Maybe you wonder sometimes if your child has a learning difference. Perhaps your child’s teachers have assured you that everything is “normal”, but you have your doubts. Could you be seeing the signs of a learning disability? The answer is “yes”, “no”, and “maybe”. This is our story.
Sarah is our firstborn. There are so many expectations for the first born, and Sarah is the first child of a first child married to another first child. All of her grandparents are first children, too. No pressure. Sarah was (and still is) the child we always dreamed of having: bright, funny, and articulate. Before she started school, we had no reason to suspect that she might have a learning problem.
Sarah was as ready as any child can be to start school. She knew her alphabet by sight by 18 months. I read to her every day from the time she could sit in my lap. She has a September birthday which means she turned six immediately after she started Kindergarten. People who spoke to her couldn’t get over her advanced vocabulary.
Sarah age 5
Age was in her favor. Readiness was in her favor. Yet, she struggled. Mightily. I consulted with her teachers at the private school she attended many times, asking them questions.
By second grade (Second grade!), she was doing homework two to three hours every evening. The teachers weren’t assigning excessive amounts of homework; Sarah just needed that amount of time to complete the assignments. Friday mornings were the worst, though, because Friday was spelling test day. Even after working all week with the spelling list, we sweated through the list again, just as if she had never seen it before. Other worksheets and tests would come back with questions left blank, as if she had not noticed them as she worked.
The text skipping happened when she read aloud, too. She would miss a word or a line or even a paragraph. I noticed, though, that she did much better if the print had a colored background. As I researched her symptoms, I continue to ask questions. We took her to see a specialist who diagnosed Schotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. Sarah used colored overlays and her teacher went to the trouble of making copies on colored paper. (Wow.) Those steps helped, but Sarah still struggled.
In particular, she struggled with writing. Her letter formation was labored, and her handwriting was…well, her handwriting looked like a doctor’s scrawl. Math was also a nightmare due to the handwriting difficulties. She understood the concepts, but the execution of a math assignment became a two-person project. I became her scribe.
So, since it seemed like we had no family life outside of evening homework, my husband and I chose to home school Sarah and her younger sister beginning with third grade. What a relief! [Warning: Homeschooling is not for everyone; it is the ultimate test of parental self-discipline and commitment.] The one-on-one, intensive attention and the flexibility of home school helped us turn the corner.
Three years later, Sarah entered public school, but not before we took her to another specialist. God bless that lady! She evaluated Sarah and concluded that Sarah has dysgraphia (huh?), and Sarah was eligible for Section 504 accommodations. In Sarah’s case, the accommodations were:
- Extended test-taking time.
- Note taking assistance.
- No bubbled test forms. (For Sarah, bubbled test forms are like taking a test to take a test.)
- Modified requirements for writing-intensive assignments.
Sarah made A’s and B’s in middle school and through her freshman year of high school. In her sophomore year, the school failed to support her accommodations, and her grades began to fall. Our requests for compliance with the Section 504 fell on deaf ears that year, so we withdrew Sarah from school, and she completed high school at home. God enabled us to home educate Sarah, and today, she is making her way through college.
Here are some common signs of a possible learning difference:
- A disconnect between a child’s intelligence and her success in school.
- Difficulty in reading and writing, particularly, reversed and inverted letters and numbers.
- Floating or missing text on the printed page, missing questions on worksheets, and mismatched questions and answers on bubbled forms.
- Extreme frustration with “simple” skills that most children seem to master with much trouble: riding a bike, tying shoes, writing in cursive, and copying text.
What does Mom know? What does Dad know? More than anyone else! You are your child’s best advocate, but you will have to do your research and become something of an expert to be as effective as possible.