Monday, October 6, 2008

History of a Learning Disability - Part I.

Abbie was born the fourth of our five children, at home, surrounded by those who loved her. There were no interventions in her birth, and from start to finish it only lasted six hours. She was a plump, rosy-faced, dark-curly-haired baby. She cried with gusto right away. And never stopped.

Other than when she was eating or sleeping, she cried literally all the time. I remember one occasion having some people over to watch football and, as I walked around with Abbie in one arm trying to get food put out, she continued her incessant crying. I finally walked over to the couch and dropped her into the arms of a single guy friend of ours and walked out of the house. I wonder if that's why he didn't get married for a long time?

There was nothing physically wrong with her that we could figure out, and we chalked it up to colic, whatever that is.

She did finally outgrow the crying and became a happy little girl. She had a vivid imagination, and loved to be read to. She would sit for hours and let someone, anyone, read stories to her.

Eventually the time came to begin teaching her some phonics. I used the same books and methods I had used with the other three children, and she seemed to pick it up just fine. I could point to any letter and she could say the sound of it. She had some trouble with the difference between long and short vowels, but that's not unusual and didn't really concern me. I figured she would eventually "get" it. She learned to put two sounds together, to recognize digraphs, and caught on to the differences in vowel sounds.

By the time she was six, she had a good foundation in phonics and should have been reading primer-level books. She couldn't. Reading a story was the most painful thing for her, an episode of laboring over the sounding-out process. We figured she just wasn't "ready." We continued reading to her and didn't worry about it.

Then she broke her right arm. Mangled it, actually. She splintered one bone and broke the other just below the growth plate at the elbow. Her orthopaedic surgeon said that in his 40+ years of practice he had never seen a break like it. She was put back together with a pin from the elbow to the wrist and stayed in a cast for eight weeks. It was months before she regained normal use of that arm and hand, so in the meantime, we made her do things with her left - eat, brush her teeth, get dressed. We wanted her to be independent and learn to care for herself even if it was difficult. We didn't want her to be helpless.

In the meantime, writing activities were put on hold because she is right-handed, and we continued to teach math concepts and phonics skills. We tried different approaches, different curricula, anything to help her get past her sticking point and be able to read. She had no problem with the math concepts, but struggled with the bookwork.

During this time we noticed that she was very artistic. She and Leah would collaborate in story-writing. Leah would write the story and Abbie would draw the illustrations. We put them in a few drawing classes to encourage her obvious gift.

By the time she was eight and nine we were getting concerned about the lack of ability to read and were searching for answers. The internet was available at that time, and I spent hours reading, searching, asking other parents for ideas. When Abbie was nine she asked if she could take piano lessons, and we agreed. She seemed to do well for a few months, but finally one day her teacher took me aside and said, "I don't think Abbie is reading the notes. I think she is playing by ear." I thought about it for a while and realized that after every lesson, Abbie would call me over to the piano and say, "Mama, I can't figure this one out. Will you play it for me so I know how it goes?" And I did. And she learned to play every song by ear.

At this point I was dumbfounded. She couldn't read words. She couldn't read music. We had had her eyes checked and were told she had 20/20 vision.

Finally, some kind person on a home school website's discussion board said it sounded like she had a tracking problem. I had never heard of that and went searching. I found this site, which began the uncovering of the depth of Abbie's difficulties.

We found a developmental optometrist who diagnosed four different areas in which Abbie's eyes were deficient: tracking, eye teaming/convergence, visual discrimination, and visual memory. We would find out much later that there was more to it than this, but at least we had a starting place.

Abbie went through vision therapy for 18 weeks with Dr. Joel Zaba in Virginia Beach, VA. She took a few months off, then we went back for another six weeks of therapy and some training for me. We worked with her at home for a few more months and by that time, Abbie was reading. She wasn't reading at grade level, but she could get through a book and was feeling better about things. Dr. Zaba suggested we let it rest for a while and just let her read as she was willing, so we did. She began to read for pleasure and we thought we were in the clear.

Read the rest of the story in Part II, coming soon to theaters near you.

Be thankful ~


1 comment:

Becky said...

Thanks for sharing. I have two kiddos who have deslexia so its encouraging to read about someone else's journey on the road to reading, which is quite a challenge for some.