by Carolyn Forte
More than thirty years ago, as a college student, I worked as an aide at Carl Harvey School for the Orthopedically Handicapped in Orange County, California. During two summers working with severely handicapped children, I learned that “experts” can help and advise, but that the very best results come only with the efforts of dedicated parents who are willing to spend limitless hours with their handicapped children. Conversely, I learned that any parent who gives a school or therapist all the responsibility for educating or training his child, physically or mentally, had better seriously lower his expectations. One would think that this kind of information was a given for most homeschoolers. Most of us are homeschooling at least in part because we have rejected the “experts” and decided that we can do a better job ourselves. It is clear, however, to anyone watching the homeschool movement today that the “experts” are moving back in and therein lies the danger.
The definitions and types of handicaps have exploded since the 1960’s. Where once we thought of a child who was deaf, blind or physically handicapped as disabled, we now have a disability to fit almost everyone and a host of “experts” to match. This proliferation of “disabilities” makes a handsome addition to the GNP but it leaves a lot of pain and agony in its wake.
As a classroom teacher in the 1970’s, I had my share of so called “learning disabled” children in my classes. Without exception, the district offered no real help except to recommend drugs. As far as I could see, drugs only created “drugged” children, more manageable, but heartbreaking. Most of these were just normal children in an inappropriate setting. I don’t know what causes all the “LD’s” we are seeing today. It could be allergies, vaccines, TV, preschool, food additives, sugar, drugs, a lack of fresh air and appropriate exercise, a whole host of unknowns, or maybe it is a mirage—a phantom “ailment” that would be instantly cured by removing the irritant, school. At any rate, after 14 years of homeschooling and seven years as an ISP principal, I am more sure than ever that the best help for children with problems will come from a devoted, caring parent. Experts may be cautiously consulted, but seldom will real help of any kind, come from a public school district. More and more, I fear that many “experts” are our children’s worst enemies. Experts give us schedules of normalcy. Every child is measured from birth against a series of “norms”. From birth weight to the SAT, our children are compared to a phantom “norm” child. Those who come tolerably close are left alone. Those who stray too far from the mid line are tested, remediated, medicated and otherwise labeled. Parents become frantic in their search for a “cure” for what may be entirely within the normal range for the human race, although outside the limits set be the “experts”.
When children fail to fit within the limits set by the educational elite, they are called “learning disables” or LD. There is now a whole fistful of noxious LD labels one or more of which can be easily attached to any child (or adult) at all. Americans have so eagerly embraced learning disabilities that they will happily attach them to luminaries like Edison and Einstein. Instead of tossing the labels as clearly absurd, they validate them!
It took a long time and much study and observation, but I have become convinced that in the vast majority of cases, “learning disabilities” are more in the mind of the beholder than in the object of the labeling. If we could relax and allow our children to grow naturally instead of worrying about meeting the artificial timelines made up in ivory towers by people who have a great deal to gain by creating disabilities to treat, we could save ourselves and our children a great deal of pain, anxiety and frustration.
Our younger daughter was hyperactive from conception. She thumped and bumped around inside me, pushing and shoving and generally being a pain in the ribs. I should have known she would be a black belt one day. As an infant she was everywhere at once. Changing her was like trying to diaper a tornado. She climbed everything in sight. Restaurants were out of the question. In the market, I resorted to tying her shoelaces together to keep her in the seat of the cart. At 13 months, she was climbing eight-foot playground ladders and going down the slides alone. I stood underneath but she never fell. She was strong and coordinated but she had to move all the time. I tried to give her plenty of opportunity to work off her overabundance of energy; we even had a little indoor gym and Wonder Horse. Tylene seldom rode sitting; she preferred to bounce for all she was worth while standing in the saddle. Being thrown occasionally didn’t bother her a bit.
Tylene could sing a tune perfectly in pitch when she was less than a year old. At three, she started playing the piano by ear, plunking out difficult, chromatic melodies she had heard me sing. She was clearly gifted musically and athletically, but at six, she could not identify most letters or associate any of them with sounds. If she had been tested by an “expert”, I am certain we would have been informed that she had “auditory processing” problems and couldn’t learn to read using phonics. In light of her musical processing skills, it would be absurd to say there was something wring with the way her brain “processed” sounds, however, it is entirely reasonable to say that she had not matured sufficiently to easily connect sounds and symbols on a printed page. Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore call the point at which children are mature enough to easily learn to read the Integrated Maturity Level or IML. Tylene had clearly not reached her IML at six.
Tylene also had difficulty in other academic areas. She could not copy from a board or a book. She could trace large letters but her hand-eye coordination was poor. When she could not learn to read we did not worry at first. Her eyesight was normal, her hearing was obviously exceptional. Her older sister hadn’t read until age eight, so we waited for the time when Tylene would start to catch on. However, at eight, she still didn’t know the whole alphabet, let alone associate the letters with sounds. She really wanted to read, and was embarrassed that she could not. No matter what we did, she just could not get it. We prayed, researched, read, asked friends with late bloomers for their ideas, all seemingly to no avail.
Reading wasn’t the only difficult subject. Tylene was slow to grasp math too. Writing was torture and memorizing scripture was very difficult for her. This last was especially hard on her as she loved her AWANA club and was determined to complete every handbook, which meant a lot of Bible memorization. Did I mention she was also strong willed. When she decided to do something, nothing would deter her. She would work and work and work through tears, frustration and anger to achieve her goal. However, even this level of determination did not help her to read – yet.
Eventually, I learned that she seemed to be on an academic schedule that was approximately two years behind her older sister (putting her four years behind Tenaya academically). If Tenaya learned it at eight, Tylene learned it at about age ten. She finally began reading when she was 10 ½. It happened literally overnight, just as Dr. Moore had predicted. We had no formal reading program; she had just been slowly learning the letter sounds. She could recognize the sounds by age 10, but connecting them into words did not happen until suddenly one day she discovered that she could do it. From then on, she simply read until she caught up with her “grade level” when she was about 16. Writing was also slow to come. She did not write much at all until she was 13. Her manuscript was pretty sloppy until at 15 she decided to take up calligraphy. She never did adopt cursive writing for more than her signature, but her manuscript is beautiful and easy to read.
Where is this very late bloomer now? At age 20, she is enjoying her second year of college with a major in Theology. The girl with poor hand-eye coordination as a child is now an accomplished artist who creates beautiful, handmade greeting cards for her friends and family. She has been a karate instructor since achieving her black belt at 16. She is an intern for a church high school youth group. Does it matter now, that she didn’t read until she was ten? Should I have taken her to a host of experts to treat her for dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, ODD, etc.? I thank God I did not. I knew that she would be crippled by the system so I kept her out of it. We were blessed to meet Dr. and Mrs. Moore early in our homeschooling adventure. Dr. Moore said that things would “click” normally between the ages of 8 and 12. Tylene was ahead of schedule at 10 1/12!
The “experts” with their rigid schedules, forcing everyone to read and count at six, have a great scheme going. By cutting as much as six years out of the normal developmental schedule, they guarantee a livelihood for themselves and physical, psychological, and financial pain for thousands of families. If you want to know what orthodox research has to say about learning and child development, read Better Late than Early or School Can Wait by Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore.
As a former classroom teacher, it was not easy for me to accept the concepts of delayed academics and “unschooling” in general. I had to learn over time that the rigid learning schedules I was used to were unnecessary and perhaps even harmful. Both of our daughters learned to read easily (without any formal lessons or methods) once they were ready. So, what did we do all those years before Tylene could read at her “grade level”? We lived life and played games. I read to them for hours. The girls were always with me, helping great-grandma, running errands for grandma, working at church and inventing businesses. They were involved in an integrated (handicapped and non-handicapped) vaulting club. Vaulting is the art and sport of gymnastics on horseback. Although the girls really enjoyed it as a sport, I saw a form of therapy for Tylene. It used up a lot of energy and developed large motor coordination, which is a precursor to fine motor coordination. As a bonus, we all got to work with children and adults with a variety of handicaps, from cerebral palsy to autism.
Tylene loved all sports and at 13 took up karate. This brought on a huge burst in academic progress. Her writing and spelling improved dramatically and her ability to concentrate on school subjects gradually improved. By the time she was sixteen, she began spending five to eight hours a day at her dojo, preparing for her black belt test. After earning her black belt, she became an instructor, continuing to learn more as she shared her expertise with younger students. At 17, her reading ability had improved to the point where she could handle a full academic load with very little help. It was about this time that we discovered that Tylene had a problem with her eye muscles, which prevented her from sustaining a focus. Although she has 20/15 vision, she now uses reading glasses, which reduce the strain of reading. When she has a break in her school schedule, she will get vision therapy, which should help even more.
We are thankful that we had the opportunity to homeschool and keep Tylene away from all the experts. She had a friend at church who had similar problems except that the friend, whom I will call Ann, went to school. Ann was run through a series of special ed classes and various private therapies. She still cannot read although in all other respects, she is a normal teenager with normal intelligence. She was crippled by the system and now refuses to even attempt to read. Ann is one of thousands who have been irreparably damaged by “experts” who have convinced parents that they know best.
Children have unique developmental schedules. They all follow a rough pattern, but the timetables vary tremendously. Learning styles make a difference too but even they can be overrated. I have heard the most absurd statements from people who have had their children tested by experts. Many mothers have told me that their children have “auditory processing” problems and so cannot learn phonics. Think about that statement. If a child cannot hear (process) sounds, he cannot learn to talk normally, yet so-called experts are claiming that children with normal speech and hearing cannot “process” sounds. Tylene would have been given that diagnosis before she learned to read. She could not “process” the letter sounds into words until she was 10 1/12. Phonics was not the problem. The reading method was not the problem. In fact, there was really no problem except in the minds of those who expect all six year olds to read. When Tylene was mature enough to read, she read. When she was ready to write, she developed beautiful, easy to read manuscript. She does not use cursive except for her signature, the only time cursive is every needed today.
Understanding learning styles and learning “differences” is important. Taking a child’s strengths and weaknesses into account is vital. You can use the strong areas to pull along the weaker ones. Tylene’s strengths in music and sports helped her in learning other subjects. By leaning on her strengths, we could work on her weaknesses. She could learn anything in a snap that was put to music, so we looked for audiotapes. Even though her hand-eye coordination was poor, she was very creative and loved arts and crafts. Therefore, I encouraged all types of art and sent her to classes, which she loved. Eventually, her abilities caught up with her creativity. She won numerous blue ribbons at the LA County Fair for her creations. She became an accomplished artist and calligrapher.
I know how hard it is to wait for things to happen. It is so tempting to try to “keep up” with that mythical “grade level”. Don’t misunderstand; Tenaya and Tylene were constantly learning. We did not sit back, stare at the tube and wait until everything “clicked”. We were busy with all kinds of projects from making and selling Easter candy to volunteering in a Christian bookstore. All the projects became our “curriculum”. It was relatively easy to adapt our projects to the girls’ needs and use them to learn important skills. What we did seldom looked like “school” but was very productive in the long run.
A child who learns on a different schedule requires a lot of patience and creativity. Knowing other parents in the same situation helps a lot. I was blessed to know several other homeschool moms with late learners. We shared ideas at our weekly park days and field trips. Our children therefore knew other “late learners” and knew that they were no the only children who did not read early. I cannot imagine going through it totally alone. This is why I consider park days so important both for children and for parents. We all need to know that others share similar problems. We need to pass around ideas and give each other support. There are many kinds of learning “differences” with many different causes and outcomes. The more we share, research and reassure each other the better off all our children will be and the less likely we will be tempted to entrust our children to “experts”.
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