Thursday, June 5, 2008


I'm six, and we just moved to Tempe, Arizona. It's June, with a few weeks left in the school year, so my parents enrolled me in Mrs. Miller's first grade class at Rural School.

I'm coloring at my desk, and a child has been called on. The teacher told me to stop coloring, saying, "We need to listen to x speak, not to your coloring." I thought she meant that I was coloring too loudly, and that I should be quieter. So I tried coloring more softly. A few minutes later the teacher swooped down and took my crayons away, and I was left humiliated and publicly disciplined.

If she's still alive and still remembers the incident she probably sees my behavior as an act of defiance and insubordination. I realized that then too, that she saw me as disobedient. I also knew then that she had misunderstood me, just as I had misunderstood her. But I had to wear the crown of shame: there wasn't an avenue for me to explain to her that she had made a mistake, just as I had.

Language is the medium through which humans interact and participate with one another. It is the means through which we take in what the Other has to offer. It's our means of expression, and our means of receiving.

When I was a child I believed I was stupid. I remember gazing in a mirror at age seven and singing my own version of "If I Only Had a Brain" from "The Wizard of Oz" (my favorite movie): "I already have a brain, I already have a heart...if I only was smart."

I couldn't understand math, and I often had misunderstandings with people like the story above.

I've noticed with Scott that he seems to not understand what is expected from him in school...not just from the teacher, but from his peers. He's been receiving speech and language services since before he turned 3. Speech delay and articulation were the identified issues. At his IEP meeting in April the speech therapist said that goals for intelligibility had largely been met, but there was an area he wanted to investigate further, his language skills, the ability to receive and communicate meaning.

I think elsewhere in this blog I've mentioned that Scott's classroom behavior has been problematic. It was what I'd hoped would be resolved by moving him to a school and classroom that was more flexible and age-appropriate in its expectations of 5 and 6 year old behavior. I was dismayed to realize that this was not something that a friendlier venue would resolve and his behavior continued to be a problem. I was glad to see that the adults around him didn't dismiss his behavior as a moral-character/defiance issue but looked deeper and understood its roots seemed to be in his not engaging with either the culture of classroom or the material. Hence the language evaluation by the speech therapist. I got the results Tuesday.

And I'm stunned.

First, there's an irony in that his classroom demeanor has improved a great deal over the past month. Disruption is occurring in isolated incidents now rather than defining his days. I suppose that's largely a function of settling into this new and different setting and finding a comfort level with the teacher.

The irony is that from the results of the testing, it looks like his skills at language are so low that he must be taking in very little to engage him within this format. He's like a member of a litter who is feeding beside his littermates, but he lacks an enzyme that allows him to digest, or to absorb what he has digested. So while the other children gain 'weight', a large amount of knowledge is passing through and out of him without being usable--he's just not assimilating it.
He scored in the 2nd percentile for overall language skills for his age group.

I sad for him. How he is able to spend 6 hours a day in a setting that is providing him with so little to meaningfully engage him without totally acting out and misbehaving is beyond me. I suppose it's a measure of how nurturing this environment really is and how accepting it is of diverse learning styles...but it's also a measure of his own ability to adapt himself and sustain himself even when there's not a lot to interest him that's interesting the majority of children around him. He's finding something to keep himself calm and largely centered, but he's not getting the really nutrient-rich content. It's right there, but there's something wrong in his 'up-take mechanism' and that's keeping him from accessing the rich stuff.

So now I have all of these questions to consider.

Is the AD/HD that Scott has been diagnosed with a symptom of his language issues, or is it a cause? If it's a cause, it makes a case for using medication; if it's a symptom it's less clear whether medication is indicated. But that depends on whether the language problem is a disability/impairment, or if it's an issue of maturation of the areas of the brain where language develops. If it's an issue of maturation, would medicating be akin to trying to hurry the final maturation of a butterfly's wings by blowing on them?

I'm keeping Scott at this school for at least another year because he will continue to be in Billy's classroom through 2nd grade. If he needs medication he shall have it, and to determine if he needs it I will use the following benchmarks: his learning, and his self esteem. If he is making gains in his learning at an appropriate pace and his self-regard remains high I think we'll hold off on medication. I think his teacher will be a good partner for me in assessing this.

To reference my own story again, I thought I was stupid when I was a kid. I managed to bump along as a fairly average student, and then one day I started to understand things. It was nearly that dramatic. All at once complex concepts were in my grasp. It happened in 7th grade, around the time I turned 12. It was noticeable enough that I was moved to an accelerated classroom.

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