Recently, I went to my daughter’s kindergarten, end of the year, parent-teacher conference. It was something we eagerly anticipated since Maddie has had trouble with reading. We spent a lot of time working with her at home, and I wanted feedback on how she was doing.
Maddie went to an awesome preschool, with all the important accreditations, for three years. After three years of trying to teach her the alphabet in preschool, we went into kindergarten with the thought that she just wasn’t ready. “This will be the year,” we thought. And we were reassured this would be the case. “Stop comparing her to your other children!” Resounding advice from everyone. The same advice I give others, of course. But who among us takes their own advice?
At the fall conference, I made my concerns clear. “She is where an average kindergartener would be expected to be.” Okay, if her teacher says so, it must be, right? As the year went on, it seemed we had to do tons of work for a tiny bit of progress. Finally, by Christmas she seemed to have most of her letters down. In the New Year, we started to learn sight words : “a”, “go”, “is”, etc. These were a struggle each and every time. But my little wanna-be-reader kept at it. We did make a little forward progress. We were happy we could help her in any way. And now, the spring conference:
“I am really happy with Maddie’s progress this year,” the teacher tells me. “Mrs. S also states she is progressing well.”
“Who is Mrs. S?”
“The reading specialist.”
“What reading specialist?”
“Maddie has been getting pulled out of class four days per week for half an hour to work with the reading specialist this year.”
The floor is dropping out from beneath me.
“How long has this been going on? Are other students working with the specialist?”
“It has been all year. There are three students getting extra help from our class. In the fall, we will reassess her and decide her needs for first grade.”
I’m going to throw up.
There are twenty four students in the class. And it is May 12th . And no one told me about this – all year. I am thrilled she is getting extra help but now I’m thinking : she gets extra help at school, she gets extra help at home. This child is working so hard and no one has told me there is a problem.
I feel like a failure as a parent. She wants to read so badly, and gets so frustrated that she cries, people. Was I just not paying enough attention?
I start thinking back to the conversations of the past, before medical school. Talking to people about children with labeled with learning disabilities, we conjectured it was likely that the parents weren’t working hard enough with the children or, that the child wasn’t applying themselves. It was a behavioral problem. That was it. The label was a thing we used for convenience.
Being a pediatrician, I am aware of the science behind learning disabilities and developmental delays. Being a mother, I now get to be aware of the day-to-day battles that are faced. She can’t do math, because there are word problems. Science, social studies, health…they all require reading. Games we play at home, reading. The voracious desire to know what all those stories in her storybooks on her shelves… Her sister, spelling secrets to us. So unfair.
Due to my training, my awareness is heightened. We are in a privileged position of getting her formally evaluated and getting help over the summer. It likely was too soon before. But the bottom line is, I felt something was wrong. Call it mother’s intuition. I knew, as a mother, instinctually. In fact, I teach the medical students and residents, “If a mother tells you something is wrong with her child, listen. She is right.”
I am finally taking my own advice.