It’s Not a Sprint

I realized today that my daughter doesn’t know her left hand from her right. It doesn’t matter how old she is right now; just know that she is well past the age when most children have learned this. We have tried telling her that she writes with her right hand, but this doesn’t register with her at all. Now we are going to put some nail polish on one finger of her left hand so she can look quickly if she’s asked, or give her a pretty ring to wear on her left hand.

We had a realization a few months ago that something wasn’t right. We thought she was making progress, and in some areas she is, but in other areas, she learns things and then forgets them. Math just won’t stay in her head. We explain things, her teachers explain things, she seems to understand, then POOF, it’s gone. This happens over and over, no matter the method we try. She is a very sweet child, and she has learned how to hide that she doesn’t understand things; unfortunately, that probably has prevented us from figuring this out faster.

We are starting the process of finding out how we can help her to learn. I know from others that this will probably take a while. She’ll need testing and analysis. I know this. We’re going to need to be her advocates, and we will do everything we can. Part of the testing and analysis process involves some bureaucratic hoops we have to jump through, which includes us presenting the school with example after example about how she is not learning.

Despite this, things are starting to panic me. It seems like other kids’ parents are all looking at gifted and talented and immersion programs; how long will it take these clever children to realize that my daughter is not remotely keeping up with them? I have kept her out of a few activities when I know that she will feel put on the spot; normally, though, I tell the organizers ahead of time not to call on her unless she raises her hand, and to move on quickly if it’s clear she doesn’t understand. She’s not going to suddenly understand something in front of a crowd. The vast, vast majority of these people understand this, and I am immensely grateful that the world she and I live in gives her this kind of leeway; when I was a kid, authorities could be brutal to children who didn’t understand.

I haven’t let anyone know about her challenges. I don’t know when that makes sense and when it doesn’t. I guess I’ll find out, right? I’ll be learning a lot about this, I suspect — reading books, attending meetings, comparing notes with other parents. Sometimes the very idea pre-exhausts me.

I grew up in a home where everything seemed to go on your permanent record, and any straying from the norm was a sign that you were doomed to a life of inadequacy and want. I can’t count how many times my parents said that our lives were “ruined” for things. It took many years of observing people and their lives to help me learn that this was wrong. That hard-earned lesson is serving me well right now.

I’m middle-aged. I’ve seen a lot of life stories play out in ways I couldn’t have ever imagined. I know that you can never really predict what the future will bring. I’ve lived long enough to see some of the golden children I grew up with lose their way, and to watch the children who struggled to achieve anything find their footing as adults. And boy, am I grateful for that. I know better than most not to give up hope, and even if certain dreams I had for my daughter’s childhood seem unlikely now, I expect to be surprised at all the unimaginable, wonderful things that will happen instead. For now, I need to concentrate on being her advocate, and hopefully when she’s older she’ll see how we faced a big problem square on, and she’ll be able to do the same.

3 replies on “It’s Not a Sprint”

First, DON’T PANIC! (said emphatically, not yelling). You WILL get your daughter the help she needs. There will probably be someone trying to find reasons not to help your daughter-usually someone in charge of money. Staying calm will help you and everyone else find a workable solution. Also, if they try to stonewall on testing, seriously consider getting an independent evaluation.

Second, a diagnosis of a Learning Disability is not the end of the world. Your daughter sounds much like my younger brother-he would spend hours studying for a test, know all the information, then fail the test the next day. He wasn’t diagnosed with a Learning Disability until his Junior year in high school. About two years ago, he earned his Doctorate of Physical Therapy.

Finally, I’m sure you’ve done your research, but this bears repeating. Most people with a learning disability have average or above average intelligence. She’s already figured out how to hide her difficulties-this is HARD! If she can do that, she can figure out how to use any support strategies she needs.

(Also, in terms of the money/resources thing, it may not seem like your daughter needs a lot, so what’s the big deal? However, 30 minutes of support a day could result in the hiring of another paraeducator or even a teacher. I recently interviewed for a half-time position that opened up because the school got their 41st student with an IEP. So, 40 students with IEPs, one SpEd teacher is fine; one additional student with an IEP costs the district $25,000 a year. Legally, this type of thing is NOT a valid reason for refusing to test or provide services. In real life, it happens.)

Oh boy. Good luck with this. My parents needed to do the same kind of advocacy for me (though different academic difficulties), and you’re right: it’s hard work. But so worth it, and the other end is always brighter.

We’re rooting for you!

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