Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chronicle of a Struggling Learner

On Monday I begin my new life as a homeschooling mom. It's a midstream change, kind of sudden but really not.

Our journey with my third child began years ago, probably around his second grade year (now seventh) when I noted that he tended to skip small words while reading aloud. Eventually this translated to poor performance on tests although I didn't make the connection until much later. Teachers warned me not to compare his performance with my first two, both top of class students.

I guess I kept hoping that he would catch up but each year was the same drill. He started strong then crashed by about week seven or eight, usually around the time of the first comprehensive test. On a hunch, in fifth grade, I read aloud some questions from his "F" test. To my surprise, he answered me with 100% accuracy. The kid was not dumb.

Fortunately for us, we have an optometrist in our town who tests for a peculiar learning issue. As my son subjected himself to a battery of "games," I was shocked to discover how much he missed as I followed along. In a nutshell, he has a visual processing deficit, not correctable by lenses. It goes much deeper in the heart of his brain.

I discovered that my son had adapted to this, unconsciously, by suppressing the receiving center for one of his eyes. Think about reading a book with the type on the two facing pages overlapping, even slightly. This is how text looked to him. The brain is a marvelous organ and it does what it needs to do when taxed. Unfortunately, in this case, it staunched the dimension needed for information to make sense. Without a 3D understanding of text, my son struggled to get visual pictures, to organize information, to memorize--in short, to learn.

Schools have tests for struggling learners but they do not test for this particular issue and, I found, do not really consider this a "valid" problem. It doesn't fit their box and they do not have specialists or programs ready to address this deficit. Coupled with the fact that my son could, with my help, make passing grades, he never failed enough to get the magical IEP (nor did we particularly want him attached to the little pink folder).

I kept hoping that he would manage his learning using the sills he learned in an intensive vision therapy program (our dime) while I alerted teachers to particular hot spots. It hasn't worked despite my hopes and intentions. Denial is bliss, but truth is probably better though inconvenient.

How can I expect a teacher to buffet my son amidst a class of 35 students, some with severe learning disabilities and specifically outlined objectives, as well as top learners who regularly linger on the edge of boredom in the classroom? I couldn't do it. Teachers must teach to the masses and pray that their teaching method reaches the majority of students.

What tipped the scale for me was the dull undercurrent of concern about my son's social life. He has never been in "trouble" but he continues to disturb me with his friend choices and I see behaviors that, while small and maybe even age-appropriate (by the world standards), will grow in the wrong direction. For a kid who suffers in the classroom, there is a great desire to succeed at something. That something isn't always positive. Kids like this are grouped with underachievers, not the best friend pool. They lag schoolmates in understanding so they embellish, pose as characters to garner approval, or simply lie. It creates a disturbing social cycle.

I finally had to ask. Why am I sending my son to school for seven hours each day? He isn't gaining more than a fraction of an academic year each year and he isn't thriving socially. Why is he there? It's sobering to admit, but the honest truth is that he was there for me, to give me a break. I have subjected him to a daylong babysitter--and not really a good one.

So here we are. Starting homeschool. After the initial resistance to the idea, my son is excited and relieved that he is about to be released from the grind of school. We anticipate spending the first several weeks in a detox process, if you will, learning what learning can be outside the confines of a traditional environment.

My challenge will be to teach a right brain child from my own left and linear brain.

This will be a journey, thus the name of my blog. Regel, in Hebrew, means journey. Also tied to the word is enduring. I know I can do this but I also know my own limitations and tendencies. I figure that if I am going to suffer, I should share my suffering with others. After all, what is suffering for but that others can learn?

I hope my friends will follow my journey, but more than that, I pray that other parents with struggling learners will find their way here and that I can encourage them through our experiences, successes, failures, blunders, and joys. Our kids our worth it. My son is worth it. This could possibly be the greatest investment I have ever made as a parent.

As I read just this morning, "Rest assured that God never leaves a willing servant with nothing to do. The alternate opportunity He has in mind will yield bigger fruit, more satisfaction, and greater glory for Him." Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT

Blessings. CS


  1. Great writing, Carrie. I pray God blesses you on your homeschool regal. (Love the word!)You ARE very clever.:-)

  2. Carrie:

    This is an intriguing story. I hope that you will continue to share your adventures in homeschooling. I would like to read how this works out for you and your son. Homeschooling is an adjustment for both the student and the teacher. The learning curve is steep. I wish you both the best of luck. Keep writing!


  3. You will certainly have an incredible journey! So glad you've decided to take it!

    p.s. i have a child with autism who also has Ocular Motor Dysfunction, and I use this resource for eye-exercises since we've opted not to do the vision therapy:

  4. Hi:
    We started this week in Talca, Chile. We are one of the 60 odd families in the WHOLE country!. My daugther it's the same age than your son. She asked me if she could write to your son. I told her yes BUT you must agree first and through this blog first (mum filter). It's that ok for you? She is learning to speak and write english.

    Our blog is, if he wants to, your son could write a few spanish words for her there

  5. Melissa- Thanks for the resource.
    Maulina- Wow! a pioneer, for sure. It would be great to have the kids write to each other. Not totally sure how they would write through the blog. You can email me and we can figure it out.