The public schools tested his IQ the year that he was a student there. A third grader who seemed to struggle with most tasks, he was labeled as having “Severe Learning Disabilities – Unspecified,” and his IQ test score was so low that he spent most of his day in the Special Ed room working one on one with teachers and tutors. And he still made no progress.
I had reluctantly enrolled him in our local school that year after crying “uncle” at my own inability to teach him. We had spent two solid years on first grade math, and he was still unable to do even the most basic addition problems. Reading was torturous for both of us as he memorized what he was reading, letter by letter, and then would attempt to sound them out in his head. He never got far beyond two letter words. I could see how the schools would arrive at the conclusion that his IQ was so incredibly low. Except I knew that it wasn’t.
This boy of ours might not be able to do any of the tasks he was assigned for school, but when it came to costumes and make-believe, he was a creative genius. In his head was an encyclopedic catalog of every item of clothing in our house, and he had no problem with raiding our dressers and closets in order to become the characters in his imagination.
When an acquaintance recommended an eye specialist test him, we really didn’t have anything to lose. He’d been to an eye doctor before, and had 20/20 vision, but the specialist saw something else. Our son had Convergence Insufficiency – his eyes didn’t work together which gave him double and triple vision. On top of that, he was dyslexic. Imagine, the doctor said, trying to read something when there are three of every letter that overlap and also turn in odd and unpredictable ways, and for added fun, those letters all vibrate until they blur. How would you read?
Well, you wouldn’t. And neither could he.
He made no measurable progress that year he was in the public school. The special education teacher cried at our parent-teacher meeting at the end of the year as she told me how she had failed our son. I decided that I couldn’t do worse than failure, and brought him back home for school the next year.
That year, I took a radically different approach, and began teaching him as though he were blind. All of his books were audio books, and his tests were verbal. He dictated papers and assignments, and I typed them. His work wasn’t brilliant, he was a solid C- student, but we didn’t need brilliance, only progress. We began taking him to a vision therapist, and he began slowly learning to read. Today, he can read and do well enough at math, but it has never become easy for him.
This morning, as I drove him to work, the young man who once was labeled at too mentally disabled to be taught, told me that he’s been studying politics. “People at work were talking about Trump and about all kinds of stuff, so I thought I should know what they were talking about.”
He listened to a few podcasts, but they were too long and hard for him to follow at first, so he turned to YouTube. He looked initially for priests or religious people to explain the Catholic perspective, and then searched for people who seemed reasonable on both sides of issues, so that he could figure out what he agreed with. Then, once he’d chosen a point of view, he watched videos of people who explained the positions in greater depth so that he made sure to understand it. Sometimes, he said, the greater detail solidified his opinions, and other times it made him change his position completely.
He’s moving on to new subjects now – religion and history for now, learning through YouTube and other videos online. He’s determined to find answers to his questions, and to know what people are talking about, even if he’s a quiet guy who doesn’t say very much himself.
When we first started homeschooling, we said that our goal wasn’t to have our children memorize and be able to regurgitate facts and numbers, but to have them understand those things, and most importantly, know how to go and find those things for themselves. Our goal, we said, was to teach our children how to learn. This morning, my formerly “unteachable” son reminded me of that.
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