I was a child with learning differences. I learned to read late, and struggled with anything that required coordination such as penmanship, art, music and PE. As far as I know there was no recognition of learning differences at that time. However, the gifted education movement was the new big thing and beginning in third grade I was in a small group which received special attention, class content and enrichment. In high school, in the late 60s, my chemistry teacher was working on left brain right brain research. Diagnosing me as a right brain learner, he persuaded me to pursue some field that allowed for creativity. While that was an interesting concept, it was not a complete answer and did not help with my college experience, as he thought it would.
In the 80s, our first son, Jeffrey, was ill with allergies from the beginning. By age 2 we were seeking answers for the effects of allergies and related ear infections. He had problems with speech and hearing, and difficulty with motor coordination and behavior. In spite of that, he was clearly a gifted child. A counselor and speech therapist helped us see that the frustration of being so bright yet not able to express his thoughts was causing behavior problems. Although speech therapy was a huge help, and allergy treatments helped some, he was 12 before we found a significant answer to his problems, with sensory integration therapy. We learned that his struggles with sensory integration, along with allergy and undiagnosed hypoglycemia, resulted in meltdowns from system overloads. You just don’t give an allergic hypoglycemic child chocolate ice-cream on an empty stomach, but it took me a while to learn that! Jeffrey was a real go getter. By the time he was 16 he was working in his chosen profession and attending college. By 18 he was pursuing his own answers and solutions to his health problems. Jeffrey was a dream child to homeschool; he enthusiastically jumped in and learned whatever was available to learn. We happily devoured books, created projects, enjoyed field trips and overall had an idyllic homeschool experience.
The early thought in homeschooling was to not label a child: that it was better to not have a diagnosis. Jerry and I, having both been labeled gifted, were all for no labels, and that was even one of the reasons we chose home schooling. However, we knew our kids needed help and searched and searched for someone with answers.
Over 18 years, at varying times, we heard that Jeffrey either had or possibly had a number of problems including profound articulation delays, dysgraphia, dyslexia, vestibular processing disorder, ADHD, central auditory processing disorder, and so on. Most of these were vaguely expressed with little to no helps. Usually it went hand in hand with well, he does have a problem, but he is so bright he does not fit our parameters for helps. When we heard of sensory integration therapy it was still considered radical and an illegitimate answer, but it was life changing for all of us. It did not, however, solve all the problems.
My reason for sharing all this is that there are trends in education and psychology. Vocabulary changes, the disorder of the day changes, theories come and theories go, often only to come back again. I can see that at certain points had any one diagnosis been presented more concretely, it would have changed the way we dealt with our son. Yes, we recognized the struggles, and constantly worked with them, but I am glad we never had a concrete diagnosis that would have provided an excuse to say, oh well, he can’t help it. Certainly I think we need to find the best we can as we work with our child, but we must be careful of the trend bandwagon. We need answers that solve problems, not just label them or give band-aid coverage. Today there is an urgency to label and categorize children, and labels, even for the most challenged children, often come without instructions. As well, we have learned that answers are like layers in an onion, there may be multiple issues, with helps coming in bits, rather than wholes.
Our second son Robby was eventually diagnosed as dyslexic, with both visual and auditory processing problems, as well as some sensory integration dysfunction. He was ten and involved in sensory motor therapy before he really began to read. Because he had storage/retrieval problems, we had to start all over every time we took more than a week off school. It really did not make sense that a child who could add and subtract mentally at age 3, needed to review the process on paper up to age 12. At 15, he still needed most of his work aloud to him. Then about age 16 things started clicking. In the next ten years he went on to graduating with honors with a Master of Divinity degree. He was truly a late bloomer, but also had to work hard to overcome his struggles.
Because I put so much value in reading, because Jeff read early easily and voraciously, and because Rob did not read for so long, it was years before we realized Robby was gifted as well. The fact that he could multiply decimals in his head in second grade did not impress me, as he still could not name the ABCs. My comparing of my children, and the typically five years difference in their learning, despite only a two-year difference in their age, caused Robs to think he was dumb. That is one of my regrets. He was my difficult to teach child, because my style and his just did not match. My struggles to learn to be sequential enough to teach him was one of my greatest growth areas.
My experience in working with homeschooling families over the past twenty-five years tells me many of you are like me, that your own learning struggles, personal prejudice, and pressure from others often make homeschooling more difficult. A lack of clear answers to your children’s struggles multiplies that stress. Remember your child is a child first of all, God’s precious creation and special gift to you. My prayer is that you would find the encouragement you need to see God’s faithfulness in using homeschooling to teach and grow you and your children into what He wants you to be.