This blog chronicles the miracles and struggles of our daughters, Emily and Olivia. Emily was born 15 weeks early and had many complications, but she continues to amaze us! Olivia, born in China with heart complications, is also beating the odds. She joined her forever family (us!) when she was four years old and has been doing wonderfully! UPDATE: We started homeschooling August 2009 :)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Needing some encouragement today

On most days I can see the glass half full, but today I'm having a hard time.  Emily IS a walking, talking miracle who will be turning nine years old this week, and we have had so many blessings,  but my heart still occasionally aches for her and I can't help but wonder what her life might have been like if only she hadn't been born so early.  We've long been aware that she has academic struggles, but this morning when I opened her 2nd grade OLSAT test results I was overcome with sadness and fear.  I didn't expect the results to be great--and they weren't--but what got to me was the test description: "OLSAT measures those reasoning skills that are related to school-learning ability."  If this is really an accurate predictor of her ability to learn in school then we're going to have a very tough row to hoe.  

School will be her/our life for the next several years and I am concerned about the impact of it all.  Will her strengths be able to sustain her or will her struggles crush her?  She can read and write and recite her addition facts, has a great vocabulary (tested at 4th or 5th grade?) and is a great speller with good attention to (visual) detail...but math concepts, reasoning, and listening comprehension are such a struggle.  Also, as she gets older, school will be less visual and hands on and more oral.  As a child with an auditory processing disorder, keeping up with and comprehending lectures is probably going to be very challenging.  

Academic abilities shouldn't define the value of a person, but when life revolves around academics/school, it's probably difficult to define yourself in any other way.  We are always looking for other areas where she can be successful to help bolster her spirits and at this point she does not seem to be crushed or defeated.  I hope she never does, but it'll be hard to make it through unscathed.  I guess none of us do make it unscathed and that's part of building character...  My hope and prayer is that she/we won't let test scores define her or crush her.  She may never test well and I hope we can all learn how to live with that without it crushing us.  At this age, she is unaware of the test scores, so right now it's more MY problem, but she won't be shielded from harsh realities forever.

I need to go birthday shopping for her today, but my heart is heavy.  I could really use some encouragement from anyone who's survived the struggle of learning disabilities. 


Jill and Robert said...

Karyn, Hugs to you.... It's hard dealing with school issues. Maybe the testing isn't showing her true abilities..... Some kids just aren't good testers... Youre doing the best thing for her by being actively involved in her education, being her advocate and being proud of her. Keep looking at the accomplishments that she achives and keep your expectations in check. That is the hardest thing for me. We always want our kids to do the best and sometimes we expect more of them than they are capable of..... Get into party mode and go shopping, it always cheers me up ;) Jill

Anonymous said...

I am in the process of adopting a child from China, and so I follow a few blogs as a way to prepare for the transition of bringing an older child into our family. Your blog has been a source of reassurance, and so, I stop back from time to time to see how everyone is doing, and have enjoyed your thoughtful comments immensely . However, today I had to respond to this post.

As it turns out, I was born prematurely, too. I’m now 40 yo, so at the time, there was little in terms of helping children. It was advised, at the time, that my parents place me in an institution because it was thought that I would never be able to function, and my parents already had a large family, and so, the medical professionals thought that I would be too much of a strain.

Skipping a head a few decades, I can tell you that when you describe your daughter’s struggles, I see much of myself in your observations. At the time, there wasn't a diagnosis for why I didn't like to wear socks or shoes (still don't, and when I must, I wear my socks inside out so the little nub of fabric doesn't irritate me), why I couldn't eat certain foods based on texture alone, or why loud noises were so difficult to process. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that every school year my mother instructed the teacher that no matter what, I wasn’t to be yelled at in the classroom, as when such things happened, I used to shut down, unable to process all of the emotions and input, but nonetheless, was overly sensitive to the ‘tone’ of the encounter.

Over the years, I was bounced between gifted classes and classes for the academically challenged. The schools had a difficult time discerning whether I could or could not perform at grade level, and the standardized tests tended differ widely depending on the source. And, despite performing well in certain areas, there were certain tasks that I had a great deal of difficulty. Because my strengths and weaknesses often fell within a single domain, it confused the educators no end. For example, despite being a strong reader, I couldn’t spell at all— and I certainly couldn’t sound out words or identify syllables, and I had difficulty listening and following directions. Moreover, it was difficult for my parents because outside of class, I was reading books much beyond my grade level, playing chess even though I was having trouble with basic math, etc. Skipping ahead, I will tell you that I am now a tenured research professor at a major state university. It took a long time before I settled down in school—and it got worse before it got better.

If you can, try this little experiment. First, have someone pose a word for you to spell, something that would take a minute or two for you to think about it before automatically spelling it. Then, determine whether or not you see the word in your mind’s eye as you try to spell it. Do the same to your husband, and see if he can picture the word he is trying to spell. And then, try it with Emily. My guess is, while you may “see” the word in your mind’s eye, Emily does not. This makes following along much more difficult; it also changes the way in which you read. (Honestly, when I found out that most people actually see the letters in their minds eye, my brain almost exploded! I couldn’t believe it! ) For me, it means I think completely conceptually, and then, I have to translate my thoughts to words. I’ll try to give an example. In my research, I work with advanced statistical techniques. Rather than see the numbers in my mind, I see an illustration of the output of the algorithm. When I manipulate a variable (i.e., a number), I see the illustration shift, rather than the actual number change. Thus, while others discuss specific coefficients, I see a more general concept of what happens, and until I can picture something like this, I do not understand the formula that defines it. So, in a sense, I figure it out backwards, by first grasping the concept and then dissecting the formula until I can fit each piece into the larger conceptualization. Likewise, when listening to conversations, I sometimes see pictures of the words that people use, but this can break down. For example, if someone instructs “go across the room” I might momentarily see a picture of a cross, and thus, I miss the directional instruction.

For children who conceptualize what they hear or read (e.g., if Emily is comfortable skipping over words she doesn’t know because she can figure out the overall meaning, or if she finishes the sentences she’s reading to figure out whether the unknown word is important to what she knows, she may be a conceptual thinker) the school environment can be difficult, especially now with the growing emphasis on testing, because the message sent is “you’re not doing the task correctly” and that’s a tough message to hear over and over, especially, when you can’t quite figure out exactly what you should do differently. Things that helped me were: opportunities to engage in activities that I really enjoyed, like music lessons and swimming; opportunities to engage in intellectually rewarding activities without fear of being labeled incompetent, such as creative writing, logical games, etc., and importantly, the opportunity to see the link of these activities back to the school task that was giving trouble (word problems in math). Hands on learning is a must, as well as an opportunity to translate the conceptual ideas in ways that make them accessible to others. And mostly, having one place, where it was okay to be a bit different. Somehow, I knew my parents thought me capable, and that went a long way in cushioning the doubts that surfaced from the outside world. And, in the long run, it has been a gift of sorts. I picture research ideas rapidly and engage ideas thoroughly before I can even articulate them; likewise, I am comfortable in examining information from multiple perspectives. Because nothing has ever been black-or-white in terms of communicating, I’m very comfortable with gray areas, and I tend to make quick linkages between seemingly diverse areas of thought—a plus in designing research studies. But it took a long time before I found a place where my talents were recognized, and it might take a little longer for your daughter as well. The world seeks uniformity, but it needs variety.

I don’t know if any of this rambling is useful, but I hope so.

Colleen said...

{{{{{{{{{{{{hug}}}}}}}}}}}}} I feel for you and I completely understand your pain. We have so many issues with Livi. Our Kenny is dyslexic. He had a lot of help through out school. Kenny found theater and soared. I was never so proud when Kenny was elected to give the commencement speech at graduation. Your Emily will find her place in this world {{{{hug}}}}}