In July 2015 our homeschooling life took a drastic turn.
As most of you know, our oldest son Rich suffered a traumatic brain injury and a broken pelvis in a car accident in February 2013. Praise God he has made a complete recovery. At the time of the accident we made the decision to do all of his therapy at home. Through friends of friends we learned of an organization committed to training parents to work with their children. This philosophy completely agreed with our belief that parents are their children’s best teachers, the most knowledgeable of their children, and the most motivated to help them succeed.
We contacted NACD (The National Association of Child Development) and they worked with us to evaluate the areas that needed work, creating a unique program particular to Rich’s needs. We had regular contact with a “coach” who helped us implement Rich’s program and quarterly assessments to make changes to his program as he progressed and improved. NACD works with parents and children with all types of issues, not just brain injury, and often we wished we had known about them when we were working with Rich’s younger siblings. You see, the NACD programs are designed not to just just teach struggling learners to cope with their weakness, but to actually change the brain to fix the problems the child experiences.
(Here is Rich in his wheelchair in the spring of 2013 with my parents—”Granny” and “Grandpa.”)
Fast-Forward two Years
In June of 2015 I reached a point of despairing with several of our sons. A couple were struggling with reading and math, making little progress despite the consistency that had been lacking in the past. With one son, I felt like I was beating my head against a wall. I focused on him, spent more time one-on-one with him than I ever had with any other child (and that’s saying something!) and not only was he not progressing, it was as if he was getting no input at all. We started All About Reading Level 1 and two months later, he was still on Lesson 3. And still not getting it.
I knew. I recognized the symptoms from when our second son was the same age. The light bulbs were not coming on. He was seven, almost eight, and couldn’t handle the very basics of academic work. Not only that, but he was struggling in just about every area of life—attention, his social skills were sadly lacking, disciplining him was an exercise in frustration. He was living in his own little world and we couldn’t seem to get him out of it.
Although by God’s grace, and a lot of work, or second son had (eventually) managed to survive his academic studies, even going on to develop an interest in writing, just the thought of going through all the years difficulty, watching him struggle, it made me feel so . . . weary. For a week, my heart was heavy as I cried out to God asking him for answers. How could we make learning not so hard for this child? How could we disciple this child that didn’t seem to catch on the most basic of instruction?
Desperately I prayed until the wee hours of one morning. I woke up with an answer. I remembered our experience with NACD. I researched, re-listened to the initial “Guide to Child Development” MP3 we had downloaded. I looked up and watched free videos on YouTube about NACD’s perspective on attention deficit and autism. Throughout this time Steve and I talked and prayed. The Lord opened up the financial opportunity to pursue that path.
We decided to have all our children who were school age and preschool age evaluated, since all had shown deficits in some areas or another. With the preschooler, we wanted to see if there were ways to prevent some of these issues from developing. We traveled to Charlottesville, VA (four hours away) and spent two days getting seven evaluations for Matthew (16 at the time), Harrison (14), Jonathan (11), Jackson (8), Gabriel (7), Josiah (6), and Maggie (4).
The first assessments were pretty amazing. It didn’t look like Ellen (our evaluator) was doing all that much. There were a couple of simple academic tests, conversation, and little activities she asked the children to do that didn’t look like much to us. After the child left the room, Ellen proceeded to explain what was going in each child’s brain. She understood where their particular struggles were (even if the child had not displayed it for her in that hour!) and she had a plan for how we could help them work on these areas. She even had insight into the personality quirks of each child and an explanation for why the child displayed them. After those two days, I understood my children better than I ever have.
Implementing “program” for seven children was a drastic departure from our very laid-back approach. It took several tries to find an organizational style that worked for us. Weekly or daily checklists seem to work best. Soon we found that we needed to take a team approach, using older children to help with younger children, assigning buddies, and generally teaching everyone how do all the program activities with everyone.
Every four months we have follow-up evaluations, sometimes traveling to Charlottesville, sometimes via Skype. At first, we had all the children seen every time, but now we only have the children evaluated who most need to be seen.
Changing the way we “did school” was a BIG DEAL. Remember, we had already “graduated” three children, so we were pretty set in our ways.
Was it worth it?
ABSOLUTELY! The differences we see in the children is amazing, and not just in academics, although that is greatly improved and I’m happy to report that all the children are at grade level or above in all their academic subjects. The differences in our son who struggled the most are night and day. He has become affectionate, empathetic, a hard worker, and responsive to typical discipline.
When a new problem crops up, I feel more equipped to deal with it. NACD provided the tools I was looking for with a perspective that I agree with.
And that is where we find ourselves today. And it is a really good thing because at our twenty-week ultrasound the doctors found a neural tube defect, myelomeningocele or “spina bifida” as most people call it. Little Patrick is going to have some serious challenges, particularly as it relates to his bowel, bladder, and lower body mobility. Learning disabilities are associated with spina bifida, as well.
We are so grateful for all we have learned through NACD already. We know that God has been preparing us for this new chapter in our family life as we look forward to the joys and challenges of working with Patrick after he is born.