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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Your Son is Incapable of Learning

I sat for a minute, looking at the counselor who had requested the meeting, trying to decide if I had heard her correctly. I felt my left hand press against my pounding heart.

"Did you say, 'incapable of learning?'" I queried. "Yes," she responded, and proceeded to mouth paragraphs of jargon, which my confused brain was incapable of comprehending let alone translating.
Stupefied, near panic, I fought for coherent thought. Slowly, however, a heat began to rise from my trip-hammering heart and to suffuse my face. Rage replaced terror.

"Incapable of learning?" I cried! "Incapable?" I repeated loudly. "How can you say that? How can you doom a child of three years of age to that kind of diagnosis? He taught himself the alphabet at two! How can you say that?" I raged.

I have to admit that there were times when I believed I was either incapable of understanding what was going on in my son's little head or reluctant to admit that there was a problem, but this I knew: Chris could learn. He had indeed taught himself the alphabet. I had purchased a wooden alphabet puzzle in lower case letters. Christopher would bring them up to me, one-by-one, and I would say, for instance, "a - apple." It didn't take me long to realize that he was actually learning the alphabet.

Then, I purchased an additional puzzle with upper case letters. Sure enough, within a week, Chris was able to bring me the a or the d or the m, but I would designate the big A or the little c and he was correct every time.

Of course, I realize that I was teaching him. But, the "game" was initiated by Chris, and it demonstrated a desire on his part to know, a wish to learn. This initiation on his part was indeed a form of self-teaching. Chris made the move. Chris wanted to know.

Incapable of learning! As my mother used to say, "bull hockey!" I thought of my friend Sue and her daughter Gretchen. Born with Williams Syndrome, Gretchen was an adorable, pixyish young woman with a sweetness of soul that made her a joy to know. At birth, Sue was told that Gretchen would never be able to dress, feed, or take care of herself. Sue had refused to believe it, and proceeded to patiently teach her daughter as she would any child. The end result was a charming young woman, who admittedly was mentally challenged, but was happy, had friends, and held down a full time job, far from the diagnosis her mother was given at the time of Gretchen's birth.

"Where are the people who know where the people are?"2

I removed Chris from the school and entered him into a church-run pre-school; Chris began to show progress. It was in Pre-Kindergarten that an inability to focus caused his teachers to mention the possibility of Central Auditory Processing Disorder. CAPD affects the ability to process what you hear. I set up an appointment immediately to have him tested. The results were negative. Chris passed with flying colors.

Next came testing for Attention Deficit Disorder. Although diagnosed with ADD, none of the medications, covering everything from Adderall to Welbuterin, had any affect whatsoever.

More years passed and still we tried to understand Chris' particular issues. Aspberger's was mentioned as well as epilepsy. We didn't know where to turn until, finally, an educator suggested we take Chris to a neurological psychologist. Chris was diagnosed with ADD, Dysgraphia, Working Memory Deficit and Executive Function Deficit.

Dysgraphia is a neurological disorder, which interferes with the fine motor skills needed in the physical act of writing. For instance, when Chris puts pen or pencil to paper, some letters will "float": they will be too high or too low, and his penmanship is generally too large or too small, and very difficult to read. In addition, because it is so difficult, Chris cannot write his thoughts with as much fluidity as he can when dictating or typing.

He also confuses some words, using "tell" instead of "ask," and "never" instead of "ever," and has trouble tying his shoes.

Math is problematic because of difficulty in seeing the numbers in columns and graph paper is used.
Working Memory Deficit affects short-term memory, and Executive Function Deficit can manifest in problems with test taking.

At last, we had a diagnosis. It was not easy to accept, but coping strategies could be taught to help Chris learn, and that was the key word! Learn! Yes, he would learn!

Learning Differences - Not Learning Disabilities

Christopher has worked hard to overcome his learning differences - yes, differences. It isn't that he is not able to learn, he simply learns differently.

We have worked with our son by being active in his school work, at school and at home. When necessary, tutors are hired.

Chris plays guitar and is now the proud owner of an acoustic, six string electric and a bass guitar. He plays excellently after a mere eight months of lessons. He has asked for a mandolin and wants to take piano lessons as well.

Chris is an excellent swimmer, gardener, is becoming an accomplished cook and is working with me on a cookbook.

This year, Chris finished the ninth grade with glowing reports! Not one teacher referenced focusing problems. A master speller and a budding essayist and poet, Chris has received excellent grades in his written assignments, which are typed. The following is from his teacher Megan Mosholder:
"Chris, you are receiving the passing grade of Exceeds Expectations. Wow, Chris! Excellent job on this class! I am so glad you were able to figure out what works best for you because you have really excelled. I think that you did a great job on your sketchbook and I think the drawings you created in class were also really good. You have shown to me how well you can do when you put your mind to it. Oh, and you also did an excellent job on those reading assignments. Nice work, kid! I very much hope that I have the opportunity to work with you next year."

As I finish this article, I am awaiting an email from his publisher as to when his second book will be released. Yes, my boy who was diagnosed as "incapable of learning" is a twice traditionally published author.

I think back and can't help but send out a thank you prayer to my friend Sue, whose example helped me to help my son. She taught me to listen to my heart, to believe in my son and his abilities, and to trust in his desire to learn and to grow.

Update 2014

Since first writing this article, my son has accomplished many things.  He is now a sought after bass player and has been since age 16. He plays nine instruments.  He graduated high school and is now attending Columbus State.

In 2011 Chris was hired as a sushi chef.  Trained by a master, he is highly respected both for his artistry and his work ethic.

His memoir Just Chris, a companion book to my Son of My Soul - The Adoption of Christopher, has been a best seller on Amazon many times.  

Debra Shiveley Welch - author, Son of My Soul - The Adoption of Christopher

[1] Excerpts from Son of My Soul - the Adoption of Christopher, Debra Shiveley Welch, Saga Books
[2] Joan Plowright as Eva Krichinsky Avalon 1990, written and directed by Barry Levinson

Warning: All poems/articles/works by the author are protected by copyright laws against the risk of plagiarism. To safeguard the author, a regular search of the Internet is provided to ensure this law has not been broken! Any Website/Blog/Forum which displays Debra's work MUST have received her permission to do so. (Permission to adopt statement given by its creator, Debbie Stevens.)
Excerpt from Son of My Soul -The Adoption of Christopher ISBN: 1894936930 Debra Shiveley Welch, Saga Books ©2007

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