This letter was written when I was in fourth grade. I was a learning-disabled child. My perceptual problems involved all of my senses. I saw double until second grade, when I had surgery. After the operation, my eyes still did not work well as a team, causing figure-ground and depth perception problems I had problems in auditory sequencing, memory, discrimination and processing. My sense of touch was also poor. I had apraxia, meaning that my brain had trouble telling where my body was in space- and had no internal sense of direction. This story began as a letter to my grandparents, written when I was 11.
“Dear Grandma and Grandpa,” I wrote. “I felt like writing you, but I couldn’t think of much letter-talk… I mean besides the fact that it is snowing. School is fine. So is Girl Scouts. And, of course, I love and miss you. But, I still want to write you a nice long letter. So, I decided to write you about my life.”
The big problem
Well, I’ve got jumbled memories of being scolded because of my sloppiness… of being moved next to a girl with neat writing to teach me neatness… of taking scissors, cutting up my lunch sandwich… of cutting a fringe around my spelling paper… of wondering why everyone didn’t have their crayons broken up… of being lost in a big city on a field trip.
The bad day
I suppose this day started as usual. Barbara, our next door neighbor, started taking me to school. I don’t remember any of these walks. Then I entered. I sat down at my desk.
I sat and sat and sat. I wiggled. I remember raising my hand. The teacher called on me. I stood up. “I’m tired of just sitting here,” I said.
“Well,” she told me. “You’re a big girl now. You have to sit and pay attention to learn.” I sat down.
Came reading. I did the paper. It was especially neat. So the teacher gave me a 100 percent. I felt so happy and wanted it to look pretty so I took a pair of scissors and fringed it. The class let the teacher know. She tore it up. I wasn’t happy.
The next lesson was worse. So, the teacher moved me by Robin, the “little peanut,” I called her gaily, for she was quite small. Robin was very neat. She pulled out her workbook. The pages were white–not like my pages. All of mine were smeared and sweated. I had asked and asked for another workbook, but the answer was always, “No.”
Soon it was lunch. We lined up. I tried to line up. I tried to line up behind Martha. The reason was, I thought she was quite pretty. I wish she’d pay attention to me. But then, no one else did.
At lunch, I had a bright idea. Just why not cut my peanut butter sandwich with scissors? Nice little, bite-size pieces. Smooth edges. Why not? I turned it over in my mind a couple of times. Then, calmly, I took out a pair of scissors and cut my sandwich.
“Dale,” came a sharp, surprised voice. It was my teacher. “Using a germy pair of scissors to cut a sandwich!” I was surprised. I didn’t know what she was talking about. With that, she put the sandwich in the trash can.
A bell rang signifying recess. We went outside. I just stood around. I watched everyone else play, but I didn’t. My heart wanted friendship, but I was learning about the world. They already knew.
We came in to have art. I broke my blue crayon a second time. I looked at everyone else’s crayons. Beautiful with the paper still on. And then onto my own. Each was broken at least once. None had the paper covering on it. All were mutilated from my hot, sweaty hand. I can still remember bringing them home on the last day of school as one big mess.
I went home. Mommy helped me learn. We sat at the black and white kitchen table. I read some stuff to her. She helped me with spelling. And so ends the day.
Now I will tell of another day. It was an unusual day. We were going on a field trip to a shopping center. Well, everything went fine until our teacher decided to treat us to a drink. I drank… and when I finished everyone was gone. Well, I don’t remember what happened after that. But I got home somehow.
Fourth grade: The good day
My teacher had black, curly hair. Her name was Miss Johnson. One day she asked the class to write a paragraph on Thanksgiving. I wrote a poem instead. It went like this;
God, Why Don’t You Celebrate?
God, you who made the earth,
You who made the sky.
You who made the fishing sea.
Oh, you must be up so high.
And you who made me.
We thank you for the food,
for your best gift, nature,
our thanks to you.
So, dearest God, why?
Why don’t you celebrate
For all the hard, hard
work you’ve done?
Just to make the world
You who made everyone.
When Miss Johnson read everyone’s paragraph, she asked me to stay in during recess. I stayed in, waiting to be yelled at, because I hadn’t followed directions. I had written a poem instead of a paragraph.
“Dale, this is a very good poem,” she said. “Do you write poems often?”
“Sometimes,” I replied.
“What do you do with them?”
“I send them to my Uncle Jack or give them to Mommy.”
“Good,” she said. “Well, let’s do a secret project, just you and I, OK?”
I nodded, feeling like a grown-up as she told me about the secret. “I want you to make a poetry book. While the other students have their handwriting period, you can write your poetry in your poetry book!”
“OK!” I said.
“You wrote this poem very neatly,” she told me. “I know you’ll write all your poems this well, because we want people to be able to read them. Now, let’s pick out some shiny construction paper to be the covers of your book.”
I jumped up and down with excitement. I loved shiny construction paper. We went to the closet to pick it out. I decided I wanted red paper. I was so happy, I skipped out of the room.
“Why, Dale, I didn’t know you could skip!” she said. “That’s very good!”
If she hadn’t been so nice to me before, I would have thought she was making fun of me. One of the problems with learning to skip in fourth grade instead of first or second is that nobody says “good girl” to you. You might feel happy as your body learns to do new things, but everyone else has learned it already and thinks it’s babyish. So, Miss Johnson made me happy by telling me I was very good.
About the author
Dale S. Brown is the author of five books on disabilities and employment including “Job Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped,” which she coauthored with Richard Bolles. She was a key player in the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act and has won numerous awards for her work in the field of learning disabilities.