By Eric Jackson
My third child, KC, is perhaps the happiest, most excited kid, I have ever known. He approaches some of the littlest things with the most enthusiasm. A big smile, loud, cheerful, uncontrolled screams of pure joy, followed by an adrenaline shot and him being ready for action.
As a toddler, KC, had a two year period where he was more comfortable acting like a dog than a person. When you said, “KC, come here.” He looked inquisitively at you, waiting for the “KC, COME” command and he ran over happily and waited for you to say, “KC, Sit”. It was a weird time for him, but sure did make good entertainment. When around cars in parking lots or roads, he was 100% on command for Sit, Stay, or Come. However, if you were to use words like, “KC wait for the cars”, or “KC, look both ways first before crossing”, he was no longer in the safe zone and you couldn’t depend on him to act appropriately with the command.
As he got older, it became apparent that he was not learning to speak like he should for his age, while he seemed to understand what we were saying. The gap between him and the standard for kids his ages kept growing to the point that it was clear that he couldn’t attend kindergarten even if we intended to send him. (We planned on homeschooling him like our other kids)
KC’s life is a good one, still. He travels with us in the RV to kayaking events, fishing events, and gets to hang out with lots of cool people that care about him. In the RV we have had some of the nicest, most caring people travel with us (that is the only kind we ever invite, and certainly invite back!). Courtney Kerin, from New Zealand spent years with us on tour. KC is quite fond of Courtney and Courtney couldn’t have been any better with him. Alec and Hayden Vorhees also spend a couple of seasons with us for months at a time in the RV. Playing, kayaking, teaching, and generally being good role models and mentors for a young KC. Still, KC is a momma’s boy, to the nth degree. Kristine and KC have such a strong bond it is hard to imagine a stronger one in the world. For most of his first 6 years KC had separation anxiety, but not in a bad way. He did fine without Kristine, as long as you didn’t ask him to leave her side. He would never agree to voluntarily leave her to go with me, for example. However, he would be 100% fine and have a great time once I got him away from her. Taking him on overnight kayak trips without Kristine went fine, for example, after the first 5 minutes of crying for mom.
When KC plays with other kids, he is super in tune with them, and plays in an active way. Most kids don’t figure out that he can’t talk like them, because KC makes up for his vocabulary with appropriate shrieks, laughs, and other normal sounds that show his emotion, excitement, etc.. that kids make when they are not trying to talk. He does fine at a playground with a bunch of kids, for example.
Where KC struggles is when he wants to tell you something and tries, but you can’t understands the words he is using. He’ll repeat the word over and over, looking at you like “Why can’t you understand me?” He then gets really frustrated that he can’t communicate with you. My primary objective with him as a parent, as with all of my kids, was to keep his self-esteem intact, as that is the single biggest determining factor of anyone’s happiness and success. A broken spirit is harder to fix than anything else. Surrounding him with only people who care about him and won’t point out his weaknesses as being what is “wrong” with him allows him to learn at his pace and not feel embarrassed with what he can’t do. The older he gets, however, the more he can pick up on his own what other’s his age CAN do that he can’t. This is my primary fear, that we can’t get his learning on track, specifically talking first (most critical skill to be able to communicate) and then reading/writing, before he knows that “everyone” else can do it so easily. Homeschooling kids can be isolating if you aren’t out and about. My kids have it both ways; lots of just family time where there are not a ton of other influences, and lots of time where it is crazy time, with people in and out of our daily routines in large numbers, such as at kayak events, rivers, fishing tournaments, etc.. In these situations, all of my kids have had to introduce themselves to new people and interact on the fly with them in large numbers and have learned to make it fun and gain the friendship of new people.
In an effort to learn exactly what KC needs, and why he can’t retain letters, identify words, and learn to pronounciate words, Kristine took him to a variety of specialist at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. In one day he saw 4 different child development specialists that each have their own specialty. They met with each other after the evaluations to come up with their theory about he needs and a solution for them. Apparently you are born with the ability to learn visually, by auditory, and with Fluency (ability to turn spoken words into written words). Kids with learning disabilities, like Dyslexia, tend to be missing one of those methods of learning. KC isn’t learning properly in any of the categories. Having all three are required to learn to read and write, for example.
The recommendation by the specialist at Vanderbilt was that KC attend a school that teaches the Lindawood-Bell program, which helps kids connect the dots between visual, auditory, and Fluency, and works on one of those at a time with intensive one on one instruction. There is a Lindawood-Bell School in Memphis, about 5 hours away, and Kristine took him there last week where he was evaluated by them.
KC did great, and enjoyed the 4 hours of intense evaluation. The teachers there (he saw 4) created a plan for him and their best guess of what it would take to get KC up to a 1st grade reading level. They estimate that 12 weeks of intense one on one instruction with their special program would get him from where he is today (he still can’t point out the letter A given 5 letters to choose from) to reading “See Spot Run”. While that isn’t where he needs to be in his reading, it is reaching critical mass, getting over the hump and getting his brain to begin connections that he doesn’t have or are too weak to be of use. From there the path to being caught up is as matter of time and effort.
We are amending their proposed solution some, with what Kristine and I think will be a better long term solution. We are starting KC at the school on Monday, but for only 4 weeks, not 12. During those 4 weeks, Kristine will be taking courses on teaching the Lindawood-Bell methods, and doing her own research, including working with KC’s teachers (they have already agreed to help with this plan) to get her up to snuff with teaching KC beginning in 4 weeks. While others might be the experts in the field, nobody is more qualified to teach KC than Kristine, assuming she has the knowledge, resources, and confidence to do the right things. KC’s daily habits need a quick adjustment, and the 4 weeks away from home (day school, but Kristine and KC are staying in Memphis for that period) where the schedule is set will get KC off on the right foot, and he’ll learn discipline and the expectations of a daily routine that will help when we bring him home and carry on the curriculum. I am quite excited that after 4 years of attempting to figure out just what is going on in KC’s head that slowed his development in speech and reading, that we believe we have an answer, and more importantly, a solution.
I am also very excited that Kristine has risen to the challenge as a teacher (she taught Emily and Dane and I believe she did an amazing job) and decided that she was not only qualified to learn a specific methodology of teaching a kid with KC’s needs, but the best person to do so. Her becoming an expert in this field over time (4 weeks will be enough to get started, but she’ll be learning and growing in her skills/knowledge indefinitely) will give KC an advantage for learning during the rest of the day when he isn’t actively in school.
What is most important out of all of this, for Kristine and I, is that KC maintain his love for life, his extremely caring nature, and his off the charts enthusiasm. With those qualities, he is a perfect person in my opinion. I would not trade those for him being at a college level reading or any other attribute. To me, a person who cares about others, knows how to be happy, and approaches life with enthusiasm, is a person who can do anything, and will be a positive force in their world, versus an energy suck.
I wish I could fast forward to the end of this 4 week period, so Kristine, KC, and I don’t have to be separated, and I can see how KC is progressing!
See you on the water!