Adventures in Learning Disabilities

My little gymnast has some pretty severe learning differences. This past summer I brought her to have educational testing to get a clear diagnosis for all the symptoms I’ve observed. I needed the diagnosis to proceed with appropriate educational instruction and appropriate achievement markers. She was diagnosed with a language processing disorder consistent with Auditory Processing Disorder, ADHD, dyslexia and dyscalculia (a difficulty learning math).

She has always struggled to learn and hold on to new information. At the beginning of third grade she was still at a first grade instructional level. At the end of that school year she was reading at about a mid-first grade level. She was reading short vowel words with some fluency and was struggling with vowel-consonant-e words (ex: like, cave). She was having a very difficult time remembering sight words that were meant for first graders to learn. It was taking us months to get through a list of 14 words. In contrast when I started our little Drama Queen on the same lists the first day of first grade she had all eleven lists of 14 words each done in the first week.

Math has also been a real struggle for her. We are now on our third first grade curriculum and we barely got through more than the first 9 weeks mark. I would teach her a concept and after 30 minutes she would vaguely understand and could complete problems. The next day she could not do the same problems and didn’t remember what we talked about the day before. It was taking us 2-3 days to get through a lesson that was meant to take 1 day. Learning was so hard for her. She was still trying to understand the concept of ones, tens and hundreds and still didn’t completely understand how to do addition.

My little student was using so much energy for every subject that we did. She also didn’t have a desire to learn or a curiosity about the world around her. She rarely asked me questions about things and didn’t always understand my answer. After I would explain something to her she would ask me a follow-up question that didn’t follow logically.

The last 4 years have been filled with reading books on APD and dyslexia, researching programs online, trying new program after new program and waiting patiently for her to finally understand.

She was also struggling outside of learning. I noticed around age seven that she would describe common things to me instead of using the word. One day she was trying to tell me about the thing at the park that you climb up the stairs and go down (and she shows me with her hands “like this”). I asked if she was talking about a slide. Her face lit up, “Yes!” We had been to the park every other Friday for 2 years, it seemed odd to me that she didn’t know that word. I noticed it a lot after that. At the age of eight, I was asking her what pictures of some basic shapes were called, (a rectangle, square, circle and triangle). When I pointed to the first one, a rectangle, she had to think very long and hard and finally came up with triangle. When I pointed to the triangle she realized she mixed up the names and corrected herself. When she was 3 and I would ask her what color things were and no matter what I pointed to she would say pink. At the time I thought she was just being stubborn and didn’t want to perform for me. I now realize that she couldn’t recall the names of the colors.

Conversations have always been hard for her as well. There were so many times I would tell her something and she would look at me with a blank stare. When she was a baby she almost always had this blank stare. The sweet old people at the grocery store would do their best to make her laugh and she just sat with a stoic look. Her gymnastic’s coach quickly became aware of the blank stare. I now realize that she really did have no clue what was said. She has revealed to me lately that she didn’t know when she was suppose to respond.

I had her hearing checked last summer and it was excellent. There were so many times she would try to tell me what she thought I had explained and I would have to say, “Well, not quite” and then proceed to explain it another way, and another way and another way. She constantly asked if things I said were true. She did not engage in conversations with the girls at the gym, at Church or at the park. Her conversations were very short, just answering their question the best she could. When we went to the park she would hang around me or only play with her siblings. She was very fearful of talking to the girls and making friends. Last year when she was selling chocoloate bars she made the Drama Queen speak for her. She didn’t have confidence in conversation skills.

One day when we were at the doctor’s office I noticed a flyer for LearningRx. It said that it was cognitive brain training not tutoring. They said they got to the root of the problem with learning differences. I took the flyer home with me along with the half price testing coupon and wanted to think about that. Shortly after that a Speech Pathologist friend, who also has children with learning disabilities, told me the director had come to talk to the parents at her coop about the program. She was really impressed. So I decided it was worth at least getting the testing done to just see where we were. At this point I hadn’t had any testing done at all. It was so expensive everywhere that I called. I had been looking at programs and testing for learning disabilities for 3 years. There wasn’t a program that I felt was right for us.

So I called our local center and one of the owners called me back and talked to me for the longest time. I made an appointment for the testing and was on pins and needles waiting. The testing they perform is from the Woodcock Johnson III Test of Cognitive Abilities, Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement or Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT-4). When we met with the director I was not a bit surprised by the results. In fact it indicated she was struggling in every aspect that I was actually seeing in her everyday life. She was essentially functioning with the cognitive skills of a 6.5 year old. My mind instantly went back in time. If she has been functioning 2.5 years below her age all this time no wonder at the age of 5 (brain age of 2.5) she was struggling to learn her letter sounds. Some of the things they tested for were short term memory, long term memory, working memory, auditory processing speed, visual processing speed, executive processing speed, logic and reasoning and math fluency. She scored from between 6 months behind to 3.5 years behind. She only scored at or above her age for visual processing, spelling of sounds and sound blending. This also didn’t surprise me. She’s a master of puzzles, having completed her first 100 piece puzzle at the age of 3. She learned to swim and do cartwheels at 3 by watching older children. She has always been able to spell words before she could read them. In kindergarten she could spell the word me, but when I asked her to read it back to me (after having just said it), she had no clue and would guess a totally different word, even if I sounded it out for her. It was suggested that she needed 24 weeks of training consisting of their two programs ThinkRx and ReadRx.

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