person I am today. Looking back, I see many factors had an impact on me as I worked to achieve my Bachelor of Science Degree in Rehabilitation Services. Most people I met along the way, especially those experiencing their own difficulties, influenced me in a positive way. My self- advocacy skills have grown over the years. Today I have the confidence to set high goals, and I know I can be successful. I have become more skilled at supporting my students and clients as they set goals, work toward their goals, and learn to advocate for themselves. I am grateful every day to be doing

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Adults With Learning Difficulties Crowdfund to Make Murder Mystery Movie

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In Aylesbury, U.K., a group of adults with learning difficulties are filming a short murder mystery flick — and they’re turning to Kickstarter to fund it.

“Adults with learning difficulties and special needs are one of the least supported groups in the U.K.,” the film’s campaign page reads. “Once people pass the age of 18 the provision and funding fades out.”

That’s where London-based theater and film company Creating Freedom came in.

Partnering with a local support group, “I Have A Voice Too,” Creating Freedom writer-directors Siggi Holm and Maya Lindh of Simple Life Productions recruited a handful of adult actors with a variety of learning disabilities to be cast in the 25-minute “The Fortunate Mr. Spencer.” The film’s Kickstarter teases the film, featuring “an English Country House… perfect manners and starched shirts… the tinkle of glass and creaking of doors… tension, passion, mistrust and suspicious glances.”

Production of the film, which started in 2014, ground to a halt twice after funding fell through. So far, they’ve raised about 70 percent of the $4,213 they need to roll tapes for three more days of work on location. Kickstarter has tabbed the film a “Project We Love.”

Writer-director Holm said he’s observed a measurable difference in his cast.

“It has been amazing to follow the actors from when we first started doing our drama classes to where they are now and see how much they have grown as actors, having gained so much more confidence,” Holm told The Mighty in an email.

If the film is fully funded on Kickstarter, Holm said he hopes to screen it at a local theater and at various film festivals worldwide.

The Kickstarter campaign for “The Fortunate Mr. Spencer” is open for donations until Monday, June 6. The project also has a Facebook page.

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I'm the Student Holding a Hunger Strike on Princeton's Campus for Disability Rights

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When I was 9 years old, I struggled to read Dr. Seuss books. I knew I had severe attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities, but I had big goals. I wanted to go to the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Like me, President Wilson had difficulties with reading and writing his entire life, but he accomplished so much.

Two decades later, my reading level isn’t much better, but I did get accepted to the Ph.D. program at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, after having attended McGill University and Yale University.

But not too long after I got to Princeton, I became nervous. Scared, actually. Because I saw the patterns around me. I heard what professors and staff had to say. As a student with an invisible disability, I felt I wouldn’t fit in unless I blended in. But when I tried to blend in, I lost hold of why I was accepted into Princeton in the first place, what made me unique: the way I think.

Throughout my time there, I was told that just because I was admitted to Princeton, that did not mean I would be accepted. To be welcomed, to fit the Princeton mold, I felt I would have to hide and downplay my disabilities as much as possible. I had to fake it until I made it, and I thought I could, but I was wrong.

You see, Princeton has a problem: It treats visible and invisible disabilities differently. Disabilities like mine aren’t part of its culture.

Princeton was happy about the parts of my disability that benefited them — my creativity, my ability to make connections and see the things that were hiding in plain sight of my neurotypical colleagues and peers — but administrators didn’t want to deal with the tougher side of my disabilities. For example, I needed a low-distraction learning and testing environment not only because I have ADHD, but also because I rely on computerized auxiliary aids that have auditory components like a smart pen for note-taking, Dragon Dictate and text-to-speech software.

When I tried to speak up about disability harassment and discrimination (some of which was unintentional but none-the-less problematic), I thought I would be protected. After all, I just wanted the issues to be addressed, and I wasn’t looking for trouble.

During my last semester, administrators systematically removed previously approved accommodations; consequentially, I was held to a higher standard than my non-disabled peers. I was terminated because I didn’t meet Princeton’s “academic standards” for a comprehensive exam by less than 4 percentage points (I earned a B rather than a B+).

Rather than being accommodated, I was punished. For something I couldn’t help. For things that weren’t critical to my program of study. For the very things I’d disclosed when I applied to Princeton.

Princeton was wrong. And it’s OK to be wrong. But it’s not OK to ignore complaints, to violate my right to confidentiality or to create blatantly discriminatory policies — all of which happened to me in my last semester at Princeton. Perhaps the cycle of discrimination and retaliation could have been prevented had I listened to my gut earlier and more often. I didn’t sufficiently share what was happening with my professors (and others at Princeton who may have been willing and able to help). I didn’t know who to trust, I was scared of further retaliation, and I couldn’t emotionally handle, let alone communicate, the depth or breadth of the pain, humiliation, vulnerability and anxiety I was experiencing.

Based on my experience with people from other schools, my experience at Princeton is, sadly, all too common at colleges and universities across the country.

Right now, Princeton doesn’t have enough incentive to change; they will do what they need to do to look good. And that’s not unique to Princeton. Recent actions at other universities have shown that people in power turn a blind eye to discrimination of marginalized students groups because they’re comfortable with the status quo, and by extension, the biases in their campus climates. Many college administrators are not living their values. In response, students are protesting, occupying presidents’ offices, etc. on campuses across the country. But I fear my current efforts will have limited impact without the assistance of the disability community, their families and friends. Please join me on Facebook and Twitter in pressuring Princeton to identify, discuss and remove the barriers that led Eve Woodman, Princeton’s longtime head of the office of disability services, to warn me throughout my tenure at Princeton that invisible disabilities like mine are “not part of the zeitgeist of Princeton.”

I went to Princeton because I want to change the world for the better. And even though I didn’t want this to happen, my current situation and my academic affiliation gives me a chance to have a meaningful impact.

That’s why I’m holding a hunger strike on Princeton’s campus — to underscore the need for change.

The past few years have been terrible for me, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that I have become more aware of the individuals and groups who have been hurt and oppressed by my own inauthenticity and hubris. For too long I have been ashamed and inauthentic with myself and others about the connection between my anxiety, ADHD and print disability and my Princeton experience.

I can no longer be silent and forgo the opportunity I have been given to help catalyze serious change. I am hoping you will join me in ending the academic stigma around “thinking” differently and “mental” disorders and ask Princeton to reflect deeply on how its policies, procedures and institutional structure and culture is compromising the rights of people with disabilities.

There’s nothing wrong with the way I think. In fact, the reason I was dismissed is the same reason I was admitted: I think differently. And that’s a good thing.

Update 5/29: Princeton University provided the following response to The Mighty’s request for comment:

Out of respect for her privacy and the confidentiality of the processes we follow, we are not willing to discuss her case.  The University has always been sympathetic and attentive to Ms. Barr’s concerns.  We believe this matter has been handled fairly and consistently with the established University processes for providing all reasonable accommodations for disabilities, and for addressing complaints.

The Office of Disability Services (ODS) has a careful and holistic process through which their staff work individually with each student to provide necessary academic accommodations. The overwhelming majority of accommodation requests are approved by ODS. The Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity & Diversity has a well-publicized grievance process that gives thorough consideration to any complaints about discrimination of any kind.

Please also refer to the Graduate School site, which clearly outlines the criteria for candidates to continue toward completion of the degree and reasons for the termination of enrollment.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Daughter With Learning Differences, Whom I Once Tried to Change

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Thank you for being my child. I need you. Thank you for being you.

Although I never thought I’d say this, I’m grateful for what we’ve learned from the challenges surrounding your ADHD, dyslexia and sensory issues. While I know for you, this has made school difficult and life challenging, I want to go on record and say you have made me a better person.

I spent years wishing you were different. I didn’t want you to have to suffer. I have to admit it, and we’ve talked about it before… it’s not easy to parent a child who is struggling. You become a mom who is struggling. You envy the kids who are “thriving.” You start to resent the other moms. You close down and protect and build walls. I did all of that.

But you know what else I did? I fought for you. I fought with you. We stood together and reckoned with the future. Sometimes our fists were up, and sometimes our hearts were open, but we were in it. We were strong and courageous. Together.

I told you that you could do anything, and you listened. You did it. High school graduation is upon us, and you are headed to college.

daughter reading as a child

I think back to kindergarten and the teacher telling me you didn’t quite understand the letters. In second grade when you were formally diagnosed with a learning disability, they kept saying, “She understands, she’s so smart, she just can’t decode the letters,” or “She knows the material, she just can’t get it on paper.”

While often we were focusing on the decoding and the “treatment,” we tucked away the truth — “She’s so smart, she understands” — and we believed. I hope and pray that’s what you heard.

We had years of doctor appointments and therapy and meetings at school and tutoring and scary trips to the neurologist and so many questions. We fought for extra time on tests and notes written out. The paperwork alone takes up a whole room.

We were blessed with a school district that had resources and teachers who understood. Except for a few losers. Remember the one time we were so happy you got a D- we jumped up and down and cheered? Remember how I called your one teacher an “a**hole who doesn’t understand”? Well, I stand by that. Some people don’t get it. But because of you, I do get it. I am so grateful to be firmly planted on the side of understanding and compassion.

You can always be assured we’ve got your back.

Oh, how I worried about you. I sought to understand you. I didn’t understand you. I cried and felt sorry for myself. My sense of entitlement was called into question. I was complaining to Dad, and he said, “It’s not about you.” That changed the way I parent and live.

In an effort to get you what you needed, I called in the experts and read the books and prayed in a way that required surrender and trust. You gave me courage, and you taught me to ask for help.

You are heading off to college next fall, and while I know I’m not always a perfect mother, I can honestly say you are the perfect child for me.

I read a quote the other day that said, “Why do you keep trying to change the people God sent to change you?” This hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m sorry for trying to change you.

I think at times I might have justified my desire for you to change by explaining that it would just be easier for you if you were “like everybody else.”

I take it back.

Can I take it back?

You are a gift. You have changed me for good.

This is only the beginning. Now you get to go out and bless the world. I will be cheering you on forever. I’m thankful I have been close enough to see you… a unique, beautiful creation… becoming.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is the best advice your mom gave you while growing up with a disease, disability or mental illness? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

 

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Disability Advocates Blast Online Dating Site for Posing an 'Offensive' Question

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Advocates in the disability community are blasting online dating site OkCupid for posing a question in its screening process some are calling “inappropriate, offensive and discriminatory” — “Would the world be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce?”

Mencap, a UK charity that works with people with learning disabilities, has started a campaign calling on OkCupid to apologize and remove the question. A question like this, they say, contributes to the public’s current perception that people with learning disabilities can’t lead lives like everyone else.

Ciara Lawrence, a spokesperson and campaigner for Mencap, started the petition asking OkCupid to remove the question from its site. The petition has almost 1,000 signatures since it was posted Thursday morning.

“As someone with a learning disability who is married and thinking about maybe having children in the future, I find this question inappropriate, offensive and discriminatory. It should not matter who you are when you have children, just that you will love them and do everything you can to raise them in the right way,” Lawrence said in a press release put out by Mencap. “I know how important it is for people with a learning disability to have positive role models in their life, and be encouraged to fulfill our dreams.”

Ciara Lawrence holds up a sign saying "NOT OK Cupid."
Ciara Lawrence, creator of the OkCupid petition.

Amy Clarke, also a Mencap spokesperson living with a learning disability, said in the press release, “By asking the question, they are making it seem like it is OK to say yes, which it is not. If they had asked the same question about people of different races or sexuality, there would be outrage, and it should be the same for people with a learning disability.”

When asked to comment, an OkCupid spokesperson told The Mighty, “Our question system is designed to help potential matches understand the interests and values of other users. Questions range from mundane to provocative, and they specifically allow you to determine your potential compatibility with someone else and to avoid people whose viewpoints you strongly disagree with.” 

What do you think about OkCupid’s question? Tell us in the comments below:

h/t The Sun

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