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Learning Disabilites

I guess I think we all have learning disabilities. Even the smartest mathematician may be inept at English. And the greatest musician may be clueless when it comes to science. I believe we all learn differently too. Some children just don't progress well in a classroom setting, yet they may flourish at home. Some seem to be able to memorize with ease, while others struggle just to remember one or two names. Some can remember everything they hear, while others need to see and taste and touch. I guess I just don't like to hear our differences labeled as "disabilities". Being different from the majority does not mean there is something "wrong" with you. Yes, I'm sure there are some children who have genuine disabilities, but I feel that the majority of children currently being labeled as "learning disabled" and just those who may not fit the mainstream mold.

I haven't had time to prepare this section enough to add to the website, but meanwhile I'll post a little story that was meaningful to me and to also to pass along a link to the Lindamood-Bell program, which has been highly recommended to me as a program which can help some children who are having serious trouble with mainstream learning methods.

The Story of Miss Hardy (by H. Stephen Glenn)

I began life as a learning-disabled child. I had a distortion of vision called dyslexia. Dyslexic children often learn words quickly, but don�t know they don�t see them the way other people do. I perceived my world as a wonderful place filled with these shapes called words and developed a rather extensive sight vocabulary that made my parents quite optimistic about my ability to learn. To my horror, I discovered in the first grade that letters were more important than words. Dyslexic children make them upside down and backwards, and don�t even arrange them in the same order as everybody else. So my first-grade teacher called me learning-disabled.

She wrote down her observations and passed them on to my second-grade teacher over the summer so she could develop an appropriate bias against me before I arrived. I entered the second grade able to see the answers to math problems but having no idea what the busy work was to reach them, and discovered that the busy work was more important than the answer. Now I was totally intimidated by the learning process, so I developed a stutter. Being unable to speak up assertively, unable to perform normal math functions and arranging letters inappropriately, I was a complete disaster. I developed the strategy of moving to the back of each class, staying out of sight and, when apprehended and called upon, muttering or mumbling, �I d-d-don�t kn-kn-know.� That sealed my fate.

My third-grade teacher knew before I arrived that I couldn�t speak, write, read or do mathematics, so she had no real optimism toward dealing with me. I discovered malingering as a basic tool to get through school. This allowed me to spend more time with the school nurse than the teacher or find vague reasons to stay home or be sent home. That was my strategy in the third and fourth grades.

Just as I was about to die intellectually, I entered the fifth grade and God placed me under the tutelage of the awesome Miss Hardy, known in the western United States as one of the most formidable elementary school teachers ever to walk the Rocky Mountains. This incredible woman, whose six-foot-frame towered above me, put her arms around me and said, �He�s not learning-disabled, he�s eccentric.�

Now, people view the potential of an eccentric child far more optimistically than a plain old disabled one. But she didn�t leave it there. She said, �I�ve talked with your mother and she says when she reads something to you, you remember it almost photographically. You just don�t do it well when you�re asked to assemble all the words and pieces. And reading out loud appears to be a problem, so when I�m going to call on you to read in my class, I�ll let you know in advance so you can go home and memorize it the night before, then we�ll fake it in front of the other kids. Also, Mom says when you look something over, you can talk about it with great understanding, but when she asks you to read it word for word and even write something about it, you appear to get hung up in the letters and stuff and lose the meaning. So, when the other kids are asked to read and write those worksheets I give them, you can go home and under less pressure on your own time do them and bring them back to me the next day.�

She also said, �I notice you appear to be hesitant and fearful to express your thoughts and I believe that any idea a person has is worth considering. I�ve looked into this and I�m not sure it will work, but it helped a man named Demosthenes�can you say Demosthenes?�


She said, �Well, you will be able to. He had an unruly tongue, so he put stones in his mouth and practiced until he got control of it. So I�ve got a couple of marbles, too big for you to swallow, that I�ve washed off. From now on when I call on you, I�d like you to put them in your mouth and stand up and speak up until I can hear and understand you.� And, of course, supported by her manifest belief in and understanding of me I took the risk, tamed my tongue, and was able to speak.

The next year I went on to the sixth grade, and to my delight, so did Miss Hardy. So I had the opportunity to spend two full years under her tutelage.

I kept track of Miss Hardy over the years and learned a few years ago that she was terminally ill with cancer. Knowing how lonely she would be with her only special student over 1,000 miles away, I naively bought a plane ticket and traveled all that distance only to stand in line (at least figuratively) behind several hundred other of her special students�people who had also kept track of her and had made a pilgrimage to renew their association and share their affection for her in the latter period of her life. The group was a very interesting mix of people�3 U.S. Senators, 12 state legislators and a number of chief executive officers of corporations and businesses.

The interesting thing, in comparing notes, is that three-fourths of us went into the fifth grade quite intimidated by the educational process, believing we were incapable, insignificant and at the mercy of fate or luck. We emerged from our contact with Miss Hardy believing we were capable, significant, influential people who had the capacity to make a difference in life if we would try.

By H. Stephen Glenn, from: A Second Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Regarding Therapies for Special Needs Kids

I highly respect the use of "therapies" for certain disorders. Where I see a danger is when parents see "therapies" as something separate and distinct from good parenting and do not realize that most of these "therapies" are just "intensive good parenting". I'm concerned when a parent begins to rely solely on the therapies and throws common sense out the window. Good parenting is not just watching your child and spanking for everything you don't like. Good parenting INCLUDES knowing your child, and understanding your child, and teaching your child, and if your child has special needs, then it includes teaching your child according to his special needs and abilities. For example, it would INCLUDE teaching a child with SID who could not swallow, how to swallow.

Now of course, if you don't know how to do this, you (as a good parent) would call someone who does (a therapist perhaps) and have him show you how. I completely agree with the use of therapists in this way - to show you things you did not know about how to help your SN child. Few parents are experts in all these areas so they will benefit greatly by using a therapist at times. I do not agree with throwing out common sense and relying on a therapist or a therapy for everything.�

Again, virtually all of these problems are exaggerations of problems that many normal children have, and good therapies are simply exaggerations of things that normal parents would do with their normal children. Successful therapies are BASED ON good common sense, (as several OTs have told me personally), and if we can grasp that thought, then we can make use of "therapies" AND ALSO use our own common sense to come up with our own "therapies" to help our own unique child.�

I think there is a danger in relying too much on therapies, and/or of misidentifying bad behavior to be a result of the disorder, rather than recognizing it as simple misbehavior. For example, if my SID child (or any child) was bothered by certain socks I'd probably try to find a brand he liked. If he still insisted on turning them inside out, then I'd start wondering if the problem was only partly SID and the rest manipulation/misbehavior. Are the socks different on the inside than on the outside? If they are significantly different, then fine. If they are normal average socks there may be virtually no difference. In that case I might test my child by putting one on each way (without him seeing) and having him tell me which was which a few times, before I'd believe that he could really tell the difference. Maybe he could, or maybe I'd find out he was manipulating me. It's not that I doubt that the child has the stated disorder, but it's just that from what I've seen, some of these children do seem to have learned how to use their disorder to manipulate their parents.�

I would be especially concerned about this with an Aspergers or Autistic child who is not naturally empathetic. I'm guessing that they might be more inclined than most children to manipulate to get what they want, or engage in other misbehaviors, since they don't seem to have as much of a conscience about doing so.

I do not believe that spanking will correct or cure a child with Aspergers, etc. Neither do I believe that "therapies" will cure rebellion in the heart of any child, SN or otherwise. So the question to me is: when is the SN child acting a certain way because of his disorder (and in need of a therapy) and when is he acting a certain way because he has a naturally rebellious spirit (like every other child) and has simply learned how to manipulate his parents. I would think that in many situations BOTH aspects come into play and therefore both therapies and discipline/training would be needed.�

The case of Helen Keller is an excellent example of what I am trying to get at here. All the therapies (Braille, sign language, OT, PT, etc,etc) alone would not have made Helen Keller into the good woman she turned out to be. She needed BOTH the therapies AND discipline/training. In her case, her teacher soon found that she needed the discipline first, before she could benefit from the therapies.


Links for Parents of Special Needs Kids

I.C.A.N - International Christian Association of Neurodevelopmentalists

Dr. Ronald S. Federici - Site for the author of  the excellent book "Help for the Hopeless Child".

I Can Do - Train Them Up Practical and Godly discipline for the Special Needs Child

(c) Copyright 2007 L. Elizabeth Krueger.  All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.