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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?

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Queen of Jeggings

Reading a post from CaffeinatedAutismMom on the SPDNetwork.com called ‘Meltdowns Happen’, brought back memories of just a few lovely Lily freak outs, most of them because she was unable to control her emotional response to sensory overload.  Didn’t realize that until later, but looking back, it’s obvious.

Of course, as an infant, I remember her crying and crying at the slightest noise, or, as a toddler, crying when the trash truck honked its horn, running away from her Daisy Scouts meeting in Kindergarten because it was too chaotic and loud, holding her hands over her ears and shaking during school events in the gymnasium, hating the school bus because it was so loud, getting out of the pool and refusing to participate during swim team tryouts because, again, too loud and chaotic.

We figured out pretty early that Lily was sensitive to noise.  But, it wasn’t until 2nd grade or so that we realized she liked soft clothing.  In 4th grade, she refused to wear jeans anymore and I had to search out soft pants with an adjustable waist.  She had one shirt she loved to wear and I figured out that it was Modal fiber, which IS very soft.  In 5th grade, when I asked her why she always pulled a hoodie up over her head, Lily told me that it blocked the bright overhead lights at school, muffled loud sounds and made her feel good.  Now that she’s in 6th grade, Lily has become the Queen of Jeggings.  They’re perfect for her sensory needs. Soft, skinny, tight and of course, stylish.

Now that she’s 11, Lily’s meltdowns (in public anyway) are few and far between.  Occupational Therapy has helped and so has daily movement.  Lily’s learned coping skills. She’s learned to advocate for herself and she regulates her emotions better now. Sometimes she’ll remove herself from a situation when she realizes it’s making her uncomfortable.  We’re still always on the lookout for triggers though and so are her teachers and the friends and family who know her.  Sometimes just warning her that an event might be loud is enough.  Now, if she does end up in a loud and chaotic situation, her discomfort usually shows up as irritability or agitation.

This topic of sensory sensitivities also made me think of an interview I did with Jeffrey Freed. He’s an educational therapist and the co-author of the book, ‘Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World.’  He’s also what you would call Twice Exceptional.  He talks about his sensory issues as an adult and a child.

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