Wednesday, October 8, 2008

History of a learning disability - part 2

Fast forward eight years. Abbie is now eighteen years old. She has been homeschooled all her life. She remembers very little of what she reads, but remembers most of what she hears. I spend lots of time reading TO her in my effort to make sure she actually learns something.

I've been doing lots of research myself over the years. I label her a right-brained child. I decide she is a visual-spatial learner. She is a terrible speller. She learns best by doing and hearing. I try to tailor her education to take advantage of her strengths, but always that lack of comprehension is nagging me in the back of my mind.

We go for testing again when she turns 18 and is in her senior year of high school. The results show that she is again having trouble with tracking, convergence, visual discrimination and visual memory. Sometimes this happens, we are told. Some kids need refresher therapy to keep their skills current. She goes through vision therapy again. She graduates from high school and registers for her first semester at the community college.

She does fine in everything except Psychology, which requires the reading of a 500-page very technical, very dry textbook. Abbie is in tears after the first week. She assures us she is going to fail this class, can't remember anything she has read, can't even read more than 15 minutes without feeling exhausted.

I begin to read the book TO her, discussing each section as we go through it, and it helps. But I know I can't do this forever. At some point she will go away to college and I won't be there to help.

We make another appointment with the vision therapist for a third round of testing. The testing is different this time, more in-depth. They make some fascinating discoveries.

Her eyes are still not doing the things they are supposed to do, but more than that, she is not processing the information that's coming in through her eyes. It's not just an eye problem, but a neural, or brain, problem. Connections have not made that are supposed to be there. The official name is Visual Processing Disorder, one of the many sensory integration dysfunctions. The neural pathways that are supposed to exist between the two halves of the brain are disrupted, therefore the two halves of the brain perceive different things. And that's what this is all about - the perception of what she reads. Try to imagine taking in some information and one side of the brain perceives one thing while the other side perceives something different and the two sides are trying to justify them into one concept. Imagine how frustrating that would be! The doctor asked me at one point if Abbie was athletic. I laughed and said no. She has always joked about being uncoordinated. Turns out there's a good explanation for that.

Abbie can pick up a ball and throw it easily. But if you throw a ball TO her, the two sides of her brain perceive different images of the ball, can't justify where it is, and she misses it. When Abbie heard this she was excited and said, "That means it's not my fault!"

Now you're current - right where we are. The doctor has said this proposed therapy is much more intensive than anything Abbie has had before and that's why it will work better. I thanked her and left.

Ben and I are willing to spend any amount of money to get Abbie the help she needs, but there's been this little bit of hesitation. I just felt like we only had one person's opinion, and what if that one person was wrong? But I didn't know where else to turn.

Then I had a conversation with the vision therapist yesterday, whom I really like, and asked her, if this were her daughter, would she take her for more testing, just to be very sure of what the problem is before we start dumping thousands of dollars into therapy, and she said, "Absolutely." I was so glad to hear that. I spoke to my sister-in-law, a Montessori teacher with her Master's degree in special ed, and she recommended a place she has dealt with in Northern Virginia where we could get her tested, and where they offer many types of therapies if it turns out the vision therapy is not what she really needs.
If you met Abbie today you would never guess she has this learning disability. She is an intelligent, well-spoken, very social young lady. She loves the Lord and has great plans for her future.

So do we.

Be thankful ~



Becky said...

That was really encouraging. Thanks for sharing your journey!

chickadee@afamiliarpath said...

this has been very interesting to me because i've often wondered if my daughter has a learning disability or she's just lazy. i've never had her tested and it would be my opinion that if she has one, it's mild. she was very slow learning to read, until recently she constantly mixed up her b's,d's,p's and q's. and still wrote some numbers backwards. she's 8 so i didn't worry that much. i know some kids take longer with that kind of thing.