The little girl danced on her tippy-toes across the stone walk as her short, dark curls bounced in the summer breeze. Her mother smiled happily as she thought what a wonderful gift she had been given in that little girl.
Years later, sitting at the table, sipping a cup of coffee, she looked back on that image and smiled again, thinking, “If I had only known then what I know now.” She reflected on all that had happened over the last 30 years.
Her little girl had been born a week late and had been quite small. Even as she grew older, her build was petite. She was always a beautiful child, both inside and out. However, there was nothing petite about her behavior.
It wasn’t that she was a bad child. It was just that she was always in motion. When she would visit anyone, the little girl would have to touch or hold things, often knocking things over or dropping them or tripping over them.
When she was four, her mother went back to college to finish her education. The babysitter began to work on preschool skills with the little girl, and soon, she began to notice that the little girl wasn’t remembering the skills they had been working on. The little girl seemed to have trouble with small motor activities such as coloring and cutting.
These things were noticed again when the little girl was screened for kindergarten. It was recommended that the little girl go to the eye doctor to make sure her vision wasn’t causing the problem. The eye doctor determined that the little girl’s eye muscles were not working together properly, so he assigned eye exercises. She was also given glasses to wear.
At the end of her kindergarten year, it was suggested that the little girl be placed in a new program called Transitional First Grade, so she could get more reinforcement with the skills that she struggled with. However, there were other children with more significant problems who had first priority. The little girl was sent on to first grade.
In first grade, the little girl continued to struggle with the same things that the babysitter had originally seen. She became a little frustrated, and her behavior at home began to deteriorate. She did not always do the things she was asked to do, and her frustration would often end up in a small temper tantrum.
Her first grade teacher was concerned with some of the educational problems she was seeing with the little girl, and she talked with her parents about testing her for a learning disability. The parents agreed and the process began.
Unfortunately, after a year, the special education teacher had done nothing. It was only through the advocacy of the little girl’s dad and a promise to enlist the help of the Superintendent and State Board of Education that the testing was completed by a consultant to the school district.
The test results indicated that the little girl had a learning disability in math and a processing problem with her short-term-memory. In other words, she couldn’t remember things she had just heard, and she needed much repetition for her to retain information. Once she got it she could remember it well, but it took extra time and practice for her to remember it. That meant that she had difficulty remembering her math facts. Remembering her multiplication tables was something that she had difficulty with right up through high school. She also had difficulty understanding what she read. In spite of that, the little girl worked hard to do her best.
The short-term memory problem also explained why she didn’t always complete things she was asked to do at home. She couldn’t remember more than one or two instructions at a time. Her parents then began to give her shorter instructions and put them in writing to help her remember.
As can be expected, she struggled in elementary school, and, as a result, her self-esteem took a nose-dive. This continued through middle school. Middle school can be a traumatic time for any child, but the little girl’s difficulty with coordination and motor skills made her even more awkward than the other children in her class, often causing embarrassment for her. Nevertheless, the little girl continued to work hard and not give up. Her parents tried to support her in any way they could. Her mother, who had gotten a teaching degree and was teaching students with learning disabilities was able to help her at home, and her father continued to be a strong advocate for her.
Homework, however, was frustrating for the girl. By the end of the day, her brain was tired from processing all the information it was trying to take in. She had to process the information 2-3 times harder than the other children, and when she got home, she was tired. She had difficulty concentrating on the things she had to do, and her organizational skills were practically non-existent. She sometimes forgot to write down assignments, and if she did get them written down, she sometimes forgot how to do them or couldn’t find them to pass them in. Middle school was a very difficult time for her.
High school seemed to be less traumatic. The girl gradually learned to compensate for her learning disabilities enough to work her way into all mainstream classes, with support from the resource room if she needed it. She continued to work hard, always asking questions and seeking information. Her social life improved as well. In her sophomore year, she met a boy who would play a significant role in her life.
Although things had improved in her life, the girl continued to have difficulty with concentration and understanding what she was reading. She was re-tested in her junior year, and no clues were discovered as to why she still struggled with these issues. Her parents took her to specialist in Burlington, Vermont, who specialized in testing of children with learning disabilities. This lady found answers quickly. Not only did the girl have a language learning disability, but she was struggling with a new (at the time) problem called Attention Deficit Disorder. The last pieces were found and recommendations were made. The puzzle was complete.
The girl was very successful during her fist semester of college because a support plan had been implemented, but because she had done so well, the support system was removed for the second semester. Bad decision.
During her second semester, she did not do well. She transferred to the local community college, but her heart wasn’t in it. Her confidence had been damaged. She didn’t do well, and became more depressed. Becoming concerned for her, her parents enrolled her in a special residential program in Vermont that was intended to help young adults with learning disabilities learn employment and everyday living skills while attending college.
She attended that facility for a year. It helped the girl learn how to live more successfully in the real world and it gave her much more confidence in herself. At the end of the year, the young man that she had met during high school and had dated since that time, brought her home. Soon they were married.
They have been married for 8 years now, during which time she has worked successfully full-time and earned a double associate degree. She is a wonderful young lady, with a positive attitude and a heart of gold. She is a true success story in every sense of the word.
Her mother looked up from her coffee, tears shining bright in the sun from the kitchen window. She thought about the struggles that she and her husband and the little girl had faced over the years. There were heartaches and sleepless nights, arguments and battles, pain and sorrow. But, they all handled these issues together. Now the young woman walks gracefully along the stone walk of life as her short, dark hair bounces merrily. Her mother smiled happily as she thought what a wonderful gift she had been given in that little girl.
Although this story was written in the 3rd person, it is a true story. It’s our story. It doesn’t begin to describe the pain and the frustration that Michele, the little girl, felt. Nor does it tell of the emotional turmoil encountered by her parents during these difficult times. It does, however, indicate that with support and strong advocacy, children with learning disabilities can be very successful and lead a happy, productive life.
Sandy Gauvin is a retired educator who has seen learning disabilities from many perspectives – as the parent of a daughter with learning disabilities, as the teacher of children with learning disabilities, and as an advocate for others who have diagnosed and unrecognized learning disabilities. Sandy shares her wisdom and her resources at www.LDPerspectives.com .