However ever one becomes a parent – childbirth, adoption, foster care, the child is an enigma. I have been blessed with two children: a daughter who is a delightful biological combination of my husband and I and a son who I lovingly refer to as our Guatemalan import.
Even though my daughter’s behavior and academic abilities hints at some genetic predisposition, I am still quite often surprised at her innate individuality and propensity to achieve and carve her own path in life. My son has been a gift and a puzzle unfolding since the day he was placed in my arms. We pondered his 4-½ month old baldhead, curious if the black hair barely visible would be straight, curly, unruly or sleek.
It didn’t take long before the blue-black strands rewarded us with a head full of curls. Since we knew nothing about his background we often speculated about his hidden abilities and talents. Beating a pot with a wooden spoon – was this a budding musician? Broad strokes of orange, red and yellow on paper – was he a Picasso in the making?
My husband and I were committed to offering what we could to our children in the way of life experience, books, music, art, and culture. We had decided to home school early on and began “teaching” long before the conventional school age. We wanted them to appreciate who they were, where they were from, and recognize opportunities to give back to the community or even the world. So we traveled. We read a wide variety of books to our children. We listened to music. We attended plays. We exposed them to foreign language via tapes and videos. We took them to museums of history, to science museums and art galleries and we watched them grow in curiosity, wonder, appreciation and awe.
David is now twelve. I suspected early on something was rather amiss or rather different in the way he saw his world. David at four would pick up a book and began “reading” it from the back page to the front. When he would write his numbers many were written backwards or upside down. At six during a family discussion David offered solutions “outside the box” that were brilliant, simple and logical, yet had escaped adults. By the time he was nine if someone had misplaced an item, David would “know” where it was. When David began to write, his papers were skewed to the right, as if his pen pulled him to the right margin, rather than starting with the left. Asking him to transcribe a typed essay complete with punctuation, paragraphs and capitals, David would return a piece of paper solidly covered with letters void of punctuation, capitals, or indentation.
I suspected my Guatemalan import was dyslexic. Concerned I read books including Dyslexia Unlearned and surfed the internet for information. I found a trainer in Washington State. We arranged a time for her to come and spend a week with my son in a special training program with the same title, Dyslexia Unlearned. The following is my daily diary of that week.
9:00 AM - I drop David off at the Church of the Nazarene. We meet the trainer, Marlene Easley at the door and help her bring in her supplies for the week. David appears slightly nervous – from anticipation or just anxiety?
Noon – I come to take David home for lunch. When I enter Marlene and David appear excited. Marlene is delighted with David’s progress. She shows me some of the testing results of the morning – David’s reading level is on par, the words he can’t “see” or fails to acknowledge as he reads – which, at, is, it, the. She explains children have different learning styles – visual, auditory, tactile, spatial. Marlene shows me how David is a visual spatial learner – he can see an object upside, down and backwards all they while it is stationary. David thinks and sees in 3D, which is why two dimensional letters on the printed page is so hard for him to comprehend. David has made a very creative alphabet out of clay. When asked to copy the more conventional looking letters, he immediately places them in an upright position – making them 3D, she painstakingly places them on the table making them two-dimensional. She is looking forward to this afternoon.
12:21 PM - I have never seen David so happy and content. He seems at peace with himself for the first time in all his 12 years. He has a strong self-confidence and is looking forward to reading at an adult level by the end of the week.
3:45 PM- I stop by and listen to David spell out each word in a paragraph then give its name. Marlene is training his eyes to read continuously from left to right, rather than left to right, back up, go forward, back up, start again … by tomorrow night he will be a fluent reader with no halts or false starts.
She points to the alphabet I saw earlier. She said of the 26 letters 24 are triggers for David. Twenty-four letters, my son struggles to determine what they are, where they are supposed to be and what they mean. His brain is constantly in overdrive. Marlene says by tomorrow afternoon none of the letters will be a problem. While we talk David busies himself putting puzzles together and snacking on Doritos – his food reward for the day!
Tonight he is to rest and not work too hard. He has been at a high level of instruction all day. Marlene says he actually is a day ahead of schedule. My son is persistent and focused. I have never seen him so happy.
4:45 PM - David tells me he had a great day. I’ve never heard him say that before! He quotes Marlene, “She said I worked really hard today and need to relax,” pointing to the back of his head and smiling broadly he continues, “It feels like my brain is a ton of bricks hanging on a stalk.” David walks away grinning and settles down in front of the TV.
9:10 PM - I can’t find David. He came upstairs ten minutes ago. I have yelled (not my normal activity) all over the house, searched the outside and the garage. He is nowhere. I am in a panic. I’ve turned the light on his room, and screamed his name. There is no response. When I make a second trip downstairs, my daughter tells me he is in his room, in bed asleep. I rush up the stairs, throw on the light and indeed he is sound asleep backwards in his bed. His pillows hide his feet; his dark hair shadows and blends with the stuffed animals at the end of his bed, his long dark pants melt into his blue comforter. I reach for him. He is literally dead to the world. I shake him. His eyes flutter open and I encourage him to flip around so I can cover him up. He barely takes notice of the transition and is again deeply asleep.
He doesn’t awake until after 7:30 AM.
9:00 AM -Dropped David off at the Church of the Nazarene. He hasn’t quit smiling. It took him less than 5 minutes to finish his English homework this morning. Yesterday morning the same activity took 30 minutes.
Marlene introduced him to an Activity Dial yesterday. 1 – 3 indicates sleep to just waking up; 4 – 6 activity where person can be doing a written task, but still be attune to auditory clues – 5 is ideal for schoolwork – 7 – 9 intensified focus, auditory is shut down all energy is expended to task at hand. David tends to work at a 7 or 8. Marlene wants him to be less stressed and work toward 5. When I dropped him off this morning I asked him where his dial was, “It’s at a four, Mom,” he said grinning.
NOON – David’s smile has grown. He shows me the clay models of punctuation he has been working with and the Checking Your Grammar book that is now his. Marlene tells me they have been working on lower case letters this morning. Only 20 of the letters were triggers. He is making great strides. She even taught him how to control his headache with breathing and imagery. It worked! He’s tired, but can’t wait to get back.
3:30 PM - I enter the building to find David reading with inflection and enthusiasm. He is reading fluently at the 9th grade level. I didn’t think his grin could get any bigger. I notice even more punctuation symbols. A story has been highlighted for punctuation and capitalization. David is very proud that he found more than 200 of them in the story. Marlene is very confident and pleased with David’s progress. He will be retested in the morning. I take a very tired boy home. We sit and watch a video until it’s time to pick up his sister.
9:00 AM - David is ready for another day. He says he is still tired, but anxious to get started.
NOON – Upon entering the room David shows me an animal he created out of clay. He is quick to point to the symbols of male and female and how the word changes, depending on the sex of his creature – a combination of frog and turtle. Next to his creation are trigger words – a, an, the – with clay figures next to them. A boy pointing to the bird, an elephant are all visual 3D images locked in his long-term memory to understand and literally know what these words mean.
Marlene is impressed with his diligence. He can process up to four trigger words in an hour. He doesn’t take a break. As we talk David plays with an old fashioned top and some of the puzzles set out on the table. During lunch at home he explains how he comprehends and learns his trigger words, “I made by out of clay. Then I looked the word up in the dictionary for its meaning and made a clay figure to associate with it. I touch the word and associate it with something. Then I know it and I’ll know it forever.”
3:30 PM – When I came in David was making the word zero out of clay. Again, he had not taken a break. He showed me how he had modeled the numerals in clay, then the same number in balls of clay, and then written the number word in clay. He was excited to show his sister the latest kooshball (balls made from cut rubber bands) toss. He places two balls one in back of the other in the palm of his hand and gently tosses them to his sister. His brain must calculate the timing and distance, for one ball is coming before the other. The catcher needs to have both hands ready to catch the balls in sequence.
This activity helps his brain become more balanced. David stands on one foot while someone tosses one or two balls underhand to him. He then tries to catch it/them standing on the opposite foot. It is surprising to see the progress in just one day. He is so much stronger on his left foot then just a few hours ago.
9:00 AM – This morning he is dropped off by a neighbor so I can substitute. He is very tired even after sleeping more than nine hours, but excited to go.
NOON – David shows me his clay concept of self. He is interested in many things – I am shown a clay dog, airplane representing travel, a building for school, a basketball, an intriguing image of family, a box of sour candy and of course himself – intricately designed with fingers, rolled up sleeves, a smile on his face, pants and five times larger than anything he has heretofore created.
Marlene shows me his clay images of cause, before, after and his clay work for understanding the futuristic tense of shall and will. She is preparing him for more mathematical concepts. I am intrigued when I listen to her and relate her information to my son. We have for years had difficulty writing simple math problems. David never knew or remembered where to put the line under the number(s) to complete or continue the problem like
+36 I had never thought to equate the line under the last digit as meaning equal to. A simple concept I just assumed he knew. It’s moments like these I wonder who is really learning more – David or his mother?
3:30 PM – They spent most of the afternoon examining order and disorder. Order is indicated by proper place, position and condition. This works not only for numerals and sequencing, but also in life. Taking a cup from the cupboard is creating disorder. Filling it with juice, drinking it and leaving the cup on a table is disorder. Putting the dirty cup in the sink creates a place, having it upright with water in it puts it in the proper position, and leaving it in a dirty creates the condition, until it is taken, washed, dried and put away. She recommends taking a small space in his room – bookcase, dresser and taking everything off it, taking each piece and finding the right place, position and condition to create the proper order.
Another valuable lesson is to repeat the spell, say, reading exercise for 21 days to let the brain create a firm habit of reading left to right.
9:00 AM - David is excited to go; his smile is infectious.
NOON – No debriefing or showing me the morning work, since I will be back at 1:00 to learn what needs to continue at home. David keeps fluctuating back and forth if he should stay home, go back to school or go with me. By 1:00 he decides to attend the session with mom.
1:00 PM- Marlene first shows me a photo album showing David at work over the week. Each photo is captioned explaining the activity. David has been working on more concepts for math. Marlene shows me the techniques involved with clay to help him “see” what addition and subtraction are. We practice with clay balls. He hasn’t quite mastered the concepts of carry over or taking away so we will work more on that at home.
Marlene shows a manual of trigger words and gives me a hand out stipulating what needs to be done to help David understand the word and have a picture for it in his brain. He will need to do the spell a word, say the word and/or recognize the punctuation for 5 minutes a day for 21 days to make it a habit to read left to right.
She encourages us to continue with the kooshballs, especially when David becomes stressed over a problem. The simple practice of balancing on one foot and tossing the balls will help not only center him, elevate his energy, but also create a balance in his left/right brain thinking patterns.
We go over the Activity Level chart, the chart telling us how many days to do certain activities. She expects us to cover at least 4 trigger words a week in whatever manner we choose with the manual she has provided.
I asked what advice she could give me regarding multiplication and division. Suddenly we are making small balls and create a grid 10 x 10 with two long strips of clay off to the side. We have a small mound of clay that becomes our corner. She asks David to see the grid and place it in his memory. Next she asks him to find the product for 3 times 4. David takes one long piece of rope and places it between the third and fourth rows of the grid. He then takes the other and places it between the fourth and fifth rows. He slowly counts the number 12. He can now “see” the product. In other problems he begins to count by the grouping of the numbers – 3, 9, 12 etc…
Marlene shows us how the same answer can be worked backward – thus doing division. We still have a long way to go. She offers me some websites like Math-U-See has a place to get materials to help David understand the math concepts.
The Dyslexia Unlearned program was an expensive week creating a large dent in our budget. Was it worth it? Every penny!
Not only is it a joy to see the smile on my son’s face, but also to hear the contentment in his voice and to see his willingness to pick up textbooks, novels and even do math problems is priceless. He feels good about himself and hopeful towards the future. What parent doesn’t hope for those emotions?