Finding out about my daughter's learning disabilities
I'll be honest when my kids started school it was a relief. I didn't want my children home with me. I valued (and still do) a good public education. I cried when my children started school but I would finally have the chance to focus on the big projects that I had wanted to do. I wouldn't feel the same guilt that I had felt because I was working and leaving them with babysitters some who were not great (I found out later). If they were in school they would be learning, and surrounded by all these other children that would hopefully be their friends. I could stop feeling this guilt that many mothers know of having to work but also having children who needed them. I also didn't know my daughter had a learning disability which would forever shape her education and experience.
My daughter struggled in school immediately. She fell behind on her work, it was very apparent early on that there was some sort of disconnect between her intelligence and her ability to put that intelligence onto paper or to read the books in front of her. In one of the biggest blunders of my life, and one that I will always feel guilt ridden over, I tortured her before I knew. I made her write and erase and write and rewrite and rewrite. Letter A, letter a, Letter B, letter b... again and again and again and again. If that wasn't torture, I don't know what would have been. Again and again. Crying. Sobbing that her arms hurt. Her hands hurt. It seemed obvious she just wasn't trying hard enough and wasn't putting the effort in and those were ways to try and avoid having to master the act of writing.
Her capital and small letters were never in the right place. Her letters rantogetherlikethis and it was hard to understand what precisely she was trying to say. And then there were the letters she just couldn't get or stop switching like e and g and d and b. Dog became god. Entire sentences were read out of order. I was told by her teachers some kids just take longer, it's harder for some students. They wanted her to do a special grade, like kindergarten plus rather than move onto first grade. I insisted she move up. She wasn't dumb, she just couldn't write. Her second grade teacher is the one who created her nickname. Her full name is Katrina. We called her Katrina. Her teacher nicknamed her Kat, not trying to be cute, but because it was shorter for her to write. Sometimes just writing her name meant she fell behind all the other students.
Some of you, those of you in the know, already know how this story is going to play out. You recognize it. Around 2nd grade we went to a specialist in learning disorders and found out she had dysgraphic dyslexia. We went to an eye specialist as well who showed that her eyes have these imperceptible eye jerking movements, that they didn't focus the way other people's eyes do and so we started vision therapy. With a diagnosis and a lot of research we started implementing ways for her to be successful in school.
She would not erase and rewrite her work. She would not be punished if she fell behind. She wouldn't be forced to skip lunch or skip recess to fix an assignment (except 1 teacher in 4th grade and I still have a deep disrespect and dislike for her because she knew and she made my daughter cry). We had a plan in place and for the most part, it worked. My struggling child was now a child on a pathway to success. She had friends. She had teachers who liked her and built her up.
I came up with a new strategy for dealing with Kat's teachers. I would email them, each one, individually prior to the year started and I would introduce her to them. I want to tell you about the amazing person you're about to get into your care. She will LOVE you because she loves her teachers. If you praise her, if you applaud her efforts, if you are kind to her. She will do whatever you ask of her. She may not do it perfectly, but perfect is overrated, but she will give you the best she can do. You will find that her best assets are in her kindness towards other, her compassion, her generous nature and spirit. She will be your friend. She will never bully others or be mean. She will be the kind of student that will ask you about your week and your life and be truly interested.
And then I would tell about her struggles and with each struggle I would tell the teacher exactly how to deal with it.
Katrina may misspell words. That's ok, it doesn't matter, and those things don't need graded. Eventually, we will all use computers for everything.
It may be hard to read what she writes, I know, it looks like a first or second grader, and she's now in 7th. If you aren't sure about what she wrote remember that you're really assessing understanding. Ask her to tell you about her understanding.
These things were all written into her IEP but her IEP is long and boring and I suspected teachers had too many of them to read them and that they felt too impersonal. This was a direct plea, a mother to a teacher, see my child and help them grow. You're the person who will help her love school or hate it.
Usually, that was all it took to build a partnership. And I ended each letter, each year, each time with the same thing. We are in this together. Please write me, email me, or call me at anytime. If there is an issue I will help you try to solve it.
My daughter's teachers went into teaching because they love education, they love teaching, they love children. They are also used to parents who aren't willing to work with them or are completely disconnected from their child's education. I did a lot of things when she was younger that I'm not proud of, that will haunt me forever, but when I understood what was going on in her little brain I'm proud that I changed. I became her biggest cheerleader and advocate and I never made her erase another thing in her life. She was legitimately trying and her hands really did hurt.