Meet Vivienne, a beautiful 11-year-old American girl, who was adopted from China at age 5½. Since her adoption, her parents have focused on helping her catch up on her development delays. While progress has been made, her academics still have a long way to go, and they thus embarked on the Edublox program. Read the story below, as told by her mom Susan, and visit this page frequently for weekly progress updates:
Vivienne was adopted from China at age 5½ in March 2015. She was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare heart condition caused by four heart defects that result in oxygen-poor blood flowing out of the heart and into the rest of the body. She was diagnosed at age 3 when her lips were turning blue and had open heart surgery in China. She knew no English prior to her adoption, and even her Chinese was simple and not well-pronounced. Sometimes our guides struggled to understand her.
While Vivienne transitioned well into our family, it was a gradual process for her to understand and be able to communicate. She had developmental delays, which are common for orphans and older child adoption, like struggling with motor skills or coordination, and functioning at a younger level than actual age. Yet, we also began to notice unexpected struggles, like when Vivienne became easily confused or disoriented when visiting a family member. We stayed with my sister’s family for almost a week in her large home, and Vivienne continued to get confused with which door to open to find our guest room.
I homeschool my children, so during Vivienne’s first years home, ages 6-7, I could work with her as she was adjusting and learning more English. She completed some speech therapy, as she was often confusing her pronouns (he or she), and she had trouble distinguishing her prepositions like inside/outside or up/down. I worked with her on reading prep and used an excellent phonics-based reading and spelling program, based on the Orton-Gillingham method, that I had used for many years successfully with her older brother.
Over the next several years, as I continued to work with Vivienne, her struggles became more apparent. I had expected that with time things would just ‘click’ and she would begin to read. Vivienne was able to learn the phonograms and sound them out correctly, yet blending them smoothly into words was slow and difficult. Especially, she confused her b’s and d’s all the time, and she would often read words backwards, like was for saw or on for no. She was way behind her age level, but I was still happy that she was at least making some progress forward, however slow. She still got confused easily, and I would sometimes need to find different ways to instruct her until she could understand. Vivienne greatly struggled to express herself verbally. She would often use simple language to try to get ideas across, or she would ask her sister to tell a story for her, so that she did not have to tell it herself. It was hard to watch her struggle when she could not find the word she was trying to say. She would get frustrated or growl and get upset. Sometimes she would say, “Never mind. Just forget it,” and we would have to encourage her to try again while we sought clues to figure out what she was trying to say.
Through the years, I tried so many things. I switched to another phonics-based reading program that uses a more multi-sensory approach. I sat with her one on one and guided her through the lessons and flashcards. I also enrolled her in online reading programs in an attempt to find something she could do independently for a short time during school while I helped her sister with other subjects. We tried several good programs, some specifically for dyslexia. And she would begin a program well, but as it progressed and became more difficult, I would often have to sit with her for the entirety to encourage or guide her, or it would end in tears. One program was helpful until the spelling portion became stressful and overwhelming for Vivienne. The program would instruct her to spell a word, which she would spell incorrectly. It would encourage her and guide her to the correct spelling. But then, before she could progress, it would retest her on the same word, usually just minutes later. Unfortunately, Vivienne would forget how to spell the word and this process would repeat again and again.
In Math, her struggles were even more severe. We spent months, working almost daily, to teach her to count and write numbers from 1-50. At the end of 2nd grade, she was given a national test, but as she was still learning English as a second language. I gave her a 1st grade test. She scored in the 18th percentile for Math and 39th percentile for Reading.
As she got older, we seemed to hit a brick wall with Math. We reached a point of no forward progress. Vivienne was unable to do even basic addition without blocks. She could only do simple addition with blocks or counting on her fingers. We worked and worked for many months on simple addition, using blocks, flash cards, line graphs, or other manipulatives, and she finally learned her +0’s (as in 3+0) and her +1’s (5+1). But no matter what we did, we could not get her to learn her +2’s… only 2+1, 2, or 3. If I said, “What if you had 3 pieces of candy and I gave you 2 more, how many would you have?” Then, she would answer 5, though she may use fingers depending on how large the number I gave her in the example. But if I showed her the numerals 3+2, she did not have any idea.
Vivienne had trouble with math language terms such as greater/less than, before/after, and she could not answer what number comes “before” or “after” another number unless she had a number line and me giving her direction. She was unable to express the time on digital clock, for instance if it was 10:27, she would say 10,2,7. I had recently heard of dyscalculia, though I had never seen it before. I did not know what to do or how to help her. I used to tutor Math in college, I help Vivienne’s sister when she needs it, and I taught my son math until he went off to college. So I called our public school board and asked them if I could have Vivienne tested. Unfortunately, they do not diagnose learning disabilities, but they said they could meet with her. At this point, Vivienne had only been home from China for 4 years learning the English language, and the school Special Needs Specialist told me it takes 3-5 years to learn Social Language and 5-7 years to learn Academic Language. Despite this, they tested her at grade level and she scored Very Deficient on every level.
To help Vivienne with math, she began a brilliant online picture math program that helps kids “see” math without all of the words, ST Math. Vivienne progressed through the first level of this program, and she continued to the second level which became more challenging. This did help her some. Recently, however, the program has become too difficult for her, even with me sitting beside her and helping to guide her, so we have had to go back to review the earlier lessons, with me always praying something will ‘click’ this time.
Sometimes, while trying to read or even just looking at a page with printed words, Vivienne would get headaches and tell me everything was blurry. She would rub her eyes and sometimes her neck. To seek some help, I took her for therapy with a certified Ron Davis Dyslexia Correction Facilitator. The therapist told me that she believes Vivienne has dyslexia and such severe dyscalculia that she would call it acalculic.
I am so proud of Vivienne. She works so hard, but it can be so exhausting and discouraging for her sometimes. She still gets confused with time, confuses the days of the week or months of the year, and she works diligently to learn something just to sometimes forget it later. So I continue to try to seek things to help her.
Vivienne is now in the 5th grade, age 11, and I have concentrated my efforts on trying to get her to read fluently and just develop the weak areas of her body and mind. We learned about a therapy that focuses on engaging the brain and body working together, making connections in the brain that were not developed previously, Brain Balance. Vivienne does exercises at home and she attends a center an hour away from our house for therapy three times per week. Since beginning the therapy, my husband and I see progress in Vivienne. She is stronger physically and mentally, able to control her body more and able to express herself and communicate better. But, we realize, she still needs intense intervention with academics. She still confuses her b’s and d’s, though not as much, and still reads backwards sometimes. She loves for me to read to her, but when she picks up a book that interests her and tries to read it herself, she simply skips around to the words that she recognizes, guessing, and getting many wrong. And just the other day I watched Vivienne as she tried to buy a toy with her own savings. She had a $10 bill and a $5 bill. The clerk told her the toy cost $9. Vivienne looked down in confusion, looked back up, and then handed the lady both bills, having no idea that she only needed to give the $10.
I am desperately seeking help for my precious girl. Right now the world is so hard for her. I want her to read, not just small words slowly and painstakingly, but advanced words so that she can communicate effectively, express herself fully, understand the world around her, learn about things that interest her, and live independently, fully capable of doing all that God has planned for her and being who He has designed her to be. I want her to see numerals and understand that they represent numbers of things, so that she can not only count and add and subtract, but so she can handle her own finances and live in this world with numbers all around her with confidence and security.
When I found the first articles on Edublox online, I was instantly intrigued. When I read about Maddie, the girl around Vivienne’s age, who had similar struggles as my girl, who is now reading thanks to Edublox, I began to cry. I have prayed so hard and for so long asking the Lord for a solution. I have asked Him repeatedly to help me help Vivienne. I shared that story and many more with my husband and family. And now we begin this journey with such hope and expectation, having faith that Edublox is going to open up a world for our daughter that we have only imagined for her. We are ready!
With great expectations,
Week 1: Nov 13, 2020
Vivienne began her Edublox program a little over a week ago. It took a few days to adjust to a new routine, but now I think we’ve got it down. I completely replaced her typical homeschool program with Edublox. It was a relief to her to stop some of the online programs that had become so frustrating to her recently. So now, for the most part, we have a new schedule. She does the cognitive Development Tutor first thing, then meets with Desrei, her patient and encouraging Live Tutor, for reading and spelling. Afterwards, we do the assigned homework and exercises, some math counting exercises, and she finishes with more cognitive Development Tutor.
I was thinking this morning before we began school that I am happy with her progress. She is learning new words and vocabulary daily, and the amount of review that she is doing is making a difference. I love the amount of review. It makes sense to me. And I see that reading the words are becoming more automatic for her because of the review. She is beginning to read the familiar words faster as they become ingrained in her.
But while I was already pleased this morning, a couple of things happened during school today that just excited me. After reviewing her assigned words again, I tested her spelling for the words. And she did something I have never seen her do before! When I asked her to spell the words today, for most of them, she spelled them using their letter ‘names,’ not ‘sounds.’ She wrote them down more quickly saying the letters: c-u-p or t-a-p as she wrote. I was so surprised. Vivienne has always managed a good understanding of the phonemes, or individual sounds that make up a word. I could ask her how to spell a short word like these and she could slowly sound them out and manage the spelling. But today, she was fast and just said the letter names and wrote them down and moved on. I kept thinking, that is how I would spell a word for you if you asked me. I would just quickly tell you the letters you need to spell the word. I would not need to sound them out to spell them. This realization just thrills me.
Another unexpected thing happened in the same review. When I placed two words before Vivienne it just so happened that the words ‘at’ and ‘cat’ were placed beside each other. She looked at them and suddenly became so excited. She told me, “Look! They are the same words, except this one has a ‘c.’ If you add the ‘c’ to this one, they are the same.” I said, “Yes, they have the same endings, so what kind of words are they?” She said, “Rhyming words.” I know this doesn’t seem profound, but the fact is that I have worked with Vivienne countless times on rhyming words. We have used the white board with magnetic letters, keeping the same ending of a word while changing the beginning to show all the possible rhyming words. We have used flip words made of paper, taking a common ending and stapling different beginning letters on top to ‘flip’ and read all the possible rhyming words. I thought she pretty much ‘got it’ back then. But I never saw her have that ‘aha’ moment, that lightbulb moment, like she had today. I was so surprised. It is like something simply connected that had not connected before.
I am thanking God at the close of this school day. I am excited and hopeful about where all of this is going to go for my girl.
Week 2: Nov 20, 2020
I am so excited about the continuous progress that Vivienne is making! I have never seen her progress so far and so fast. Desrei, her Live Tutor, works with her every day, and then I work with Vivienne doing review, exercises, and math counting. All of the review is making reading the words more automatic for Vivienne. I cannot believe she is reading so many words fast and automatic. She sees them and knows them right away. She will still slowly sound out the unfamiliar words, but as she becomes increasingly familiar with them, she reads them with more speed and confidence.
Today, when I reviewed Vivienne’s words with her, she was able to read all 90 words that I gave her. Then, I tested her spelling of the words, and I was amazed. She only misspelled 4 words… so she got 86 spelling words correct! She even spelled words like “which” and “then” correctly. It honestly blew me away!
She enjoys doing the exercises assigned to her. It is definitely helping her with direction and identifying her b’s and d’s without switching them around. What I also see is that as she follows the symbols or letters during the exercises, she is beginning to track them better and keep her eye in the correct place on the page. I used to have to show her with my finger where she was supposed to be, but now I can stand back and let her do it herself. I am thrilled. It is such a blessing just to see her make steps towards independence. She is happy with her progress, too!