* My dear Isaac

Dear Isaac is my nephew with an unidentified auditory processing disorder and dyscalculia, all mixed with a heavy dose of emotional distress.  He’s a bright, creative youngster with strengths in science and art.  But as a third grader, he still can’t add or subtract single digit numbers without his fingers.  If we hadn’t used Alan Walker’s multiplication methodology, Isaac wouldn’t have learned any multiplication facts.  After his initial refusal to engage with the Walker approach to memorization, Isaac cut his losses and became proud of his new knowledge.

After my initial assessment, I estimated that it would take six months to correct fundamental math reasoning errors.  That was an accurate estimate.  Isaac has made solid progress in solving problems.  You would be so proud if you could see him working on multiple-step word problems!

Sadly, dear Isaac is now burned to a crisp at school and when it’s time for homework.  He doesn’t act out at school but his teacher reports that he is frequently inattentive and withdrawn.  The school year has been too long and taxing.  Isaac feels stupid, is depressed, and his teacher flat out refuses to lessen the homework load.  Oh dear!

A predictable conundrum for him (and me!) is dealing with his errors.  He has made too many and now wants to be error-free for life.  If only!  He is reluctant to accept alternative methods of calculation when he feels especially low.  We had a difficult session this past week when he refused to write multiple digit addition problems vertically instead of horizontally.

After staring at his horizontally-written problem, Isaac screamed, “I can’t do this!   I thought you were going to help!”

“Write it vertically, Isaac.”

“I’m going to do it MY way!”  

“Go ahead.”  [I walk across the room because I know he’s going to implode if I stay close.  Or I might just bite my hand off.]

Repeat above scenario 3 times.

Finally, amidst tears and growls, Isaac rewrites the problem vertically and gets so much praise from me that we are back on track.  I remain at his side as his sense of humor returns and he completes all the dreaded homework in record time.

Here’s the adorable Isaac, taking aim at homework with a tripod?

Isaac 3



* What is homework?

To my nephew, Isaac, homework is “tor-tradition,” meaning torture + tradition.  See?  He has some math sense and lots of common sense.  Poor Isaac.  As third grade has shifted into hypermode to prepare for the end of grade tests, he has been left dangling. There’s not enough time for remediation after school, not with the tor-traditional piles of homework.  Fortunately, he has a flexible teacher who is now willing to let him move through the multiplication.com system of learning his times tables.  After months of trying more traditional (and yes, torturous approaches), I switched to Alan Walker‘s language- and association-based approach.  It has paid off bigtime for Isaac, providing him with a dose of much-needed confidence.  But is it too little and too late?


Isaac would benefit from a formal educational and psychological evaluation.  He appears to have serious weaknesses in auditory processing skills, along with attention, working memory, and long term memory issues.  His success in reading fluency camouflages many of his weaknesses.  Sometimes both teachers, parents, and kids think everything is fine if you can read above grade level.  Ouch.  Try giving Isaac multistep directions and watch the confusion.  And like many twice exceptional kids, Isaac’s mental energy has been fried to a crisp after half a day of school.  His teachers report that he spends his afternoons in silence, never responding and apparently inattentive.  At home, he screams and bangs his head when it’s time for homework.  Torture indeed.

I don’t think it’s too late for this sweet kiddo.  He is eager to learn, responds well to instruction in incremental steps, and has enough curiosity for an entire classroom.  And he can do a perfect Patrick or Spongebob imitation.  Isaac can go far, especially if a certain tortuous traditions can be axed.

* Integrating content areas into reading, social skills, and math

atomglobe.jpgOK, here’s my bias.  Reading, writing, and math are core subjects to me, as are social skills and classroom behavior.  At least one of these five subjects lies at the heart of needed remediation for special needs kids. I believe reading and social skills are primary.  They both allow access to the realms of the typical learners who may never give a second (negative) thought to their abilities.  Lack of these two fundamental skills can lead to all manner of distress, anxiety, relational conflicts, and isolation.  Social skills and behavior are cousins, so the same consequences apply.  Math and writing follow closely behind as factors determining academic success and basic life skill acquisition.

The good news?  Science and social studies are often areas of interest for kids with the above weaknesses, the kids with autism, dyslexia or dyscalculia, and those labeled twice exceptional.  These content areas provide a footing upon which to build reading skills and a toolkit for incorporating social skills and behavior instruction through science/social studies investigations with peers.

The bad news?  With the pressure to improve test scores, teachers may devalue those benefits of instruction in science and social studies, unless kids are also tested in science, which occurs in grades 5 and 8 in North Carolina.  With time constraints, elementary teachers may shortcut the experiential and authentic aspects of content area instruction.  Worksheets and memorization of facts may become an expedient alternative for authentic exploration.  Special ed teachers are often under similar pressure to produce higher rates of achievement; this can happen in a relative “vacuum” if teachers aren’t careful.

The solution?  Incorporate science and social studies into reading, social skills, math, and writing instruction.  Take advantage of the special interests of kids described above.  Many of them are awesome problem solvers, with creativity and the ability to “think outside the box.”  Allow special needs kids to be leaders in investigations, with support as needed.  Provide opportunities for these kids to learn in small groups with clearly assigned roles.  The research to support this approach is there.  The effective models are there.  Hopefully this section of my blog will support teachers as they integrate content areas into the instruction of special learners.