Friday, December 27, 2013

Montessori Homeschooling Children With Speech and OT Challenges...Is Challenging

Okay, the title might say most of what this post means to say, but I shall elaborate here anyway.

It just occurred to me this morning why S may be having so many difficulties writing. I am hypothesizing that she simply doesn't have the hand and core strength to write. 

S was born 5 weeks early, much to our surprise. She didn't have the usual premie issues, but we still saw our share of specialists nonetheless. By 9 months little S wasn't sitting up by herself and she wasn't self-feeding, so we began private physical therapy for a low-tone diagnosis. 

Since then, I've seen a lot of sensory integration issues and I still see evidence of her low-tone issues and developmental delays. S didn't walk until she was 19 months old. Most parents and professionals-alike said to me, "oh, no big deal, they will learn when they learn." MY opinion is, if you are in this situation with your baby, GET PROFESSIONAL ASSISTANCE EARLY. While all of her peers were exploring their environment in an up-right position, 2' above the ground, she was still using her arms and hands to help her move around. While other walking children her age were exploring, manipulating, and furthering there physical and cognitive development, S simply couldn't do the same. I believe that she simply couldn't move forward developmentally until she learned to be mobile. 

S has a long history of sensory avoidance. She crawled with her little hands all balled up because she hated anything touching her palms. She hates enclosed areas with lots of loud ambient noise and she doesn't like rough surfaces, including sandpaper letters. 

S also avoids activities that require strong gross and fine motor skills. She doesn't like ball sports, balance beams, or monkey bars. And she refuses to do activities, like hand writing, that are too difficult for her. 

It just occurred to me that her hands may not have the strength to hand-write when she started throwing a hissy fit that she couldn't get the bag clip back on the marshmallow bag. She just couldn't get the clip open. I tried the clip and it isn't that difficult. I thought back to our ornament making session the other day when she couldn't manage the hole punch. I also thought about the time that she was crying because she couldn't clip a barrette in her hair. And then I thought about the times that she colors and draws. She moves her wrist instead of articulating her fingers and she can't color within the lines. And then I decided, maybe her hands just aren't strong. 

So, I briefly reflected upon the fact that there is no way we can afford two kids in therapy (T is in speech therapy right now) and I needed to find some resources that could help us strengthen her muscles and her confidence at home.

I just downloaded, and now have to read, a bunch of e-books from an OT mom who has her own website and blog. I'll let you know if these exercises work out.

I am planning on pausing the handwriting with S until I see some improvement in her core and hand strength. I am thinking that I'll try the OT exercises before most of the Montessori primary pincer-grasp activities. I feel as a-nearly-six-year-old, S isn't going to want the minutia that the cylinder blocks entail. If she feels like she wants to do some tweezing, eye-dropping, sponge-transferring, or finger-transferring, then we'll set those up. But this OT stuff all creates a new and interesting layer to our Montessori homeschooling.  

And this makes a great segue to T and his speech and language challenges. T was born just a few weeks early, by doctor's orders, for a kidney issue. That was later cleared up by a surgery when he was 2 1/2. 

At 18 months T wasn't talking. At 24 months T had about 5 words and didn't respond to his name. At 3-ish we had T tested by the county public school system. They came back with a low-average-doesn't-qualify-for-services diagnosis. At 4-ish we had T tested by the county again, and they came back with the same diagnosis with a "possible-but-we-can't-be-sure-PDD-NOS." T still wasn't using pragmatic language skills like the rest of his preschool peers. 

There were still be instances where he would ignore you. I would get down on his level, in front of him, touch him gently on the shoulder and say "T, would you like yogurt or crackers?" and get NO RESPONSE. There was no eye contact, no change in physicality, no verbal acknowledgement whatsoever but he still didn't exhibit classic autism symptoms. At 6-ish we had T evaluated for pragmatic speech development, and the private practice we chose suggested he would benefit from therapy and that he may have an auditory processing disorder. 

So, fast forward to 7-ish and we are finally able to afford private therapy, since insurance will pay for not even 1 cent of it. T has been seeing a speech therapist weekly for the last 6 months. We don't have an end date at this point, (I know, $$$$) but I am so glad we know Miss Amanda. 

At the beginning of our homeschooling year, I was at a complete loss as to why T just couldn't write. His pencil grip is fine. His posture is fine. There were just no words.  
Mama: "What did you do this weekend?" 
T: "I don't know." 
Mama: "Where did you go Saturday." 
T: "To the party." 
Mama: "Where was the party?"
T: "Sabrina's..."
Mama: "What was the party for?"
T: "Her birthday."
Mama: "Let's make a sentence you can write down."
T: "What sentence?"
Mama: "This weekend I went to..."
T: "....Sabrina's."

I am thinking, why can't he just link these thoughts and create a full sentence that conveys the thoughts he wishes to convey? Why can't he get to the main point? The main point isn't that he went to Sabrina's, it is that he went to a birthday party at Sabrina's house.

Well, long-story-short, Miss Amanda is working on this thought processing with him. I am working with him on the mechanics, or the grammar side. And I've put aside all notions of dictation, creative writing, or formal response until we have some more traction on the putting-together-the-words-to-express-thought. 

T's verbal and expressive abilities definitely keep things interesting when planning lessons. He is quick to pick up the concept, but expressing what he knows is so very difficult if not impossible.

I am working on a plan, or a map if you will, for the spring semester that will build into our homeschool curriculum focus exercises designed to help each child in their areas of difficulty. Considering I am still feeling shaky at best with the whole Montessori curriculum, this is an definitely an added level of challenging complexity I need to figure out as their guide. 

If you've read this far, and you are nodding your head and saying, "that sounds like my situation..." here are couple of tid-bits/tips/pointers that I believe are the reason I am writing this here. (Beside the fact that it is on my mind right this moment, and I want to vent.) (And even if you aren't in a situation where this applies directly to you, you may very well know of someone who is in a this situation, so stay tuned and be sure to share these bits with your friend if you think they would be helpful.)

If you think your child has a developmental delay, do not delay. If I knew five years ago what I know now about Montessori's philosophy about childhood development, I would have tried harder to help each child get over their bumps so that they could continue on to the next developmental milestone. Each milestone paves the way for the next, and it is largely linear. There is no skipping.

Public county services aren't the authority, dig deeper. I spoke with a county services coordinator and she said just this to me: the county works with certain statistical and budgetary parameters and they can't except anyone into the system who doesn't score within those percentiles on the particular test they administer. Your child may not score to qualify that day. The therapist may not have knowledge of THE activity that would be most beneficial to YOUR child. Dig deeper, ask other professionals, do Internet searches, read books, if your gut tells you something is amiss.

Work with the therapist, or become friends with one you trust. Working with our speech therapist has brought light to a lot of the writing challenges T faces. I talk with her openly, and e-mail her nearly constantly, about what we are doing in the classroom, exercises and games we can play at home, and ways I can understand how he is processing the verbal world around him. I feel our open communication is the best way I can work our Montessori curriculum to complement what T is doing in therapy, and get my questions about anything and everything answered. I also have a family friend who is an OT whom I ask periodically for help with the kids. She doesn't live near us, but her professional advice has been very valuable. 

Follow the child. Really, look, observe, and question what you see. How are they sitting? What are they writing about? What do they love to do at the exclusion of everything else? What is their behavior like after a relaxing activity? What is their behavior like after/during/before a challenging activity? Do you see any sticking points? Does their frustration need to be at the level it is? Are they crying? Are they abstaining? Are they avoiding? Are they throwing a tantrum? What is going on? Go with your gut. Don't be afraid that you are that worry-parent, ask a professional therapist questions if you have them. And ask them early. And pursue them.

You are your child's best advocate. Create the environment. Supply your children with the tools they need to be successful, build confidence, acquire knowledge and become the person their potential means them to be.


  1. Something that might help as you're going through the OT activities and considering all the Montessori materials you have from primary --- I have had great success with elementary children using the primary sensorial and language materials as "challenges". Not just doing all the knobbed cylinders; but silently, with as few mistakes as possible; picking up each one, looking at the bottom of it, looking at every single hole just to be sure (even if they think they know which ones it goes in), look at the bottom again, then silently insert it. This really gets their fingers going, and provides a whole layer of challenge to it, that really reaches their elementary sensibilities.

    An OT neighbor of mine gave me some other tips with some of my tutoring children: massage the child's muscles (all of them), routinely; assure plenty of easily digestible proteins (which will actually vary according to each child's genetic history) to build up muscles; use as many real items as possible throughout the rest of life (which is a Montessori principle anyway - a glass tumbler for a toddler instead of a plastic sippy cup - my son actually routinely spilled plastic cups as a toddler, but never once spilled or dropped a glass tumbler).

    It feels like a lot now, but you'll find your family's stride in all of this :)

    1. Thank you for this. After looking at this new material, and doing a few exercises with S, I think that the going will be smooth. I was a little worried that it would take a ton of time, it would be filled with frustration and pouting and it wouldn't be enjoyable. But S seems to like the individual attention and is willing to try most things. Her core is VERY weak. She just can't do most things average children can. Well, she can't do most of the exercises in the booklet.

      I'll be sure to do the massage and the protein thing with her. I think both would really help. Thanks so much for the support and the advice! And good luck with your endeavors. I hope it all falls into place and runs smoothly. You are certainly in our prayers.