When Intervention is Needed

Up until now, all of our featured articles have been success stories.   There was Ava, who finally started to talk; and Riley, whose non-stop verbiage could finally be understood; and Malcolm, who learned to interact socially, and Madi, who overcame dyslexia and learned to read.

This newsletter tells a scary story.  This is about Jeff, a young man who grew up in Minnesota….a young man who didn’t receive the appropriate intensive intervention necessary to overcome his dyslexia and have a balanced life.  This is what CAN happen if you do the band-aid approach to intervention, or even worse, just wait and see.

As a premie, Jeff had challenges from the day he was born. Allergies have plagued him all of his life.  Latching issues prevented breastfeeding; but he was allergic to the formula….it caused such severe vomiting and diarrhea that he landed back in the hospital with severe dehydration.  He was also allergic to pollen and dust, which caused such severe swelling in his respiratory passages that he required frequent oxygen treatments to stabilize his breathing.  The host of meds he took to keep him focused and control his allergies killed his appetite and made it impossible for him to gain weight.

Health concerns were just the beginning for Jeff……Although his parents were both successful corporate executives in the world of marketing, there was also a family history of dyslexia.

And Jeff displayed all the early symptoms.  At age three, he had a speech delay; he had problems pronouncing words, which made his speech very difficult to understand.  At age four, he wasn’t learning the preschool skills like rhyming, memorizing the alphabet, making the connection between sounds and letters or counting from 1 to 20.  At age five, his parents decided to put him in kindergarten even though he was lagging in most of his readiness skills.

That first year of school was a disaster for Jeff.  At the first parent – teacher conference, his teacher expressed concern that Jeff wouldn’t sit still and listen to a story.  He wasn’t able to remember the “letters” they had worked on in class….. and he couldn’t remember the simple addition facts that had been introduced since day one.  Eventually, the teacher suggested repeating kindergarten, but that wasn’t acceptable to Jeff’s parents.

His parents assumed that their local public school wasn’t capable of working with kids like Jeff, so they switched him to a “more nurturing, accommodating” private school.

It was not long before the same thing happened there.  While all of his classmates were reading the “Frog and Toad” books, Jeff was still trying to learn that  the letter ‘B’ says “bu”,  the letter ‘C’ says “ku” and so on.  While all of his classmates were memorizing the addition and subtraction facts up to 20, Jeff was still trying to remember that the number ‘5’ represents five objects and the number ‘10’ correlates to ten.

His parents hired the neighbor college girl to “tutor” Jeff after school.  She came over several times a week to help him with his homework.  His mother admitted to me that the tutor was DOING Jeff’s homework for him, so at least it was getting done.  But Jeff wasn’t remembering to turn it in!

Eventually that private school told Jeff’s parents that he wasn’t a good fit for their program.  They encouraged Jeff’s parents to take him to the local private school for bright children with dyslexia.  That school was expensive and not conveniently located, and his parents didn’t want Jeff to be “labeled”, so they took matters into their own hands again.

For second grade, Jeff went back to the local public school.  This time he was tested for special education.  His IQ was normal.  But he was still not reading, and he was now two years below grade level, so that, combined with his normal intelligence, qualified him for special ed.  He started in the Resource Specialist Program; he was pulled out of class for two hours a day to target his reading, writing and math.

It took another year for Jeff‘s instructors and parents to realize that this plan was another poor fit.  In his special ed group, he was one of four students, so he still wasn’t getting the individual intensive instruction required to get him on the right track.  Not only that, he was being pulled out of class so often that his curriculum was disrupted; when he did return to class, he didn’t have a clue what they were studying.  Jeff was lost!

Jeff’s parents finally gave up on the neighborhood tutor and took him to a teacher for after-school support.  That teacher was followed by another teacher who was followed by another one.  Jeff kept falling farther behind.

That was 8 years ago.  Jeff is now a sophomore. He still does not read well enough to comprehend his history and science books.  He still has to refer to a table or count on his fingers to do the math facts, which is a problem when you are faced with the complex steps involved in algebra and geometry.  And Jeff HATES to write.

He is still enrolled in special academic support classes, and he is still going to several tutors after school.  But Jeff frequently refuses to attend these special classes, because of the stigma associated with them; and even when his homework is completed, he still doesn’t remember to turn it in.

One thing Jeff does enjoy is Junior ROTC. He is successful there. He is a kind, social kid and enjoys the community service.  He loves military history.  In fact, he would like to join the army if/when he graduates from high school.

Fully aware of the risks of being an enlisted man in the army, his parents are hoping he can go into the military as an officer…. but that requires a bachelor’s degree.

What is going to happen to Jeff?  It is very scary! At this point in time, we are hoping to find a motivation for Jeff….a big brother or a career incentive that will drive him to attend the learning center at school and make the effort to turn in his homework.  We are hoping that he will graduate from high school and go to a junior college with a program for kids with special needs.  We are hoping he will eventually attain a bachelor’s degree and then go into the army as an officer.

We have not given up on Jeff!  There is still time for him to succeed.

But what if he had received the intervention necessary when he was in second grade….or better yet, in kindergarten?  Jeff is a bright, social kid.  Where would he be now?

Parents, please, identify your children’s difficulties early and get them enrolled in appropriate intensive intervention.  It is never too early or too late to begin, but the longer you wait, the longer it will take to close the gap. 

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