Archimedes was a brave man. After all, he dunked the king’s crown in his bathtub, designed weapons to keep the vast roman army at bay, and reputedly ordered said army to pause prior to executing him so he could complete his final set of calculations. My Archimedes is also brave in his own small way. Each day he must face numerous tasks that most would consider easy but which are, in fact, extremely difficult given his numerous disabilities. He generally approaches each of these obstacles with a smile and quiet determination. There is, however, one thing that will strike terror into his heart like no other and crush any sense of achievement and fortitude he has managed to muster that day. No, not monsters under the bed, not broccoli, not politics, not even a trip to the dentist (though that is a close second). No, that unspeakable thing is – spelling.
Spelling has been his archnemesis since early childhood, but there are several good reasons for this. My Archimedes has central auditory processing disorder and dyslexia. He also possesses a very, very strong visual-spatial learning style. Most people are reasonably familiar with dyslexia, a disorder in which the orientation of letters and numbers in words and equations appears inverted and transposed. Central auditory processing disorder or CAPD is a less well-known but equally frustrating condition. In CAPD the ears are fully capable of detecting all the volumes and pitches of normal hearing, but the brain routinely and inconsistently misinterprets the information it receives. My Archimedes cannot reliably hear all the sounds in the words we speak and is often confused as to what people are saying. You may declare, “The cat is soft and furry,” but he hears, “Ton cap is often hurry.”
Needless to say, sounding out words, recognizing common diagraphs, and spelling phonetically are incredibly difficult for anyone with this combination of disorders, and, unfortunately, most spelling curricula rely heavily on the aforementioned techniques. While there are a number of curriculums that focus on helping students with either dyslexia or CAPD, there are virtually none that address both issues simultaneously and effectively. Thus, we do what homeschoolers do and adapt existing programs to better fit our needs or even resort to creating entirely new ones. This method of customizing study materials has been incredibly successful in many of the subjects we have investigated, but I must admit, we are still struggling a lot with this spelling monster. I found great comfort in the list of famous authors (Agatha Christie), world leaders (Winston Churchill), businessmen (Charles Schwab), and entertainers (Walt Disney), just to name a few, that site director Carolyn K. identified in her article “Twice Exceptional = Exceptional Squared!” at Hoagie’s Gifted Education Page. There is hope for the spelling-challenged!
One of the programs we tried early on was All About Spelling, a very comprehensive program designed to address spelling visually, auditorily, and kinesthetically. It is a beautifully composed, very thorough, and user-friendly program in my humble opinion. It’s use of color-coded spelling tiles was especially appealing to my hands-on, visual Archimedes, but because he has disabilities in two of the three pathways this curriculum utilizes, we weren’t as successful as we had hoped. Remember, it is extremely difficult to associate a letter or letter combination with a sound if the sound you hear is different each time and the letters change orientation in an inconsistent way – no fault of the program, just a reality of Archimedes’ learning style.
A couple of years ago during a late-night, stress-inducing search for help in this area, I stumbled upon a video presented by Dianne Craft, a veteran special education teacher, who seemed to really understand CAPD, dyslexia, and many other learning challenges. In the video, Ms. Craft demonstrates a technique of drawing a picture which represents the meaning of the word but also reflects the physical shape of the word. It also attaches a simple story to the picture to help give the student a way to remember the details of the drawing and thus the letters of the word. I thought the idea was brilliant, and dutifully began using the process with Archimedes. He liked the technique and initially responded quite well to it, but drawing and coloring are extremely difficult with his neuromuscular difficulties, dysgraphia, and OCD, and the frustration of completing each picture quickly overshadowed any progress he gained in remembering the spelling of the word. I soon learned that having Archimedes do the mental work of determining what image he would choose for the word and then having me do the actual work of drawing it for him to later color worked the best. The only real drawback to this system was that eventually he tired of the process and certain words (in fact, many words) were pretty difficult to depict easily. I recently saw that Ms. Craft has launched a very informative website we and online store, and I am seriously considering purchasing her Brain Integration Therapy book to see if some of her additional techniques might serve to deal with Archimedes’ multiple learning disabilities more effectively. Both Archimedes and Aristotle benefited tremendously from the many integrative therapies employed by their amazing occupational therapists, and I have high hopes that Ms. Craft’s recommendations will have a similar positive impact for us.
There are times when homeschooling parents have to come up with completely new curriculum on their own. Each parent knows his or her own child’s skills and weaknesses and also knows how that child has responded to each program he or she has tried. I have often had to create my own programs using combinations of techniques and pieces of multiple curricula that I know my children respond to. Sometimes these things work spectacularly. Other times they fail equally spectacularly, but each time I learn a little bit more about how my children process information. And so, I am in the process of creating a spelling program for Archimedes that will play to his strengths and incorporate strategies that seem to work for him. I will be using the Dragon speech recognition software, keyboarding, patterning, and color-coding. When the details are done, and Archimedes and I have tested it out, I will share the method and let you know if it worked or not.
There are many great spelling resources on the market and on the internet, and though most do not exactly fit my Archimedes’ needs, they all have certain qualities that work very well for many students. The key is to identify those effective qualities and then modify the program to fit your individual child’s learning style. Sometimes you’ll have to take those qualities and use them to design something of your own making. This can be a difficult process, and it can be very frustrating to abandon a curriculum you’ve invested in financially and emotionally, but the rewards when your child finally conquers a difficult subject are indescribable. Please, feel free to share your successes and frustrations with the specialized materials you have had to develop for your own children in the comments! I would love to hear about them!