The seven years of education between Kindergarten and Year 6 are fundamental to a person’s life. For Cathy, these precious years for her boy were not only wasted, but also made his learning challenges much worse.
Sam (now 18) started Kindergarten having met all the milestones for preschool and he didn’t seem to have any trouble learning to read in Years 1 and 2. It wasn’t until Year 3 Sam’s challenges became more obvious. He began to avoid school work, his unfinished tasks increased and his homework was taking longer to do.
Cathy took Sam to a speech pathologist, but getting him to do 30 minutes of homework for speech would take an hour and a half. Then there was still the work from school to do on top of that.
So much time was lost in explaining concepts. Breaking it down further so Sam could understand what to do, but also to reassure him he was capable.
An assessment showed markers for autism and attention issues, but not enough for a diagnosis. This meant Sam was “unfunded” and not entitled to learning support, a gap many children seem to be in. To compensate, his teacher agreed to sit him in the front of the class and he would be given written instructions wherever possible.
A target for bullies
Cathy thought this was reasonable, however, Sam now says this strategy not only made him a target for bullies, they also fuelled the belief he was “hopeless” and “dumb”.
“If it’s not picked up before or during the process
of learning to read, the problems multiply…”
The trouble was Sam had an underlying auditory processing disorder, not revealed in the assessment. It’s not a hearing problem, but a problem with the way the brain makes sense of language. If it’s not picked up before or during the process of learning to read, the problems begin to multiply with each year as the social and academic demands increase. Sadly, this is something Cathy only knows in hindsight.
Cathy soon realised that like other children with learning challenges, Sam was now at risk of depression, anxiety, delinquency, youth unemployment, homelessness and detention.
The fear drove her through sleepless nights of research about other therapies, protocols, methods and nutrition. She saw naturopaths, integrative medicine doctors and tried behavioural optometry as well as integrating his primitive reflexes, all with varying degrees of improvement. But none of these provided the breakthrough that Cathy was hoping for.
And in the meantime, Sam was just becoming more resentful at all the extra work she was making him do.
The Brain That Changes Itself
When Cathy finally picked up the book, The Brain That Changes Itself by Dr Norman Doidge, she was tired, desperate and stressed. Still, she felt hopeful about the latest brain research. The book detailed many examples of people who, with considerable effort, were defying their diagnoses and living a life beyond the constraints they would have otherwise expected.
There was a chapter on auditory processing, defining exactly what it was and the history of research that went into a fascinating program Fast ForWord. This program exercised and strengthened neural pathways in the brain for stronger memory, attention and sequencing ability.
Read more in Part 2 ....