Copying from the blackboard
This can be almost impossible for the child who has problems
with eye/hand coordination or other difficulty with writing. It's
best for the teacher to have this information on a hand-out. The
most important goal is to have the child learn the work, not spend
the entire time trying to copy off a blackboard.
When the children come into class, I suggest teachers allow time for
them to organize their notebooks, pencils, and papers. Base this
time allowed on the child who takes the longest.
Teachers generally send home whatever did not get done in class. This
means some children bring home an awful lot of homework! They really
shouldn't have more than an hour or two each night. Homework is supposed
to reinforce what the child has learned during the day; it shouldn't
be an ordeal each evening for the child and his parents.
Every child needs a break after school. Some may prefer to get the
homework done first, but for young children especially, it's better
for them to have some physical activity, to be able to play, and then
do the homework after dinner or later in the evening.
If you find your child is spending too much time on homework you may
want to write into the IEP (individualized educational program) that
no more than one or two hours will be spent on homework, depending
on what is appropriate for their age. The parent is only expected
to get the child to do what he is capable of doing during that time.
Consider which parent is better suited to work with the child...it
isn't always Mom.
Allow the child to work in the environment that best suits him. For
one youngster, this may be a quiet place in his bedroom. For another
it could be at the kitchen table. Some work best with the radio on
while others don't. Also, remember how important it is for the chair
and desk/table to be the right "fit." (See the July/August
Pure Facts.) The child's feet should be firmly "planted"
on the floor when he sits down, and this can be as simple as putting
a book under his feet.
He may need timed breaks.
For the child who has started the Feingold
Program and is having success, you can show him that he can lengthen
his time of focus. Use a timer to determine how long he will try
to focus on his work.
You might start by having work periods that
last only ten minutes, with breaks in between. Then, the following
week, lengthen the time by a few minutes, perhaps it can be 12 minutes
instead of 10. This will teach the child to focus for longer and
longer periods, and he will eventually be able to work for as long
as he is comfortable without the need for a timer or outside intervention. He
will be able to get up, take a break, and come back to the work, to
set his own pace.
We adults don't usually work on a project for hours at a time. We
take breaks, leave it for awhile, and come back to our project.
When homework assignments are given, it's helpful if the teacher provides
a list of books or other materials to complete the assignment. How
many kids have come home with a homework assignment, but without the
book needed to do it? Or, they come home with the book, but they
don't know which page they're supposed to do. The teacher can spell
it out on the blackboard.
Teachers can help students plan their time on a project by providing
an outline which blocks out periods of time and charts how far along
the child should be on the project, to help him to stay on target.
One of the specific learning disabilities teachers often complain
about is the child's handwriting. Handwriting involves fine motor
skills. The way teachers generally try to get children to improve
their handwriting is to have the child practice it over and over again. But
there's a much more effective way to help these children.
Start by using the child's gross motor skills, and gradually work
down to the fine motor control. I recommend a large easel pad. You
want the child to understand what the letters look like and how you
make them. [Pat demonstrated using gross motor skills to make a single
very large letter on the pad.] I moved my whole body; I didn't move
just my fingers or my wrist, but I learned how to make a letter with
a fluid motion. You don't have to use a large easel pad;
instead, give the child a piece of chalk and let him write on the
Once the child knows how to make a letter on a big
page like this, you then move on to the next step. Again, use these
very large sheets of paper, but now draw red and blue lines -- solid
and dotted, just like the page in his writing workbook at school. When
the child is able to write the letters using these enlarged pages,
gradually use smaller pages and closer lines.
As the size of the letter gets smaller, the child will go from using
most of his body to make the letter, then perhaps use his whole arm. So,
you continue to have the fluid movement, but he still is not using
the fine muscles. There's a smaller pad than this, which is available
from the FAUS Resource Catalog. The lines are still big, but by this
time the child has worked down to using his wrist. As he improves
the child can use progressively smaller pages. We use the child's
gross muscles to learn the motion and shape of the letter, and then
as the motor control improves he can gradually come down to the size
of letter being taught. Unfortunately, this progressive help is not
offered in most schools.
There are other useful tools to help with a child's handwriting. Have
you seen the child who holds the pencil or pen right down at the point,
or up at the end? [Pat demonstrated a pen shaped so that the finger
can't slide to the tip or go up too high.] These are specifically
made for someone who has a problem with gripping the pencil/pen or
a fine motor problem.
Cursive vs. printing
For the child who has problems writing, it's sometimes easier to learn cursive
than to learn to print. The rhythm of the writing seems easier for this
child to handle than the stop and start of printing. If you feel
this is important for the school to follow, have it written into the
Youngsters who have difficulty writing should be allowed to type reports,
and for some children, giving an oral report is better yet.
The child who has gross motor problems should receive occupational
therapy (OT) intervention. Children who are clumsy and lacking in
balance need the OT.
Language and speech delay
If a child has delays in language and speech it may manifest itself
as ADD because it's very frustrating not to be able to respond well.
One form of language problems in children and adults is called aphasia. This
is where the child understands what you're saying and understands
what his response is supposed to be, but has difficulty in verbalizing. We
see this in people who have had strokes. Such a person is angry because
they can't tell you what they want to say. If you have a child with
this problem seek out a good speech therapist who can evaluate the
Hearing and quality of hearing
Some children have very hypersensitive hearing. I used to take my
son to church. He was fine until the organ music began, then he would
scream, and I would have to leave. He acted like the noise was painful. This
is the same child who told the fluorescent lights to stop buzzing;
nobody else could hear them. He told the radiators to be quiet, because
he heard these things. A person who is distracted by this super-sensitivity
to noise will tune out the world around him when he is trying to focus.
There is interesting research being conducted that suggests you can
have a different rate of hearing in each ear. So, if one ear is hearing
sooner than the other, the person must decode what they hear before
they can respond to it. That puts them out of sync with the rest of
When giving directions, also read all directions twice to be sure the children have heard them. Have
the students repeat to you what the direction was.
Learning to read
Many of these children need phonics. They need the tools to decipher
language, and phonics is the way to do it. Our kids aren't patient
enough to learn "whole word recognition," and they don't want
to memorize whole words. But if you give them the tools to decipher
the language they'll do very well, so phonics is a better way to teach
reading and language to these children.
We often hear about children who are distracted by things like the
noise of a page turning, but some children who are not bothered by
background noise of this type will have difficulty in the classroom
if there is a discussion group going on while the child is trying
to focus on something else. This child will be extremely distracted,
even if the group is on the other side of the classroom; so I tell
teachers who have kids with ADD in their class to try not to divide
the children up into groups, but to have them work independently.
By the time a child reaches seventh and eighth grade he will need
to learn to take notes. This involves many skills. The child needs
Note-taking is a very complicated skill. Keep in mind that you are
asking a child to do six things at one time and you'll have a better
idea why he's having trouble taking notes.
translate what he hears into what he puts down on the page
remember what has just been said in order to put it on the page
comprehend the language and the words to put them on the page
be able to coordinate the handwriting to write it in a legible
manner on the page
integrate all this together to make sense of the notes he just
Following the letters across the page is a problem for many children,
but it is one many teachers don't pick up on. Effective reading involves
holding your head relatively still and moving your eyes to follow
the words across the page.
When a child reads, if you see him lay his head on the desk or cock
his head to one side, he's probably only tracking with one eye. This
means he is moving his head in order to focus on the words, rather
than holding his head still and moving only his eyes.
I know personally how difficult it is to track on a page if you have
a visual problem. I suffered from this all through school and nobody
knew it. Only after I was out of school and went to a specialist
did I gain a better understanding of what I was dealing with visually. I
could read, and could read the eye chart across the room, but I had
trouble tracking across the page. If I tried to track across the page I
would lose a word, and I'd have to go back and find the word I lost
because the sentence didn't make
sense. That still happens to me today, but now I understand what's
If you have a child who's trying to read something and
has to go back two or three times a line to make sense of what he
is reading, he's going to read three times slower than his classmates.
And watch the way the child holds his head for clues that he's only tracking
with one eye.
Teach the child to sit up straight, to use his finger to track on
the page or to use a T square. This rests against the side of the
book and the ruler is parallel to the line of text. The child can
use the T square to help keep his eyes right on the line. If you
use interventions like these, however, be sure to ask the child which works
best for him or her; you don't want to make things harder.