September 4, 2006
Spelling for Monsters
Imagine learning your letters. Imagine having to learn the sounds that they make, sounds they make for everyone but you. Imagine then having to take those sounds, alien to you in any real, meaningful way, and put them together into words. THEN imagine having to take those words and deconstruct them in your head into the sounds that you can only hear and never make, and use the letters that you have learned to construct those words. Imagine having a teacher say a word to you, sounding it out, and you sitting in a class surrounded by other, neurotypical kids your age who can then put all these pieces together in such a way that it makes perfect sense to them, but will never be able to make sense in a tangible way to you.
Spelling has been challenging for Schuyler. We work with her on it every night, taking the list of words for that week's test and drilling it. We sound it out for her and she types it out, not on her device but on a computer keyboard, because that's what they use in her mainstream first grade class. It's hard for her to write; in addition to stealing her consonants and rendering her non-verbal, her monster fumbles her clumsy little hands, too. So she uses a computer keyboard, and I think that's fine. She's getting quick on her device, but she needs to be able to use the tools of the speaking world, too.
It's frustrating. She tries so hard, and when she can't grasp it because the sounds are hard for her to distinguish, it's easy to lose hope. This has been one of the few times that her condition has caused her real anxiety, and it's heartbreaking. She tries, and when she fails, she loses her focus. I have been telling her that she has to try harder than everyone else in her class. I don't tell her why, because how do you tell a six year-old that she's broken?
Besides, she already knows. She may not care very often, and she's certainly more positive about it than anyone around her, but she knows. Better than anyone, I suspect.
After a couple of weeks with dismal test scores, and after a week of hard drills with her that didn't seem to go anywhere but frustration, we were happily surprised to learn on Friday that she had scored seven out of ten correctly on her test, including the harder words.
I think she simply got tired of the frustration. In her head, I believe she said "Oh, screw this," knocked her monster out of the way and figured it out. It's too early to say whether or not she's really got this down or if she just had a good day, but I think it would be hard for her to "accidentally" spell words correctly. I'm hopeful.
Schuyler clearly has a learning disorder, that's a no shitter. Put a strip of duct tape over your own mouth and leave it there until the day you die, and see how well you grasp the mechanics of language. One unknown issue was always whether or not CBPS was going to take the same bite out of her that it does other CBPS kids.
Schuyler's monster has two ugly stepsisters that loom over our thoughts and fears: seizures and retardation. Seizures we won't know about until (and if) they arrive. I think it is becoming clear, however, that although Schuyler may never be one of the world's great thinkers, she is not mentally retarded. She's clever, she's determined, and most of all she's tenacious. She doesn't like to be told what to do, a trait that I encourage in her every chance I get, so she has to decide she wants to do something first. And then? She just fucking DOES it.
That's Schuyler's nature, and she comes by it honestly. I have no idea how smart she really is, not yet, but I also don't think it matters. I'm not all that smart, either, and I'm doing okay. She's going to do okay, too.