No matter how much information is out there and no matter how available it is to us via the internet, there is still great value in learning from each other’s life experiences. My intention with this article is to be a voice and a guide to parents who are struggling with the same issues as I did in the past. I hope that my experience can provide some insight on the struggles of having a child with learning differences go through the public education system in America. I hope you can be assured that you are not alone.
Let me start by saying I have two perfectly healthy children. When my daughter was in the fifth grade, my son began his school journey at the Kindergarten level at the same public elementary school that my daughter was going to. Up until this moment, there were no significant differences between my children. The only thing that I can think of is that my daughter went to preschool from the age of two onwards, and my son was not able to attend any pre-k schooling because of financial and timing reasons.
My daughter has always loved school. All we heard from her teachers was how great she was and how happy they were to have her in their classes. She never had any trouble keeping up with her classwork and was always able to finish her homework on her own. But everything was completely different with my son. He simply hated school even back in kindergarten when the schoolwork is supposed to be interactive and fun for the children. He cried every single morning, begging me to let him stay home from school that day and complained about how difficult his homework assignments were.
During the first months of kindergarten, we assumed that he was struggling with going to school because he was not used to being away from home and away from his mom. However, this painful experience lasted for the entire year. In first grade, his teachers kept mentioning that he was falling behind in reading and writing. We, my husband and I, thought this was due to the disadvantages of him not attending pre-K like his peers had. During this time, we were also making lengthy travels to our home country over the summer months where no one spoke English. His first grade teacher used to work with him after school for an hour once a week to give him extra practice, but he was always overwhelmed by the level of difficulty.
This continued on into the second grade and by the third grade, I realized that he was still writing his letters backwards. Even in writing his own name, he would switch the “d” at the end of his name to a “b”. I talked with his teachers at every opportunity, sometimes on a daily basis, and they kept assuring me that everything was fine. It was not abnormal, apparently, at his age for him to reverse his letters while writing. His teachers wanted me to believe that he would soon grow out of it by the end of third grade like all of the other students with the same problems had and that he would eventually overcome his difficulties with spelling, reading and writing. As smart as my child is, for me this was a clear indication of a problem that I believed the teachers didn’t want to point out.
During my son’s third grade year, one of the parents that I had been confiding in introduced me to a woman at the school’s fair who, after I had described the things that my son was struggling with in school, told me about the phenomenon known as dyslexia. When she first told me about dyslexia, it did not ring any bells for me. I had never heard that word before and I was not aware of what it entailed. She wrote the word “dyslexia” on a small post it note and also mentioned a special school for gifted and dyslexic children that was located in my city.
I went home with that paper and began doing my research. I read a lot of different articles and noticed that some of the symptoms my son had matched the general symptoms of dyslexia. I tried to tell my husband that there was something promising in this research, but he kept dismissing my son’s behavior on account of him being a silly little boy who likes to play instead of doing homework.
The woman who introduced me to the concept of dyslexia had also mentioned that I might find it helpful to take my son to the doctor just in case he was also struggling with ADD or ADHD and by doing so the school might take my complaints more seriously. As was recommended, I first took my son to his pediatrician who examined him for ADD, sent forms to his teachers at school to be filled out about his behavior, and also recommended me to a behavioral psychologist. The psychologist declared that my son did not have ADD or ADHD, but that he might have a mild problem with attention and focusing. I believe that all children struggle with attention to some degree, and since my child did not have ADD or ADHD, I was back to square one.
I struggled with my son’s teachers for four years, trying to get information and suggestions that might improve his reading skills outside of school because clearly their help was neither enough nor working. His teachers kept stringing me along reassuring me that he still had time to grow out of whatever was going on. In the meantime, despite their lack of guidance, I took my son to many different tutoring centers including the one his doctor had recommended to me for extra help. I tried everything in my power to find suitable learning environments for him. I also had him work with a private tutor who specializes in literacy services.
When I finally realized that I still needed guidance in helping my child and that speaking with the teachers was leading me nowhere, I went to the principal of my son’s school instead. It was incredibly frustrating to me that the educators who were supposed to be able to perceive learning difficulties/disabilities sooner than anyone else were almost blatantly ignoring the problem which left me feeling greatly disappointed and betrayed by the school and the teachers. They had lost my trust. The responsibility to get my son help fell completely onto my shoulders and one of the biggest obstacles I faced was getting the teachers to admit that a problem actually existed.
I learned later from a variety of sources that teachers and schools are reluctant to admit that a child has a learning disability until they absolutely cannot ignore it any longer because once the school declares that the student is in need of additional resources, they are required by state law to provide those resources until the child no longer needs them. As we all know, these kinds of services cost the state time and money, hence the reluctance on everyone’s part to help out sooner. If, as a parent, I hadn’t done my job in being persistent about getting my son the help he needed, I really believe that the Department of Education (DOE) would have continued to allow my son to suffer academically as well as psychologically and they would have graduated him as a sub-par student.
Living in the United States made me partially blind to the fact that the education system here has its own flaws. Most people believe that America has one of the best education systems in the whole world. Yet in contrast to this idea, we even endured Furlough Fridays in my state which cut school down to 4 days per week in order to minimize state costs. I had never heard of Furlough Fridays before, and it further opened my eyes to how the education system had completely failed me at a time when I needed it’s support the most for my son. The school that I had envisioned as the best elementary school in the entire state for my daughter became a place of decievement for my son. Parents need to be very persuasive and demanding in this country when it comes to their children’s education which I was not taught early enough and so I suffered the consequences. But this story does not end here. I will continue describing how my struggles continued and finally ended in part two of this article.
“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” George Herbert
To be continued..
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