Home business, home education and health challenges: what makes us tic?

Posts tagged ‘dyslexia’

Learning about learning

When I was growing up, and I saw some of my peers battle with learning disorders like dyslexia, I really did feel compassion for them. A bit.

But to be honest, I didn’t give it much thought.

As far as I could see, those poor souls had their own strengths, and those strengths simply didn’t rely very much on the ability to read at all. I reasoned that not everyone could be academically brilliant (and I now know that true academic genius potential afflicts less than 10% of the population, so I was right ;)). It seemed logical to me that some of us would be good at book learning, and others would be good at other stuff, and all of these unique giftednesses (see what I did there?) would work together to make a nicely balanced, rounded world (ha ha, there’s another).

And it’s true. Each of us is uniquely skilled and these differences are what make us better as a community.

Having said that, at the very same time as I was having those noble, accepting, inclusive thoughts about my peers, I was also developing a philosophy of learning of my own. And this philosophy was based on how I learn best, and the kind of teaching I would like to give my own children one day.

The very teaching, as it happens, that I am giving my children now.

Here’s how it goes:

My philosophy of education in a nutshell

Only three things matter:

  • A strong, grounded moral compass and the tools for survival in modern society;

  • A firm grasp of mathematical concepts;

  • The ability to read.

Once you’ve got those, you’re unstoppable.

Right?

The ability to read is the lynch pin. I saw it as a kind of clockwork key: you instil the ability to read (and the love of reading) in the child in much the same way as you’d wind up a clockwork car. Then you let them loose. All knowledge in their path would be voraciously devoured. They’d be unstoppable. There’d be no avenue of endeavour closed to the avid reader, as long as there were words explaining it all out there somewhere.

Easy, huh?

And that’s how I’ve been focusing my efforts at teaching my girls. As long as I could give them a firm grasp of maths and an abiding love of reading, the rest would come naturally (since naturally we’d model a strong moral compass and the tools for survival in everyday life. *Drips irony onto the napkin conveniently placed next to the large serving of humble pie*).

It never crossed my mind – not even once – that a child of mine would not read.

I know just how it sounds and how it seems from the outside, because I was there, outside. Vaguely glancing in as I bustled on by but, honestly, barely even noticing the window I was passing, let alone understanding all the it implied.

I was afraid of the pitfalls and preparing myself for the challenges. I was scared of having a sick child, a dying child. I was scared of losing a child. And I was ready. I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers and turned my face towards the wind. I’d handle it.

But what of a bright, capable, incredible child with infinite curiosity and unplumbed potential, but without the simple tool to sate it? How can such a child learn? Especially when her teacher is such a closed-minded, one-track, and above-all distracted imparter of information like me? How will she progress? How will she make her way in the world when that way is barred by briars and tangles and weeds and thorns all shaped like letters of the alphabet and their cruel modifying punctuation marks?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that.

However, I am nothing if not determined. And fortunately the same is true of Goldilocks. Now that we have a better idea of what we’re up against, we can begin to hack a way through the thorny hedge and find the enchanted castle, filled with the magical wonder of knowledge lurking deep within.

We just have a dyslexic dragon to slay along the way. Wish us luck!

The Right to Read

I’ve written before about Goldilocks’ reluctance to read. Until very recently, it absolutely baffled me. Honestly, I anticipated that all my children would be voracious readers. They’re my children, after all. And Papa Bear reads even more than I do.

While I anticipated a number of potential obstacles and challenges along this parenting journey, reluctance to read was never one for which I prepared myself.

Which just goes to show.

But Goldilocks is a reluctant reader, and whether I was prepared for it or not makes no difference. It is what it is.

I confess that I’ve even gone so far as to convince my kids that reading LESS than an hour a day is a sure-fire way to get Alzheimer’s in later life, and the only way to ensure good mental health is by reading at every possible opportunity. Now, I don’t doubt that there may well be some study out there vaguely alluding to something along those lines, but I really don’t think the study I read could be stretched that far.

What has been puzzling me, though, is that she likes a lot of literary pursuits. She LOVES stories, and would happily listen to me reading to her for hours on end. She loves audio books even more. She adores literature in as much as she loves to be told the old, classic tales that make English such a rich cultural experience. And it’s not limited to English, either. She loves ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology at least as much as ancient Celtic tales, if not more so. She’s fascinated my Norse mythology, too.

Moreover, Goldilocks loves the rich depth of language. She loves to unravel the meanings and origins of words. She loves to delve into the proper use of grammar, and takes almost as much delight in correcting poor grammar as I did at that age (which, believe me, is saying something).

She can read pages and pages of data on the NASA space school site, and she’s read every single comic book in the house many times over.

So what’s the problem with books? I know it’s not something I’ve done to put her off. First of all, the body of evidence tends to suggest that stories and concentration and even broad vocabularies are not the problem. (She even understands King James Bible verses!).

Very slowly, like peeling week-old goo out of a Barbie Doll’s hair, the obvious answer began to dawn on me.

Goldilocks is dyslexic.

I think the biggest part of why I didn’t put two and two together before now is that we’ve actually had Goldilocks tested for dyslexia in the past. The educational psychologist ruled it out, and referred us to an opthalmic specialist to investigate vision-related reading disorders. Of which there were none.

However.

Mama knows best, as the brilliantly sung Tangled tune asserts. And Mama surely does.

As always, my default reaction to any new thought or suspicion is to turn to Old Faithful: I Googled it. I found a number of symptom lists, detailed explanations, and incredibly useful online assessments. In every single case, Goldilocks scored 100% for dyslexia symptoms. She has them all. Every. Single. One.

So finally I turned to the Goldilocks expert herself, and asked Miss G what it feels like to read, and why she avoids it. She explained to me that the words seem to dance around a little bit while her eyes are trying to nail them down. They swim in and out of focus and even seem to change size. It’s like they don’t want her to know their secrets, and eventually nailing them down is just too much of a challenge. So she gives up. Comic books typically have larger type, and less of it, with supportive pictures to carry the story forward when the reading gets too much.

Frankly, I’m a little ashamed of myself for not picking up on it sooner. For some reason I just thought she was being obstreperous because reading well meant so much to me.

Now I know better, and it’s time to work out a way to help her.

All suggestions are welcome!

When things don’t go according to plan

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to stumble across this post on Proverbs31.org, talking about being a bad mama, and how we judge ourselves so harshly for what really is, at the heart of it, a universal condition.

In the related resources section there’s a link to a book titled, “I need some help here: when things don’t go according to plan”.

It resonated with me this week.

Just two days ago I was doing a quick life review, and smiling wryly to myself about the “old days”, back when we thought Cystic Fibrosis was the only glitch on our radar, and everything else would be plain sailing if we could avoid that obstacle.

Thank God, we did.

I am grateful every single day that the spectre of CF doesn’t loom large over our lives, and every time either of the girls runs the slightest fever, battles to take a breath, is constipated for more than a day or a kiss on a sweaty forehead leaves a trace of salt on my lips, my blood pressure rises, my heart races, and in seconds flat I’m back in the darkness of that “worst case”. And as I talk myself down from the edge of the cliff and remind myself we’re not riding the thermals above that particular abyss, a fresh wave of gratitude washes over me and I am so very thankful for the health challenges we don’t face.

But things have not gone according to plan.

I look back and laugh at the young and innocent me, with her high hopes and crazy ideals. At what I thought would be my life. That audacious young woman for whom no task was too hard. That lady who was part of a team, a partnership against the trials of this world, characterised by open, honest communication and bucket-loads of laughter. That disciplined adult who saved and invested and lived within her means, always providing for her family’s needs. That tiger mama with her bold cubs and their infinite resourcefulness. Those irrepressible learners I knew I’d breed, who loved reading and maths and acquiring knowledge, and who could instinctively see how all the bits fit together and why it matters.

Sometimes I miss that silly, bright-eyed girl.

(In fact, to my surprise, I saw her again the other  day. I glanced into her eyes and couldn’t place her at all. She was in the mirror, grinning at me with a kind mischief all over her wrinkle-free face. I have no idea how she got there, and it took me a few minutes to remember who she was).

But mostly, I’m too busy with the task at hand to think much about the fun I thought I’d be having. When we imagined CF in our future, we had no compassion for challenged learners. ADD didn’t frighten me. I knew my kids would never have it, and if they did I’d be ready to guide them through it. Dyslexia? Nah. Autism spectrum? No chance. Our problems were potentially much bigger, I reasoned. Or non-existent. There was no middle ground.

I guess motherhood is a great leveller and a teacher of compassion and perspective. And for that, I am grateful.

I now know how even a mild sniffle, if it arrives on the wrong day, can be a burden you hardly feel able to bear. I also know that, surprisingly, you can bear it. It’s possible to survive and even thrive in the midst of the trails – maybe even because of them.

Yes, definitely because of them.

Those hard times that we all face (and we all do) lend an ethereal beauty to even the most mundane aspects of every day, and make our lives precious and beautiful things indeed.

I am so infinitely grateful.

 

Curiouser and curiouser: interesting theories on ADD, migraines and digestive issues.

Goldilocks and Papa Bear both have ADD, apparently. It not much of a surprise – there are long lines of it on both sides of both families, after all. When Papa Bear was in school, there was no such thing as ADD, of course. In those days he was simply told to “apply himself”, and that was that. Nowadays, between research, technology, advanced medication, overcrowded classrooms and curricula that seem to expect way too much from teachers and pupils alike, we have a different solution: medication.

I must admit that before we had the option of home education, we did go the route of medicating the problem. The results were marked and mixed, and not the subject of this post. However, the final result of all of that was to find a different solution. As you know, a large part of the drive behind creating this blog was to document the pathway to that solution, so that I wouldn’t forget it.

First of all, I can say unequivocally that home education is the best possible solution for my little family. It is ideal for our temperaments and thought patterns, as well as (surprisingly) our hectic lifestyles.

But there’s more to education and a lifestyle of learning than simply how you get your basic facts into your head. What with innumerable allergies and intolerances, and a family history of epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer and chronic migraines, I’ve always been interested in what we eat and how that affects us. I may have mentioned the wonderful supplements we take, which have done wonders for our health and energy. But even with a completely gluten-free/dairy-free lifestyle, and the world’s best nutritional supplements, we still have ailments. The girls and I all battle with gastric cramps and the attendant pleasures that go with that. We get headaches and blurry vision. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate, and Papa Bear has the added distraction of being very, very tired all the time.

Furthermore, Goldilocks and I both twitch. In both of us, it started out as chronic, though barely noticeable, blinking. It progressed from there to forehead and cheek twitching and has gained an added dimension: vocal tics. I won’t bore you with the details but, simple put, we make sounds. I’ve been doing it for years so when Goldilocks started I knew what it was. I was disappointed for her as I’d hoped it was a stress-acquired thing in me and in no way genetic, but I could fully understand what she was going through. The sounds she makes resemble throat-clearing, and have become more and more obvious. Eventually one evening Papa Bear lost his temper with her and insisted she stop. Not understanding how she could control it for brief periods, only to be driven to do it even more prominently later, he assumed she was doing it on purpose, albeit subconsciously.

Shocked at his dramatic reaction, I realised it was time to act. I spent most of that night researching “chronic compulsive throat clearing in children“. The results were astounding. I discovered that tics of all sorts, from minor to major motor tics and a wide range of vocal tics which essentially comprise passing air through the nose or mouth in different ways, were all related. These are more prevalent in people with OCD or ADD of even degree. If two or more motor tics and a vocal tic are present, and if these present before 18 years of age, the correct term for the condition, no matter how mild, is Tourettes.

Huh.

I had actually been told this before, but since I didn’t think much of that particular doctor, I’d dismissed it out of hand. Now, however, I was faced with rather more concrete evidence.

Having already booked a doctor’s appointment to investigate my permanent thirst and frequent visits to the bathroom, I decided to bring this issue up there and settle it once and for all. And whaddya know. Tourettes. Both of us. So that was interesting. (The other symptoms appear to be linked to an overdose of coffee rather than anything more sinister, since I am in perfect health in every other way (besides gastric issues) – apparently two to three pots of filter coffee each day is not an acceptable average. Go figure.)

Since then I have been researching the various treatment options for Tourettes. (In short: none). It’s not serious or life threatening. Mild cases don’t even impact your quality of life in any significant way, bar teasing at school – enter Home Education! And of course it has no impact on intellect since the majority of Tourette’s sufferers have above average IQs. Well, I could have told you that :).

I have also been researching ways to perfect the gluten free lifestyle since I do still have a lot of complications with this. For instance, my weight has plateaued and nothing shifts the slightest gram. I have chronically bad skin, which is frustrating given my advanced years. I cramp and bloat and all those other lovely dinner-table topics we don’t like to discuss in huge anonymous fora like these. I stumbled across something called the SCD diet – have you heard of it? Now, that is the topic of a whole post on its own, and this one is already rather long winded, so no more on that here. What fascinated me about it, however, was the link between SCD and autism, with a huge number of parents of autistic children recording amazing results in their children’s health on this diet.

Hmm.

The lady who works for us is a genius and bona fide genetic scientist. She is also dyslexic and mildly OCD, so when she was studying genetics at university, she did a lot of research into the link between OCD, dyslexia, ADD (which her brother has) and genetics. Turns out: there’s a big link. Apparently any damage to chromosome 21 cause these neurological (not psychological) problems. Mild damage causes mild problems (very minor OCD, manageable migraines, etc), while the more damaged the chromosome is, the worse the results, until you get severe autism. This can be caused by birth complications, genetics or vaccines. (I am not a scientist, I’m simply repeating the results of a LOT of reading. Obviously, I may well be wrong here. I’m just saying it’s interesting). But with a family history of ADD, ADHD, OCD, epilepsy, dyslexia, migraines and now Tourettes, it certainly gives one pause for thought. Surely there must be a link?

Even more curious: how can a diet developed specifically for managing digestive issues have such a significant impact on both autism and ADD? I can’t wait to dig deeper and find more because it really is fascinating stuff. I’ll share what I find as I go along (this might be a good time to suspend your membership if this is too dull!).

 

 

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