The power of Affirming words

The power of Affirming words

The dyslexic child is so used to finding things difficult at school that there is a tendency to avoid things that could be challenging, find the easy option, guess or indeed avoid trying altogether. In the case of the latter, this is often accompanied with the words ” I can’t do it”, ” it’s too hard” or ” I’m terrible at comprehension”.

I don’t think I’d ever really thought about the fact that Jasmine had become so used to saying these things, sometimes accompanied by tears, until one day when we had a full-on scene with tears and drama that it all came spilling out. I realised that I needed to do something to try and break the cycle of negativity.

She was essentially telling herself that she could not do things and I could see how disabling this negative psychology was on her. She would literally just sit there paralysed.

The reality is that with some of the tasks, she could do them if she thought them through or broke them down into little steps. In the vast majority of cases she could give the task a good go.

I saw a wonderful clip on Facebook of a man who was in the habit of standing side by side in the mirror with his daughter daily, speaking affirmations and encouraging her before waving her off to school. He said things like:

I am brave
I am smart
I can do anything I put my mind to
If I fall, I will get up
If I fail, I will try again
I am blessed

I was so inspired by this very simple, yet so very impactful practice, that we do this now – before homework and also before school in the mornings (if we are not running late that is).

I also found a poster which I’ve put up too which we often look at and talk about. Picture attached.

Affirmations really do work!

Specialist or Mainstream School? – Our experience

Specialist or Mainstream School? – Our experience

At 7+ my husband and I spent a huge amount of time researching the various schools in our area to find a mainstream school that would be supportive of Jasmine’s special education needs.

We settled on a wonderful school with a Christian ethos, a nurturing and pastoral approach and most importantly, an in-house Learning Support team comprising 4 full-time support teachers. We felt this would be the right environment for her and best of all, she would have access to a team of specialist teachers that can help her.

The school was indeed lovely and Jasmine made some great friends however, the reality was that the school taught classes in a style that was appropriate for 90% of the class but Jasmine, as the only dyslexic child in her class, struggled with.

The underlying assumption is that by Year 3, all the children can read so every subject required reading passages of text either from the board or from handouts and books. This of course was a struggle for Jasmine. In addition, she found it difficult to keep up with the pace of the maths, her handwriting though greatly improved was still labored and she found it difficult to complete her in-class assignments within the allotted time. Furthermore, she felt stigmatized when withdrawn from class for specialist teaching.

The specialist 1 to 1 tuition that she was given amounted to 60 minutes of extra support per week, which did not seem to have any impact at all. In addition to this extra help in school, I supplemented outside of school with extra therapies to help the combination of symptoms that dyslexia and dyspraxia bring. This meant that Jasmine was having 3, 4 sometimes 5 extra sessions of occupational therapy, vision therapy, handwriting etc. A HUGE amount for a 7 year old.

Jasmine was very aware of the fact that she was bottom set in all subjects, that she was given “easier homework” and that she needed extra “special classes” and would often comment on how sad she felt being different to everyone else. In this time we witnessed Jasmine’s confidence and self-esteem plummet and she began to complain about stomach pains. After several tests and hospital referrals, we were told she was experiencing anxiety symptoms.

Talking to other parents who are further along on their journey, I’ve come to understand that the gap between the dyslexic child and other children in terms of results in a mainstream school tends to widen as each year passes and school becomes more and more difficult. My husband and I decided to see what other options there were.

Our paths have led us to a wonderful specialist school called Fairley House. The children are taught in a completely multi-sensory way and all of their additional therapeutic needs are incorporated into their school day.

Jasmine started there last week. She has an extremely customized individual education plan and all her therapies are included into her plan. We do not have to do anything else outside school.

Its early days but she comes home excited to do her homework, she regales me with tales of how they were taught maths by making pizzas and how it’s wonderful that she is “just like everyone else”.

I hope this is the right place for her.

I hope she will be happy.

I hope that her confidence will return.

I hope she will come to understand that she is special.

I hope.

More about our experiences at the specialist school to come.

In the meantime, checkout this very interesting article about making the choice between mainstream or specialist schools.

http://independentschoolparent.com/choosing-a-school/special-needs-mainstream-or-specialist-school

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A confidence boosting extra-curricular activity

From the age of 3, I signed Jasmine up for various activities that I thought she should do – activities her friends were doing, activities I was convinced she would love and indeed excel at.

So she did ballet, gymnastics, Tennis and violin lessons.

I had many reports from the teachers about day dreaming, lack of concentration and a lack of interest. Her gymnastics teacher phoned specifically to talk to me about her poor balance and coordination. At tennis lessons, she would sit in the corner and act out. My husband would spend minutes trying to cajole, negotiate and ultimately bribe her to take part. After 2 years of violin classes at school, she was still only really capable of playing a few notes.

We endured many Saturday mornings of screaming and shouting that she did not want to go to the planned activity, even though she had agreed to do the class at the start of term.

At the time we could not really understand what the issue was – these were classes that many of her friends and peers were either doing or talking about doing and in some instances, she had asked to do them. We concluded that she was simply naughty and acting out.

Its only now that I understand that these classes required a level of coordination and concentration that she just found too hard. Tennis, gymnastics, ballet and violin all require a tremendous amount of hand-eye coordination, balance, sequential thinking and concentration. All things dyspraxic and dyslexic children struggle with. Unable to articulate her frustrations, she resorted to acting out.

Now I am totally guided by her interests in choosing activities. I want her to enjoy her classes and to feel that she is able to excel (by her definition of excellence not mine).

This new direction has been fascinating. I have come to realize that Jasmine is a great story teller (although she struggles to write them down), a confident singer, a fast runner but above all, absolutely loves fashion design. I (and all our family and friends) have nurtured this love of fashion wholeheartedly with wonderful fashion themed birthday and Xmas presents. There are so many amazing fashion design toys, sketch books, apps and kits available now – its amazing.

In addition, she does a fashion class for 2 hours every Saturday where she has been taught to use a sewing machine and to make simple designs from patterns. I’ve been so delighted to see her come home with cushions, blouses, skirts and Xmas stockings that she has designed and made from scratch. I’m currently planning a fashion themed 8th birthday party for her on her insistence.

It is interesting – its absolutely common sense that we should be guided by our children’s interests and strengths however, the reality is many of us have our own vision of what our children should be good at, what they should do with their time and later on, what they should do with their lives. I was so so guilty of this.

Letting this all go, and choosing to be guided by Jasmine has been fascinating. I’m so very curious to see where our journey will lead.

Jasmine with her sewing machine and tools.

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What a difference 8 weeks can make.

What a difference 8 weeks can make.

Ever since Jasmine started school, she really struggled with handwriting. The development of the fine motor skills required for a good pencil grip and consequently good writing were quite delayed. Consequently, she has had pretty poor writing: letters poorly formed, poor spacing between words and inappropriate use of the lines on the paper.

Given all the other challenges we were contending with, I left the handwriting to one side as I figured that soon she will learn how to touch type and the need for beautiful handwriting will gradually fade away.

I did not really appreciate how important handwriting is in the early stages of learning. On visiting her classroom, I saw the beautiful handwriting of other kids proudly displayed on the walls and was shocked at how poor Jasmine’s was by comparison. Again, I did nothing about it as I felt it was important to prioritise her reading skills instead.

Towards the end of Year 2, Jasmine really started to complain about her handwriting – she felt (and it was indeed very true) that her handwriting was the worst in the class, that her work was never displayed up on the walls and that she felt “stupid” for not being able to write as well as others. It was when she started to talk about being “stupid” that I really began to appreciate the impact this had on her already fragile self-confidence.

I’d heard of a handwriting specialist that lived not far from us and over the summer, decided to tackle Jasmine’s handwriting.

Jasmine went twice a week for 45 minutes and did about 10 minutes of practice a day. She was initially excited, then rapidly moved onto complaining that it was “too hard” and the teacher was “too strict”. We persevered and she has just finished the 30 stage course.

Her writing bears absolutely no resemblance to how it was 8 weeks ago and she is delighted that she can write pretty much the same as other kids in her class. Her handwriting specialist took a photo of her “before” and “after” and put it on twitter and Jasmine was delighted to be, in her words, “famous on the world wide web”.

The reality is that Jasmine will learn to touch type as soon as is feasibly possible, but working on improving her handwriting now, has meant that she feels “normal” on this dimension, and it is one less thing undermining her confidence. The smile on her face when she achieved her handwriting certificate was the biggest ever and the consequent boost in her confidence is priceless. Money well spent.

Before and after pictures below.

http://www.magiclinkhandwriting.com

 

Jasmine handwriting before and after FINAL

Confidence Building

Confidence Building

“I’m no good at reading”

“I’m in the special group at school”

I’m just stupid – everyone is smarter than me”

These are just some of the comments my daughter makes on a relatively frequent basis and she is only 7.

Officially a formal assessment for learning differences is not recommended until children are 7, but the reality is that many children who will eventually be diagnosed with learning difficulties, can sense they are different a couple of years before this.

Since my daughter was in year 1, she was aware that she could not read or write as well as many of her peers and friends. On moving to year 2, she was acutely aware of the fact that she had been put into what she felt was a special group for “stupid kids”. I’m not qualified to fully understand how her brain interpreted this, but it is very clear to me that her confidence is taking a real battering as a result. Its heart breaking to hear to talk about it and it is heart breaking to observe.

Finding opportunities to boost her confidence has become so important to me now.

My daughter fortunately is quite a fast runner and loves to sing. In parents meetings, I talked with the school about finding opportunities for her to shine. At Christmas she was given the opportunity to sing quite a complicated solo at the Christmas play which she did in front of the whole school, parents and teachers. She practiced really hard, memorised 5 verses of the song and performed beautifully. She was so proud of her achievement and was even prouder when parents came up to congratulate her. She was on an absolute high.

On reflecting on the event afterwards with my daughter, we made a real point of highlighting that not many kids would have been able to do what she did. Just as she can stand and sing in front of many where others struggle, others can read easily whilst she struggles.

We do not have these opportunities often but when we do, we take full advantage as the positive effect of this huge boost in confidence carries her for many days. For a little while she believes she can achieve anything – and of course, she can.