by Andrea Dake.
Andrea is a native of Mohnton, Pennsylvania and is married to her husband Brad, with whom she has a son. Andrea obtained a BA in International Relations with a minor in Women’s Studies from the University of Delaware and has a background in business operations, human resources and legal support. Prior to moving to Knoxville, TN in 2011, Andrea lived in New York City for several years, working for a private equity investment firm and traveling the world. In 2015, Andrea and her family relocated to the Nashville area where she expanded the MomSource footprint!
Any parent can tell you that each kid learns differently. Most days, we wonder if they’re learning at all – judging by how many times we have to tell our kids to get their shoes on for school and how many times we’ve told them not to poke the fire ant hills (seriously, the things you never thought you’d have to say to your kids….).
My son, in most respects, is a perfectly normal 6 year old. He’s social, outgoing, funny, occasionally sarcastic (no clue where he gets that from), loves playing with friends and being outside. He went to KR, Kindergarten Readiness, two months after he turned 5, instead of regular kindergarten since he had a late birthday and the teachers at his elementary school felt that he could use some extra time with his letters and numbers. So we did KR for his first school year, then he started Kindergarten the following year.
Half way through his kindergarten year, we got a request from his teacher to have a parent/teacher conference. He is our only child but even I know that teachers don’t typically request conferences to gush over what a perfect precious snowflake your kid is. They said he was struggling with his alphabet, letter sounds and had a very slight speech problem. We decided that an IEP for speech therapy would help, and he would get additional time every day with a reading specialist to work on his letters and letter sounds.
This all sounds very cut and dry, but I will be the first to tell you that I was devastated. I spent the afternoon following the parent/teacher conference crying. I never struggled in school so it was hard for me to understand why my son was struggling. I was angry (I have no idea at whom), I felt responsible (crazy, I know), and I wanted to shake his teachers and tell them “But he’s so good at so many things!”.
I didn’t really know how to help him so I had to trust the school. 3 months later, I was asked to another conference to discuss his progress. It wasn’t great. He wasn’t keeping pace with the other kids in the intervention program. There would be weeks that he knew all 26 letters of the alphabet, and the next week, he only knew 18. Some weeks he knew all his sight words and some weeks he struggled for even the simplest ones. He could follow the first direction for a task, but could never remember what came next. He was distracted by just about anything that could distract him (SQUIRREL!). He was falling into the 10th percentile in reading/letter recognition, which even I know isn’t good.
The school opted to keep him in his current program but mentioned that they could do some academic testing on him by the middle of 1st grade. To which, I said “umm, excuse me, what?” So the next day, I went out and got a referral for a psychoeducational specialist that performs testing in kids in order to diagnose problems such as ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, learning disabilities, dyslexia, etc. We got an appointment and he spent a day with the specialist doing testing with her. He was a willing and enthusiastic participant. I told him that we were going to figure out how he learned best so he could be a total genius one day! He bought it….
Several weeks later, my husband and I had our debrief with the specialist to get her diagnosis. We went through 15 pages of testing results, most of which confirmed what we already were seeing – he was really good with visual things, concrete concepts, but wouldn’t be able to summarize a two minute story he just listened to. Her final diagnosis was ADD with inattentiveness and dyslexia. He was struggling with what they have now termed Executive Skills Functioning, which are basically the skills used in organizing a task and the materials you may need for the task, being able to follow multi-step directions, being a self-starter, etc. I’m still learning about Executive Skills (the books have been ordered from Amazon) but I feel like what I’ve read about it so far is nailing exactly what he struggles with.
The ADD/inattentiveness wasn’t really something we would be able to treat and cannot be medicated (whew! Dodged that bullet!). But, we can give him coping skills for it, like giving him a completely distraction free area to do his homework and schoolwork. I’m not sure how his school will accommodate this – that will be the next article in my series! Dyslexia is way more complex than what I thought it was, which is transposing letters and numbers. That’s actually only a very small part of it. I won’t bore you with the details but trust me when I tell you that I’ve already had to order 4 books on it (what did we do before Amazon?). My summer reading is getting more and more riveting….
The super cool thing is that the state of TN doesn’t actually recognize Dyslexia as a “thing” so I’m really looking forward to that conversation…(hmm, maybe I do know where he gets his sarcasm). We haven’t had our follow up meeting with the school since getting the diagnosis, but it has been scheduled. I’m really hopeful, since they’ve only been supportive and helpful up to this point – but I also haven’t asked them for anything yet.
My husband and I admittedly don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to this IEP stuff. What I do know, is that we are his only advocates. His teachers and the administration mean well, but I recognize that their hands can be somewhat tied since they have to follow the timelines and regulations outlined by the state, and sometimes it’s just not good enough. The thought of my kid struggling absolutely breaks my heart and I know that there are accommodations that the schools can make for him. He learns differently – he’s never going to respond well to just hearing a lesson. He is going to need to hear it, see it, smell it, touch it, taste it. We need to start learning about how our kids learn best and fighting for it. We are his advocates and this world of IEPs is confusing and scary but I know we will not stop until we have a program set up for him to help him and hopefully make it a little easier for other kids that are struggling because of learning differences.