Category Archives: Emotional Regulation

Students Who Struggle with Writing

So… writing.  I know a lot of Twice Exceptional students struggle with writing, maybe, like Lily, for several different reasons.

Now in middle school, Lily says she doesn’t turn in a lot of her work on time because she doesn’t have enough time to finish writing it in class.  She does well on her tests & quizzes because, most of the time, they require short responses.  But her in-class work is a struggle, even when using her netbook.  It’s better, definitely, but still hard.

This is actually the 2nd issue, besides organization, that I want to discuss at her IEP review mtg tomorrow… some sort of reduction of repetitive, written work.  

Lily has complained to me before, saying that it’s dumb that she has to write out full sentences when she already knows the answer.  She said, “ I can say the full sentences out loud if someone asks me, but it’s so hard to write them and I never have time to finish.”

Lily has always had a hard time with writing.  We first noticed in 2nd grade, when we discovered that she had a desk stuffed full of unfinished worksheets.  Her teachers reported that when Lily was faced with a blank sheet of paper, she would shut down or melt down.

Actually, I first thought something was up in 1st grade, when I made her hand write her classmates names on their Valentine’s cards.   It. took. for. ever.  And I remember getting frustrated that it was taking her so long.  Oh, it kills me to think about it.

Even up through 5th grade, I scribed most of her homework assignments for her and she was unable to even start a writing assignment on her own.  At the end of 5th, we got her up to speed on typing and she began using a laptop for most of her written work in class.  That did make a big difference, but that was only one part of the problem.
Lily’s writing difficulties are caused by a few issues… Dyslexia, Sensory Processing difficulties, and ADHD/Executive Function issues.

DYSLEXIA-In her learning evaluation, Dr. Paula found that Lily had highly-compensated dyslexia.  Lily was a late reader; didn’t really read until the end of 2nd grade, but by 5th she was reading a grade-level ahead.  Dr. Paula felt that Lily was such a visual learner that she was using her visual memory to decode words and was using a ‘holistic sight method’ to spell. Her dyslexia was showing up in her difficulty with writing.  This amazing article on Stealth Dyslexia, which describes both my daughters,  was first written by Brock and Fernette Eide,  back in 2005, but I feel that many educators still seem unaware that it exists.  Dr. Paula did not think Dyslexia was Lily’s main issue with writing.

SPD/Sensory Processing-Lily’s sensory issues were also interfering with her ability to write. She has decreased fine motor skills and she is left-handed, which makes writing a laborious process and still makes her handwriting very difficult to read. Switching Lily to typing has made writing somewhat easier for her.

ADHD/Executive Function-This was and still is the big doozy.  Lily’s executive function deficits interfere with her ability to plan and sequence her thoughts and then, get them down on paper. Visual organizers are supposed to help with that, but it did take some time for Lily to find one that was a good fit for her.  She also performs much better if she is taught to plan her writing in a very structured and repetitive way… like a formula that just requires that she plug in her own words.  In the beginning though, just one year ago, Lily’s EF was so bottlenecked that she even needed the steps to get ready to write spelled out for her… get a pencil out, get your writing notebook out, etc.

Lily has made great strides this year in 6th grade and is writing much more independently than I thought she would at this stage.  I feel like she’s able to plan, initiate and sequence her writing so much better, but it just takes her longer than her classmates and that’s something I want to discuss at our IEP meeting.

Just one final thought on twice exceptional students and writing for now.  I know several families and their 2E children who struggle with writing and we all have the same question… Where are all the research-based intervention programs for writing?  If dyslexic students often have difficulties with writing too, why is it so hard to find them help?

Peanut Butter in the Bathtub

Living with a twice exceptional kid who has ADHD & Executive Functioning difficulties means that many times the final step of any process is never completed.  Toilet is never flushed.  Bath never drained.  Milk sitting out.  Medicine bottles without lids.  This gets more exaggerated when Lily has a friend over.

Lily doesn’t have a lot of close friends.  Her best friend moved away when she was 2nd grade and she still hasn’t gotten over it.  Her old BFF was the perfect partner for Lily—calm, organized and wise.  Lily hasn’t found anyone to take her place.  But there’s a girl who lives nearby who often asks Lily to play.  

She is similar to Lily in some ways… she can be unfocused, but is very creative.  I like that they play in an age-appropriate, creative, imaginative way.  It’s never about boys, clothes, makeup or cell phones.  They climb trees, ice skate, build forts and invent craft projects.  

This girl spent the night recently and the two of them made a path through the house, strewn with their creative projects, which I only discovered later.  I was out of the picture because I tweaked my back earlier in the day and was stuck laying down, waiting out the muscle spasms.  Little did I know what was going on upstairs.  I should have guessed.

The next morning, I was bummed to see that it looked like a tornado had gone through the house.  The dining room table was covered with their art project that involved a hot glue gun, toothpicks and paint. They had made pancakes and there was pool of syrup in the microwave, a plate of half-eaten pancakes on the floor, and a glass of syrup stuck to the stovetop.  There were costumes all over the living room floor and in the office, tape, scissors and glue sticks were spilled out of a drawer.  The final straw came when I went to take a bath, which I thought would be easier on my back, and found a ring of something disgusting in the tub.    Turns out it was peanut butter.  Of course.

The girls apparently had a ‘spa’ in the bathroom.  Their crusty bowl of peanut butter and chocolate was still on the bathroom counter.  

On one hand, I admire their creativity, but on the other, I was furious  The house was spotless 2 days ago, because I splurged and had a cleaning person come in.  Now, it was trashed again.  

Not that she doesn’t make messes constantly anyway, but when Lily has a friend over, she becomes so focused on playing that she thinks of nothing else.  She doesn’t stop to think things through. Lily was so pre-occupied with having fun with her friend that it didn’t occur to her that giving each other peanut butter-chocolate facials was probably not such a good idea.  Cleaning up her messes doesn’t even cross her mind.

I brought this up with Dr. K in our session with him this week.  As soon as I started, Lily began to get angry and defensive.  Dr. K stopped her and asked her to listen to what I had to say without getting emotional.  They’ve been working on this a lot lately and Lily is getting much better at controlling her emotional response to criticism.  

Dr. K tells her to put a ‘mellow bubble’ around herself when she listens.  He also tells her she has to learn that it’s okay for people to get upset with her when she makes mistakes. If she doesn’t use the tools she has and makes a mistake that affects other people, they will get upset with her and she needs to apologize and try to do better next time.  All good lessons for ADHD folks, who sometimes go through life with people upset with  them for being late, forgetting things and making messes.

As far as the slumber party mess-making, Dr. K reminded Lily about one of his mantras for ADHD kids.. DO IT NOW.  I think Lily usually intends to clean up her messes ‘later’ but then she forgets.

His other advice for ADHD kids—SAME WAY EVERY TIME, an attempt to create routine and reduce forgetfulness.

It was a great discussion and Lily is making huge strides in controlling her emotions, but I don’t think there’s an end to the mess-making anytime soon.

Outdoor Lab

Lily left for Outdoor Lab today.  It’s a 5-day overnight trip to a beautiful piece of mountain property owned by the school district.  All sixth-graders attend.  They apply what they’ve been learning all year in the outdoor setting.  This restored ranch has served as an hands-on outdoor school since 1961.

Lily was excited to go and husband said she didn’t seem nervous at all when he dropped her off this morning.  I think it’s because we prepared her for it.  Plus, every summer she goes to overnight camp for 2 weeks so, she shouldn’t have a problem being away from home.

We started preparing her last fall, when we attended an Open House at the Outdoor Lab school on a crisp Saturday afternoon.  The aspens were turning gold and the view of the snow-capped mountains was stunning, but it didn’t take long to realize that we hadn’t prepared Lily well enough for the visit.  

Off the bat, the organization of the event was a little sketchy. Apparently the idea was to wander around the area, stopping at different stations to get more info.  But that’s exactly the opposite of the way Lily wants to learn about something new.  She wants to know the big picture first and fill in the details later.  This is often a trait of Visual-Spatial learners… whole-part learning.  She said, “I just don’t get it.  What are we doing here? What is Outdoor Lab?” She began to get agitated and peppered us with questions… “Where do I sleep, where are the bathrooms, where will I change, where do we eat, what are we going to be doing all day, what teachers will be here?… ”  I told her we could ask at each station but that wasn’t enough for her.  

Finally, we came upon a presentation given by the Outdoor Lab principal.  I thought he might give a good overview.  But the school nurse spoke first and she talked on and on about medical forms etc, etc.  I couldn’t even listen because now we were trapped in this presentation and I could only think about the fact that we still had to visit the bunkhouses to show Lily where she’d be staying, and we were running out of time.  I forced my family to get up and leave while the nurse was talking.  The principal noticed and commented, “Well, I guess some of us already know what they need to know.”  My husband was upset with my rude departure.  But I felt like, with a twice exceptional kid like Lily, that sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Having her visit the bunkhouse before we left was more important to me than the nurse’s feelings. 

Afterward, I emailed the principal and explained why we left early. He was very understanding and invited us to bring Lily up again for a private tour.

About a month before Outdoor Lab, husband took Lily up for a tour and they explained everything to her.  In school, her teachers were also preparing all the students, explaining what they would be studying and giving them a daily schedule.

So, by the time she left this morning, Lily seemed confident and comfortable.  I think she’ll have a great time.  She just does so much better when she’s fully prepared for new experiences.

Unfortunately, Zoolander probably won’t have the same opportunity as her sister.  There’s talk of suspending the Outdoor Lab program because of recent school budget cuts. 

Walkin’ on Sunshine

One full week of school down and Lily is walking on sunshine. Seriously.  She’s elated.  I’ve never seen her this happy about school…. ever.  She’s feeling confident and she’s proud of herself. We’re proud of her.  She’s really working hard on handling this transition well.  I’m amazed.  This is how I always imagined my kid would be… if I’d had a plain ol’ boring, ordinary kid.  I keep asking myself… why exactly IS it going so well?  I don’t know. It’s not the meds ‘cause I never got that that prescription filled and now it seems like she doesn’t need it.  Her anxiety seems manageable.  She still has a mini-freakout every morning when it’s time to get out of the car and walk into school.  But it’s 5 seconds and she recovers quickly.  Is it a fresh start without all the bad feelings she associated with elementary school?  Has her frontal lobe developed just enough so that she can handle the new demands on her executive functioning?  Maybe all of it. What I really suspect, is that we finally have enough supports in place to allow her feel safe and confident at school.

Thanks to her IEP, Lily can wear a hat, chew gum and sit on a exercise ball, all of which help her focus.  The fluorescent lights are filtered so that the flicker doesn’t give her a headache and make her irritable.  She has a system in place, using index cards, so that she can ask her teacher for sensory breaks without drawing attention to herself.  She can eat lunch outside if the cafeteria is too loud.  She brings her lunch so she doesn’t have to wait in line where it’s noisy.

As far as organization goes, one of the 6th grade Special Ed teachers has been heading up the Lily containment effort.  I’ve been keeping her in the loop on any issues Lily tells me about and then she helps Lily on that end.  I let her know that Lily was scared of the power tools in Tech Ed (aka Shop) and that Lily was worried about being able to keep up in typing class.  She reassured Lily about both things.  I told her that Lily had some signed papers in her backpack that I thought might need to be turned in.  She helped Lily take care of that.  It’s been wonderful having that liaison at school.

Now, I know there are going to be ups and downs in all this.  In fact, the downs will probably start as soon as they start really getting to work in the classroom.  When Lily has to begin keeping track of assignments and start on them herself, I’m expecting some challenges.  But that’s where her Behavior Support Plan or BSP comes in. 

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