Here’s the deal, we just don’t know. We don’t know if Doodle has dyslexia or not, not just yet anyway…
The journey began a while ago. In fact, it began 4 years ago this month. Four years ago Doodle entered Kindergarten. She had the most loving, grandmotherly, sweetheart of a kindergarten teacher. A lady who knew how to sweetly guide children into the world of public education. A lady who taught with all heart and love. A lady who realized that kindergarten is not only a new journey for kiddos, but also for mamas. A lady who showed love first always. It started with her telling us that the Doodle struggled with reading, that she was a titch behind her peers.
It’s overwhelming to hear your kiddo is already, somehow, behind her peers in kindergarten. A grade level in which most kiddos start not knowing much and leave with a stronger foundation. For some kiddos kindergarten is their start to school entirely. Doodle, however, has been in an organized school environment since she was 2 months old; daycare and pre-k. It’s hard to hear that when kiddos are supposed to be learning their ABC’s, 123’s and colors, that somehow, it can already be determined that your kiddo is behind.
I did what any rational mama would do. I bawled. Bawled like a baby. Cried and cried. Not because struggles concern me, but rather, because as a mama, we don’t want our kids to have to face struggles (I know every struggle she’ll overcome will only add strength of character). I bawled like a baby and grieved the vision I had of what school would look and feel like for the Doodle. I cried about the fact that I didn’t want my kiddo to ever feel less than, not valuable and unworthy – I fully loaded the emotion spectrum of what she could potentially feel if she were struggling in a world where others didn’t. After I bawled like a baby I jumped into action. I called a dear friend who also happens to be an incredible teacher and we setup a sweet little tutoring schedule.
That was it, I thought I had solved the “problem”. You see, at the time she simply struggled with reading. And as a kindergartener it seemed a little tutoring and added love would go a long way. We stayed in touch with her teacher for the remainder of the school year, saw her reading improve and thought we were in the clear. She didn’t love reading because it was hard, but she loved being read to and reading with us.
Summer came. Celebrations occurred. Travel happened. And then August rolled around again. School started back up. First grade was a new and wonderful adventure. School seemed easier, confidence seemed to increase. All the things seemed to be pointing in the direction of progress and success. And then fall parent / teacher conferences rolled around again. The other shoe dropped. We were told she was still struggling and it was implied in very certain terms that she may have ADHD because she lacked focus and control during classroom hours. I appreciate what her teacher was trying to accomplish, but I did not appreciate the approach. Her first grade teacher shared a story of his own son and how his own son struggled and once his son was medicated for ADD, everything improved. If that’s not implying, I don’t know what is…
I understand the heart of a teacher; many friends are teachers, my sister is a teacher. I am grateful for all they do and all they face daily in helping us raise our babies into this world. Shoot, they spend equal waking time with our kids on a daily basis, I get it, her teachers comments were all based from a good place.
However, I was struck with fear and frustration. It hit me like a ton of bricks. We were no longer talking about a struggle to read, we were talking about a potential disorder. We weren’t just planning ways to help with reading and writing, it was suggested that we should medicate our daughter. My fear subsided as my kiddo grew because to know her is to know love, wit, kindness, a pure heart, joy and a little girl so well rounded she will move mountains one day. My fear also subsided because to know her is to know that she does not have a disorder. My frustration grew because to know her is know just how smart she is, how quick her brain moves, how emotionally intelligent she is and how much she struggles connecting the dots.
I asked her teacher what we can do to support her catching up in school, helping her to meet her peers where they are at, to focus on educational aspects at home to ensure she didn’t slip further and further behind and the response was focus on her focus. I struggle with this response to my core. It’s the assumption that her focus is causing her to be behind rather than realizing she is struggling and her struggles are causing her to lose focus. This chicken and egg debate began and that debate is still very much the center of the conversation today.
Based on our continued communication with her teacher, who met us where we were at, we took Doodle to a tutoring center in the spring of first grade. We had her assessed and started her on a tutoring regimen. In her initial assessment it was determined that her intelligence is beyond that of her grade level, her behavior is equal to her grade level and that she presents as mildly dyslexic. The struggle with dyslexia can present as ADHD in the classroom because children will entertain themselves if in fact they are struggling to understand. This felt honest, real and to my core, this made perfect sense. Doodle jumped into tutoring and we were excited by the prospect of second grade being easier for her and giving her the opportunity to catch up to her peers and grade level.
Second grade started with promise. 1. We knew her struggles and we had the chance to remain ahead of them and 2. We knew there was a teacher intervention plan in place that would allow her to start the year with added focus on her struggles. However, second grade didn’t really go as I thought it would. I should learn, expectations versus reality always equals frustration or disappointment.
Doodle’s struggles seemed to compound in second grade. Friendships had drama more than usual. Friendships weren’t of quality and there were a lot of struggles in developing good, sweet, innocent play between her and her peers. There were threats of ended friendship if Doodle didn’t buy chips, or play a certain game or behave in a certain manner. There were a lot of days my kiddo came home saying she didn’t have any friends. It seemed the scales were tipping and my fears were coming true. Her self esteem seemed to struggle alongside peers that were performing at higher levels. She came home often stating she wasn’t as smart as everyone else, that she felt dumb, that she didn’t participate in class because she didn’t want to get the answer wrong. My mama heart shattered. More bawling like a baby.
All the while we were in tutoring Tuesdays and Thursdays every week, even through summer and I was just waiting and praying for results that would start to impact her school environment. Second grade ended with some confidence. The start was rough, but as things do, it all worked out in the end. School was still a struggle, but her teachers and school had confidence in her moving on to third grade. She was behind, but still in grade level. She had navigated the tough friendships and settled into drama free friending. She figured out the system and performed as expected. We also knew that the transition from second to third grade was going to be a big one as we were transferring her to a new school and we were focusing on a new and different tutoring routine. We were going to spend the summer letting our kiddo be a kiddo and trying to close the gap in any way we could.
And herein lies the lesson; struggles follow you. Regardless of school, teacher, summers of being a kiddo, love, focus, etc. the root is Doodle struggles, she struggles to connect the dots and she works slow. The public school system is a beautiful system in which kiddos are able to go to school amongst peers and learn together as equals. That is a beautiful thing. However, the public school system is built for one type of learner and one style of teaching for the most part.
Within the first week of third grade we learned our Doodle was already struggling. At this point we have tried two very intensive tutoring programs and we have realized that without a proper medical diagnosis none of us will know how to support Doodle and her school cannot adapt to her needs. She struggles. She struggles to connect the dots. She works slow. If she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t work. In a school environment, that type of behavior can be disruptive. It can lead to a lack of focus. She is also a social butterfly that struggles to manage her time.
While these are issues that currently stack against her, her new school has been incredible. Her teacher is fully involved in the conversation. The school psychologist is in communication with me. A proper in-school intervention plan is already being discussed. And I as her mama am pursuing diagnosis. Her pediatrician and I spoke and he too is of the mindset that she is not impacted by ADHD, but that her struggle to read is impacting her focus.
Here we are. Scheduled to go through intensive testing to determine where Doodle’s struggles lie, what a proper diagnosis might be (if there is any at all) and the next best step to help her in school with learning. Our girl needs no help in the human being department; she is love, she is strength, she is wit, she it kindness. She is above all beautifully and wonderfully made and perfect just the way she is.
The goal now is to simply find the next data point in the chain of events for Doodle so that school can make sense. Our goal in life is to put a beautifully well rounded human being into the world to be a productive part of society. That looks and feels different for every single one of us. But, whatever we find out, whatever we learn next, it is just a data point. Added knowledge in the big picture of life. It is the data point that may stop the bawling like a baby for this mama, that will stop the kiddo from feeling less smart and help both of us build tools and grow confidence in this journey we call life.
If you are struggling with an unknown, with a gut feeling, with a kiddo behind in school – know you are not alone. If you have fears and frustrations, know you are not alone. If you love all your kiddos teachers and appreciate their role, but also have a gut instinct that is in conflict or opposing their message, know you are not alone. Know that those teachers simply have your kiddos best interest at heart, but you are your kiddos mama and you know best, advocate for what you instinctively know. Find your tribe; your people to share with, your pediatrician to trust, a child educational psychologist, a tutor, your husbands shoulder to cry on, and know you are not alone.
Also, and most importantly, know that this too shall pass. Today’s heartache and yesterdays struggle are not the whole story of your childs life. Your child, just like mine, is a whole and wonderful human being with many parts and pieces that make them who they are. Any struggle and any potential diagnosis is just a data point in a long list of data points that make up your human being. You are not alone. They are not alone. Together, we can face anything and fill the world with more love.
Together we will create more love and acceptance for all.