Friday, March 18, 2011

Fighting to Succeed

 IMG_0006I don’t think it’s any secret (or surprise) that I think my son is super smart and talented. He amazes me all the time! He is one of the most inquisitive , sensitive and determined children I’ve ever met. The fact that he is halfway through a first grade curriculum in what should be his Kindergarten year speaks for itself.

But it doesn’t come easily for him.

He struggles and he fights to learn, because he wants to. He wants to be smart, he wants to read, he wants to understand and so he fights.

It breaks my heart to see that he does struggle and I wish he didn’t have to – but I love the fact that he is willing and able to and that he continues to press on.

As a mother and a teacher I try to be very careful to encourage, push and motivate without belittling, discouraging or expecting too much (or too little). It isn’t easy for either one of us, but it is the beauty of homeschooling!!

Treyton has always struggled in speech and language development. He has never allowed the speech delay to affect him much – he talks more than most kids I know, he loves to tell stories and he is very perseverant in trying to get you to understand what he is saying without getting easily frustrated. He continues to improve and while I don’t always notice it, my family has mentioned several times the improvements that they’ve seen.

His language development has not progressed as easily. I think I am partially to blame in that I didn’t focus on his language development much in the early years because I was so caught up in helping him improve his speech. I wouldn’t correct misusage or incorrect wording if I knew what he was saying, because I was just happy to be able to understand what it was that he was saying.

But this has lead to a weakness.

A few months ago (several months ago now, I guess) Treyton told Tim and I he didn’t want to go to Sunday School anymore. We said that was fine and he started going to “big church” with us. After a few weeks of this we started asking more questions.

He told us that the teacher uses “big words” and that he can’t understand what she is saying and so he gets confused. But when he looks at the other kids, they aren’t confused. This happens during craft time – before he had just told me that he didn’t like doing the crafts, which was odd because crafts are his favorite at home – but it was beginning to make sense.  IMG_0135

During our Co-op Treyton participates in three different classes (that I do not teach) but I am usually assisting in at least one of them. This has been extremely helpful to me in watching how he interacts in a classroom setting, what he is able to understand, pick-up and retain. He has done well…. but it is difficult for him.

Treyton is unable to take-in and understand (even in context)very many “large” words, or words he’s not used to hearing – words like: compare, categorize, maintain, assist, penalty (these are all examples of words in the last week I’ve seen or heard of him struggling with). Oftentimes Treyton won’t tell you right away that he doesn’t understand what you said. He doesn’t like to draw attention to the fact that he doesn’t know – so he waits. He will usually ask me later what a word means, but Treyton is not very good at remembering words (or names). So he usually can’t remember the word that he wanted to ask me about. He may try to explain it to me or say it to me but it’s pretty difficult to figure it out, later.

For me, I can usually tell when I’ve lost him or if he’s trying to figure something out – so I’ll slow down trying to give his mind a chance to figure out the word in context, or even the chance to ask me about it. If he doesn’t – I’ll ask him about it. I’ll say “Do you understand what I’m saying?” “Do you know what ____ means?” But when he’s in a classroom setting or if he’s with someone who is not as aware of his mannerisms, it goes unnoticed, which usually leads to his frustration and lack of involvement.

Though his language understanding (and usage) is the one which affects his schooling the most, is is not the only language deficiency he struggles with. He rarely uses the proper tense when speaking – he’ll say “I be doing ____” instead of “I am doing ____”. He struggles to recall a word and will often resort to describing it instead of actually remembering it, this typically flusters him which causes him to stumble over his words. He doesn’t stutter, but he will often repeat words (as fillers) as he tries to remember a word or figure out how to describe it. And all of this is in addition to the fact that his speech and pronunciation, although it is improving, it is not always the easiest to understand.

The last few weeks all of this has been heavy on my heart as I felt like I was watching Treyton fall further and further behind, without really having a “plan” on how to help him improve.

Up until now, I have been using our literature and read-alouds as our primary resource. When I read, if I come across a word that I think Treyton may not understand I’ll read it and add in my own definition, as though it were a part of the story. For example today I was reading something that had the word “assist” in it – let’s say the sentence was “Sally went to assist Paul” I would read it to say something like “Sally went to assist (which means help) Paul”. This allows Treyton to keep up with the story without stopping the flow of reading. This has helped him a lot in being able to follow-along and remember our read-alouds.

This week Tim and I (mostly Tim) have been much more deliberate in introducing and repeatedly using words that Treyton shows confusion with. For example, earlier this week in conversation the word “categorize” came up. After Tim explained what it meant he had Treyton repeat the word. Later that day something else came up and instead of using a different word Tim used categorize instead and asked Treyton “What does categorize mean?” and Treyton remembered!! IMG_0007

We’re starting slow and trying not to expect too much – Treyton could never remember the word on his own (he’s bad with recalling words and names) but by continually using a word he’s working on and asking him to tell us the meaning, I’m confident that he will eventually be able to add it into his working vocabulary.

Another thing that I remembered this week was Ruth Beechick’s book “Language and Thinking for Young Children”. In her book Ruth has lots of fun ideas (mostly games) to develop language and thinking skills. I feel encouraged again, with actual ideas to implement in our school life.

I praise God for the opportunity to work along side Treyton and that God has equipped him with the personality that he would need to overcome the challenge placed before him. I am also thankful that He has blessed me with such an amazing husband and Treyton with such an amazing father, because Tim has been a great sounding board (for me) and involved in doing his part in working with Treyton to improve his language. It’s encouraging to have a partner to work alongside of to give me new ides, keep me accountable and encourage me as a parent and a teacher and he offers the same for Treyton.

As a  teacher this has been hard, it’s hard to know what methods to use, how hard to push, how involved I should be or not be. It’s hard to know what is the right way, or even if there is a right way. I’ve had to change my approach to different subjects and topics to suit Treyton, I’ve had to get to know him and watch him, I’ve had to follow his lead and let some of my preconceived (selfish) ideas go and allow his to blossom. I’ve learned so much from him.

  As a mother, this has been hard. Pumpkin Patch This is a part of his journey that I wish I could have prevented. There’s so much I wish I could change. It’s tough. I wish I didn’t have to see his precious face when he’s embarrassed or confused by something he doesn’t understand. I wish I didn’t have to stand by and let him try to explain (on his own) to someone else what he is trying to say, when I already know what he’s saying. I wish that he talked about it more – he’s talked about it some, but usually in passing  and he doesn’t like to talk about it for very long – he knows, I know and he knows I know, and that’s enough for him. I try to let it be enough for me too.

I read something in a book (completely unrelated to teaching, parenting or language) that I felt encouraged by, and I plan to hold on to throughout this journey.

“Every person is either a victim of his situation or a victor over it. Everybody has challenges, weaknesses, failings, infirmities and problems. The question is whether or not you can overcome them. The great ones fight through...” ~John Macarthur~


Faith said...

Your post was one of the most honest and touching I have ever read. One of our children stuggles with social issues and it breaks my heart too when I see her embarrassed, frustrated, and in tears. Thank you for sharing.

Mandy said...

What a beautiful post! You are so blessed to have such a determined son. I am praying for that for my daughter. She gets easily frustrated and doesn't want to try if she doesn't know how to do it. It breaks my heart. It is hard being the teacher and the mommy...but it is so worth it! Thanks for sharing!

Kim said...

This post really touched me. We are struggling with Sam too - emotional rather than learning issues - but your post put everything we are going through into words so well. It is so hard to be the mom and the teacher, and yet I feel incredibly blessed to have that chance. I don't believe anyone else could love him enough to take the time to work through it. Thank you.

Rikki Kreger said...

I totally get so much of what you are feeling. I'm dealing with my 7 year old's visual learning disabilities (and will be homeschooling next year)and it's heartbreaking to see him struggle and feel embarrassed about something he can't control. No, it's not the worst thing in the world but we're Moms!! You aren't alone!!