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Learning Challenges and Deciding to Get Tested

It began with a meeting to discuss Darcy’s “challenges”—a euphemism for the word “deficits” that was used when I was a boy. I’ve always hated both. The former reeks of some sort of 1984 Newspeak and the latter is rife with potentially detrimental consequences. Regardless of my thoughts, neither word is one a parent wants to hear in context with one’s child.

My daughter Darcy, all of six and in first grade, had been performing below grade level for some time and in many ways, the meeting wasn’t a complete surprise. Her last year of preschool with an “academic” bent had done a number on Darcy. Other children had been in the school for one or even two years before we enrolled our daughter and were much more proficient in the nuances of numbers and letters than Darcy. It frustrated her to no end and she often broke out in tears as I drove her to preschool.

To complicate matters Darcy is also almost a full year younger than most children in her grade. Her mother and I decided to enroll Darcy in Kindergarten fully knowing that she’d be the youngest in her class. Aside from her deficit in reading Darcy seemed ready for Kindergarten. She was and, for the most part, remains an incredibly social and inquisitive child although that is beginning to change.

Darcy is becoming aware of the fact that others in her class are more proficient in tasks that she struggles to master.

In kindergarten, Darcy continued to struggle with both math and reading. She required assistance from instructors in both fields and the same has been true in first grade. The difference is that her mother and I believed that Darcy was tracking to be at grade level in both subjects by the end of the semester.

Apparently, we were wrong.

Discovering our daughter’s learning challenges

In addition to Darcy’s first-grade teacher three members of the Special School District were in attendance as well as the school’s guidance counselor and our daughter’s math instructor. Darcy’s reading instructor was ill and could not attend although she had provided notes for those in attendance. Neither my wife Laura nor I were prepared for the number of people in the room nor were we ready for where they were from.

Both Laura and I remained calm and stoic throughout. Once Darcy’s efforts in math and reading were discussed, thoroughly documented the conversation turned to behavioral issues. Darcy’s teacher mentioned that our daughter has difficulty coming back from her additional reading and math tutorials once she’s in the classroom. We learned that, at times, she waits to be instructed with what to do with her folder and backpack and that she frequently breaks into tears upon not knowing what to do.

Neither Laura nor I were aware of our daughter’s distress. Darcy is remarkably stoic at times and…not so much at others. The fact that the issue hadn’t been brought to our attention was upsetting but didn’t compare to the realization that our daughter had been regularly experiencing this sort of distress. The members of the Special School district were largely quiet once they learned that Darcy posed few, if any, behavioral “challenges”. There was talk of an executive function issue particularly one involving short term memory but no one was able to pinpoint a problem or even provide a means for doing so. Once the meeting was over the counselor concluded that we would reevaluate Darcy’s situation in a month. Both Laura and I thanked everyone for their time and once we were back home concluded that the meeting was, at best, an exercise in futility.

“We haven’t learned anything we didn’t know already.” my wife said and I couldn’t disagree, “Even worse nothing is going to change,” Laura continued, “why are we continuing to monitor a situation that isn’t working?”

I had no ready answer. We’d been told to stay the course and wait. I later learned that, according to a state mandate, children must be two grades below grade level before a school can recommend a child be tested for his or her “challenges”.

Deciding to get tested

Regardless of age two years below grade level is a massive deficit for a child to overcome. Neither Laura nor I were willing to wait for that possibility. Aside from her usual frustration with math a reading Darcy is now aware that she is not as proficient as her peers in either subject. She’s becoming embarrassed and anxious and there isn’t a week that goes by when my daughter doesn’t tell me that she’s cried in school.

A few days ago Darcy broke down in front of me. She announced that she was the “worst one in the family” because she couldn’t read. It was the final incident in a long line, and one that prompted Laura and I to have her tested.

Evaluations of this sort aren’t cheap. We’re fortunate enough to live in a county where the service is provided for free but as the earliest opening was in July. As we are looking at a summer school that requires these tests however we’ve opted for the private route. We’ll have to tighten our belts. I may have to forgo my role as a stay at home dad and find a paying gig but Laura and I are willing to make sacrifices to pay for our daughter’s evaluations and whatever remedies we deem to be appropriate.

The future is uncertain and I’ve never dealt well with uncertainties. I believe my daughter follows in my footsteps. It’s one of many legacies that I’d hoped I hadn’t bequeathed to Darcy but one in which I’m ready and prepared with which to cope.

I prepared her as best as I could for the test. I made certain she had a good night’s sleep. I cooked her a good breakfast, her favorite, of sausages and fried eggs when she woke. I told her that she would be seeing someone who would talk to her and ask her questions. I told her that this person would be able to tell us how she learns.

“Will she be able to tell me what’s wrong with me?” Darcy asked.

It was all I could do to not take my daughter in my arms and hold her tight and whisper over and over that there was nothing wrong with her but I held myself back. Whatever it is, or doesn’t, that plagues my daughter either exists or doesn’t. One of the few variables I can control is my reaction and how I chose to proceed.

My fears and projections have no place here. Not for Darcy. Not right now.

Instead, I took my daughter’s cheek in my hand, pursed my mouth in a smile and raised my eyebrows as I let her know that there was nothing wrong with her. Nothing at all.

“Everyone learns differently,” I said, “and we just want to find out how you learn best,” and then she nodded sagely as she put on her backpack and coat and as I watched her I hoped that what I’d said was true.

This piece originally appeared on The Unfit Father. It has been reprinted with permission.

Richard Black is a remarkably attractive, remarkably disease free man in his forties. Unfortunately ladies he’s also married. Prior to his life as a stay at home father Richard spent more than a decade performing various public relations and marketing functions for a number of financial consulting firms and found the job to be precisely as exciting as it sounds. When not tending to his wife or daughter Richard enjoys writing the occasional thoughtful post on his blog The Unfit Father and subjecting the public to his…unique take of fatherhood on a more regular basis. He has been published in Scary Mommy, Sammiches and Psych Meds, The Good Men Project, Red Tricycle, RAZED and the Anthology “It’s Really Ten Months Special Delivery: A Collection of Stories from Girth to Birth“.

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