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"What's happening?" Questions From a Second Grader

“Hey! What’s happening? What’s going on here?” These questions expressed a smidgen of the confusion and pain our grandson experienced in second grade. In third grade, Elliott got answers to his questions. His school diagnosed him as a child with dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Our conversation began last spring when Elliott said, “Grandma, I really suffered in second grade. I didn’t understand why the other kids started to read really well and I couldn’t make it work. Nothing in school worked for me.” With a diagnosis in hand, he became caught in a web of anger toward school, dyslexia, and most of all — himself. Elliott’s feelings probably matched those of countless other youngsters. How frustrating to be trapped between the realities of above-average intelligence along with the limitations of a brain that processes — not wrongly — but differently.

Elliott has always been a smart little guy. He likes insects, enjoys a strong vocabulary, and plays electronic gizmos with dynamite execution. Cute, curious, lively — all the qualities that should have propelled him into academic success. No wonder he felt confused.

I share this painful conversation with Elliott for one reason. Far too often, teachers, as well as parents and grandparents, assume that a child who finds reading or handwriting difficult must not be trying. “He’s just being lazy.” “He isn’t interested.” No parent wants to consider, even for a second, that a child’s quirky behavior might be related to a disability. Even when unable to avoid reality, the parent’s second reaction usually asserts, “He’ll outgrow this.” Do children with a diagnosis of blindness outgrow lack of vision? Do kids with cerebral palsy amaze the world by transforming into proficient athletes? Even though improvements can and usually will be made, a true disability remains for life.

I recall a time when a friend told me that my daughter’s eyes sometimes crossed. At that time, I had just learned that our little girl had a dead ear. I couldn’t bear to think anything else might be wrong. “Surely not,” I replied somewhat indignantly. Then one night as my little three-year-old looked up at me, one eye slipped toward her nose. Denial comes easily to a parent.

Truthfully, every single child has some disadvantageous hurdles. Each one must transform life with challenges. Denial, (as often happens in cases of alcohol abuse) does not move the ball forward. I never met a child who did not want to read. If you know a child who struggles to decode written words or who clumsily puts pen to paper, have compassion. In equal measure, maintain the belief that the young one has the potential to achieve victories in school, in college, and in later life. The first step involves understanding and acceptance.


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