Hoping to someday find M's brother adopted in the U.S. -
Myckola Oleksandrovych Markov - 8/26/2003

Friday, August 19, 2016

My Homeschool Wish List and Plans for 2016-17

I have decided to organize my wish list for school on one post.  I've had several people ask both what we use and what we need for the kids, so I want to put it all in one place.

We desperately need a few more iPads. They don't have to be the newest model, but the kids dyslexia app Learning Ally runs on the iPad as well as dragon diction and a few other apps that we use very often. Learning Ally is the kids' main reading curriculum. Its basically an audio library with thousands of books that display text as the words are read.

We need a few more sets of ear phones.

We could really use another laptop or two.

I want to try the Osmo app for the kids.

We use Teaching Textbooks for math and I need to purchase TT6 right now. Its around $90 used.

I also want to purchase Touch, Type, Read, and SpellTTRS is a multi-sensory course that teaches touch-typing skills to help children and adults improve their reading and spelling.
TTRS can be used as a standalone touch-typing course and is especially useful for those with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. Its bit pricey at $400 for 12 months to get access for 4 children. I'm exploring the monthly or tri-monthly subscription option though. I really feel this program is what we need to get.

We'd also need more than one computer for this program to be practical so I'm checking into a discount program (price list in link) for homeschoolers. Right now we have one desktop and running 6 kids through math lessons and a typing program just isn't workable.

I need several more Dyslexia Games DIY Homeschool Journals. They worked well for many of my kids so I'd like to continue with them.

We need a whiteboard.

We need gel pens.

We need erasures and pencils.

My Brother printer/copier is out of ink and paper.

We need a few small tables and chairs as well as a few school desks.

I want a world and a U.S. wall size map.

I want to get Snap Words flash cards for the kids still struggling with sight words.

We need paint and new carpet for the basement to turn it into the school room we had planned.

Several kids continue to need therapy that is not free outside of the school system.

This is my Homeschooling amazon wish list.

I'm adding my PayPalMe link for people to donate to if they feel so inclined. I hate asking for money, but the facts are that my kids desperately need adaptive equipment that I cannot afford. Crowd Funding helped us bring our boys home, so I am turning to it again to help us raise the money to give them the education they deserve.

Donate to Our School Fund

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Contemplating the upcoming school year

You might have noticed I updated my blog with several posts I wrote for The Mighty. I've been pleased to have several stories published lately.

I have kind of neglected this blog since I had surgery though, so as summer winds down and we begin school again, I plan to blog more.

The public schools in our county had their first day of school today. I don't plan to start school back up with the kids until after Labor Day though. I mean… its HOT! Its still summer!

We've been doing catchup work with D, V, E, and M all summer anyways. M is doing sooooo great! I am so proud of her. She needs her own post, and I'll get to it soon I promise.

I find myself in kind of the same place as last year. I know exactly what I want to get the kids to help them with school. I know which curriculum and which programs they need, but I lack the money to buy it.

This is SOOOOO frustrating because my kids were special education cash cows for the public school system. Thousands were brought in per year because of their disabilities, yet here I sit without a penny to their name for education funding. Its so crushingly unjust.

While I wrestle with being angry over all of that again, I am conspiring ways to make money.
Sell plasma? Donate an organ?

I've settled on writing. I am good at it and I like doing it. I want to write a children's book series about our rabbit, Daisy, who has more of an attitude than M. Seriously, she deserves to have books written about her, and people will buy them I know! I only have to get her to sign off on the rights to her story before I can begin "My Life as the Owner of 9 Humans."

I had grand plant that I'd write a memoir about M's adoption to fund our schooling needs. I got about halfway into it and was struck down with horrible pain from a cyst then ended up in emergency surgery a few days later. I just haven't gotten back into working on that book again yet as I've spent the last 6 weeks recovering. Phillip had to take two weeks off from work which also did not help our bank account. I seem to be going backwards rather than forwards with my efforts!

All of this is kind of rambling on just so I can get it out of my head. I was thinking of doing a GoFundMe post or something, but that just seems so desperate. Not that I am NOT desperate; I just hate to appear desperate. I'd rather go quietly sell a kidney than ask for money.

I did donate a cyst, but apparently those are not in high demand as the bills rolling in clearly show!

Somewhere along the line this summer, I did manage to find my sense of humor again. You'll notice the sarcasm dripping off of your screen if you look closely.

My Response To Hillary's Statements on Educating Kids With Disabilities

(written for The Mighty)
Every kid with a disability has the right to go to school,” Hillary Clinton said during her speech at the Democratic National Convention. “But how do you make an idea like that real? You do it step-by-step, year-by-year… sometimes even door-by-door.”
As a mom with five children who have spent time in the special education system of our county, I could not agree more with that statement. My children have varying needs from reading disorders, severe dyslexia, central auditory processing disorder, brain damage, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) dysgraphia, visual impairments, and cerebral palsy. I have spent hundreds of hours in IEP meetings and doing research.
Clinton’s message is inspiring and encouraging to those looking in from the outside. The reality is, equal opportunities for disabled children in the public school system has yet to actually happen in most places. Yes, they can go to school, but the struggle for parents now is what happens once they are there.

It’s wonderful that Clinton devoted time to demanding equal access to education for disabled children, but I wonder if she knows equal opportunity has yet to become a reality?
I’ve sat in rooms with people who were all too eager to write my child off. I had a school psychologist, whose job on the IEP team is to be an advocate for the child, tell everyone, “We want to be careful not to expect much progress due to his lack of cognitive ability” while she refused to acknowledge he had a learning disability. She basically sat there and told everyone he was not intelligent enough to make any progress. My child was denied special education services and offered “a breakfast buddy so he doesn’t slip through the cracks.” So yes, he was allowed to go to school, but it did him precious little good when he wasn’t given the tools he needed to actually learn something from his time spent there.
I have had to fight for another one of my children to even be evaluated to receive speech services. The speech therapist just flat out refused to evaluate him when I requested it. I had to call the Board of Education and inform them of her denial to perform her job. Once he was evaluated he was found to have a severe issue. That same speech therapist told me his IEP would only reflect speech goals. She had two. Two goals for my son who could only be 50 percent understood. His teacher said he frequently was unable to make himself understood or understand what was being said to him. Two goals. That was it. The team would not put one additional thing in his IEP to help him in the classroom. He was denied further evaluations, denied accommodations, and denied further services.
I could tell 10 more stories like this. I had to take the fight to the school system just to get my children evaluated for what the Democratic presidential nominee says is a right. Every child has a right to a free and appropriate education.
I wonder how many people realize there is still so much work left to do here? We need to have a conversation about how many civil rights complaints are filed against school districts on the behalf of children with disabilities. I filed a complaint against our school district, which resulted in them having to work with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights to reach a resolution because they were found not to be in compliance with the Federal Law that already exists. My children were provided compensatory services, due to their unlawful denials of evaluations and unlawful denials of eligibility for services. If I had not taken on the system and challenged what I saw going on, nothing would have changed.
I homeschool my children now because being the “whistleblower” in a small county is not a popular position to find yourself in. I also realize we have a long, long way to go to properly train educators and therapists about children with disabilities. Yes, they are allowed to go to school, but often they are not treated the same as their typical peers.
I want to see more discussion of this at the national level. I want politicians to realize that getting the children in the door was just the first step. I want parents of children with disabilities to stop being bullied by the system that is supposed to be helping their kids. I want federal and state dollars that come into a county meant for special education to actually be spent on special education. I want kids to qualify for special education based on their needs and not on caseload limits. I want to see kids receiving services based on their needs and not being told they don’t qualify because “an orthopedic impairment doesn’t quality a child for math intervention.”
This job of advocating is not done. These issues are not yet solved.
Let’s talk.

The App Making a World of Difference for my Dyslexic Kids

Since making the decision to leave the world of public school and the special education system, I had to find a way to provide the resources my children needed on a tiny budget. I have 6 school age children. Four were internationally adopted, so we have had the ESL aspect to consider for them along with their many learning disabilities. Five of my children were on IEPs by the time we finally made it out of public school with what remained of our sanity.
I won’t lie. Its one thing to research and advocate as a parent-member of an IEP team, its entirely another to be the only one responsible for calling the shots. I was beyond frustrated and disappointed at the lack of progress my children were making in public school, but bringing them home meant that I became the one responsible for ensuring just that.
We just successfully completed our first year of homeschooling in June, and per the laws of our state, I had an evaluator come out and test my kids for adequate progress. I was beyond pleased at the results, particularly in reading!  W who was on a Specific Learning Disabled IEP and in reading intervention went from reading on a beginning 2nd grade level to a 7th grade level. D who was stuck and frustrated to tears on a Kindergarten reading level is now reading on a 3rd grade level. 
I attribute this to a fantastic app I found through a reader comment on my blog. Its called Learning Ally. Learning Ally has thousands of pre-recorded books for visually impaired and Dyslexic individuals to access. The books that have VOICEtext show the text as its being read with the current sentence highlighted. The user can change the text size, background color, highlighter color, and text color. Because many Dyslexic kids are able to read better with color overlays, this is a fantastic feature. The app also allows the user to slow down or speed up how fast the book is read to them. Some of my kids’ with processing issues or visual impairments cannot keep up with a typical read-out-loud speed, so they can set the speed to super slow to allow their eyes to keep up with what they are hearing.
Before a reader left a comment on my blog (THANK YOU!!!) about Learning Ally, I had no idea it existed. I want to share with other parents what a fantastic app this because it truly has been life changing for my kids to read books on their maturity level without being stuck at their reading level.
My kids have been discussing the Little House on the Prairie series, Moby Dick, The Jungle Book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Aesops Fables, Frog and Toad, The Origami Yoda series and many more! Learning Ally has turned reading from a frustration into a joy!  Everyone with a Dyslexic or visually impaired child should know about this.
There is a very quick and easy qualification process required to ensure that the child does have a disability that requires this type of adaptive technology. An IEP, an evaluation from a reading specialist, or some other type of evaluation diagnosing their difficulty with reading will suffice. The yearly fee can be waived for those who can prove a need for financial assistance.  

When My Daughter Wishes She Was Like Everyone Else

(written for The Mighty)
To the best of our knowledge, the reason you have cerebral palsy is from not getting enough oxygen to your brain when you were born because you just weren’t ready to come out yet. Your tummy mom got very sick, and because of that her body couldn’t keep you in her tummy any longer. You had a strokeshortly after you were born. That’s why the muscles in your right arm are so tight, and it’s smaller than the left.
Therapy has been a part of your life from the time we adopted you. Unable to walk, and told by doctors that you never would, you were determined to prove them wrong. Twenty-five pounds of steel will did what the professionals said you would never do. You walked.
I remember the first time you took independent steps. You were wearing your new AFOs (leg braces) and your little purple shoes. You tried over and over to take more and more steps before you fell. You didn’t even know how to catch yourself because at 5 years old, you had never developed a fall reflex. We had to do more therapy just to teach you how not to fall over like a dead tree. You’ve had busted lips, bloody elbows, and staples in your head, but you never, ever gave up. You walked.
The school system and doctors both told me that you were just not a smart kid. The quote I remember the most from a doctor was right after we came home from Ukraine with you, when a developmental pediatrician told me, “She’s never going to be at the top of the IQ scale.” You glared at him; I glared at him; we never went back.
I sat in one very memorable IEP meeting for you and listened in complete shock and horror as every person in that room agreed to label you intellectually disabled. I wanted to ask them how they could even think that after spending an entire year with you? This time I was the one who didn’t accept what the professionals said you wouldn’t do. I disagreed with them and requested more evaluations.
We discovered you have a visual impairment, a math disorder, severe dyslexia, PTSD and debilitating anxiety, along with the classic traumatic brain injury symptoms from a stroke. But IQ tests showed that you are not intellectually disabled; your verbal IQ was literally one point from the gifted range. You just learn differently. The quote I remember the most from the 6 hours of neuropsychological evaluations was “How could they think she’s intellectually disabled? Did they even talk to her?”
When you told me you wished you could run and climb trees, it made me sad because I wished you could too. You want to learn to swim and ride a bike like your brothers, but it’s so hard for you. I wish I could find a way to make things easier for you. The surgery you had helped so much, but I can never take away your cerebral palsy, though I wish I could.
I have never been so proud of someone as when you learned how to run. What other kids take for granted, you worked on for over a year. You said you wanted to learn how to run and you did. You are an amazing girl for setting such a hard goal and reaching it!
So, when you looked at me and said you wished you could just be like all the other kids, what I really want you to know is that I wish I could be more like you.
You with your feisty spirit and iron will sometimes drive me crazy. When you do not want to do something, I have never been able to make you do it without a fight. Your sassy attitude frustrates me sometimes, and other times I wonder how after all you have been through, you still dare to be sassy! It’s the fighter in you that makes you special.
You are not “just like the other kids.” You have your struggles, but you have something deep inside of you the “other kids” don’t have. You have never let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do, and that, sweetheart, is so much better than being like everyone else. Your life has no limits because you don’t believe in them.
Go change the world.

How Finding Her Sister is Helping M Beat Dyslexia

When I first met my daughter, she was 4 years old and in a Ukrainian orphanage. All I really knew about her was that she had cerebral palsy caused by a stroke and was unable to walk. When a nanny brought her into the director’s office to meet us, she said in perfect Russian, “Hello. Are you here to take me home?”
We were.
She struggled much more than most children in PreK and Kindergarten. At first we thought it was just due to being so neglected and delayed, but in first grade I pushed for her to be evaluated for dyslexia. Her writing was nearly always reversed in a mirror image, and often the words were spelled backwards. Sometimes she would write an entire sentence backwards from right to left, flipping every letter in every word backwards. It was mind-boggling to me how her brain could produce something like that. She often got math problems wrong because although she knew the answer verbally, her 6 was written as a 2 and 17 became 71. The school said they didn’t diagnose kids with dyslexia until third grade. My daughter was only in first, but I knew she had it.
A neuropsychologist diagnosed her with severe dyslexia and dysgraphia as well as a visual impairment and math disorder. She sees things as “mirror reversals and distortions” because her eyes don’t work together or with her brain, due to her brain injury from having a stroke.
School was a constant source of frustration for her because she had so much to say, yet struggled to get anything legible out onto paper. Trying to complete worksheets full of printed words just left her confused. I have watched her write a 7 down the correct way, then say “Oh oops, it’s backwards,” and erase it so she could write it…backwards. When I pointed out that she had it right, she said, “Oh why do I write things backwards?”
Well aware that she was performing below her peers, she was constantly talking in an effort to distract from her seat work. She hated writing so much that one day she just drew scribbles on her writing paper in a refusal to work on letters. Her teachers were angry at her for being so defiant, but oh, that spirit! She just didn’t see the point in writing when she was so easily able to talk.
I knew that before we adopted her, she had a sister at the orphanage with her. Through the help of an online friend, we were able to find the French family that adopted her sister a few years before. We never knew why the girls were separated, but finding her sister has been a great source of happiness for M. Imagine our surprise when we found out that her sister also has cerebral palsy and dyslexia!
The first day we were able to have the girls Skype face to face with each other was wonderful. Her mother and I were a hot mess of Google Translate, but it didn’t matter to the girls. They wanted to show each other baby dolls, Peppa Pig, and compare their AFOs (braces worn on their legs). What a gift for them both to look at a face so similar to their own. “I don’t like wearing glasses, but look my sister has them too!”
Since finding her sister, we have sent pictures and letters through the mail. My daughter was thrilled the day a letter arrived from her sister addressed to Mademoiselle M****. “She wrote it in cursive to me! I want to learn to write in cursive too!” And just like that, writing had a purpose. I homeschool M now, so for the past year we have worked on her handwriting with Dyslexia Games workbooks, and I’ve taught her cursive.
“Writing practice” and “spelling” have been stories she’s written for her sister, and she voluntarily re-writes them with corrections I make, “So my sister can read it easily. I want it to look really nice for her!” The improvements M has made with her writing, and the joy with which she now does it make my heart happy.
I hope to one day take M to France to meet her sister face to face. Neither girl remembers the other from their time in the orphanage, but both are eager to one day meet again. Until then, letters, cards, and pictures cross the Atlantic from two little girls who have been thrilled to connect as sisters with not just the same disabilities, but similar interests as well.

We witness a miracle every time a child enters into life; but those who make their journey home across time and miles, growing within the hearts of those who wait to love them,are carried on the wings of destiny; and placed among us by God's very own hands. --Kristi Larson