Welcome to our “First Glance” blog series written by Trudy Abel! Over the next few weeks we will be featuring different Special Needs topics – introducing you to each concept through the lens of Trudy’s initial experiences with various diagnoses, starting off with Trudy’s unique introduction to homeschooling!

Trudy Abel holds a M.A.Ed. in Gifted Education and a Ph.D. in Special Education from University of Southern Mississippi. She has taught students of all ages within general, gifted, and special education in public, private and homeschool settings. She has also served as a special education professor in four different universities, recently retiring from University of North Alabama.

She homeschooled her two sons at different points in their education to accommodate their learning differences (dyslexia, ADHD, and giftedness); homeschooled two nieces for a couple of years; and taught history in a homeschool cooperative. Before homeschooling was widely accepted, Trudy opened a consulting business for homeschooling families to provide academic support, testing and accountability. Later, she co-founded a non-profit school for children with dyslexia.

Most of her career has focused on educating future teachers and parents about special needs. Her passion in working with families of children with special needs is to increase understanding, provide support, and equip with needed resources to ensure success.

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I started my two sons’ educations in a small private Christian school, with a very low teacher/student ratio. I thought this would surely be the best environment for two bright kids with excess energy and trouble focusing. But by October of the second year, I realized this situation was not going to work for Josh, my second grader.

One day, when Josh came home from school, he handed me one of his written assignments. I had to hold it up to a mirror to read the sentences. In that moment I realized we had a problem that needed to be addressed immediately, and I began to seek God for direction. Josh was an avid reader and I knew he was smart. He taught himself to read when he was just 4 years old by watching his favorite show, Sesame Street. But now I was staring at his paper full of words and the writing was right to left, upside down… I panicked!

Being a special education teacher, I knew that whatever his problem was, he needed a totally different approach to learning than the highly structured program implemented at his current school. I took both of my sons out of school (because I didn’t want Josh to be alone), I registered to homeschool, and I ordered a lot of stuff.

I also paid for someone to evaluate Josh. It was determined that he had a visual- perceptual disorder and difficulty with directionality (up-down, right-left). Today, the official diagnosis would be dysgraphia. With this in mind, I decided to use a lot of multisensory strategies to correct the direction of letters and numbers, use unit studies for science, history and literature, and I planned to stick to the math textbook (since I’m afraid of math).

Josh and I practiced letters and numbers on the sandbar with a stick, used soap on the mirror, chalk on the sidewalk, and formed them out of clay. I came up with hundreds of strategies to practice so we could stay away from paper and pencil. This was more fun, helped his attention, and helped the synapses in his brain make connections to remember the correct formation of letters and numbers. (For more ideas visit our HLA webpage on dysgraphia).

We finished an entire math textbook by Christmas, so I ordered another one (the same grade level), and we completed it by May. I know this seems like an insane choice, but when you’re afraid of math, that’s what you do, right? Thankfully, I learned from my mistakes and we did multisensory math the next year and only worked on it 3 days a week. As it turns out, all three of us loved learning, and the more we homeschooled the more creative we became.