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Amelie & Fast ForWord: 2 Years Gain in Reading & Maths Despite ADHD

Posted by Colin Klupiec on March 4, 2016 at 4:57 PM

girl-reading-home.294.265-1.jpgThis is the story of Amelie, who as a young primary aged girl was often described as a ‘busy child’.

When Amelie’s parents, Jane and Craig were given the diagnosis for Amelie of ADHD, there were mixed feelings of relief, but also devastation as they knew there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Amelie was assessed at well below the relevant standards, being two years behind in writing and maths when she started grade 3.

After researching extensively, Jane and Craig eventually turned to Fast ForWord. They faced some big challenges along the way, but in the end they and Amelie persevered with some amazing results.

In this episode of The Learning Capacity Podcast, I spoke to Jane where she shared Amelie’s story.



Topics covered

  1. ADHD
  2. Learning Difficulties
  3. Writing
  4. Maths
  5. Brain Training

Resources/books/articles mentioned

  1. Fast ForWord Brain Training
  2. Fast ForWord Reading Level 2
  3. Fast ForWord Reading Level 3
  4. Reading Assistant
Listen to other podcast episodes on Whooshkaa

Read More for the complete podcast transcript.

Episode 39 of The Learning Capacity Podcast

How Fast ForWord Helped Amelie Make 2 Years Gain in Reading & Maths Despite Her ADHD

Colin Klupiec: You're listening to the Learning Capacity Podcast. I am Colin Klupiec. This podcast is brought to you by LearnFast, providers of neuroscience-based learning improvement programs since 1999. To find out more about individualised memory and reading programs for your child, visit www.learnfasthq.com and to hear great stories of learning and discussions that help to push the envelope in education, visit the Learning Capacity Podcast archives at https://player.whooshkaa.com/shows/the-learning-capacity-podcast.  

This is the story of Amelie, who as young primary aged girl, was often described as a busy child. When Amelie's parents, Jane and Craig were given the diagnosis for Amelie of ADHD there were mixed feelings of relief but also devastation, as they knew that there was a problem that needed to be addressed. Amelie was assessed at well below the relevant standards being two years behind in writing and maths when she started grade three. After researching extensively, Jane and Craig eventually turned to Fast ForWord. They faced some big challenges along the way, but in the end, they and Amelie persevered with some amazing results. In this episode, Jane shares Amelie’s story.

Colin: Jane thanks very much for joining us.

Jane: Thank you for having me.

Colin: Going back towards the beginning of the story, your daughter Amelie had a diagnosis of ADHD. When you hear that news for the first time, I'm just wondering what are the kind of thoughts that start entering your mind?

Jane: Strangely for us it was the feeling of relief. We'd had probably two years of primary school where Amelie had been placed on coloured cushions. She'd been set at the front of the small group closest to the teacher. Generally, teachers were bringing to our attention that there was issues with her being able to stay focused and that she was more worried about was going on outside of the room or outside of the activity that was going on in the lesson. So for us, it was a feeling of relief and probably, unfortunately, a condition that can be treated with medication successfully but something that we could work with and try to help her to be the best that she could be.

Colin: I guess it must have been a little bit of both. There would have been that feeling of oh, okay, so there is actually something not right but, at least, we know now what it is and maybe we can start doing something about it.

Jane: Yes, oh look, it was devastating too at the time. It's quite stereotypical I suppose that diagnosis, our visions were that a child with the ADHD stood on the kitchen counter and threw glasses at people and their behaviour was really quite irrational. Yet for Amelie, we always just told her that she was a busy child and everyone would say, "Oh she's busy isn't she?" And we just thought that that was her personality type. It wasn't until that she got to the lower ages of primary school that it was acting on her learning and we had to do something about that. So it was devastating and still to this day, two years later, we still have sadness that she has got this condition but we're hopeful that we can do everything we can to help her.

Colin: Was she able to make some kind of connection with the diagnosis? Did you talk about it with her?

ADHD-2015.jpgJane: We didn't actually talk to her about the term about the ADHD. We didn't want her to be able to blame the ADHD on that's why she couldn't do things. And I suppose that was our personal way of dealing with it. Whether that was right or wrong at the time but rather than her saying I can't do that because I've got ADHD, we told her that the doctors and the psychologists and the speech pathologists had found that she did have problems with concentration, that she had a normal intelligence and that she could do everything that any other child could do, but it's just that she had troubles with her concentration. That's when we started her on Ritalin and we just told her that medication was to help her concentrate and to stay attentive.

Colin: I guess that's not a label that she'd been particularly keen on wearing at school either.

Jane: No, and it's certainly not something we discussed with a lot of people in the community just because it is a label and we don't want her to be labelled as the child with ADHD.

Colin: Now you found Fast ForWord because you'd been reading about it. Presumably because you were looking for something that would help you handle the difficult moments at home. Were you surprised about what you found and by saying that I mean is a Fast ForWord style program what you were expecting?

See All Skills Strengthened by Fast ForWord

Jane: I suppose we were searching for something to help Amelie. The three years she attended primary school, she had fabulous passionate teachers that were very committed. But the traditional teaching methods of her sitting in a classroom, just weren't being successful. She was assessed at being well below the expected standards of a child her age from grade one and it just progressively got worse. So by the start of grade three, she was two years behind where she should be in writing and mathematics.

So we knew that these traditional classroom situations weren't working for her because she was taking in everything else that was going on in the room except what she actually needed to. So my husband researched extensively into alternative teaching and learning methods that we thought we could adopt for our lives and our small rural community that we live in. So we didn't have to uproot and go to a different school or try different teaching approaches. Something that we could manage in her school and with her friends in her community, which was important to her and that stability is still very important to her. And yeah, it was amazing what is out there if you read widely.

Colin: And so this was a case where you'd exhausted many avenues and this was the solution that seemed to be the most suitable I suppose.

Jane: It was. Amelie had had a learning aide in the classroom for a year. She attended tutors, speech pathologists, additional homework at home and we felt like we were flogging a dead horse. We weren't making any gains whatsoever despite an enormous effort from her and sacrifice. She gave up a lot of time outside of school and we just felt like we were on a treadmill going nowhere. Which is why we sought out a program.

Colin: So this is a very different approach to just doing more of what you might have at school. You mentioned tutoring and things like that which is really just I guess an intensification of what normal school curriculum is like. The Fast ForWord programs act a little bit differently to that in that they actually work on building neural pathways and actually making the brain fitter to be able to do things. Did that difference in approach cause you some, I guess let's call it cautious concern?

Jane: Certainly at the start of the Fast ForWord program we understood it was brain training and probably like training for a marathon. You have to build up to it. And it started off with some quite quirky activities mainly seeing and observing and very repetitive. And Amelie at one point asked "what's going on? When is this going to change? I need something else in this." And the Fast ForWord support team were like, "Just hang in there. Just keep going." It will change but this is all important in your training for your brain in the lead up to varying the program and making it more interesting and engaging for Amelie.

Colin: So you've made a commitment and, in this case, you made a purchase, but decided to implement it through the school. Now that didn't go as you might have expected. What happened there?

Jane: Initially we had a lot of resistance from the school. This was a program that none of the teaching staff had heard of. The speech pathologist we were working with at the time, had heard of it and Amelie's pediatrician had certainly heard of Fast ForWord as well and that were great advocates for the program. But certainly from the school they had no knowledge. We provided them with a lot of information so they could educate themselves on what we were planning on undertaking. We called ourselves desperate parents at this point.

Because as I said two years of traditional teaching plus extras and Amelie was still two years behind where she should have been. So we were desperate. We were at the point where do we pack up and leave and take Amelie to a different school? Probably to Melbourne in the city and so that was nearly three hours from us so that would mean a huge change for all of our family and that's why we sought out this program. Because we could see it was going to be the light hopefully that would allow us to stay where we are and her to stay in her school that she knew.

So yeah, the school were definitely very resistant and we had to provide all the equipment required for the Fast ForWord program and we also funded a learning assistant to sit with Amelie one hour a day for five days a week to undertake this program. Because we thought that in school was the best place for her to learn.

Colin: Yeah, that's an incredible commitment. I was going to ask you why exactly do it at school rather than at home?

 Jane: Probably Amelie, because of her ADHD she fatigues very quickly. So by the end of the school day, she has taken in so much information, whether it's necessary or unnecessary, that she's fatigued. So at the end of the school day, it's really difficult for her to be able to sit for an hour and focus. It was also was even just undertaking her homework every night is a challenge. It often ends in conflict and arguments because she resists and she finds that the education is all very difficult.

So we thought if we handed her to a safe party it would take that stress out of the relationship of parent and child. And we did do the program on a weekend when she'd miss sessions at school if they had been at sports carnival or whatever. So probably at least once a fortnight we would do a one-hour session at home and that was a great way for us to see what she was doing and how she was progressing.

Colin: The school was resistant at first. Do you think that was because they didn't know that much about it? Was it simply an awareness problem?

Jane: I think it was an awareness problem and they possibly thought it was some way out, crazy concept as it's training the brain. There was also the disruption of her leaving the classroom for one hour every day that they found difficult and we respect that but that was unsettling for Amelie at times.

She would miss swimming or sport or things that she did love, but she made that sacrifice and yeah, it all worked out but at the start it was very difficult to convince the school that we thought that this was going to be the answer for her.

Colin: I guess on one level things are new for everybody at some point in their lives and this may have been one of those points for the school. Did they have any alternative ideas about what to do?

Jane: No they didn't and I think that's where their argument was flawed in a way because they knew that we'd had learning assistants. We'd had tutoring. She'd been in support groups. Everything that they could avail themselves to and we could as well, and they knew that she'd basically made no gains in the time.

And so they were probably feeling as challenged as we were about how to tap into Amelie and how she learns. And certainly she learned differently to other children and I think in the end that's why came on board because once we started on Fast ForWord and they could slowly see the improvement that she was making, it sold itself in a way.

See All Skills Strengthened by Fast ForWord

Colin: So presumably there would have been times where your, I guess frustration would have been obvious to Amelie and there would have been some communication between you and the school which was difficult at times. Did Amelie catch on to that? How did she handle that?

Jane: I think she handled it very maturely. We basically sold Fast ForWord to her in that this is why you're doing it. "Look, you've gone up a reading level this week. Oh, that's the Fast ForWord doing to you that Amelie," or "It's making such an improvement to your reading and your comprehension and oh that's why your teacher has said that you did a good job in your writing session today. Because Fast ForWord's really kicking in and really helping you." So I suppose we were brainwashing her in way to think that this was the answer for her and so she coasted along. She never resisted going to Fast ForWord at all.

Colin: Well brainwashing with the best of intentions of course.

Jane: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Colin: So speaking about the actual things that she's done. What's she completed so far?

Jane: She has completed reading level two and reading level three. She has done I think six months of the Reading Assistant program where she reads a book aloud into the speaker that she calls the McDonald's drive through speaker 

Colin: That's cute.

Jane: And she finds that quite appealing. She'll read the book and the voice recognition of the program trains her and reads along with her. She goes through a dictionary for the words that she didn't understand in the book and does some comprehension exercises.

Colin: You realise that our listeners will never look at the McDonald's drive through the same way again.

Jane: Probably not.

Colin: I'd like a burger and a coke. And would you like some literacy with that?

Jane: That's right.

Colin: I'll have my ABCs today thank you.

Jane: Absolutely.

Colin: That's very cute. So she's continuing with it this year?

Jane: She is. So this will be her second year on the program. At this stage she's in grade five and the school voiced their concern about her being removed from the classroom. So we have negotiated to do three hours a week. We will do one at home and she's doing two hours at school doing the Reading Assistant program just for this term and we'll reassess at the end of the term.

Colin: And is she looking forward to that? Does she have any comment about that?

Jane: She's done her first session today and has read a book about the American Congress. How I wish I was Amelie. It's actually really interesting, so not a topic I would have thought that would be her cup of tea. But she has enjoyed it. She's working with the same learning assistant that she did last year and she's very encouraging and enthusiastic towards Fast ForWord so they are quite a great team. So we're very lucky.

Colin: You might have a young politician on your hands.

Jane: Maybe.

Colin: I'm just wondering is this inspiring her to pick up other books and read. She's doing a lot of Reading Assistant and she's just read about American congress and she probably knows more about that than most at her tender young age. Does this make her want to pick other things to read?

Jane: Yes, certainly she was a very reluctant reader and reading was really hard work for her. More often than not she would read with no meaning and zero comprehension and her reading accuracy made it impossible for her to possibly know what was going on. So one thing we have noticed, fairly quickly with Fast ForWord was her accuracy with her reading. For example now “can” is “can” and not “can't” and that has made a huge difference to her. Actually being able to understand and enjoy what she is reading. So yeah, it's made a huge difference and that was a massive gain for us.

Colin: Presumably now the school is still cautious, as you mentioned but I would imagine that there's increasing awareness and positivity going on at the school? Do you think that's likely to develop this year?

Paint_Match.jpgJane: Absolutely. So Amelie had the same teacher for two years. Last year when we started Fast ForWord her teacher was very resistant and questioned the program but by the end of the year, I wish I had a tape recorder. I could have recorded her saying, "I actually have to give credit to Fast ForWord because I didn't think that she would get to where she is and her report at the end of the year shows that she's working at the standard expected for English and for Maths." For her teacher to say that and at the time I acknowledged it and said we totally agree. But I did say to her, "Liz I think I can give you some credit too because your two years of blood, sweat, and tears and hard work has contributed to it as well."

Colin: Yeah, I think that's often a misconception isn't it? That people say, "Oh there's a problem with the child, they need an intervention. We better buy some program for that child and that'll fix it." But it's never meant to replace teaching. It's there as a support to try and fill in the gaps where the gaps have been identified.

Jane: Absolutely.

Colin: Yeah, and it's very much a combination of quality teaching and something like Fast ForWord in this case, which helps to bring about that better outcome.

Jane: Yes, and I appreciate that's the aim really of Fast ForWord. It does flow on to the classroom and to everyday learning. Because yeah, you can't say that the traditional teaching methods need to be replaced by all these programs. That's not the case at all but certainly in Amelie's situation, the traditional classroom situation in a group of 20-25 children was not the place that she learnt. And as I said we'd been on that path for several years and had no success whatsoever, very little gain in her learning or knowledge at all.

And from one year of Fast ForWord she's gained basically two years of education knowledge. You can't help but point the finger at Fast ForWord and say well, that's the reason why because nothing else had changed in our experiment with her learning that there'd been no other changes so we have to attribute that success to Fast ForWord.

Colin: I keep having this image popping up in my head of a book on the American Congress and I went to a parent information evening at my son's school at their kindy and I saw the books lying around. You know Bush Creatures and things like that and I am thinking maybe I should slip in a book on the American Congress or the Australian Parliament history or something like that and see what happens.

Jane: Yes. Amelie said it was actually interesting.

Colin: So in terms of the difficulties that you were having at home, how are things with that right now?

Jane: The difficulties and the challenges of doing homework with her , that is still there. But the way she approaches this and her ability to do it independently has made a huge difference. From just her feeling the confidence that she can tackle these tasks on her own and that she can read the questions and understand the passage that are being presented. That she's got to critique the piece of writing she knows what to do about it. Recalling an event or whatever. It made it a lot easier time for us all. Certainly our feeling about who she is and where she'll end up is a lot more positive.

Colin: So the future is bright?

Jane: Yes. Absolutely. As I said we've driven her 45 minutes to her tutor on a Saturday morning week in week out and I think we did that for nearly a year. And as well as the speech pathology sessions. Intensive speech sessions throughout the school holidays and as much as they were probably helping, until we started Fast ForWord we really couldn't get anywhere or make any gains with her learning. So yeah, life is much easier with Amelie and she's a happier person too which is all you wish for your children.

Colin: Jane, that's a great story. I wish you and your family all the very best.

Jane: Thank you.

Colin: Thanks for your time.

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