“What is your child’s best learning style?” This question was asked recently by the teacher of one of Pumpkin’s learning center classes. While I appreciate the question (can you imagine that question coming from a public school teacher?) there’s an itty-bitty problem. She’s asking me to narrow it down to one. Pumpkin is highly gifted. This means asynchronous development, which of course can fall into any and all areas of his life. What on earth makes you think I can narrow it down to one? Some days it’s hard to narrow down which is his dominant hand. He is ambidextrous, but which is better for an activity depends on the activity.
I ended up settling for telling her which learning style to avoid. Pumpkin cannot learn by lecture. When I go back and truly think about it, this one problem was big enough to be the powering factor behind all his public school issues. In fact, his brain doesn’t process sound in a normal way at all. You tell him you want him to tie his shoes and sit down in his chair. The information goes in one ear, takes a trip around his brain and goes God knows where. In the end he may stare at you, trying to figure out why on earth you’d want him to tie something to his chair, or take his shoes off and sit on them. The resulting mishmash of directions is so confusing that he probably will just ignore it all together.
The earliest sign in public school that there was something wrong was playtime. Pumpkin couldn’t process the school bell. He’d hear it. And you could ask him after if he’d heard it. Then you could ask him if he knew what it meant. All answers were “yes.” Yet, when the bell rang, the sound got lost in his brain and he’d end up still on the playground after the other kids went in. Sometimes he’d see them and follow, but more often than not he’d be playing something complex with his head down, and the world around him got lost.
Arbitrarily, he could hear several people talking at once and process all the statements perfectly. Now really think about that for a minute. How often have two people been shouting information to you simultaneously and the resulting noise kept you from understanding? The thing is that Pumpkin wouldn’t process it right away. This took time, sometimes a week or more. But you can imagine my confusion while trying to sort out this problem. Weeks later he’d repeat two and three conversations that took place simultaneously, and they’d come out word-for-word, yet I couldn’t get him to put on his pants and comb his hair without a major problem.
I did what any mom would do. I had his ears checked. His hearing was perfect. I talked to the teacher repeatedly, trying to figure things out. Then I tried to find other solutions, figuring the cause of the problem would present itself eventually (and please note the singular form of cause, that’s important). I got him several small watches, setting the alarms for each return from recess. I made arrangements to go to work late each day so that I could walk him through the morning routine. All in vain.
My reasoning skills were good, but this issue defied logic based on what I knew. So I started reading everything. A lot of this fit processing disorder, but when I suggested it to family, they each glanced at the first description on the processing disorder checklist (which happens to be “doesn’t like to be touched”) and declared that I was out of my mind. I did know that it seemed to be a problem processing language, even while Pumpkin could talk the ears off an elephant. And teaching him sign language didn’t help, he’d still get messages stuck in there.
In the middle of this was the mess with public school. While I was trying to figure out the problem, I was also trying to figure out how to deal with the system. I changed schools and it only got worse. They wanted to pigeon-hole him and he couldn’t be pigeon-holed. Clearly ADHD was a factor, but the teacher even admitted his wasn’t the worst case. She had kids that were much more hyper and distractible than Pumpkin. And it boils down to them looking for one problem, one label they could put on him. Just like asking for the one learning style, this is a common theme in public education. Oversimplification. And why not? If you have twenty-two kids (this was kindergarten) to deal with, a simple label that carries a simple set of instructions for how to cope with the problem is the way to go.
Now you understand why I kept the title of this generic, because I don’t have to narrow him down to a single issue or a single set of instructions, or even a single learning style. I can actually approach Pumpkin with what works by experience. He’s an individual and I don’t have to pigeon-hole, categorize, or otherwise label him as any one thing.
Today, Pumpkin does have a diagnosis. It took years to get there, I’ve actually only just gotten it. A couple years ago, the occupational therapist that I took Pumpkin to told me that, from what she saw, he had some severe processing issues. The insurance didn’t agree. And though she was qualified to lead his therapy, she wasn’t qualified to actually provide a diagnosis. Other counselors along the way had thrown out terms like Aspergers, Conduct Disorder (lordy I hate that one), PDD-NOS, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and a few other goodies. Everybody liked ADHD and I was the holdout on that because I needed them to understand that it wasn’t the biggest or most worrisome problem. I discovered the allergies and celiac on my own. Then I only had to have them confirmed. A couple of months ago I finally found a new psychiatrist who understood what I said when I told him that all these folks needed to think outside the box. “What happens,” I asked him, “when you have all these different things going on at once?” He told me that I might have missed my calling.
For his learning center, he has a paper that says he’s a celiac asthmatic with ADHD/Aspergers combined, though the psychiatrist admitted that PDD-NOS was probably a better fit since it’s the catchall. He picked what he thought a school could work with most easily. But he also agreed that while supplementing his education with the learning center is good, I’ve probably done the best for him that could be done. Damn, that was good to hear.
For his homeschooling, none of this matters. I can deal with the various issues without worrying about what the single way of handling this one problem or that one problem is. And that is true with learning style. Pumpkin prefers hands-on anything. But if I want him to remember, he needs to read it. Sometimes he likes a logic approach, just to stir things up. And rather than have a well-educated kid OR a happy kid, I can have both because I can adapt as he needs.