Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Winning the Battle with Struggling Readers

I was a reluctant reader when I was a kid. In fact, calling me a reluctant reader might have been an understatement.  My parents tried everything.  They took me on frequent excursions to the books store to buy me the book of my choosing. They sent me to after school reading programs with strange plexiglass sheets I was supposed to place over the page, a mechanical arm lowered down the page line by line at the speed I was supposed to be reading.  It always beat me by what seemed like hours.  They even taped money in the back of books as a reward for when I finished reading a book.  I am not sure I EVER got the money at the back of the books.  In fact, whoever goes through my parents books is likely to find a small fortune still waiting for me to finish.

Eventually, I figured out some things about myself.  First of all, I really can't read unless I am saying the words out loud in my head.  Can't do it.  Second, I'm really not a huge fantasy fan.  I love facts though, I am a great factual reader and if I venture into fiction you can pretty much bet it's factually or historically based.  Third, my spelling and reading struggles would certainly tend to prove that I had some sort of learning disability going on.

I didn't want those struggles to be passed onto my kids.  I didn't want them to have a string of unread books trailing behind them.  I wanted them to be avid readers.  Imagine my own distress as I struggled with two dyslexic daughters, trying to help them overcome their disabilities and find a passion for reading.  By the time that Fernando came to live with our family we had overcoming reading struggles and instilling a love for reading down to a science.

I recently read an article about helping the reluctant reader become an enthusiastic reader.  There were some great ideas in the post but unfortunately most of them would not have addressed the needs of my reluctant readers. We have found some great tools, however, that we have used over the years with all seven of our kids, those with dyslexia, those without it, and our late comer to the family who we are pretty sure is dyslexic also.

1.  If you have a child that is reluctant to read please consider starting with an evaluation for learning disabilities.  Most kids will not be seriously reluctant to read unless there is some sort of problem making it difficult or frustrating for them.  An evaluation can confirm learning disabilities and set you on the path to conquering them.  In the absence of disabilities it can also find weaknesses or gaps that may be making reading hard.  Regardless of the outcome, it's a great place to start.

2.  Weak visual tracking skills can make reading hard and exhausting.  The solution is fun.  Play games that help visual tracking like mazes, connect the dots, word finds.  Investigate with I Spy type books, Where's Waldo, and picture searches.  One of my daughters went to Occupational Therapy for 3 years, she loved tossing colored items on the ground then spinning (like on a swing) and trying to pick up all the red or yellow items and place them in containers.  There are many OT games that help with visual tracking.  Look online or check out The Out of Sync Child Has Fun (a wonderfully helpful book)

3.  What kind of reader is your child?  We have some that love fantasy and some that hate it. My 20 year old was just telling me that she still prefers fantasy to any other form of literature.  Her younger sister is a factual reader all the way.  Another sister will hardly entertain anything that isn't science fiction.  Especially for a child that struggles with reading it's important that their pleasure reading be from a genre they want to read.  Fortunately we live in an era where children's literature has a lot to offer in almost any direction your young reader wants to go.

4.  Phonics doesn't work for everyone - there are other ways to break the language code. My oldest, one of my dyslexics, to this day can't sound anything out.  She learned to read by memorizing whole words, their shapes, using key letters as cues.  Once she realized what worked for her she went nuts studying words and adding them to her internal dictionary.  She reads extraordinarily fast now, around 300 words per minute.  There was a time when I thought that would never happen but when we found what she loved to read and combined it with a way to break the code of language, she became unstoppable.

5.  Split the reading.  One thing we have done with all of our children is split the reading.  At first, with each of them, we would read large chunks and they would read a sentence or two.  As their skills and stamina took hold we would read less and they would read more.  Regardless of the amounts we would take turns, I would read then they would read.  This is a long process, it's not like by the end of one book they are going to be reading a page and me a sentence.  But as you continue to read with them, over time, their skills and stamina will improve.

6,  Reading aloud with your children opens up the world of literature to them.  We don't just read aloud to them though, we read aloud with them as a family.  From the time our children were too little to read we would take turns reading, helping the younger ones, or ones that were struggling with words they don't know. At first they would be simply repeating what we whispered in their ear.  Then they may only be able to contribute all the "and"s or "the"s in there part of the reading. Contributing gave them a sense of success. We would also stop to explain what certain words or phrases meant.  Reading together has become a  cherished family memory in our house.

7.  Use technology as a tool to help your struggling reader.  There are many types of assisstive technology that allow you to change the color, size, and spacing of text.  What a gift for those that are struggling with text that is too close together, a sea of text or other issues.   Take advantage of services out there like BookShare and Audible that can help with adjustable text and books on CD or mp3.  One of our daughters had her first successes by "reading" along with books on tape. That sense of accomplishment fueled her desire to read on her own, at her own pace.  We have always been careful that she didn't become so dependent on audible books that she gave up on reading for herself.

8.  Pick books that are a little challenging in context, language, and length but NOT defeating because they are so hard. As your reluctant young reader grows and learns it's important that they have success.  Triumph fuels empowerment, defeat re-enforces a sense of failure.  Sometimes that means you will have to tell your reader they're not ready for a book.  We always made the desired book a dangling carrot, then found stepping stone books to help them reach their goals.  These stepping stone authors became some of our children's favorites.

9.  Make time for reading when your child is at their best not overly tired or mentally exhausted.  This was really important in our ADHD house where mental exhaustion from trying to focus is a real and tangible issue. One of our dyslexics told me that trying to read at the end of the day as part of homework was like smearing mud on her face and rubbing it in.  It just made things worse and certainly made her struggles seem insurmountable. Make reading time special, create a bedroom fort, a closet nook, a cozy corner where reading is the only activity that gets to take place.

10.  Give rewards - treats, new books, whatever your reluctant young reader's currency is, use it. One of our very artistic daughters would argue with the pictures as she was first learning to read.  We started covering the pictures and then letting her draw her own illustrations when she finished.  It was a great motivator to her, is it any wonder that she's a concept artist now, reading peoples literary works and creating visual images of their characters.

The biggest advice I have to share - never give up. Where there's a will there's a way has gotten us through some mighty tight spots. As you are figuring it out remember to have fun, we all learn better and faster when we are having fun.  Today, I have to pry the books from my children's hands, chase them down out of the bathroom and other perfect hidden reading spots, sometimes I even cringe when they beg to go to the bookstore because they finished a book, the 400 or 500 page book, I bought them yesterday.  But these are great problems to have.

*The pictures are all covers to some of our family's favorite books - I excluded the obvious best sellers like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and put up picture of some gems that you might not have heard of
PS For some people the library is a great tool but not for us. Remember we are a house of ADHDers - we really can't afford the lost books and late fees that come with visiting the library - and no one really wants to see their face on a wanted poster.

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