I tried to keep this short, but I’m condensing seven years into a blog post. I share all of this to offer hope. If you know of someone who this has affected, please share this with them.
When our youngest, Taylor, turned 3 we began the journey to reading just as we had with her older sister. She already knew all her letters and sounds, so it was time to start the blending process. Going back to the good old Bob books, we spent many nights working on putting together those three letter words. However, this time around, it didn’t seem to be going as smoothly as it had before. Taylor had a hard time sitting still for even a few minutes. She was looking everywhere and at everything but the words. Then when she did sound out the word, she couldn’t always put it together. She would often use the last sound in the word first and/or completely reverse the word. At times she also said the beginning sound of the next word, instead of any of the sounds in the word she had just sounded out.
It was one of those things that as a teacher I noticed, but as a teacher I knew that every child was different. I just thought to myself this was going to take a little more work than the first time around. After about a year of going through this process, she was putting three letter words together, but we noticed that she was guessing at everything. She HATED decoding. HATED it. If she could get you to say the word, she would memorize it instead.
At one point, Kyle and I began to ask ourselves if she didn’t have dyslexia of some form because of what she was doing with words when she read.
Taylor went to kindergarten reading. She has always done math in her head naturally, so she was very successful her kindergarten year.
Then first grade hit. Taylor’s beginning of the year test scores placed her not just above average, but well above average in both Math and Reading. But deep down I knew something wasn’t right. By now Taylor was exhibiting other worrisome symptoms.
She was so forgetful. She left everything everywhere and couldn’t ever find what she needed. If you sent her to her room to clean it, she would be in there days. Literally. I remember sending her to her room to clean it over Christmas break and she was in there for three days working on it. We would have to ask her multiple times to do something, not because she was ignoring us, but because she truly forgot what you had asked or didn’t hear you.
She was also having a hard time with friends at school. Many afternoons were spent in tears about the girls just wanting to walk and talk, but Taylor “needed to get her wiggles out.” I also began noticing that she was having a hard time recognizing social cues even with her sister. When she wanted something, from a friend or anyone, she would push and push, not recognizing the anger building in people and just keep going. In fact, she ended up in a fist fight in the cul-de-sac behind our house over something so silly. That was so unlike our sweet and loving little girl. The other girl threw the first punch, but Taylor wasn’t going to just stand there. She was 6. This was not okay.
There were other signs too. Things like she couldn’t tie her shoes no matter how many times we worked on it. She lost so many clothing items at school because she would forget them. Her lunch box or water bottle would inevitably get left behind. Poor Tori, I began having her older sister help me keep an eye out for Taylor’s stuff.
Kyle and I spent many hours discussing, praying, “passionately discussing,” and worrying about what was going on with her. Her body had always been a little on the slow side in development, was this just part of it?
And she had been born a blue baby. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, and she was induced a week early because I had contracted since I was 22 weeks pregnant. Had there been brain damage we didn’t know about?
Then, too, she was my baby with allergies and ear infections. No one could tell me what she was allergic to. She tested negative for everything until this past summer, when we took her to Los Angeles. She had her adenoids removed and four sets of tubes all before the age of three.
All this to say, here we were, the fall of her first grade year, and I began seeing papers with all kinds of reversals on them. Now, I know that’s natural all the way into second grade. However, where the red flag goes up is when you have an incredibly smart kid, that no matter how many times you go over it, can’t recognize the vowel pair “ou” or continually reverses letters and numbers. We literally spent an entire month on the vowel pair “ou,” trying to recognize it and remember its sound. She would also cry and cry over the thought of even picking up a pencil to write. It was just too daunting of a task for, almost like cleaning her room. That’s when I decided to take action.
The mother in me wanted to believe that she would more than likely grow out of all of this. The teacher in me knew that if I didn’t figure it out now, there would be consequences down the road. Her teacher was kind, but thought me an over protective mother. My pediatrician thought the same. Because she had tested well above average on her beginning of the year tests, the school wouldn’t test her. I knew that would be the case, but I tried anyway.
With no support anywhere, I finally decided to pay the money out of pocket to have her tested. After all $500 was a small price to pay to know that I had done everything possible as a mother. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t and later down the road it came out that she did have some sort of learning disability.
Her diagnosis: Auditory and Visual Processing issues and ADHD. The trick here is that Auditory processing has to be diagnosed by an audiologist. Also, the symptoms of ADHD and auditory processing disorder mimic one another. It’s hard to know if it’s one or the other or both. We are positive she has ADHD. And I am convinced that it’s both, but I still need to take her to Los Angeles to have that test done. I’m just waiting for the $1000 that test is going to cost to make it happen. And it will.
About the time we got all of this information it was January of her first grade year (2012). Armed with test results, I scheduled a meeting with her teacher and the principal to talk about a 504 plan for her. I also prayed about remaining calm and not coming across with an “I told you so” attitude, even though it was how I felt.
Before we ever got to my paperwork, Taylor’s teacher presented me with her mid-year test results from the school. I wanted to cry. Taylor had shown absolutely no growth in reading for the whole first half of the year and very little in math. In fact, the solid line across the middle of the box represents the target level for all students, and she didn’t even meet that in reading.
Then I pulled out my paperwork and showed them why. We discussed changes that the teacher could make in the classroom to help get through the year. I told them that we would not be medicating her. Her issues were mild and we were going to find ways to help her naturally.
So this type A, GATE student of a mother buried herself in research. I read everything I could from all different angles. I bought books that covered topics from how the brain learns to the dietary aspects of it all. In fact, the book What’s Eating Your Child by Kelly Dorfman, MS, LND was the book that changed our lives. All of the research I did changed the way I had previously thought of ADD/ADHD and other learning disorders that came through my classroom. My eyes were opened, and I definitely became a better teacher because of it. But, it was this book that put things together for me.
First, Dorfman discussed how ear infections early in life could lead to ADHD later. “One likely suspect is poor auditory processing development. Studies following children with a history of frequent ear infections found they tended to be more distracted all the way through high school than children who didn’t have early ear troubles.”
One of the programs we bought Taylor after this diagnosis was called Earobics by Houghton Mifflin. I had used it in the classroom and purchased a home copy. The number one thing we have identified in using this program in Taylor’s own words is, “I can’t hear what the teacher is saying when they play all of the clapping and background noise.” She can easily identify a pattern of sounds when that’s the only noise in the room. As the program gets harder, background noise is inserted, and often brings her to tears of frustration. This is a key signal that there is an auditory processing disorder. And according to Kelly Dorfman the critical development milestone period for auditory processing is birth to age three. If the ears are not operating properly, the child will not learn to listen with them effectively. It makes sense. When ears are plugged, sounds are distorted, and Taylor never learned to discern the important voice in the room. It was all one big blur to her.
Then there were two supplements she said improved learning and had studies to back them. The first was fish oil, but not just any. Specifically, the EPA and DHA. The other was DMAE (which you see indicated on Taylor’s test results). DMAE is short for dimethylaminoethanol a unique nutrient related to choline and found in fish.”For people with ADHD, DMAE helps cognition and planning by speeding up the production of the neurotransmitter acetolcholine. Neurotransmitters carry messages between nerve cells.”
Of course our routines and expectations changed as parents when we learned what was going on. We learned to quit taking things personally. We began breaking large tasks into smaller ones. We were a little more serious about study time and making the most of every moment. And ultimately we had more patience with her. But, we really didn’t do anything different except add the two supplements above into her diet.
Taylor and I began taking both supplements on a regular basis. I took them because I wanted to know what she might be experiencing and it was all natural anyway. All I can say is we began noticing the difference from the first day. I purchased DMAE in drop form because she was too young to swallow pills. That first day I gave us both a full dose.
I spent the day getting more accomplished than I had the previous two days combined. It was like having 5 or 6 cups of coffee with out the jitters or crash. It was amazing. Taylor came home with all of her homework done. That had NEVER happened before. After day three, Taylor was so going so strong that she literally came home, and asked what she could do. We told her to do the dishes. She did, then asked for something else. When she wasn’t given instructions, she went into our room and made our bed. Then she began running circles in the living room.
Needless to say, I cut the dosage back, but we have taken them every day since. I even added them to Tori’s diet and noticed that the preteen hormonal swings were less severe. She seemed more even tempered than she had been.
So, we finished the school year this way. When I received Taylor’s report card with her test results for the year, I was shocked. As you saw above and to the right, she was back above average in both subjects. Not only that, but her peer relations improved drastically. She seemed happier and we were all functioning so much better.
But not knowing what to expect this year, I prepared to fight for a 504 plan, which we are in the process of doing now. I had a meeting this last week with Taylor’s teacher to discuss all of this with her and to hear her impressions of Taylor.
Her teacher’s words:
“She’s a leader.”
“She had lots of friends who want to do what she is doing.”
“She’s very organized.”
“She is top of the class.”
“She likes to play with things while I am talking, but puts them away when asked.”
“I didn’t think anything abnormal until I saw your email and read her file, then I started seeing what you had talked about. But I would never have known otherwise.”
I broke. This mother wept. To be honest, a huge burden that I didn’t even realize I was carrying was lifted from my shoulders. She was not describing the kid that was in the classroom last year. She was describing the kid we knew Taylor was, but couldn’t seem to get to.
Our road is far from over, but just knowing that fighting for my kid and sticking with my gut was worth it, makes all the difference in the world. We caught this early, which is rare for girls. Boys are out-diagnosed with ADHD to girls 3 to 1 as children, but as adults the rates are equal. Why? Girls symptoms manifest differently than boys.
I am so thankful, that because we caught it early, she won’t miss out on the learning foundation that is the primary years. We all have an understanding of how she learns best and what doesn’t work with her. And most of all, with natural resources, we can equip Taylor to deal with the world her way, instead of medicating her though it. This is her life, her reality, and it’s our job to teach her how to navigate it with grace of God.
Thank you, Father, for guiding us this whole way, and for bringing answers. It’s no coincidence that I went in to the education field so many years ago. You ordained that, knowing that Taylor would be my daughter. I love how energetic and fun she is. And I am so thankful that You entrusted her to my care. Continue to guide us and give us wisdom and discernment on this journey. Amen.
To read the continuation of Taylor’s story since 2012 click here.
Has ADD/ADHD or other learning disabilities affected you or someone you know? Have people ever looked at you like it was a parenting issue and/or something you could control?
* Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor and take no responsibility for what someone may do with this information. Always consult a physician before taking supplements or giving them to your children. I am simply sharing my story.