Joyce Bilgrave, M.Ed. is Executive Director of Durango Mountain Camp for children with dyslexia. She began her career as a teacher more than 40 years ago and since then she has established several camps and schools for students with dyslexia. She is also a Fellow of the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Trainers.

This conversation between Ms. Bilgrave and parents of children with learning difficulties about supporting their kids’ learning and well-being, originally took place in 2006 on the parent message board hosted by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation. We feel readers will find much that is useful and important for their own efforts to support their children.

From a broad range of discussions that occurred on our message board during the week, we offer a sampling of parents’ questions and Ms. Bilgrave’s answers and advice.

Best assessments to measure annual progress

From: SouthOCMom

What assessments are best to measure annual growth for children with Dyslexia? My son has an IEP for SLD in reading and writing. The W-J III Tests of Achievement were used in the initial assessments to qualified him for services. At the first annual IEP I requested that he be reassessed with the same W-J III tests to measure growth. I mentioned to the RSP that I would like these same tests administered for a third time before our annual IEP this year and she said “AGAIN!?” I said yes, because thus far, it’s the only formal assessment that’s been used to gauge his progress.

Is there a problem with using this test annually? What other assessments can we begin to implement, in addition to observation and work samples, to monitor his progress?

Joyce Bilgrave responds:

There are many, many really good assessments available. The W-J III is excellent, in depth, thorough. Giving it several times is often done, and using the same instruments is a fine way to get comparative scores. Your teacher being surprised at your request is an invalid surprise and I wouldn’t hesitate using it again.

Difficulty with spelling

From: Wlmom

My daughter is 8 and in the 3rd grade. She had an IEP for math in 1-2grades, OT for writing problems – she now has great penmanship, no reversals – and on the lines after 2 years of hard work, Reading Recovery for the first semester of 1st grade which helped with her phonemic awareness greatly and her reading ability has skyrocketed. However her spelling is pretty much the same as first grade. I have been told repeatedly “she will grow out of it, she has a late birthday” “she is on target for her age” but when a third grader still is consistently spelling “few” “fuw” and most words are spelled phonetically. Is this dyslexia? or something else?

Joyce Bilgrave responds:

Spelling is almost always much more difficult than reading. It’s good that she has good phonetic skills and can spell phonetically. I must disagree with the teachers when they say “she will grow out of it”. Spelling does improve with consistent, sequential Multisensory instruction. The good news is that we find that if a child can learn to spell on a 6th grade reading level she can do college work with good dictionary skills.

Math help for dyslexic students

From: August4

I have a question concerning math programs for dyslexic students. My 5th grader has had great success with remediation of his reading by using an Academic Language Therapist tutor privately, but his math skills are still very challenging for him. Do you have a suggestion for a math program, or tutoring organization that would be useful? He is dysgraphic and mild ADD as well and is attending a public school that is not ‘getting it’.

Joyce Bilgrave responds:

Often difficulty with math is co-existent with reading difficulties with dyslexic kids. Sometimes they have difficulty with the reading of the problems. They don’t understand the language. Sometimes it is the organization; sometimes reversals of the processes, plus, minus, etc. Some kids ignore those completely. Sometimes it is the inability to focus and think through what is being asked for; sometimes it is memory, some kids shave great difficulty memorizing the facts.

Ideally, a teacher knows where the child’s weaknesses are and spend individual time working in these areas.

Helping a child who is gifted and has a learning disability

From: SuzeeQ

Several of us here have twice-exceptional children that though gifted have deficits that for them are significant or in some cases (as in ours) SEVERE but compared to other kids, the lows are average. How do you get the schools to care without being advesarial? The thought process is they’ll get by because of IQ’s but that is not always the case. Many fall through the cracks and then in H.S. if not sooner begin failing more difficult studies. Eventually their behavior changes and/or their SOUL changes and the once easy, happy child vanishes as you probably have heard many times. Why do the schools not care UNTIL they begin to fail and even then? I think it is all about the bottom line with the schools and that is $$$$$$$$$$$$$.

Joyce Bilgrave responds:

What to do? First, get a good, thorough psycho-educational evaluation from a good knowledgeable psychologist. This will serve several important functions: give you a comprehensive understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses; secondly the psychologist can talk with your child about her giftedness and difficulties and put them in perspective. (this is often extremely helpful, particularly for the gifted child) Thirdly, s/he can help give specific guidance and recommendations. This may be helpful in getting your school to provide help, or it may not. But it will be invaluable for you and your guidance with your daughter.

Financial aid for summer camps

From: deepoetdee

How much does a camp like this cost? Do they have financial aid for children who’s parents can not afford this? Are children with LD (ie: dyslexia) just out of luck when money is a problem?

Joyce Bilgrave responds:

Yes a specialized tutorial camp for dyslexic kids is expensive, costing usually between $5,500 and $7,500 for the program … Most camps have scholarship money available. The camp in which I’m involved has a rather generous scholarship program, giving up to half tuition for needful youngsters. … Let me suggest ways that other parents have found successful in helping finance a camp program: Contact your state branch of the International Dyslexia Association. Contact the local branch and ask what kind of funds are available for this kind of program.