After much deliberation and reflection, I decided to write about my son’s learning disability.
The subject breaks my heart for this boy of mine. Thursday, Brian’s teacher called a Parent – Teacher conference, which included the Principal.
It’s never good for a parent when the Principal sits in. I think Parents of kids with learning differences find these “meetings” excruciating at best.
My ex husband decided to come to this one. Hurray for small miracles.
When Brian was an infant I noticed Brian was different. Brian did not like to crawl. He would pull himself up and hang on to things to move about the house. He just wanted to go from sitting to walking. Forget that crawling business.
Brian had difficulty winding down if over-stimulated. I read a great deal about childhood development. I understand crawling is linked to reading. I began reading aloud to my tummy even before he was born. I wanted him to be accustomed to hearing my voice and the sound of written word.
We had a difficult birth. Brian got stuck and stopped breathing and so did I. I almost bled to death. The cord was wrapped around his neck and his head was bruised from clamps and suction. (On a more humorous note: VH1 was on in the delivery room and Brian was born during the first half hour of Monty Python’s “Life Of Brian”).
I knew this kid was special.
After delivery, I continued with reading and began singing words to him. I stepped up the reading when he was about 6 months old. He loved Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I can still recite the whole book “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, will there be enough room? Here comes A up the coconut tree .” I still hear it in my sleep.
When Brian was 2 and just learning to talk, he would tell these long never-ending stories. (I have no idea where he gets this from). When Brian was about 3 and a half, the three of us drove to Seattle and Brian invented a story that lasted from Salem to Portland (2 hours of non-stop story).
I noticed from the beginning Brian handled things differently than other kids his age. Like riding a bike. When other kids his age were riding bikes with training wheels, Brian flatly refused. His dad, the aging jock tried to force the bike thing, but Brian dug his heels in and refused. I didn’t push it.
Then, one day he came into the house and said, “Mom, take my training wheels off. I want to ride my bike”. Surprised, I went to the garage, got my tools and offered to rotate the training wheels up higher. Brian became frustrated and pointed out to me that he was NOT A BABY and to just take them off thank you very much mom.
Off came the training wheels.
I offered to hold the seat and run behind him while he learned to ride. (OK, yes I know it’s hard not to be a mom). He looked at me like I was nuts. He had that ‘I can do this back off mom’ look in his eyes. With that, he got on the bike, turned downhill. let it go and started to pedal. He came close to losing it but managed all the way to the bottom of the hill and rode around the corner.
I was stunned.
When he returned I said “Wow Brian, how did you learn to ride?” He said “I just kept picturing it in my head until I knew I could easily do it”. And that, is Brian’s learning style. Unfortunately, it is not the learning style of the public school system, where mainstream and conformity is celebrated and rewarded. Heaven help anyone who is perceived as ‘different’.
The one thing everyone who comes in contact with Brian agrees upon is that there is not a mean bone in Brian’s body. He is kind to everyone. In this parent-teacher conference his teacher tried to tell me that this attribute of kindness wouldn’t get Brian very far in life. I am amazed that I didn’t just get up and walk out. I only answered her with “The ability to cooperate and get along with people is everything in life.”
I was fuming.
With larger children and Brian is tall, their development is slower. They often peak late in high school or even college. Add in ADHD, ADD or Dyslexia with these tall, larger kids and every day poses interesting challenges to be overcome. They are so brave. The school system cannot handle different.
Grade school is the worst for these kids. One teacher, one classroom – all year. No real sports programs. And God help them if the teacher doesn’t like – or understand them.
I have read volumes on learning difficulties, ADD, ADHD, thyroid, Edison and his life, long chain fatty acid depletion – you name it and here I am the subject matter expert talking to people who just want to medicate Brian with Ritalin.
Ritalin – uh – HELL NO – Never. (Yes I know there are some parents who swear by this drug, but I think you should read Temple Gradin’s view of drugging kids before you curse my name out loud).
Brian is not hyperactive. He is a day-dreamer, who imagines innovative games for his friends to play. He is popular and well-liked. He loves to do math, draw, color and paint, tell stories, laugh, play baseball, handball, kickball, soccer, football, basketball, video games and sword fights. He loves to build Lego airplanes and star fighters.
Brian’s weakness is audio processing.
If it is a standard lecture where the teacher is giving a list of verbal instruction, without writing or interaction, they will lose Brian. He will be off in his head dreaming of creating a special sword that can kill a dragon in one blow. As a x corporate trainer I have tried gently to explain modern teaching techniques that require an interactive classroom.
When I was trained to be a trainer, it was pointed out to me that there are three distinct learning styles. People learn by hearing, by doing or seeing. I was taught that if I only used one teaching style I would lose two-thirds of the class.
In this particular parent teacher conference the teacher literally said, “If you do not handle this now, then your son will be a failure.”
He is 10 – in 4th grade.
I wanted to come across the table and choke her and yell “How dare you call yourself a teacher!”
I have been “handling” this since Brian entered school. I have purchased interactive computer programs, had my mother privately tutor him two days a week, and read every single publication and research on learning differences. As an adult I have come to learn that the most successful adults I know struggled in school. How dare she predict my son’s future. Not to mention this teacher and Principal are clueless as to the kind of survivor Brian is.
My heart goes out to all parents facing the school system with kids with learning challenges and trying the road less traveled: the road without drugs.
Until next time –
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