Not a Thinking Disability

Not so long ago I worried Annie would never, ever love to read the way I love to read. I have adored reading books for as long as I can remember. My absolute adoration of books fed my desire to be a writer. Although sometimes I ponder what my life would have been like if I had become a doctor, this other life path idea didn’t crop up until I became a health writer. Then I realized the teacher who begged me to take anatomy—telling me I would love it, please sign on—was totally right. If I had listened to him, would I have chased a different dream down?

I doubt it. This love affair between me and writing is strong, so strong. My friend Astrid would say writing is my soul path. I think of how the word genius began: that a genius lived in your studio walls and sometimes she poured inspiration into you. Great thoughts came not from the writer, but from the genius who occasionally visited you. Sometimes when I write, I feel that pouring in of genius from who knows where. Astrid believes writing is like meditating for me. I use this as a viable excuse to meditate less. And if this divine writing helps another human being, well, maybe it’s OK to be a writer instead of a life-saving, money-making doctor.

But I digress. Isn’t the point of blog-writing to digress? I was talking about the girl. When I first realized she had a learning disability, I met a woman who has two dyslexic children. She told me she grieves over the idea that her severely dyslexic daughter will never know the joy of reading. I said, “That may not be true. She may read for pleasure one day.”

“You may be right. I never think like that,” she said.

But as I began to see how difficult it was for Annie to learn how to read, I began to worry in a similar fashion. I heard Annie loud and clear when she became annoyed with family reading time. “This is so boring,” she would say. “Why do you all like reading so much? It’s boring!”

I thought what if my girl never feels that reading glow? I said to myself what if her brain is hopelessly stuck or when she finally learns to read, this task is still too difficult for her to take any pleasure in it?

But it’s two years later now. No, she is not a girl who reads easily. But she has figured out that it’s OK to just read the pictures. Her teachers have told her that this is a way to read books. Annie can sit for at least thirty minutes and read this way. Better yet, she has started reading words all by herself with no prodding from others. During the last two weeks, I have heard her try to read action words out loud from her beloved comic books: “P..f…ooo…f! Pf..00f! Pfoof!”

Sometimes she found Chris or me to ask if she read one of these action words correctly. And Chris and I glowed every time she asked one of these questions. Two years of hard work and finally there is some excellent outcome. It’s hard not to cry tears of joy as I write this.

And I think about a Huffington Post Education blog I read yesterday. Educator Kyle Redford writes “Dyslexia is a mechanical disability, not a thinking disability.” I think I was worried about Annie’s thinking ability. But the girl constantly amazes me with her smarts. Reading that her disorder is a mechanical disability tells me all we need are the right tools to help the girl climb through the disability part of dyslexia.

Redford writes about her own dyslexic son, how he is a master at using big words. My Annie is the same. She blows my socks off almost every single day. Last night she pretended to be Obama, and Obama kept saying everything was “splendid.” At dinner a few days ago, Annie asked me not to “antagonize” her.

This girl thinks and thinks and thinks. This mom is glad that her preconceived notions are falling by the wayside, one by one by one.

7 thoughts on “Not a Thinking Disability

  1. Thank you for sharing your stories and the incredible journey you have been through with your daughter. I have met many families that have had similar experiences and not two are exactly the same. I would love to share with you how I was able to help these families through cognitive skills training. I would be happy to share more about how we’ve been able to transform lives. Please call or contact me, I would love to help. To every child’s success,
    Cornell Atwater

  2. I found your blog through ParentMap – and love the way you have with words. It is more that writing.
    I am also thankful for your honest expressions on your struggles with your daughter’s learning disabilities. I have shared your link with our parents, as many of our (Academy Schools) students are on the autism spectrum or have learning disabilities, and our parents need to hear your message of hope.
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks! Our girl is doing great right now, reading at grade level and blossoming, but I will tuck your advice under my hat, and keep it in mind. Thanks for reading!

    2. Thanks for your comment! I am glad that you have shared your link, and hope it is helpful for the parents at your school.

  3. I came across one of your pieces today on Parentmap and was really moved by how eloquently you expressed your grief about your daughter’s learning disabilities, as well as your joy at her special abilities. I have a “special” son who is nearly 11, so your words resonated deeply. I don’t know much about your daughter’s disabilities, only that they sound similar to my son’s, so I will share a piece of our journey in the hope that it may help you in your journey. My son did not fit neatly into any category, but he was clearly showing behavioral differences from his preschool classmates, and was finally labeled as having PDD-NOS and sensory processing disorder (SPD) when he was 5. He was placed into special education kindergarten, and we started OT for his SPD and fine motor delays. He made progress, but struggled to learn to read, and by 2nd grade was still barely reading. He also couldn’t write a sentence without extreme effort. I am a scientist, and spent my evenings reading about SPD and learning disabilities trying to understand how best to help him. I felt strongly that there was an underlying medical reason for his neurologic dysfunction because he had been such a normal, healthy baby. I read about parents of children on the autism spectrum seeing progress when they removed gluten and casein from their children’s diets, and decided to try this. It was nothing short of a miracle for my son. Within a week we saw significant changes in his sensory issues, and his reading took off. Within a few months he was reading voraciously, and tested at a 7th grade level (in 2nd grade). They re- evaluated him and he lost his special ed services at that time because he tested as “highly gifted”. He still struggles with some sensory issues and is still catching up on his social skills, but he is a different child. He is learning a musical instrument and working towards his black belt in martial arts, and is already talking about wanting to go to college. I do not want to give you false hope, but I think it is worth a try for anyone who has a child with neurologic issues. Our entire family ended up going gluten-free to support my son, and it has improved our health dramatically, but that is another story. Please feel free to email me. I also live in the Seattle area and there are excellent resources here.

  4. Nancy, What a beautiful blog and thread of responses. I, too, found your blog via Parentmap and find your voice a much needed and appreciated beacon where there is a dearth of support and guidance for children like ours. I would love to read your memoir… even your short essays/posts resonate with and heal some of my aching for my 6 year old daughter who sounds very much like Annie. I left my job last fall as a family doctor to become her “unpaid tutoring assistant” and have not regretted it, but find myself wanting to write and share as well. Any chance I can pick your brain about tutors and schools? I think we will give the gluten/casein free diet a serious try. Thanks, Rose. It’ll be tough… love bread and cheese, but why not?

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I hope to find a publisher for the memoir soon. Yes, you can pick my brain about schools and tutors. I will email you.

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