Does homeschooling always go smoothly?
Something was very wrong. Despite two years of intensive phonics, my daughter still laboriously sounded out each letter, often mistaking one for another. By the time she reached the end of a sentence, she was so exhausted from her effort that she did not remember the point of the passage. She would read, for example, the word “ball” in the second line and could not remember the same word in the fourth line. I could not have imagined a journey into the world of special needs.
Yet, there were many wonderful, positive aspects of her development. She could tell elaborate stories with twists and turns and delightful predicaments. Sometimes I would write them down and read them back to her, much to her delight.
Except on a bad day. On a bad day, her memory was extremely challenged and she was highly distractible. One fine winter day, she sat looking out the window at the lightly drifting snow, crying her eyes out. When I asked her what was wrong, she said the snowflakes were “bothering her” and keeping her from doing her math.
We became caught up in a cycle of failure and negativity. Because I was so blind to what was going on, I characterized all her difficulty as an issue of character and discipline. If she wasn’t following instructions, I disciplined her to build the character of obedience. If she couldn’t keep focused on her studies, I disciplined her to build the character of self-control. I was so consumed with disciplining her and building her character that I lost sight of the fact that she was a unique, wonderful creation of the Living God.
After one incident of such supposed character lapse, I spanked her. As was often my practice, I followed the spanking with a prayer that went something like, “Dear Jesus, please help Gracie to obey.” Hardly skipping a beat, my precious child prayed, “Dear Jesus, please help Mommy to not be so mean.”
Was I being mean? I didn’t think so. We looked at this as another chapter of Baby Boot Camp, our playful name for times of intense training of the children. When things were getting slack or attitudes were slipping, we would enter into a training time where we focused most of our time and energy on the issues at hand. It seemed this particular child was in perpetual Baby Boot Camp!
When there is more than one child in the family, it is common to play the comparison game. Our two older children learned to read easily and effortlessly – when they were ready. After my first child, I learned to wait for readiness. As a new-I’ve-got-something-to-prove homeschooling mom, I tried to teach her to read at 2 1/2. She wasn’t interested. I tried again at 3 1/2. She had no interest. I tried at 4 1/2. She humored me a little, but still wasn’t ready. By about 5 1/2, she pretty much taught herself. My second child practically came out of the womb reading. These first two were strong in their academic work and could concentrate when it was required – and could play and goof around with the best of them when they weren’t working. Little did I ever imagine we would deal with special needs!
This third, challenging child brought incredible strain to our little family. Every step of the day was a battle with her. Whether it was getting her to pick up her socks or pick up a reading book, she was ready for a fight. It was exhausting, and our other children often felt neglected.
In my heart I wanted to believe that she was just in “a phase,” or an interminably long growth spurt. That is the explanation that parents use to console themselves when their child’s behavior perplexes or annoys them. It is comforting to think that something is “a phase” because it implies that it will someday come to an end. I desperately wanted to believe this. It calmed my fears about her behavior – the tantrums, the moodiness and the oppositional behavior. As for her intellectual development, I reasoned that she was on her own timetable. If it was an issue of readiness, I felt I could wait graciously for maturity, but I could not fathom the forgetfulness, the moodiness and the tantrums.
We began piecing the puzzle together with observation and research. We sought creative answers to troubling questions, beginning with our own meticulous observations. This is the journey I want to share with you in this series of articles. Armed with this detailed information, we sought a two-pronged evaluation.
At the end of her 2nd grade year of homeschooling, we contacted our local school district and requested a complete evaluation for learning disabilities. We felt confident because we knew many of the professionals in our school district. In addition, we were firmly aware of our legal right to do whatever we wished with their findings. We could follow them and accept proffered services, or dismiss them and seek our own path. The process to pursue a formal evaluation will be completely covered in another article.
Why not wait for readiness? Dyslexia expert Dr. Sally Shaywitz writes, “The apparent large-scale under-identification of reading-disabled children is particularly worrisome because even when school identification takes place it occurs relatively late – often past the optimal age for intervention. Dyslexic children are generally in the third grade or above when they are first identified by their schools; reading disabilities diagnosed after third grade are much more difficult to remediate. The brain is much more plastic in younger children and potentially more malleable for the rerouting of neural circuits. Moreover, once a child falls behind he must make up thousands of unread words to catch up to his peers who are continuing to move ahead. Equally important, once a pattern of reading failure sets in, many children become defeated, lose interest in reading. And develop what often evolves into a lifelong loss of sense of self-worth.” (From her book, Overcoming Dyslexia.)
After a medical and optical screening, we sought an extensive evaluation by a private child psychologist for ADHD. It entailed a lengthy questionnaire completed independently by my husband and myself, two office visits for our daughter and two office visits for us. At the end of the process, we felt this psychologist had an accurate view of our family life.
In the final analysis, she was deemed to be a fairly routine case of both LD (Learning Disabled) and ADD (Attention Deficit). Although she did not exhibit the hyperactive component of ADD, we learned that there is an equally powerful spectrum of the disorder characterized by inattentiveness, moodiness and a lower energy behavior type.
We have come to some creative solutions and our daughter is flourishing! We wish we had the bigger picture when we first experienced problems. It is my prayer that this article series will be a part of that bigger picture for you in your struggle.
What about you? What does your challenge look like?
For more information about homeschooling a child with special needs, see my book, Homeschooling the Challenging Child.