2e Tuesday::The Four Horsemen of the Learning Differences.

The Four Horsemen of the Learning Differences!

This post today is brought to you by Naturalist, who is starting to find her voice when it comes to having Learning Differences. She’s always been a very self aware girl, and at 12 is able to reflect even deeper on what it means to be ‘her’. Even though many things that she is starting to talk about happened when she was in school from K-3rd, this is the first time she’s expressed her feelings about them.

For a very long time, I felt like avoiding any labels for her was the best bet, so I didn’t address her frustrations and challenges as ‘disabilities’ or ‘differences’, I just talked about them like they were part of the wonderful reasons that made her, her. In a way, I celebrated the differences as things that made her “Unique!” and “Wonderful!”

I’ll tell you what, though. I don’t think this was the best thing to do in her case. This is a somewhat prickly and controversial subject, so I’m trying to choose my words carefully about it. But for her, it wasn’t being honest, and it wasn’t giving her the right tools and self talk to deal with the incredible challenges that come with being bright AND LD.

The truth about learning differences is that more often than not, they are brutal to a gifted mind that knows what it wants to do, what it should do, what it is trying desperately to do…and what it fails at doing. Not being able to spell, not being able to read, not being able to remember things that you KNEW only minutes before–there is no sugarcoating the high level of frustration that causes.

MY way of dealing with that in Naturalist was to give her pep talks, like, “you just think differently than other kids, but it’s good to be different and unique!” or “These are all things that make you who you are! I wouldn’t want you any other way!”. It was me, being Pollyanna. Being a cheerleader. Putting on my happy pants and rooting her on.

But sometimes, you’ve got to call a spade a spade. For me, that moment came after 2 1/2 years of hard core homeschooling…spelling every day, math every day, reading every day…and realizing that she couldn’t spell, read, or do math any better than she could 2 1/2 years before. She knew it, I was trying to run from it. I was hiding under my Polyanna blanket while she trudged along knowing something was stopping her from doing all this stuff but not knowing what it was. It was at that point that I started looking up and using ‘labels’ like dyslexia and dyscalculia. I thought it would make her upset and feel like something was ‘wrong’ with her. Turns out, she already felt that way. When I gave her a term for it, all of a sudden she had a reason for it. An answer. An explaination.

I bought her The Survival Guide for Kids With Ld: Learning Differences, which is a fantastic balance of being a cheerful book about Learning Differences while at the same time not sugarcoating the struggles or avoiding the issues. She devoured it in a week and from then on has found her ‘voice’ in the matter…something that had been missing until this point.

She has words to explain what isn’t working in her brain and strategies for how to deal with that frustration. She has determination to go ahead and do things, even if they’ll be 10 times harder for her than someone else. Most importantly, she understands that she’s not the only one dealing with it. It’s her goal to talk to other people ‘like her’, and help other kids who may not understand what is wrong.

She wrote a few sentences out about what it’s like to have Learning Differences, as well as came up with some graphics. I’ll share them here, even though it kind of makes me cringe inside. I happen to share many of Naturalist’s struggles, but her inability to punctuate or spell words is not one of them. I have an almost photographic memory for how words are spelled, even if I’ve never seen them. Every misspelled word is like a scream in my head, so when I read this I get kind of twitchy. But bless her heart, if I made her correct every mistake she makes, she would quickly stop writing altogether. I’d rather she express herself confidently and hire an editor than censor herself because she’s worried about mistakes. And that’s a life lesson I hope she’s got down cold.

Here is Naturalists explanation of being a 2e kid:

gifted

gifted means creativety, but schools dont let me create but thats how i lern, i lern thro doing, not siting and tests. then since we cant create we shut down cuz we dont know what there talking about and we get teazed for being “stuped”. we wont to get away from people cuz you trusted them, and then they tern around and sit and chant with the kids that chant “stuped stuped your so stuped” and you lern that if you open your mouth people are going to laph and if you trust you are going to get your heart torn out and if you live your going to sit with no friends and no familie cuz they think your a failyer.

symbolsLD

an a makes 2 sounds, rite? not to someone with simbols LD! like me, it was very hard to atach meaning to symbols! sometimes i can read something over and over agen but not get what it ses!

writingLD

writeing LD is when you spell the way things should be spelled, in school we would have spelling tests 10 words! the best i ever got… 3 words, 3 WORDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! but normaly i got 0.

readingLD

LD means lerning disorder, but now lets think of it as lerning difrence! i have reading LD i read things beter up side down backwerds and colorful! but when im reading normal things disupear, i skip lines, the leters and words dance on the page!

**************

We Love Jonathan Mooney

A few months ago, I picked up a book titled “Learning Outside the Lines” about two learning disabled guys who went from being at the bottom of the barrel, academically & socially, to graduating from Brown University with honors.  Of these two guys, the story that I related to the most was told by Jonathan Mooney…dyslexic and ADHD. 

His struggles…to be respected, valued, understood at school… were mirrored in my daughter’s struggles for the same things. His shames… of being ‘different’, ‘stupid’, ‘not normal’… were my daughters shames. His feelings towards learning…frustration, anger, defeat…were my daughter’s feelings. I read the book, crying and laughing through it, and then I read it again with my daughter. Well, not all of it…Jonathan can curse with the best of them and I substituted some of my own words over those.

Here, finally, was someone drawing the line against the traditional school’s policy of ‘fixing the kid’ so they can stay in the system without causing too much of a disturbance. His take on it is that these ‘Learning Disabled kids’ are just fine…it’s the system that needs fixing. Traditional schools remediate the disability without acknowledging the great strengths that come with it. He advocates broadening the concept of ‘intelligence’ in schools so that they work with kids on all different levels and interests. He calls schools out for creating a standard of ‘normal’ as a one size fits all idea that kids need to strive for and teachers need to emphasize. He has strong criticism for ‘No Child Left Behind’. What he calls for is nothing short of a massive paradigm shift to include all types of learners into the system rather than segregate these divergent thinkers into a wasteland of low expectations and shame driven remediation in ‘Special Ed’ to become ‘normal’ like the other kids.

I am all for it.

Truthfully, I am making him sound a lot more boring than he, and his message, really are. His books are full of humor and self deprecation. When we sat to listen to him speak at The Tattered Cover bookstore recently, he engaged both my daughter and myself for 1 1/2 hours. He said things like, “The problem isn’t that I have dyslexia…the problem is the teachers had dysteachia.” Them’s fighting words, and I can’t imagine many educators would take that message very well. So then why do we feel it’s OK to blame the child instead? His point about fixing the exclusionary system instead of fixing the child also is pretty radical an idea. I snuck glances over to my daughter while he was talking about his experiences and saw her nodding as if to say, “Amen brother!” and hope that the message of personal worth & capability will speak louder to her than the previous message she received of being ‘broken’ and ‘not normal’ at school.

The very term they use to describe ‘divergent thinkers’ in public schools is derogatory. Learning Disability. Dis-able. Unable. I bought that for about 6 months, and then chucked it all out the window after having my daughter home with me and watching her learn as easily as a plant uses sunlight to grow. Granted, it wasn’t ‘learning’ in the traditional school way, but it was her own doing and it is her own learning. Thank goodness we have the freedom to remove the label and let learning happen.

At the end, he signed his new book, “The Short Bus: A journey beyond normal” and we took a picture with him. He asked The Naturalist what school she attended, and she said she was homeschooled. “Aaahhhh” he said. “How long did you make it through school before homeschooling?” She replied, “3rd grade.” He got a faraway look in his eye and said quietly, “Yeah, that’s about when I wanted out, too.” They both nodded to each other knowingly and smiled.

He dedicated her book: “To (The Naturalist). ‘Normal’ people suck. Enjoy your ride! Jonathan Mooney”

Before and After

I had an interesting discussion with The Naturalist today…much like our discussion on alphabetical order. She is a very non-sequential learner–whether this is from dyslexia or being a visual thinker, I don’t know. In either case, anything with a linear order wreaks havoc in her mind.

I’ve had her tell me that in the next year she’d be a teenager. I pointed out that next year she’d be 12, not 13. She looked surprised for a minute and then said, “Oh, I forgot about 12. I was thinking, ’10, 11, 13′. In my head, 12 is somewhere with 94″. So, I already know that both number lines and alphabetical order are not necessarily so orderly for her.

But today, talking about big numbers, I asked her to find the number before the hundreds place. Keep in mind, she’d been going up to the millions place, so the tens place shouldn’t have really been a big deal. She hesitated. I repeated myself. She hemmed and hawed. I remembered my dad sitting down doing math with me, and usually it ended up with him going, “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t that hard!” and then me crying, and then him leaving very annoyed. I related…this time to my Dad. But! I stayed quiet, and she finally looked up and said, “You know, I’ve always had a problem with ‘before’ and ‘after’. That just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Me: ??? Before and after! You know….like this:

I actually drew it out on some paper. This is time. This is you. This is everything that’s happened before now, and everything that will happen after right now.

Her: ???

Me: “OK, when I say to you, ‘pick up your clothes after you brush your teeth’, what do you think?”
Her: “It makes my head hurt to think what you mean. It could be either way…I get very confused”.
Me: wondering how I could not know that she doesn’t understand ‘before’ and ‘after’ for 11 years, but also knowing that a major frustration is her lack of following directions or scheduling..so, it makes a lot of sense.

We spent a while talking about how she could be misinterpreting linear time, and what her timeline is in her head…like how letters dance around in her head instead of lining up in an order. I really became interested in how time was lining (or not lining) up in there.

It was hard for her to discribe it to me, much like it was hard for me to discribe before and after to her. And then I remembered a Native American Lit. class I took in college. There I was introduced to ‘sacred time’, which is less a timeLINE and more….circular. Like this ouroboros symbol:

I drew a circle on our paper. I asked, “Is it hard to know what comes before and after, because just like in a circle, if the thing that’s before hurries up enough it will eventually come after what it was just in front of?”

That seemed to be the description that came closest to what’s going on in her head. Although I suspect that her blueprint would look something more like this circular electrical wiring scheme:

As we sat talking, I was thinking how similar her view of time correlated with the ‘time as a train track’ chapter in Stephen Hawkings “A Brief History of Time”. It also reminded me of a quote by Albert Einstein:

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

And I felt grateful that she and I were having this discussion at home, in a safe place, away from school where she’d be teased or derided about not knowing what ‘before’ and ‘after’ meant. I felt grateful that she has space to think for herself, in her own way, and develop her unique and totally out of the box thinking patterns without pressure to ‘fit in’ to a classroom environment that is at odds with how she processes information.

I am enthralled by listening to how dyslexic (and visual spatial) kids think. I believe they have a lot to offer the world, if only we could stop classifying them as ‘learning disabled’. After all (and here’s my last Einstein quote for this post, I promise!):

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

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