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Orton-Gillingham: Who, Where and Why?

July 10, 2014 in Special Education Articles by Jess

To those of you who have tried (and some have succeeded) it seems like you need a secret handshake to get Orton-Gillingham training. After a quick search on the internet, it might appear that you need to fly to a destination that is most likely east of the Mississippi and requires at least two weeks of your time away from home. Then once you complete this two week training, you must dedicate the rest of your life to become ‘certified.’ But this is all an illusion, an illusion that really hampers the ability of very good people to get their knowledge and training to those who need it the most, the struggling kids. Read the rest of this entry →

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The Language of Dyslexia: Are they speaking Spanish?

October 13, 2013 in Special Education Articles by Jess

“They cannot use RTI or an SST to delay an IEP or 504. Also are they using OG and have they requested AT and OT assessment? Lastly, what is the status of her OG tutor?”  There are a lot of things that are right with these sentences but there one thing that is glaringly wrong with it. Go back and read that sentence again and this time read it as a parent who might just be starting their journey with a child with dyslexia. How would you feel? Left out? Overwhelmed? Well, I must admit this is what I allowed to happen in one of my own IEP meetings very recently. When we adjourned the meeting and stepped outside to debrief, the dad said, “What was going on in there? Were they speaking Spanish?” Right then I knew I had failed to do part of my job. I had failed to check-in with my clients and make sure they understood what we were talking about. I failed to prepare them with a list of acronyms to refer to. I failed to make sure they understood they could pause the meeting at any time to ask for clarification. The ironic part of this story is that the dad is active military which means he speaks in acronyms all day long – and the IEP jargon was overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking all of the responsibility, the school side of the table (yes, I know we are supposed to be a team, but…) were equally as guilty as myself. We get into this mode of talking to each, preaching to the choir and forget how overwhelming and new this is for parents. So, to prevent this from happening again, I have listed below some commonly used terms during IEP meetings for a child with dyslexia, what they mean and how they can be misused and misunderstood and why they come up in meetings about students with dyslexia. Read the rest of this entry →

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Reading Is Not A Natural Process

March 26, 2013 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Many proponents of ‘whole language’ feel that, since humans learn to speak their native language through immersion, the act of reading follows a similar pattern and exposure to the printed word leads to the development of reading skills.  This reasoning bears a false truth value.  A great deal of care and attention to detail must accompany reading instruction because reading is quite different from speech.

In speech, the listener is provided with many clues as to the meaning of the words presented by the speaker.  Intonation, pitch, cadence, and body language all provide context clues that assist in the comprehension of auditory signals.  Further, according to the Innateness Hypothesis, children are equipped with a blueprint for the innate principles and properties that pertain to the grammars of all spoken human language called universal grammar.  Barring neurologically-based developmental delays, children do not require explicit instruction to master the spoken language.  Universal Grammar aids the child in the task of constructing the “spoken language”.  Structure dependency of the native language and coordinate structure constraint are inherent.  Additionally, through stages in oral communication, a speaker learns from the surrounding linguistic environment the proper cadence, pitch, and intonation associated with the successful display of language ability, as well as, the rules of grammar that are language specific.  This presents speech as a natural process.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Childhood Apraxia of Speech – Reading Help

January 30, 2013 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Reading is a fundamental skill needed for academic success.  In today’s world, strong literacy skills are essential.  Children who struggle in reading tend to experience extreme difficulties in all content areas, as every subject in school requires reading proficiency.  When children are then faced with further struggles such as speech production and receptive and expressive language difficulties, the effects can be even more detrimental.

To read proficiently, a child requires highly integrated skills in word decoding and comprehension and draws upon basic language knowledge such as semantics, syntax, and phonology.  Children with speech and language impairments, such as Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), have deficits in phonological processing.   For these children, phonemic awareness, motor program execution, syntax and morphology will interfere with the ability to acquire the skills necessary to become proficient Read the rest of this entry →

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Auditory Processing Disorder Reading Interventions

January 21, 2013 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Students with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) have significant difficulties in identifying and discriminating sounds despite having normal peripheral hearing.  These students often have reading difficulties due to significantly poor phonological awareness, decoding ability and grapheme knowledge.  Time and again a student with Auditory Processing Disorder will lack the necessary reading foundation skills that are essential in becoming a strong reader.  Read the rest of this entry →

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Putting the D in to the IEP Part 2: Common Pitfalls if your Child has Dyslexia

September 9, 2012 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Let me be very clear, I love teachers and I love schools. I wanted to be a teacher all of my life but my path took me in a different direction. Most parents (I am also a parent) love schools and put all of their trust into the school system. They trust the people that run them to do the right thing, be properly trained, qualified and equipped to help each and every student that walks through their door. Unfortunately, when it comes to children with dyslexia, this trust can be misguided and mishandled. However, there are things parents can do to avoid losing any precious time for their children.

Pitfall: Ignoring that inner voice and early identification

Almost every parent that walks into my office recounts when their child was about three or four years old and they were not interested in learning to read. They wanted to listen to stories and investigate the pictures, but learning the letters and the sounds was just not something they wanted to do. Most parents have an inner voice that will tell them something is amiss, but at this age it is so easy to listen to well-meaning friends and family members tell you it is normal and they will outgrow it, but that inner voice won’t go away. This might also bring up memories of the parent’s own struggle with reading and send up a red flag- don’t ignore it.

Solution: Research/Second Opinion

A simple Google search for a developmental reading chart will reveal what typical children should be doing at a particular age. Of course, there is always variation, but a medium to large deviation should not be ignored. Contrary to popular belief there are neuropsychologists that can diagnose dyslexia at this tender age. Above all else, do not ignore your parental instinct and do not allow the “he’ll grow out of it” mantra that begins at this age.

Pitfall: Trusting that the school knows how to help

I’ll say it again, I love schools, but I also know what they don’t know. I know they are not trained in dyslexia. I know the majority are terrified to utter the word. Yet, parents trust them almost completely with the education of their children. Parents believe that they must be trained in how to teach reading, even to those who are struggling. Parents also tend to believe (want to believe) it when they are told they will ‘grow out of it’ or “we are just waiting for the phonics fairies” (my favorite yet).  They trust that even when the child is identified, their small group instruction is structured and individualized.

Solution: Research/Second Opinion/Speak up

Question everything! What is the teacher doing to help your unidentified student? How is she tracking his/her progress? Remember to keep track of everything, many dyslexia cases are based on failure to identify.

For those children that have been identified: Question the material being used. Is it based on the Orton-Gillingham approach? Is it a program that is responsive to your child’s identified needs? Is the teacher trained in the program? Most importantly, is the teacher trained in dyslexia? Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion or an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Don’t be afraid to have a non-partisan person of your choosing observe your child during their school day. Call an IEP meeting any time you wish.

If you cannot get your child tested or qualified, don’t be afraid to hire an advocate and record every meeting. The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to challenge the school and be a little uncomfortable.

Pitfall: Not doing everything in writing

And I mean everything! Parent after parent has told me they asked to have their child evaluated but they did not submit this request in writing. It is not enough to mention something to a teacher in passing. A student study team (SST) is not a replacement or appropriate response to a request for testing. Document everything.

Solution: Know the law/hire an advocate/keep a paper trail

Some basics: To have your child evaluated, you have to submit a compelling letter in writing requesting the testing. Once you have done this a time line goes into effect. The school now has 15 calendar days (check your state laws) to respond. If they deny your request, it has to be in writing and it has to explain the reason for the denial. Some common, but illegal, reasons are: Response to Intervention (RTI) has not been tried yet or a Student Study Team (SST) is suggested. These are grounds for a compliance complaint. Keep a record of all of this.

Pitfall: Not knowing how to read the testing

I was recently in an IEP where the school psychologist was talking about standard scores, percentiles, normal curves and discrepancy at a pace that was hard to follow and a condescending tone that would make any parent hesitant to ask for clarification. Every parent needs to know what those tests are assessing and what the results mean.

Solution: Ask questions and know the law

Ask questions! Ask the school psychologist to explain everything you do not fully understand. Educate yourself about the nuances of testing. Many dyslexia diagnoses depend on the trained eye picking up inconsistencies in the subtests. Many schools will only report or dwell on the composite score and ignore the clear deficits that show up in the spelling, fluency, phonemic awareness, processing speed scores because they have been overshadowed by the comprehension and writing samples. Remember the composite is an average and it needs to be picked apart. Most importantly, under IDEA, there no longer needs to be a discrepancy to make some eligible under Specific Learning Disability. Yes it is true. The IEP team needs to evaluate all of the information to make a determination, not just the scores. In the case of dyslexia, this is extremely important information that every parent (and advocate) needs to arm themselves with.

Pitfall: Not knowing a spelling-only issue is not resolved by a pencil grip

I admit it, when it comes to dyslexia cases I have a lot of pet peeves. Nothing gets me hotter under the collar than the ubiquitous pencil grip. Let me be very clear, dyslexia can manifest in spelling only; sometimes that spelling is messy. The appropriate intervention for spelling is not a pencil grip. I have seen no less than ten parents be offered a pencil grip in response to a student who cannot spell. I am still waiting for a rational explanation to this ‘intervention.’

Solution: Education

Common sense should prevail here, but I know emotions run high. Spelling issues that are a result of dyslexia require the same intervention as struggling readers. They need a multisensory, structured, systematic program (usually based on the Orton-Gillingham approach).  Also, this is a great time to discuss accommodations. A student with spelling issues can be granted smaller spelling lists and the teacher can ease up on the red pen for those students who struggle with spelling. No more frownie faces for poor spelling. I will discuss more accommodations in the assistive technology pitfall.

Pitfall:  Not using assistive technology

Assistive technology is the great hidden secret of the school system. Many parents and advocates will not realize that there are many technologies that would be appropriate for students with dyslexia.

Solution: Ask for an AT assessment

Ask for Assistive Technology assessment every time. Some examples of assistive technology for students with dyslexia are: Speech to Text, Co-writer, Kurzweil and even raised paper. It doesn’t have to plug in to be assistive technology.

The theme is not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid to make the school irritated to become ‘that parent.’ Unfortunately, dyslexia is still a fight in an IEP. It does exist. It is real. Tests can identify it. It is not outgrown. There are no ‘phonics fairies.’ Parents hold the key to their child’s success when it comes to dyslexia and hopefully the above information will help navigate the system and get help early.

Part one can be found here: Putting the D in to the IEP: Why Advocating for a Child with Dyslexia is so Difficult

Below you will find a video on Dyslexia for a Day a simulation kit that is great for professional development or personal use.

Dr. Kelli Sandman-Hurley is the co-founder of the Dyslexia Training Institute (www.dyslexiatraininginstitute.org and www.dyslexiadr.com.) She is currently writing Putting the D in to the IEP at www.dyslexiadr.blogspot.com. She received her doctorate in Literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. Dr. Sandman-Hurley a Certified Special Education Advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. She is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, as well as a board member of the Southern California Library Literacy Network (SCLLN). She is a professional developer for California Library Literacy Services (CLLS) as well as a Literacy Consultant for the San Diego Council on Literacy. She was awarded the Jane Johnson Fellowship and the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) scholarship. Kelli has presented at numerous conferences as well as provided professional development for k-12 teachers. She is currently working on her book, Putting the D in IEP: A guide to dyslexia in the school system. Join the Dyslexia Training Institute at www.facebook.com/dyslexiatraining


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The Inspirational Teacher Series – Michelle Tschannen

May 24, 2012 in Inspirational Teacher Series by Dennise Goldberg

Today in the Inspirational Teacher Series we profile Michelle Tschannen. While I do not know Michelle personally I was very impressed reading her responses below. Unlike many of our other profiles Michelle works in a Private School setting and her specific classroom focuses on children with mild to moderate learning disabilities.

1. What is your name?

Michelle Tschannen

2. What is your education level and credentials?

Masters of Teaching- K-12 Special Education License in VA, concentration in LD, E/BD, and ID

3. What would you like a one-sentence description of yourself to say?

Michelle is a dedicated, loving teacher who believes in the power of education to transform lives. Read the rest of this entry →

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What Is The Orton-Gillingham Approach?

September 14, 2011 in Special Education Articles by Jess

The Orton-Gillingham approach is a unique language training system that was designed by Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham.  Dr. Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, was a pioneer in focusing attention on reading failure and related language processing difficulties.  He revolutionized modern thought concerning learning disabilities, determining that language-based disorders were biological and not environmental in origin.  He brought together neuroscientific information and principles of remediation, having extensively studied children with the kind of language processing difficulties now commonly associated with dyslexia and formulating a set of teaching principles and practices for such children.  He strongly believed that such disorders would respond to specific training if properly diagnosed and if the proper training methods to meet the needs of each particular case were instituted. Read the rest of this entry →

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Top Ten Most Viewed Special Education Guest Articles from 2010

December 26, 2010 in Special Education Advisor Blog by Dennise Goldberg

10.  Transitioning your Special Needs Child to Life after High School by Kelly McGuire

Your 15 year old child with a disability has just announced to you that he or she would like to go to college. You’ve heard that young adults with disabilities are attending college more than ever, but before you run head long into the ivory tower, there are some things you need to do. Read the rest of this entry →

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Does your child have difficulty learning to read? Orton-Gillingham to the Rescue!

October 25, 2010 in Special Education Articles by Jess

Learning to read in English would be such a simple task if all similar-sounding phonemes were spelled the same.  They aren’t.  English is such an unfair language with so many iniquitous rules!  Read the rest of this entry →

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