"Did you say, 'incapable of learning’?” I queried. "Yes," she responded, and proceeded to mouth paragraphs of jargon, which my confused brain was powerless to comprehend let alone translate.
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 unable to understand 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.” 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 started 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, married, 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?"
Joan Plowright as Eva Krichinsky Avalon 1990
written and directed by Barry Levinson
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 effect 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 used to confuse some words, using "tell" instead of "ask," and "never" instead of "ever," and had trouble tying his shoes, but though hard work on his part, these issues have been resolved.
Math is problematic still because of difficulty in seeing the numbers in columns and graph paper is used to help his eyes see the columns of numbers.
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 have been taught to help Chris learn, and that is the key word! Learn! Yes, he does learn!
Learning Differences - Not Learning Disabilities
You are a beautiful cookie jar, full of the most delectable cookies.
We just need to learn how to get the lid off to enjoy them!
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, a classical Gibson and a mandolin. He plays excellently after a mere eight months of lessons. Chris wants a harp guitar. I told him, “when our ship comes in, honey.”
Chris is an excellent swimmer, gardener, is becoming an accomplished cook and is working with me on a cookbook.
When 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."
In addition, this was the year Chris’ second book, a memoir titled Just Chris was accepted by a traditional publishing house.
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.
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.
Chris now attends college majoring in photography. He is an A and B student. We recently received word that he is a finalist in a photography contest for college students.
Guess that tight ol’ lid on the cookie jar finally came off! Oh, and he can tie his shoes.
A small note: it was during first grade when we noticed that Chris had trouble reading. He was way behind most of his other classmates. I had volunteered to tutor the children and it soon became clear that there was an issue. Mark saved the day with an idea so simple, yet so genius, that I have to share. He turned on the captioning on the TV. That’s it. That’s all he did, and Chris was reading within a few weeks.
To learn more about Christopher and our family, take a look at my latest book, Swinging Bridge.