My children have always done things in their own unique way. They defy the typical process and prefer to forge out on their own path. That is why when little struggles, or quirks appeared, we noticed, thought about them, followed up if necessary and often worked through things waiting to see what would come up next. This was especially true for learning. Since we home schooled, we could allow for differences (like learning to read while standing on your head on the couch, standing to print or deciding that math a grade level about where you were supposed to be was more interesting/appropriate for you). Small differences were able to be accommodated. Strategies were implemented without us always knowing why we were doing something, only knowing that it was successful.
AJ has held on to some things that were initially categorized as developmental. Letter and number reversals, mixing upper and lower case letters, trouble with sizing and spacing when writing have continued to make printing and writing hard for him and getting his great ideas down on paper is near impossible. Allow him to dictate to you and things change dramatically. He also has an amazing ability to hold math facts in his head but ask him to write down the problems on a sheet of paper and he will not end up with the correct answer and it will have taken him many times longer to arrive at that inaccurate number. He cannot line up his numbers, they are jumbled and lack any rows/columns. He would struggle, we would come up with strategies, he would move forward learning information as quickly as he could. He avoids writing things down at all costs. Typing is improving and he catches things in spell check. As his math gets more complex, he struggles more. Not with the concepts but with the ability to hold all the info in his head or find a way to keep the numbers lined up on the paper.
One day last week he was more tired than usual as he worked through his math lessons. He got a question wrong on test because he reversed his numbers (485 was 584). Then shortly after he received a 0 in a lesson on graphing. He was discouraged and frustrated. I was confused because I thought he understood. I looked at the test questions and they all had him starting at the origin and moving so many spaces left or right. I asked him what he thought we should review and what he thought was so tough about this assignment (it is important to keep in mind that he rarely gets anything wrong on these tests). He told me he didn't get it. He couldn't remember left from right. A-girl was nearby and piped up "Its easy. Hold your hands up and put your thumb out like this and your finger up. The one that looks like L is the one that is left!" That sent AJ deeper into his frustration and discouragement. He replied "Those both look the same to me!" That comment was like a slap in the face. Here is my almost 10 year old so frustrated that he doesn't know something he believes is so simple that even his little sister gets it. Again the questions were raised in my mind. Does he have difficulty learning in a typical manner? Are all of these little quirks rolling together and as the work gets harder are we seeing signs of a learning disability or are they nothing more than little quirks?
In talking with teachers and other people (some with children with dyslexia, some having it themselves) and reading on the internet, we are left with a lot more questions. It is becoming clearer that AJ is struggling in some areas of learning and excelling in others. We want to be able to give him the resources he needs to manage his learning related challenges and continue to enjoy learning and reach his potential. Trying to figure out the next step is a little mind boggling but talking to others who have been on this journey or are currently waiting for assessment for learning disabilities and listening to the stories (particularly those of adults who struggled in school and could directly relate to the areas of struggle AJ is experiencing) has given me much hope. He has coping strategies that I likely am not even aware of that have allowed him to achieve what he has to this point. He now needs tools to cope with his current challenges to alleviate his frustration and boost his self esteem. It will be a process that will take time. He and I talked about various ideas and suggestions to learn left/right and nothing seemed to be clicking. Since his name has an L in it, a teacher suggested writing his name in all upper case letters and then looking at the L, holding his hands up and seeing which one matched and knowing that was left. This seemed to make a lot of sense to AJ and it was like a light bulb went off in his head. He quickly looked down, picked up his right hand, rotated in til his palm was facing up and made an L with his two fingers. Grinning he announced "I get it! This is my left hand!" Clearly this strategy was not as simple to him so we will continue to work with it (palms down). He tends to be an auditory learner and picks things up quickly. AJ is an amazing kid and he has taught me a lot so far in our journey. I know I am about to embark on a new journey filled with lots of new knowledge and growth for me. Whether or not he ends up with a diagnosed learning disability or not, this journey will bring me to a better understanding of and appreciation for a very special little boy with a big desire to learn and an incredibly huge heart.