the day my son wrote his name

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


When my younger son came to live with us, he didn’t even know how to play peek-a-boo. Patty cake? Nope. Itsy Bitsy Spider? Nothing. The first two years of his life had largely been without adult interaction. He was developmentally behind. The first time he did something just to be cute was a milestone in our home. Babies learn at a very young age how to please the adults in their life. They smile…we smile, they flirt…we give affection, they make funny noises…it makes us laugh. They learn cause and effect; they learn that they are precious and loved and entertaining and important. No one had ever rewarded Brenden for being adorable, for hamming it up, or for any accomplishments. He did get attention, but it was the negative kind. He didn’t know how it felt to please anyone.

I knew we were behind when it came to letters, numbers, basic reading skills. I gave him several months because trust and relationships are more important than learning letters and numbers. The first time I decided we would start working on stuff, I began with trepidation. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about teaching him something that he didn’t have the basic building blocks or perhaps even the DNA for. Not to mention the complicating factors of drug exposure, traumatic events, and violence.

Let’s just say it didn’t go well. We left it for several months, then we tried again. That didn’t go well either. I could barely get him to make a straight line, and letter recognition was just out of the question. He simply could not remember one letter from the other even after we had been over them several times. He was frustrated. I was frustrated. We waited awhile more, tried again, and still got the same results.

I wish I didn’t care quite so much, but I had begun to obsess a bit over it. While a large part of what we think of as ‘smart’ is biologically determined, there is a lot that parents can do to assist with academic success. My older kids are exceptional readers. They could write their names at 3, could read before they entered kindergarten, etc. (To be fair, Ben learned his letters from a LeapFrog DVD, and Maggie refused to allow me to teach her to read. I just found her one day reading all by herself. I tend to overestimate my importance in my children’s academic success.) I know that’s developmentally advanced, but I also know that Brenden is developmentally behind. The gap was causing me some concern. Would he ever be ready for kindergarten? What if he just couldn’t do it? How do I teach a kid who is uninterested in learning?

I entered this fall determined that things would be different. I have been collecting some different ideas and techniques for teaching letter recognition (since that seemed like the easiest thing to tackle first). I was literally looking up some worksheets on the internet when I found Brenden playing a toddler learning game on my phone. And getting almost all the answers right. Identifying letters, colors, shapes – he wasn’t missing a beat. Apparently, an electronic game was all it took to get him to be interested in this subject. I’ll claim success wherever I find it.

Emboldened by this development, I promptly wrote a sheet with his name. First I wrote his name, then I made dotted letters he could trace. He did it with no trouble. This from the kid I couldn’t get to complete a worksheet where he simply had to trace a straight line. I asked him if he wanted to try it on his own. You can see what happened in the picture at the top of the post. First time I asked him to do it. First time success. It’s safe to say that there are few times in my life that I have been as proud as I was over that piece of paper.

I’m not saying that Brenden is back on track and ready to excel at school. Technically, he is old enough to be attending kindergarten right now. We kept him out for a variety of reasons, academic delay being only one of them. I fully expect him to be a little behind even when/if we decide to send him to public school next year. We will likely even find more areas where he's not quite up to speed or where he struggles to compute things in a typical fashion. The victory isn’t lessened by that probability. It’s still just as sweet. He’s tasted success, and he wants more. For us, that’s enough for now.

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