Q: My 9-year-old son is in a new special-ed school this year. He has had problems learning since he was in kindergarten, and this is actually the fourth school he has attended. The previous schools were mainstream schools, and he had given up trying to learn to read until he began in this most recent school. (My husband was uncomfortable putting him into a special-ed school until he saw that we had no choice.)
I feel for my son, as all of his many siblings are intellectually gifted, besides having very good middos, and he must feel second-class in comparison to them. My husband is very successful in business, bli ayin hara, but I’m sure that he also has some learning issues.
My son gives up very easily (it’s like a balloon that just deflates), yet he constantly says that the schoolwork is too easy for him and therefore boring. It’s like he is denying his learning problem. One hopeful thing, though, is that he is finally mustering up the courage to answer questions in class.
I recently went to a meeting with his school counselor, his Rebbi, his speech therapist and other school staff. They talked about his lack of motivation, and how he always wants to have recess with the next grade (he had been left back, and this grade’s students are his age).
I mentioned that my son has a funny habit of repeating things that he hears other people say, but in a whisper (he speaks in Hebrew because we are Israelis and speak Hebrew at home). I think it is rather unusual, and he doesn’t seem to do this in school.
The speech therapist felt that this behavior could reflect a problem in auditory processing — where my son has difficulty processing information that he is being taught in school. He thought that this might be the reason that my son repeats things that other people say. Does it make sense that this alone could be the reason he has trouble reading and gives up so easily? If this is his problem, why wasn’t it found before, in previous Department of Education evaluations?
A: It is quite possible that your son does have an auditory processing problem. Special-ed evaluators are not always aware of things that do not surface during the child’s actual evaluation. Children might not happen to display specific learning problems during a one-time, limited-duration observation session. (This is why a thorough evaluation is a process with many facets.)
Besides getting your child a more thorough evaluation, it might behoove you to have him seen by an audiologist.
What you can do as a parent — once you become aware of which educational techniques can be implemented to help your son — is focus on what he is able to achieve, and not focus on what he lacks, as his embarrassment over his present limitations is clearly preventing him from fulfilling his potential.
Your son says that the work is easy, but gives up when it becomes too challenging for him. You and your husband need to show him areas in your own lives that are challenging to you. Perhaps he doesn’t see this — as your husband seems to be doing well in his business and you are, bli ayin hara, a mother of a number of high-achieving children. He will greatly benefit if the two of you show him examples of areas in which you needed to struggle to achieve your goals.
The need for chazarah of classwork must be emphasized as the foundation of learning, even though he may feel himself losing interest. Perhaps he can go to recess with the class of boys his age as a reward for his continuing efforts when the classwork becomes difficult for him.
Focusing on what he has achieved in learning, and what is uniquely special about him, which you and your husband truly appreciate, will help him grow in his self-esteem.
You should show him how impressed you are with his “taking a risk” by raising his hand in class to answer and commend him for it. Your son’s showing the courage to make a mistake (in all areas) also needs to be admired.
B’hatzlachah in this most essential endeavor!