I think it is safe to say that most parents think that their children are the smartest, most amazing little humans that they have ever seen. From the moment my girls were born, I knew that they were destined for greatness. Through the years, I have been in awe as my children grew from infants to now entering their teen years.
As they have grown, I have evolved as a parent and in what successful parenting looks like. When they were younger, I remember sitting with them for hours teaching them how to read and write and how to memorize their multiplication facts. When my oldest was in the 3rd grade, I began to realize that something more was going on with her than just the “normal” learning curve of math and writing. For years, I thought that maybe she was just “a late bloomer” and that she would catch up at her own pace. I began to see that she wasn’t catching up. Every night became a gauntlet of tears and meltdowns, usually ending with both of us crying and giving up in frustration.
I knew my daughter was intelligent, unique and outrageously creative. She had a rich vocabulary and could come up with elaborate stories and draw beautifully. I was mystified that she could draw a complex picture but could not remember which direction to put her letters and numbers in. After countless meetings with her school, they decided that she might have ADHD and that her lack of attention was the problem.
I felt my mama instinct kick into high year. I knew that more than that was going on. After researching, I found a local learning center that did psychoeducational testing for children. I finally felt like I was going to get some clarity on what was going on with my daughter.
After hours of testing, I met with the psychologist at the center and she explained to me that my daughter had learning disabilities in reading, writing and math and that she was intelligent, but that her processing speed was slow and input/output ratio was lengthier than it is for typical kids. I was overjoyed to finally have answers, but I felt a bit of a loss too.
Part of me was hoping that the results would come back with a magic solution and that it would be a quick and easy fix. I would listen to other parents raving about their children who were on the honor roll or entering into advanced classes and I couldn’t help but feel disappointed…not in my daughter but in myself, my aptitude as a parent and the thought that if I had just done more or done something different, then this wouldn’t have happened.
Now I had answers, but what was the next step and how could I help my daughter understand her learning challenges in a way that wouldn’t impact her already crumbling self-esteem?
My daughter is now entering the 8th grade and we have come a long way. It definitely hasn’t always been easy. There have been nights when I broke down into tears because someone at school called her stupid or a teacher made her feel inadequate. She has gone through years of counseling, years of academic intervention and support, and IEP meetings. As her parent, I have learned how to be her advocate and also, as she gets older, have helped to teach her how to advocate for herself. I have made lists of famous people who have learning disabilities and have rambled off their names to my daughter as proof that is possible to have a learning disability and still be successful. I know in my heart that she has so much potential and so many gifts.
I see parents with their honor roll bumper stickers and think to myself, “wow that is great” but I wish I had a bumper sticker that said, “My daughter has a learning disability and doesn’t let it define her” or “my daughter isn’t on the honor roll but she has overcome adversity.” Life doesn’t always fit neatly in a box. Sometimes it is lumpy and you try to smash down the edges so it will fit and then you think to yourself, “Why am I trying to make something fit in a box that clearly was never meant to fit?” If I could tell my children one thing, it would be that all I want for them is for them to be happy and healthy and to live an authentic life. I am so proud of them for being exactly who they are.
“Crossing the beach, the giant sea turtle looks awkward, kicking up sand and dragging itself slowly. But once it enters the water, that giant sea turtle dives deeper, swims more gracefully, and lives longer than most other animals in the ocean. If your child can make it through the difficulties inherent in the beach of school and make it to the water of life, she will be successful. And if you can change the nature of school to be more like life, where you can rely on your strengths and get help with your weaknesses you will start seeing success that much sooner.” (Story is from ‘The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan’ by Ben Foss)