Today’s post is contributed by Evelyn Conley Weidig, who characterizes herself as a wife, mom, teacher, and crafter.
You already know the answer to this one: there is no easy formula. The good news is that you have everything you need to be able to teach your child with moderate learning disabilities. The keys are creativity, patience, and a determination to succeed. A child with disabilities is a child first, with a child’s need and desire to learn.
For the past eighteen years, I’ve been working with my own three children who, among them, have an interesting constellation of disabilities.
One of my oldest son’s difficulties was a fluctuating hearing loss, resulting in some quirky speech patterns for the first six or seven years of his life. His second problem, far more disabling, falls under the umbrella of dysgraphia, a disorder involving writing.
All through school, even high school, he had to occasionally stop to think about how to move his pencil to form letters to make words to express himself. Growing up, he would become so mired in the process of writing that he could not complete his thoughts on paper.
After nearly four years of struggling, we had him try a tape recorder to help organize his thoughts. We discovered that he could answer the questions, but he couldn’t think and write as the same time. That was the key to helping him free himself from the restrictions of his disability.
He could tape any extended answers or reports rather than write them down. Then he listened to the tape and wrote down his answer. He still went through the same brainstorming, rough draft, and final copy process of any good writer, but the added step of recording his thoughts helped him to separate the process of writing from the process of thinking, thereby allowing him to bypass his disability.
Our second son was diagnosed at fifteen months as profoundly deaf. This changed our entire outlook on our children’s educations. We’d planned to keep them home with us as long as possible. Unfortunately, we did not know enough about deafness to face this by ourselves.
For the next two years, I attended a parent-infant program with my middle son to learn how to teach him.
The most important lesson I learned was that I knew my child’s abilities better than anyone else, and the same is true for you.
Others might know, or think they know, what your child can’t do, but you know best what your child can do. This is such an important point; I can’t stress it enough. Start with where your child is and go from there.
For example, at fifteen months, my second son couldn’t speak or hear. So when we started to teach him how to communicate using sign language, we started with Day One: single words. Of course, we used words that were important to him, like, “cookie” and, “more.” He picked up those words quickly, and so did his older brother. By the time he was five, he was only six months behind in language, and that delay was due more to our lack of sign language capabilities than his inability to learn.
Our biggest challenge came with our third son. He was born deaf, and, soon after, seemed also to have problems focusing on objects. At just three days of age, we discovered that he had very strong likes and dislikes for the fabrics touching his body.
Socks with seams at the toe were a definite no-no. Solution? Inside out socks. Diapers with any plastic, including the plastic diaper covers for cloth diapers sent him off on a screamfest. We resorted to cloth diapers with cloth covers, and the screaming diminished. Upon his diagnosis of deafness, I had thought, no problem, we got this! Not even close. We struggled just to keep clothes, hearing aids, and socks on him.
As he grew, he didn’t seem to be progressing well in acquiring language. In fact, for most of his day, he would hide his face from us. We had hoped to raise him fully bilingually, with ASL and Cued English as we had been doing with his older deaf brother. We couldn’t even get him to watch us long enough for our names until he was nearly two.
Many people who saw him for early intervention, then preschool, then elementary school would tell us that it was difficult for hearing parents to successfully teach their deaf children language.
We tried the residential deaf school approach for his four-year-old year. That didn’t work. We tried a day placement at a deaf school from kindergarten to third grade. They kept telling us the same thing – deaf children of hearing parents were often far behind deaf of deaf. When we asked them why our older deaf son was an honor scholar-athlete at the same school, they fell silent.
After many frustrating years, we found a psychologist fluent in American Sign Language and familiar with deafness who agreed with us that his learning problems did not stem from his deafness, but from other factors.
Finally! An answer that made sense. Sensory integration issues caused him to become overwhelmed by tactile stimuli. We discovered fabrics that he could tolerate and taught him to use oatmeal baths to soothe his skin.
An expressive-receptive language processing disorder was causing the problem in language acquisition and usage. That was, and still is, difficult, but understandable. Attention deficit disorder or autism spectrum were also offered as possible.
The good news? That psychologist was also raising a son nearly the same age, with some similar issues. The best news? Someone else got it.
That’s the challenge – finding someone with whom you can vent, cry and offer mutual support.
You can do this!
Your thoughtful comments and questions are welcome.
If you are a parent or person involved in a child’s life, and you need to connect with someone else who gets is, leave a comment or send a DM.