“Unusual Learners”

“One of the great unrecognized dramas of childhood has been the struggle throughout history…of the unusual learner to find his best place in life.  What has gone unrecognized for centuries is that this unusual learner is not stupid, neither is he bad.  Indeed he may be gifted.  He carries within his mind the cognitive equivalents of genetic mutations, the ability to recombine elements of experience in new ways.  For centuries, the word stupid, combined with various internsifiers like bad, lazy, wilfull, or weak has been used to create a moral ‘diagnosis’.  That moral diagnosis has ruined millions of lives.  It turns out these kids have a lot to offer.  At last we are beginning to understand.”
          –Dr. Hallowell, in the forward to “Learning Outside the Lines” by Jonathan Mooney & David Cole.

I’m just beginning to read the book I’ve quoted above–so far it has been a worthwhile read.  The tagline is “two Ivy League students with learning disabilities and ADHD give you the tools for Academic success and educational revolution”.  And you all know what a sucker I am for anything having to do with an educational revolution!  The two authors–one with dyslexia, the other with ADHD–first give their own personal accounts of enduring elementary, middle, & high school with learning differences, and then devote the rest of the book to helping kids succeed by ‘learning outside the lines’. 

I have come a long way since The Naturalist entered kindergarten.  Like the stages of grief, I think there are stages to acknowleging a LD.  Confusion, denial, anger, more confusion, self doubt, anger, shame, denial with self doubt….this cycle can endlessly repeat for both the parent and the child.  Some never recover, and it becomes a shameful thing that defines them (or their children) negatively for a lifetime.  But a lucky few find support through online support groups, a timely book, through someone who has already been through it, or an intuitive teacher.   It only takes one person believing that a LD kid is capable and important to change that child’s life for the better.

At the beginning of 4th grade, my oldest daughter would often refer to herself as stupid.  She encountered every problem with defeat and resignation.  She developed panic attacks when thinking about going into a group of her peers.  She would spend hours on homework that her neighbor friends would finish on the bus ride home.  She would practice her spelling list to the point of tears and still fail each test.  And speaking of tests….the thought of being in a timed situation with multiple choice questions would leave her uptight, panicked, and distraught. 

Not knowing much about LD, I had personal fears that Brooke was broken mentally somehow.  From K-3, I tried my hardest to help her ‘be like other kids’.  Sit still like everyone else.  Write like everyone else.  Think like everyone else.  It was a disaster.  By the end of 3rd grade I chose another way.  I pushed all my doubts to the backburner and chose to actively trust in her–trust that all kids are learners if they can be reached in the right way.  The story of Helen Keller became my source of hope…and then I added more stories to my list.  Edison, Einstein, DaVinci, Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, and countless others. 

Learning differences do NOT mean that a child is an incapable learner.  It means that a child is an unusual learner, and that is a big difference. 

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3 Responses

  1. […] I’ve written about Jonathan Mooney a couple times before, specifically here: About when we met Jonathan Mooney and here: About the book “Learning Outside the Lines” […]

  2. I also realised with shock that my son is really suffering for what we want him to be. Every thing was in chaos .

    I wondered were I went wrong.

    After I realised about his problem ( from a movie ) it took me weeks, even to make a meager plan of what could be done. And even more effort to explain to every body what he might be going through.

    The first decision I made was that I will just step back and see what he would do with out me asking him what he should.

    Because right then my kids would not listen to anything I say.(seem to be eons ago :D) . The words I spoke most was DONT DO and YOU MUST .

    I just let them do what they wanted. Swallowed the words that came to me.

    A few days after we all went to a beach.

    I told my husband also not to tell him any dos and donts. Just to make sure that he is safe.

    It took a lot of effort to keep our mouth shut. But it was worth it.

    In the evening when we were about to go back Siva came to me and said with twinkling eyes ‘ Mother it is a great day! isn’t it ? It is my most favourite day! ‘ .

    Thinking of it even now bring tears to my eyes. Then I realised the pressure we put on him every day to make him behave like normal kids.

    It was about 2 years back . It has been a long way since then.

    He is a kid with bright normal IQ. The only thing he needed was somebody who would believe in him with no bones in it. And I believed in him .

    Slowly I reached him . And also my daughter who is the most unique and smartest among three of us. She is in KG-1 now. Her specialty is spellings.

    Now three of us are the best friends and my kids are my treasure. ( And Hubby is most proud of it even though he does not let it spoil us ).

    Thanks Tiff for sharing it. Because I always thought I am a bit crazy( or exaggareting ) to act like that . I could see in other people’s eyes ‘ Why you are taking so much effort just to bring up two kids ? They will just grow up. ‘

    But all of them would never realise how different my son is. And I am sure if I would haven’t changed my attitude I would have lost both of them ( not literally but as a mother ).

    • Thanks for sharing your story, it is such a similar one to mine…and it is amazing what a tiny amount of support and trust will do in the lives of these kids. And yet, it seems like giving kids that kind of trust in the world today is one of the most difficult things for parents to do.

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