Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gut Feelings and Crooked Paths

Have you ever just known something with clarity in your heart and soul? In our daily life circumstances we often call it a hunch. In the business world we might call it a gut feeling. As a mother, we call it mother's intuition. And as a Christian we know that it is a nudging from the Holy Spirit.

Seven years ago I experienced a nudging that felt like this:

Something was just not quite right. Something was wrong. My perfect and beautiful daughter wasn’t learning at the same pace that her older brother had and I was concerned. I reasoned with myself that he was quite a bright child, very verbal from an early age with a memory like an elephant. So maybe this was “normal”? But my mind would not let my heart settle on that. Something was just not quite right.

My sister, a kindergarten teacher of 10 years, administered a battery of little “tests” each time we went out to eat. What color is this, Sara Ashley? How many gummy bears do you see? And if we take one away, how many are left? Sometimes Sara Ashley would answer correctly, sometimes she would stare blankly at her aunt like she didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, and sometimes she would simply be too busy with other things to care. So…where did this leave me?

My inquisitive, very active and not so verbal child was different; different from her brother, different from most of her peers, different from me. But was she really that different or was I just a mom with an overactive imagination looking for problems that weren’t really there? I shared my thoughts and fears with my husband, Rob. A free spirit himself, he saw no flaws in his daughter’s development and found her to be just like him. So I tried not to worry.

In hindsight, my first recommendation to anyone who wonders these questions is to trust your maternal instincts. Even if you are wrong, what could you possibly lose by exploring the issue (except money)? And it might actually be a tremendous help to your child. I can certainly say this has been the case for our daughter.

Maybe you have had your own "knowing" moments as a mother. Most of us have in one way or another. From instictively knowing what your baby likes and dislikes before they can even speak to knowing that something is wrong, a mother's intuition is a powerful thing and I recommend not ignoring it.

In the case of learning disabilities, I strongly encourage anyone who has a gut feeling that something is wrong with their child to explore the issue. A good starting point is to consult with your child's pediatrician and teachers.

It has been proven time and time again that early intervention is the key to success for kids with LDs, yet many continue to think that their child is just a "late bloomer" or will eventually "grow out of it." Sadly, during this valuable waiting time, the child is falling further and further behind and he or she often comes to the point of feeling hopeless and stupid, when really they just need help to figure out how their brain works best.   
University of Houston neuropsychologist Jack Fletcher heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities and says,

"Even though we talk constantly about the importance of early intervention, that message just continues to get lost and diluted in its translation. Every piece of research I know says that kids who are not reading at grade level by the end of first grade are at very high risk for a learning disability."

With my daughter, even her teachers didn't realize that there was an issue until it became a very obvious problem for her academically. Thankfully, by that time, my husband and I had already taken the steps necessary to start getting her help.

So how do you know if your child might need help? Here are some red flags that might indicate a learning disability in children five and under: 
  • Delayed speech
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Difficulty learning to read
  • Trouble learning numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, or colors and shapes
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Poor grasp of a crayon or pen
  • Difficulty with buttoning, zipping, and tying
  • Family history of learning disabiilities
Being a parent is hard but rewarding work. Our children depend on us to be their protectors and advocates in a world that is increasingly dangerous and oblivious to the needs of others. Early intervention is key in helping our kids with learning disabilities. This early intervention can help prevent years of playing catch up, suffering from frustration, low self-esteem and even depression.

Diagnosis and knowledge are the answers. If you can name it, you can address it. And shame should never even enter the picture. Children with learning disabilities usually have normal or above normal intelligence, but they have trouble expressing their knowledge. An LD child may know just what he wants to accomplish- to say or write or do- but getting there isn't a straight path.

Just remember, crooked paths are ok! Although they are often the road less taken, they can bring their own unexpected gifts of beautiful scenery along the way. But first you must take the steps to embark on the journey!

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