Sunday, September 27, 2015

How Long?

When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia one of the first questions parents ask is, "How long will it take before she can read?" The question may not be this specific. It may be, "How long before school won't be as hard?" or "... before he won't be as confused? or, "...before she can write a coherent sentence?" No matter the words, parent would love to have a specific amount of time remediation will require. There is no set answer. There are, however,  several factors to consider when looking at remediation.

Assuming that one has selected the correct type of remediation, the first factor is the severity of  the problem.  Is it a problem that can be fixed by learning the sound-symbol relationships or is there a combination of problems? For example, does your child's diagnosis include spatialmemory, auditory, or visual processing problems? Some of these problems can be worked on simultaneously, but usually the more problems, the greater amount of time is needed for remediation.

Many children with dyslexia also have ADHD. This may mean a need for medication. It does mean a need for consistency and patience. A child who has a difficult time focusing on new knowledge and skills usually requires a longer time for remediation.

I know there are controversies about  IQ, but IQ affects learning. A low IQ makes it more difficult to learn new methods or to apply them to new material. An eager, able problem-solver with a mild LD will usually get through remediation quicker than a child with a below average IQ . Of course, children with high IQs often find their own way to hide an LD and may be more difficult to identify. Children with low IQs may be easy to spot, but the IQ is often blamed for the reading difficulty rather than looking for an LD.

What else effects remediation? Oh yes, personality. Actually not personality, but how the child applies himself during remediation. A stubborn child may decide she is going to learn this remediation thing no matter what, or she may decide to fight it every step of the way. A precise, detail-oriented child may eagerly apply this new method to tackle reading or get so bogged down in the details that he can't see the holistic application. Happier children tend not to pout or get depressed at lack of progress. They have the added advantage of being easy to work with, which helps the teacher maintain long time enthusiasm. Drama queens; children who engulf themselves in their emotions, often put a great deal of energy into emoting rather than learning.

A child who wants to learn tends to do better than a child who is apathetic or resists learning. One tool to see if a child is eager to learn to read is to ask them their favorite subject at school. Most kids say lunch or recess. The thoughtful child who says her favorite class is science, history, math, or some other academic subject usually is an eager student. This becomes a cyclical pattern which means an eager student creates an eager teacher who in turn encourages the student. A difficult child needs a very special person for remediation.

So how long will it take? Think about how quickly your child learns new things. Is he is an active or passive learner? Does she want to read? Is he is persistent? Is she is focused? Are her LDs severe? Be realistic in your assessment and realize that this task is a difficult one that requires stamina, optimism, and determination. Most children with LDs cannot take long breaks from the remediation process. 

Unfortunately, sometimes a chosen remediation process is not the correct one and must be changed. Parents worry, may feel overwhelmed, or get annoyed at the amount of time needed. Modeling high standards, patience, and optimism helps you and your child. Remember, you and your child have more going for you than this learning difference. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

How Many Hours of Sleep Does a Child Need?

On a recent  trip that crossed several time zones and included three really early flights, I became very aware of how lack of sleep affects a person. Sometimes we forget how important sleep is, not only for an adult, but for a child.

School has started for most children in the the U.S. As parents buy school supplies, post schedules, and meet the teachers, one area many parents forget is their child's sleep schedule. Children often stayed up late during the summer months. Suddenly school starts and morning comes too quickly for many young students. This does not include just the  first few days of school. Far too many children do not get the ten or eleven hours of sleep needed by elementary school students. What happens to these tired children?

Unfortunately, some of them end up sleeping on the bus or during the first hour of class. Teachers then have the choice of sending a child to the nurse to get some needed shut eye or waking the child or watching to ensure she doesn't fall out of her chair. Every year I taught I had at least one child who came to school so exhausted he had to be sent to the nurse to catch up on sleep. 

The less obvious reaction is a child who becomes more hyper as the day progresses. These children become so active they find it impossible to learn or behave after lunch. They are easily upset and often remember very little of their afternoon.

Other sleep deprived students have problems learning. They make mistakes and find it difficult to pay attention. Any problems created due to learning differences come out in full force when the child is tired. The dysgraphic child, who can with effort and concentration produce a readable sentence, suddenly writes with chicken scratches. The dyslexic child finds it impossible to read or comprehend. The ADHD child is totally unable to focus - even with medication. Usually the younger the child the more reactive the response to lack of sleep.

But, the parent responds, I can't get my child to go to sleep at night. There are a number of things to do to help you child get the shut eye she needs. Have a routine every night. Ban TV or electronic devices at least an hour before bed.  In fact, after dinner avoid all stimulating activities. (I know some children participate in sports that go way beyond bedtime. Parents need to form groups to deal with sports organizations about late elementary school night games.) Make sure the bedroom is a comfortable temperature. Keep the house quiet after a child has gone to bed. That means older siblings and adults have to be aware and considerate of the loudness of music, phone calls, computers, or conversations. 


If a child is on medications that make it difficult to sleep, talk to the pediatrician. If a young child has a day packed with too many activities, cut back. I am sure most adults know the feeling of being so tired one can't get to sleep. On the other hand, all children need some physical activity, preferably outdoors, so try to insure your child doesn't spend most days totally inside. Remember  "A well spent day brings happy sleep." -   Leonardo Da Vinci

Some children are worriers and some family situations promote worry. Try to help a child understand that it isn't his job to worry about adult problems. Get help if your family is being overwhelmed by such problems.

Everyone has a late night now and then. It is a continuous lack of sleep that exacerbates school problems. If your child is really having difficulty at school, remember to check how much sleep they are getting. Ten or eleven hours of sleep can make a world of difference in your child's world.