A woman once told me her son had been accepted into a good college even though he had the handwriting of a six-year-old. Happily, this sharp young man and his mother knew how to get accommodations to get his thoughts on paper.
Can you imagine the effect on this child, if she had said:
Sorry, dear. Until you stop reversing your E’s, I’m not going to teach you to write.
Until you pay attention and print more neatly, I’m not teaching you any new words.
Many gifted people have dysgraphia, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. We should work on the problems, as I discussed last time. But we also work around them. That means you accommodate the student’s areas of weakness.
Accommodate doesn’t mean coddle. It does mean you give help that gives them a fair chance to develop their abilities. It means you don’t let a disability hijack your homeschool.
Though we work hard to strengthen weaknesses, it is vital not to focus on them. We build lives based on strengths, not weaknesses. We don’t look at Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, Agatha Christie, or MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award winner Mimi Koehl, and think of learning disabilities. They built their careers on their strengths.
We don’t build our lives on what we do poorly. Neither should our kids.
The first accommodation you may think of is teaching your child to type. There are many typing programs, but Keyboard Classroom is unusual. It’s a typing program designed at the Ben Bronz School in Connecticut, a school especially for students with learning disabilities. To reduce stress, practice exercises are limited to one minute, building fluency without as much stress as longer exercises. The developers researched for twenty years with students who had learning disabilities. The program also provides plastic finger guides that make it instantly obvious to the typist when his or her fingers have slipped.
I met Keyboard Classroom President Carrie Shaw and got to try out the program. [Disclosure: she gave me a demo copy and finger guides, but I haven’t used it.] I was intrigued. Visit their site to watch videos and a demo and learn more.
How do you know if your child is old enough to touch-type? Pediatric occupational therapist Laurie Chuba told me this trick: ask your child to close her eyes and see if she can touch her left thumb each of her other left fingers in turn. Then repeat with right hand. If she can do that, she’s ready to learn touch-typing.
If your child is not ready to touch-type, let her record answers with a digital voice recorder, into your phone, or have her dictate to a sibling who can type.
Word Prediction Software
You know how smartphones and some apps guess which word you are trying to type? WordQ does that even better, providing a drop-down list of words to choose from. Even better, at the end of each sentence, WordQ reads the sentence aloud, which can help your child notice when words are incorrect or are omitted.
SpeakQ dictation software is an add-on for WordQ that turns it in to a powerful dictation program. Designed for folks with learning disabilities, it is easier for your child to train to his or her voice than other programs, like Dragon (though it is more expensive than Dragon). However, WordQ and SpeakQ offer a free 30-day trial.
(SpeakQ’s advantage over Dragon is that to train the software to recognize your child’s voice, it lets you upload anything your child can read well, rather than offering paragraphs [as Dragon does] that may be difficult for your challenged learner to read.)
Next time we’ll look at some more tips to accommodate writing problems. Have any other tips or resources? Leave a comment below!