NEW YORK, USA: Learning About Learning Disabilities

NEW YORK, USA: Learning About Learning Disabilities

boy playingMy son is eight months old and clearly utters his first word, and quickly starts to add more words into his daily speech and quickly starts to put them together to form ‘sentences’…in multiple languages! At 9 months old I start to potty train him, and he understands what I am trying to teach him.

‘This child is brilliant’, all the adults in his life agree.

My son is about a year and a half. He goes to play at a nearby kids gym which has an area to climb and slide, a Lego area, an area to jump, balls, puzzles, magnets and blocks, etc. So many fun things for a toddler to do. Most kids are so excited. They run in and start playing with all of the toys. But not my son. He walks in and stands off to the side to observe the other children and watch what they do. To understand what is expected, I suppose. Once he understands what the other kids are all doing and how he is expected to behave and play with them, he joins the fun – and he has a blast – never wanting to leave.

When he is 18 months – 3 years old he takes ‘mommy and me’ classes on subjects he enjoys, like construction, art, French, music and cooking. He is tentative and does not participate straight away. It takes some time for him to warm up and I (or my mother, who is his daytime caretaker while I am at work) have to do most of the activity for him until about 10 minutes before the end of the 40 minute classes, week after week.

He is almost 3 and has started ‘school’, a few times a week, 3 hours at a time. The teachers comment that he would rather talk with them (and his vocabulary is amazing for a 3 year old – he started talking at 8 months after all), than play with his friends. He watches his friends and directs them (tells them if they are breaking a rule, or shows them how to do something), but does not easily go and play with them. He is more like one of the teachers than one of the 2 or 3 year-olds.  I also notice that he doesn’t recognize, or confuses his letters (like mixing M and W), like other 3 year-olds.

This trend continues, although he does get better at socializing. He does get better at playing with other children, but only because he mimics their actions (good or bad). He doesn’t realize when an action is” not good”, because someone else did it before him, so it must be okay.

At 4 years old he starts having tics. His pediatrician tells me it’s normal for boys, there is nothing wrong with him. I take him to an eye doctor (one of his tics involves rolling his eyes), and he does need glasses, but the opthalmologist tells me that the tics are normal. I take him to a neurologist, who tells me nothing is wrong with him. Over the years I continue to express my concerns to the pediatrician. We realize that the tics are caused when he is stressed or excited.

“Nothing wrong,” says the doctor. This is not very reassuring.

I speak to his teachers over the years who assure me he is incredibly bright. He is mature. His vocabulary and speech are well ahead of his age, yes he is still mixing up letters, but the teachers assure me that it is within a normal range. He is indeed a very special child, teacher after teacher says.

But all of the reassurances in the world do not stop me from thinking that my son is different.

I watch to see if the other kids shun him…. they don’t seem to, but he is not choosing the friends that I would like him to have. That is to say, the nicer, gentler boys. I am afraid that he may be choosing the rowdier friends because he is over compensating. He is trying to fit in.

Fast forward to this past September. He started first grade as a normal 6 year-old. He was given a reading assessment (as were all of his classmates) and no red flags. About two months into the school year his teacher noticed that he was not doing as well as she would like, so she had him assessed even further. This time there were warnings. He is having problems reading (which I had asked his teachers about previously). He starts to spend one-on-one time with the reading specialist in his school and he has been making some progress, but there is some concern. I mention to the reading specialist that personally, I believe he may be dyslexic. She agrees that he does in fact have a “reading disability” (apparently dyslexia falls under that category these days), but that she is not qualified to be able to properly diagnose him.

That conversation was a few weeks ago.  I feel relieved and worried. We have to keep working the system visiting specialist after specialist until I get an actual diagnosis. I don’t want to frighten him by taking him to see these specialists, but I do want to get an understanding of what I should do. And once I get a diagnosis, what should I do with it? How can this affect the rest of his learning, his education, and ultimately his life? What if the other kids make fun of him or shun him? How is this the same child who scored in the 90th + percentile on his kindergarten entrance exam on vocabulary, conversation and comprehension? (Yes they actually administer this test in NYC.) What if we decide to move, and have to change his school…will he have the help he needs to succeed? I have so many unanswered questions, and feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start…

Does you child have a learning disability? How did you find out? How have you helped your child learn to cope?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Maman Aya and was inspired by fellow WMB contributor Sophie Walker’s post, The Book I Never Thought I would Write.

Photo credit to Lesley Show.  This photo has a creative commons attribute license.

Maman Aya (USA)

Maman Aya is a full-time working mother of 2 beautiful children, a son who is 6 and a daughter who is two. She is raising her children in the high-pressure city of New York within a bilingual and multi-religious home. Aya was born in Canada to a French mother who then swiftly whisked her away to NYC, where she grew up and spent most of her life. She was raised following Jewish traditions and married an Irish Catholic American who doesn’t speak any other language (which did not go over too well with her mother), but who is learning French through his children. Aya enjoys her job but feels “mommy guilt” while at work. She is lucky to have the flexibility to work from home on Thursdays and recently decided to change her schedule to have “mommy Fridays”, but still feels torn about her time away from her babies. Maman Aya is not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, but has been drawn in by the mothers who write for World Moms Blog. She looks forward to joining the team and trying her hand at writing!

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BELGIUM: When Special Needs Children Have Children

BELGIUM: When Special Needs Children Have Children

Tinne 271 x 240It is a running gag that we Belgians like to make things complicated. This shows itself best in the Moloch which calls itself ‘Government’.
Government – like all of its kind – has a thing for paperwork. It starts even before you are born, when your mother and father are requested to fill in form after form to guarantee your basic rights and to prove that yes you are about to enter the world.

And it goes on and on and on. Papers which need to be filled out announcing your actual birth, your name, gender, weight, etc… Then when you are a few weeks old, your mother will receive an order to have you weighed, measured and to have a friendly chat with a childcare specialist about how you – little pooping nugget – are doing. (Don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate this service: these checkups – and accompanying vaccinations – are free of charge, and they often aid in detecting health issues really early.)

When you enter school the whole administrative shebang is transferred to another institution, which will now not only monitor your growth, weight gain and fine motor skills but also your learning process and general scholastic development. And, of course, there is paper work to be filled out…

So this is how I found myself filling out a five–page questionnaire on a rainy night in May in preparation of our eldest’s first annual checkup. Most questions were simple and straightforward : “Do either of the parents wear glasses?” (Yes, both), “Any hereditary diseases, mental illnesses,…” (None), “Primary language spoken at home?” (Dutch), “Any serious illnesses as an baby/infant?” (No).

But there was one question which gave made me pause : “Was either of the parents treated for a learning disability as a child/adult? If yes, please specify which one.”

Well, yes, actually. I was.

When I was about seven or eight years old I was diagnosed with the type of Attention Deficit Disorder, now called ADHD–I. Later they threw in some dyscalculia for good measure. While I never took any medication, I did receive treatment well into my teenage years.

Those were very difficult times, mainly because when I was diagnosed, the whole ADHD–spectrum was relatively unknown. Most people – teachers, close family members and other – scoffed when ADHD or ADD was mentioned.

Many called it an imaginary condition and would tell me that I was making things up, that I was just “not that bright”, “plain stupid”, “not trying hard enough” or – my personal favourite – “a lazy good for nothing pest, who would never get a degree and whose only career option was cleaning toilets”.

I vividly remember how my mother and I were asked to come to the principal’s office one day during my first year of high school, so we could discuss my poor results and lack of attention during class. We arrived carrying a thick file full of test results, reports, statements,… only for the principal to refuse even to look at the file and tell my mother that “it was about time that she accepted her daughter was not as intelligent as she was and that she should not waste peoples time by insisting I remained in a normal classroom.”

Needless to say, my mom was a wee bit pissed off and the discussion which followed can best be described as a fight between a lion with anger issues and a crazy, rabid baboon on steroids.

It got better when I changed schools the next year. It got better when I got older, because I got a better view on the what, the why and the how. It got better because I developed coping skills. It got better because the therapy actually worked and somehow my brain got whipped into some kind of shape. As we now know there is no “curing” ADHD. I still get distracted easily and rely on noise cancellation headphones or classical music to get me through a bad day.

After filling in the questionnaire I catch myself looking at my children all too often, and playing the “What if” – song in my head.

Because what if – along with the sensitive skin (sorry about that one, by the way, kids) and the shape of their eyes – I gave my kids those parts of me. What if, they, too, will have to fight a lifelong battle?

I know times are different. We are lucky to live in a part of the world where education is a basic right, not a privilege and not something for which we – women – have to fight. I know there is a better understanding, new developments in treatment and more acceptance regarding learning disabilities as opposed to when I was a kid. I know – think, hope, … I will probably be more prepared in dealing with one or both of my children being diagnosed with a learning disability than my own mother, who was basically left in the middle of the jungle with a broken compass as her only tool to help her fight a way out, if only because I’m aware of the fact that this situation may arise and have lived it, am in still living it, coping with it.

But still…

What if… ?

How are people dealing with the whole learning disability spectrum in your neck of the woods? If you are a “former special needs child turned adult” how would you deal with this situation?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Tinne of Tantrums and Tomatoes.

Photo credit to the author.

Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes

Born in Belgium on the fourth of July in a time before the invention of the smart phone Tinne is a working mother of two adorably mischievous little girls, the wife of her high school sweetheart and the owner of a black cat called Atilla. Since she likes to cook her blog is mainly devoted to food and because she is Belgian she has an absurd sense of humour and is frequently snarky. When she is not devoting all her attention to the internet, she likes to read, write and eat chocolate. Her greatest nemesis is laundry.

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