Thursday, November 30, 2006

Anxiety and working memory: reference material

This is a link to a long extract from this publication:

Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, Sixteenth Edition, Copyright © 2000 W. B.
Saunders Company
Chapter 22 - Anxiety Disorders

Basically around p32-35 (chapter written by Melvin D Levine) I found some references to working memory problems, which can often impede written output.

Will keep hunting for more specific documentation on this topic. Email any leads or links to please.

Anxiety and Written Output Disorder

I am presently trying to find resources to link to about any connection between written output disorder and anxiety. If you come across anything pertinent please email it to me for uploading.
I am curious to learn how significant a role anxiety plays in either creating written output disorder (if one believes such a thing could be created per se, not so sure I buy it myself) or perpetuating it.

My eyes and ears are peeled and open for info.

I'd also love to here from parents of children with written output disorder or writing problems as to whether they've noticed a higher level of anxiety in their children generally.

ADHD: PBS programme Medicating Children

Here is a link to a PBS special. It’s interesting, mostly profiles of children and their families response to ADHD and whether to medicate their children. Interesing stuff.
The programme is divided into 5 sections which are easily viewable with a broadband connection.
It was somewhat alarming to see the pressure being exerted by the school/teachers for the child to be medicated. One can understand the desire to run a functional classroom, but shouldn’t this be a decision driven by the child and parents rather than the distraught atmosphere created in the classroom.
It’s also remarkable how sedentary the classrooms feel when you’re watching this piece. No wonder children want to leap up and down. ADHD or otherwise the facility to move should be a much more integral aspect of any classroom. Compulsory skipping ropes and yoga mats in the corner would be a good start.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Survival: Learning to ignore unhelpful remarks

This is a tricky one.
In your quest to understand why your child isn't quite the same fit in the classroom, as the majority of the other children seem, you may encounter well-intentioned parents lingering around the playground, who in an effort to be helpful and insightful will suggest ridiculous things. Some of the most onerous comments might come from parent volunteers in the classroom, (not to be confused with education assistants or student educators) who will have observed your child and then try to offer an embedded report and analysis. It's important early on to figure out who your troops are and gravitate towards those people in the event of the many, extended anxious moments you will inevitably endure in searching for answers and tangible solutions. (Even when you begin to get answers you can be assured your anxiety will not necessarily diminish!) Usually the troops tend to be people who have some experience of struggle with their own children. I use the word struggle carefully and it's not to be interpreted as negative because it's not. Struggle, if anything, is enlightening (case in point: no artistic process is undertaken nor completed successfully without some element of struggle.)

The kinds of helpfully intended, unhelpful suggestions you may hear are:

  • people palming off your concerns as having no legitimacy. "Don't worry.. it'll get better kind of talk." I would counter that by saying: if you are worried, investigate all the resources you can and advocate for your child swiftly. In my limited experience I think a parent's instinct can be very accurate about their child, especially since you spend so much more time with them. You have the right to information. There's plenty information and reading material available for you to research. There are organisations you can phone for advice. There are services you can investigate to assess your child, it will likely cost you cash, but it's a small price ultimately. Do not be put off investigating if you are living in abject poverty. Education programs in Universities often do assessments for low income families. There will be a wait list. Get your child on it.

  • some folks may suggest "you just need to practise... I have x and x tutor and my child goes to x tutoring service three nights a week." Again from what I understand about written output disorder, endless practice whilst not out rightly detrimental to the child will not necessarily produce marked results either. There is also the clear issue that writing is painful and difficult for these children. You'll notice your child may even lie down on the floor and protest. One professional who I talked to likened the experience of insisting a child with written output disorder write continuously to torture for them. You may already have seen this with your child: you ask him or her to copy something out of a book say and it's clearly a very taxing and unpleasant process for them.

  • You can expect to feel isolated and maybe somewhat alienated from other parents in the school playground. Remember though that struggle comes in all shapes and sizes and whilst you may not find anyone in the school population with the identical profile to your child per se, there are going to be other parents dealing with other challenges. They will understand your gripping anxiety. You seek them out gradually. You walk away from conversations that veer into unhelpful territory because you need all your mental energy to vote for your child, not argue the toss with someone who has no concept of what you are dealing with.
  • It's can feel similar with teachers. If your child is in a classroom with an understanding, informed and supportive teacher it's a great boon because the teacher will also be strongly advocating for your child's needs within the school and be accessing resources and help on their behalf. If, however, they are not you'll have to seek your answers elsewhere in the school or outside the school completely. A useful thing that I intend to create and add to this blog will be a list of open ended questions that will aide communications with the teacher and help the situation. There's nothing more distressing once you get some answers than to look back at parent teacher meetings and realize there were significant red flags flapping in the wind during them.

  • You may hear comments from parents that upset you. Perhaps someone infers that your child shouldn't be in this particular school for whatever uninformed reason. Perhaps they suggest you did or didn't do something for your child -- this may be phrased "well I began teaching my Johnny or Mary to write when he was three.. " Or they may comment or question the kinds of material your child is attracted to, this is common with gifted children. The words " I have to go now" should be top of your lexicon, followed by rapid footsteps towards the gate. Eventually you'll get very adept at noting when these kinds of conversations are in the air.

Having said all that: sometimes a conversation that has a seemingly unhelpful tone in parts can end up being enlightening. People may disclose ah ha.. my sister's child has that issue and you can talk to her about it. It really does depend on whether you can maintain your composure long enough to get to the useful part.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Legal Challenge: Human Rights Tribunal: Jeffrey Moore case

Recent successful Human Rights challenge: Jeffrey Moore case

Full funding ordered for learning disabled
Public schools required by law to provide proper education: tribunal

Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun
Published: Thursday, December 22, 2005

The B.C. Education Ministry discriminates against learning-disabled students when it fails to give them proper support in the public school system, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal ruled Wednesday.
In a decision arising from the troubles of a young boy in the mid-1990s, the tribunal ordered the ministry to provide full funding for the education of severely learning-disabled students and to monitor districts to ensure they deliver the necessary service.
The decision is a victory for Rick Moore, a North Vancouver father who filed the complaint years ago after watching his dyslexic son, Jeff, struggle for four years in a public school.

Here's a link to the transcript of the case and decision

Progress: Multi sensory keyboarding (typing)

The sun is rising … this week my child has started a multi sensory keyboarding (touch typing) course.
Whatever genius came up with multi sensory typing, fair play to them. It’s a system of teaching touch typing that takes into consideration children’s different learning styles.
They use great aides like bits of sandpaper on the keys to help children locate the home keys or if a child inverts their d’s and b’s — a handy dandy rough square can help.
Also, they teach the alphabet in sequence rather than the old fashioned (asdf jkl; route). So far my son is responding very well and making amazing progress at typing. We began with the BBC online typing tutor for kids, ( but I found it much more constructive to attend an organised lesson once a week.
He’s required to practice 20 mins each night and the big bonus is he’s allowed to chew gum during the class which is taught one-on-one. It’s a pretty costly venture (over 300 dollars for the six classes) but well worth it, because it’s individualised and the child’s progress is much quicker.
The teacher explained that there is research that shows chewing can stimulate the brain. I bought some healthy chewing gum called Xylichew to avoid wrecking the teeth, while stimulating the brain!
I heartily recommend you start your child keyboarding as soon as possible: it helps their confidence and you may find that it’s a much more natural process for them than writing actually is.

Victory: Songwriting

My child came up with another brilliant literary venture yesterday.
His teacher had sent home a song on a sheet inside a folder and he’d observed that the children in the choir also have sheets inside folders.
He’s always been partial to rock music, usually certain songs by singer/songwriters like Donovan, Pete Seeger, Steve Miller, so he tends to sing single lines from songs over and over.
He said he needed a folder with some paper with lines inside it and announced he was going to write his own songs. I encouraged him, saying there was no need to worry about spelling, just get it down and we’ll fix it later. He asked me to write some frequently occurring words on the inside of the folder and then he wrote five different songs which comprised a line or two each.
It was a great success because there was a sense of achievement involved and the writing process was over fairly quickly for him and he was happy with the results.
It made me realize that our perception on what constitutes writing is limited and we need to broaden our thinking. A child doesn’t need to be writing essays or perfectly spelled sentences about something that means absolutely nothing to them. There are so many forms in which writing can take place and we need to embrace and place value on more of them. Classrooms need to start broadening how they deal with children who have written output issues. Writing doesn’t need to be a loathsome activity for these children.
Again I see a connection with materials in this experience. The child needed visually and kinastetically to have a folder with the pages inside. This was how he visualised the experience. If I sat him at the table with a flat piece of paper and said go write some songs it would not have happened. He had to suggest it, direct and instigate it himself. Factors like how things look and feel are very important to these children because the act of writing is much more demanding of them. It fatigues them. So there needs to be residual things to motivate them to continue.

My drawings are no good: The minor miracle of oil pastels and tissues

“My drawings are no good. They never turn out how I want them to turn out. They don’t look beautiful. I want to draw good hamsters… “are sometimes the common refrains from children who have written output struggles.
Leaping in with … “nonsense that’s not true, I think you’re great at drawing,” whilst well intended will not always diffuse the steam of gloom in moments like that. It’s very important to acknowledge the frustration and counter it on several levels with a broader approach than “you’re good at it because I say you are” This is especially important with gifted children, who are often perfectionists and can be highly discerning. You have to counter with open ended questions, not statements.
One thing I have found helpful is to introduce many art references with a heavy emphasis on more abstract artists. You have to broaden their artist vocabulary so they don’t become too dependent on the idea that art is singularly about drawing a decent tree.
More important still is the tangible experience for the child to get closer to reproducing something in the manner they desire.
I asked my child what he thought a beautiful picture looked like. In rather startling and poetic terms he described a very particular scene involving an airballoon, a red sunset, a person and a cat based on something he had seen somewhere and tried to reproduce and had been disatisfied with the results.
I suggested we try again and use different materials like oil pastels, where fine lines aren’t the main route to rendering an image.
Somewhat skeptical, he began with a line and then asked is that right, a line for the sky? So I asked if he ever saw the sky begin and end in a neat line. I pointed out that most things merge into one another. At a certain point when the sunset was suitably underway, I remembered seeing someone smudging a canvas with some kind of kitchen roll at an art workshop recently. I showed what happened if you used to tissue to soften the pastel. He found this tool very encouraging and began to layer and experiment much more with the colours. He was very caught up in it. He was finally happy with the sunset.
There were a few stumbly areas when the person needed to be drawn where he tried to get me to do it. Slowly I talked him through it offering encouragement more than any specific direction about how he might drawn the person. I could see it was a very fragile process because he might become intensely dissatisfied suddenly with some aspect of it and abandon it. I didn’t want that to happen. It seemed helpful having someone to hand the pastel over when requested and just listen as he listed the stages of what would happen aloud.
Sometimes it’s just about taking the time to go back over an experience when a child declares they are no good at something and introduce a more varied menu.
I find the example of music a good one to use when children who struggle with written output propose they want to be like all the other children (which is, of course, a very valid and understandable feeling.) I often give the example of a singer by saying if Pete Seeger wanted to be like everyone else there would be no Pete Seeger. It usually helps if the CD is playing in the background!
Another tip I found is encouraging the child to trace things the child likes eg: pokemon cards, or book covers.
Materials that may be useful to experiment with: tracing paper, canvas, soft pencils (2b)(3b), oil pastels, chalk pastels (especially on darker card).

Victory: Knitting

My child had asked me to purchase a knitting book that came with two needles and a ball of wool from the bookclub sheet they bring home once a month from school. At the time I considered the 9 dollars a dubious investment, but agreed to it because I figured if he only ever used it three times it would pay off because knitting is an intense fine motor task.
Yesterday it arrived. Initially it was a bit of a disaster until I sat and we did it together. The needles are handy dandy because they are wooden, a bit pencil like. Eventually after six rows he assumed responsibility for the needles and I did the part where you wrap the wool around for him.
“It’s teamwork,” he remarked at one point. “All kids should do this with their mothers.” I will confess to an ache in the arm region because in order to help him I had to wrap my arm across his back, over the shoulder type arrangement. But the great victory was the delight at seeing what really was a modest 3×3 square of knitting emerge. It certainly wasn’t easy nor independent but it felt like a small victory because initially he felt it so impossible.
The set we used was a French one: called Tricot Minute. It’s a book, two wooden needles and a ball of wool. I will try to hunt down a link and place it here. I think the type of needles you use will make a huge difference to it. Fat, wooden ones if poss. Bonne Chance.

Variety: Be prepared to vary the materials

A huge part of helping a child with written output issues is providing variety in the equipment and tools you use with them. Because they do not enjoy writing and find it difficult and tiring, you have to capitalize on opportunities when they are attracted to any kind of writing implements. Usually when they are interested in say a particular pencil they will inturn write.
Consider acquiring the following for use at home:
-electric plug in pencil sharpener. I found it very useful for my child to be able to instantly sharpen pencils, it also made him more interested in them!
-gel pens. I'll write more specifically about these in another post, but they sound and look different when you write with them. Children often complain they don't the feel of a particular pen or pencil, it's important to pay attention to what they do like the "feel" of.
-white board with markers that erase.
-pencils that are soft and pencils that look interesting and appealing.
-white out. I found the acquistion of white out produced a bout of writing in my child during which he happily wrote and whited out things he was unhappy with.
Like I say... one really has to grab and appreciate every opportunity that writing does happen.
More suggestions to come on this ....

Recommended Reading: Gifted Children

I recently read this very well-written book by Ellen Winner and found it gave an excellent overview of the challenges and nuances of gifted children. It's useful for parents to be widely educated on all sorts of areas that relate to children and education and this book will give you food for thought and consideration, even if it doesn't relate specifically to your situation. One point that particularly struck me was the reflection on how some parents never find a system they are happy with and continually move the children or choose to homeschool. Click on this link for more details:

Ellen Winner has also written other books on arts and education.

If things get desperate: Quote Churchill.

Life for children with written output struggles is intensely frustrating. You will usually hear comments such as "everyone's faster than me, I am always finished last, I wish I was like the other kids," etc... now the fact that your ma or da is telling you you're great, grand, dandy, smart, talented doesn't always cut it.
However, pointing out that Winston Churchill was uneven at school can help momentarily stem the torrent of despair. May be most affective if the child has a regard for Churchill however, could always create a nice pause when they reply... er, who? For the record according to the book we just read Mr Churchill was sometimes the first in his class and sometimes last.
I watched a video about learning differences which featured all kinds of people including the formidable artist Robert Rauschenberg (sp?), whose description of his mother or parents saying "we just thought you were stupid..." truly sent me crumpling into the couch. God bless him for finding the strength to lift his paintbrush in-spite of the prevailing winds.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Teddies, Stuffies, Toutou -- learning assistants

Teddies, or stuffed animals or “toutous” whatever you call them are wonderful motivators.
If say your child has no siblings, you have an instant family for them. Teddies can be very receptive to instruction, which facilitates teaching/school roleplay, where the child gets to teach the teddies or stuffies.
The helpful thing about this is it changes the classroom experience imaginatively. Instead of always feeling stressed, or bored, or on the receiving end of direction in a classroom setting the child gets to direct the situation (albeit with a crowd of teddybears) Plus teachers write on the whiteboard, so set up a whiteboard with wipe-off pens, place a row of teddies and let your child take it from there.
Many children will be captivated by this idea and request to play the game again. Parents and siblings can facilitate the voices of the teddies, including some messing about and conflicts between the teddies, which will give the child a chance to manage the classroom.
Again this another example where the act of writing is incidental to the activity. The child will be less motivated to refuse to write because he/she will see that the situation calls for him/her to write things on the board. If they refuse, always offer to scribe until they suggest taking the pen themselves.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Letter Hockey

One of the most successful strategies that I used early on with my child in Kindergarten when I realized he was obviously resistant to writing was letter hockey. Letter hockey is an activity I invented based on my child's love of ice-hockey. The single aim with this game is to get the child to write letters. As a game per se it doesn't have a great deal of purpose, other than that the writing will happen unbeknownst to the child in the pursuit of something they find far more fun! Every letter on the page is basically a huge achievement.
Basically draw a large rectangle on a piece of paper in the shape of an ice-rink.
You choose three letters and your child chooses three different letters. Write them at either end of the pitch.
Draw a penalty box for the purpose of putting errant letters inside for penalties to make the game more fun
Draw goals. Each of you chooses a letter to put in goal.
You face off with your letters. Whoever gets the letter written on the page first gets the puck. Obviously the child always gets the letter on the page, then he/she must write one of their other letters down to pass the puck. Get the child to draw a line between the letters signalling a pass.
The only goal is to get the child to write letters, so you faciliate only that by making it exciting and encouraging them. Let them get plenty of goals, make the sound of the horn everytime they score. Now and again stick a letter in the penalty box to introduce variety.
Then you work up to 5 letters each. The parent should always try to choose the letters the child perceives are difficult which demystifies them somewhat. (eg: y, k, w)
Eventually I will try to upload a diagram of what I am describing so it's clearer. This game can be adapted to any sport really. Remember be creative. And everytime your child gets a letter on that page it's a victory, so even if they only pop down three that's great.
The next stage of the game as the child ages is word hockey. You can play with simple short words instead of letters. I will describe word hockey in another post.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hard work ahead

It's possible you've come upon this blog because you're searching to understand why your child exhibits a resistance to writing, or it's been suggested your child may be struggling to write or have been tested and diagnosed with written output disorder. Given that much of the present school system only rewards children in the primary grades on tidy looking writing and pictures, it can be very disheartening for the child and in turn for the parent, who notices their child entered school a content, confident individual, but lately self esteem is beginning to suffer. The most important thing is you're curious about your child because there are always accommodations and solutions when you begin to excavate what you're observing and educate yourself and understand what may help your child.

I recently read this article and was moved by the parents response to their daughter's autism. I think it was the willingness by this couple to respond on every level they could to help their daughter. Now obviously the challenges are entirely different, but this is a really interesting and excellent piece about being brave and curious and determined which are necessary qualities for near enough each and every challenge in life.

One of the few things I have learnt recently is that if your child has any kind of learning difference whether it's mild or otherwise and if you don't have a significant pay cheque you'll need to get resourceful and creative very, very quickly. The school system will do little to support your child. There may be gestures here and there, (tangibly speaking they are only winks), there may even appear to be a willingness and some intention to help, but the disastrous state of funding scuppers it all. If you're lucky enough to live in a place where there is some support -- great. I suspect most effective help and change exist in the private and alternative school systems and the fact is many of us simply do not have the cash to access such possibilities for our children. This is where the sharing of information is paramount. This is what I mean by the magic of the kitchen table.


In this blog I aim to provide links to resources, practical suggestions from my own experience of helping my child with written output disorder. There will be book reviews, links to recommended reading, and general ruminations on taking a creative approach to children with written output disorder and gifted children. I am a writer and a parent. I am not an education expert or a teacher, though I have taught. I do find, however, that there's valuable work that takes place in the home, (outside of school) especially when school proves to be a struggle for the child. The kitchen table can often be the place they find their own way and enjoy a sense of achievement.