Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Do you suspect your child has a learning disability? Our experience with Learning RX

Two years ago, we took custody of our then four and a half year old grandson. We realized immediately that we had problems. He could barely talk and couldn't sit still for more than two or three minutes. Even with cartoons that he liked, it was impossible for him to sit through more than a few minutes of the show. We met with his kindergarten teacher as there were two weeks left of school in the year when we took custody. We were told that although no official diagnosis had been made because his guardians at the time wouldn't allow it, it was believed that he was slightly mentally retarded with ADHD. We enrolled him in a really good daycare with a preschool and kindergarten program.  We found immediately that he knew almost nothing. He recognized only 3 letters out of the entire alphabet and no numbers. We went to work. Within three months we saw a difference, but not enough to start him in regular school so we waited. In six months we had him tested by the school system and he was allowed to start public school in the middle of the year.  He struggled, but he was in many ways a little sponge. The problem was there were so many things he didn't know. Every parent has seen the little sheets sent home where you match the animal or the picture to the word. For most children this is relatively easy, but for our child it was hard because he didn't know what anything was. No one had ever shown him a giraffe, or an elephant or talked to him to know what a gate was, or a table.

One of the first things we noticed is that he had no concept of the meaning of words. He's trying to learn to read and spell, but he doesn't know what any of those words mean or how they're used.  Within 8 months we noticed he could watch an entire movie.  This started slow, but continued from 5 minutes to 10 minutes to 20 minutes to a full show.  Amazing from the fact that before 2 or 3 minutes was tops.  Still there were problems.  Behavior problems started to develop.  There had always been some, but they got worse.  From working with him I realized that the majority of these problems initiated from his frustration of not being able to do all the things other kids were able to do--he thought easily.  His mind didn't work the way everyone else's did.  He didn't grasp directions, concepts and his cognitive thinking was low.  Really, really low.  He would watch you, judge your emotions and know whether to seek a hug or run away, but he couldn't grasp the concept of 4 plus 4 equals 8.  And if he ran out of fingers to count on, we were in real trouble.

We had over the first year and a half had numerous medical tests run, including an MRI of the brain.  There were no apparent physical reasons for his problems.  Having worked with him night after night I realized that something was wrong.  He wasn't mentally retarded and although he has some of the symptoms I don't believe he's ADHD.  What I did believe was his mind just did not work right.  What he saw and what his mind correlated were two different things.  I started looking for therapies to help retrain his mind.  We first tried visual therapy, but after several months realized we were getting nowhere.  A little change, but not enough to really make a difference.  He was failing first grade badly.  His behavior as well as his academic progress was horrible.  There were times I almost gave in and had him medicated.  It would have been easier on us.  It probably would have been easier on the school.  He would have been calmer, more mellow and sit still--BUT--his brain would never have had the chance to correct whatever his issues were.  So I beat my head against the wall many nights.  I cried myself to sleep many nights.  I prayed several times day that I wouldn't lose control with him, or just give up.  His frustrations were also my frustrations, my anger, my depression.  I almost lost the will to live.  So, yes, medication would have been easier for me.  But I wanted him to have a normal, healthy, happy life.  I wanted him to grow up as a functioning member of society.  I wanted him to think, to learn, and to enjoy that process.  He couldn't do that if drugs were controlling his brain.  He had to learn to control his brain himself.  He had to learn coping skills. His mother was a severe drug addict. I'm sure she used drugs during her pregnancy.  One of the things she always told me was she had no coping skills. She used drugs when she was happy because they enhanced that feeling. She used drugs when she was sad, to get rid of that emotion.  She used drugs when she was angry. Excuses?  Yes, but it all boiled to the fact that she had no coping skills for her emotions or situations happening around her. With the background history of where our grandson had been, the things that had been done to him and the things that still trigger moments of total melt down, I couldn't afford to let him fall into that category.  If he's going to have any chance at all for a normal life he has to learn self-control and coping skills.  He can't do that on drugs that control for him.

Late last year, or early this year I came across an article for the Learning RX which talked about their programs for autistic and children with ADHD. I read the good, the bad and the ugly about this program.  One of the things that influenced me the most was comments by Special Ed teachers who had trained in the program to use with their children at school.  Some of these children made amazing progress.  Children with severe learning programs still made some progress.

We scheduled a meeting with the center, had our grandson tested and talked at length with administrator about his issues, fears and the problems we were having.  His scores on the test were something the center had never seen before. He scored a straight 20 across the board in all cognitive and other areas.  No fluctuation up or down, just a straight 20.  We were told up front they weren't sure how he would respond as they'd never seen this before.  And the program is expensive.  There are several options where they do all the training or it's done some at home and some at the center.  Having gone through months of beating my head against the wall and it taking up to two hours to do one page of simple homework, I opted for them to do all the training.  It's a 12 week program, four nights a week for an hour and fifteen minutes.  We knew it could be a waste of money.  We knew he could balk and not want to go.  We went into it with our eyes wide open.  This was our last hope in many ways to keep him off of medication and find a way to help him.  He couldn't read, he couldn't spell and he couldn't do simple math.

We started the program in late February.  Within two weeks we were getting reports from his teachers about how well he was doing. Not just academically, but also his behavior had improved greatly.  His IEP reading teacher met with me to tell me that he was reading, and reading with confidence and self-esteem.  Homework that took over two hours was suddenly being done in less than 10 to fifteen minutes and he was doing most of it by himself with just a little instruction from us.  He grasped the concepts of addition and subtraction.  He grasped the concepts of vowels and consonants and how blending them made sounds and words.  He developed some reasoning skills.  In other words, he excelled across the board.

This program has been a life saver for us.  He has a long way to go, but now that his brain is learning to function the way it should and his eyes and brain are working together, the rest won't be nearly as hard.  We went from not being able to add 2 plus 3 to being able to add 146 plus 23.  We went from missing every word, except maybe one on a spelling test to getting them all right, or only missing one and sometimes 2 when the words were really hard.  We went from sounding out EVERY letter in a word (which trust me was frustrating and sounded horrible) to being able to sight read many, many words or grasp the word with just a little bit of sounding out.  He now reads books.  He now thinks about choices and what happens when he makes a choice.  He now understands when he's angry he needs to sit down and chill out for a minute--not put his foot through the wall.  He went from screaming for 2 hours at a time to an occasional less than a minute feel sorry for himself cry when he doesn't get his way.  We went from constant episodes of open defiance to small issues of "that's back talk"--"oh, I'm sorry, granny".  We went from having to send him to his room to his going to his room because he knows he needs to chill out.  He can sit through an entire movie at the theater.

Our experience with the Learning RX has been amazing and wonderful.  Was it easy?  NO!  After 7 plus hours at school he had to go for an hour and fifteen minutes of very high powered tutoring four nights a week.  Then come home for homework.  The program is 12 weeks long.  He's six years old.  He never fought us about going, but there were times I praised his instructor as having the patience of Job.  There were times I had to go into the room and remind him of proper behavior to show respect.  There were times when we all looked at each other and shook our heads because he was driving us crazy.  Why?  Because he was tired.  He'd been in school all day.  All the other kids were outside playing and he wouldn't be finished with everything until it was dark or almost dark. It was at times very difficult, but the progress we were seeing encouraged all of us to keep going.  This is his last week.  Then he'll be tested and then he'll graduate from the program.  The program for his age is called Lift-Off.  And that's exactly what it's done.  It's lifted him up so that he could catch up with those around him. Now we have a baseline for continuing and keeping him caught up so that his future academic progress won't be so hard for him or us.

Although I highly recommend the Learning RX program, I'll be the first to say that every child is different.  Our grandson's progress here was probably top of the line.  They had what he needed.  This may not work for every child.  Some may do better, some will seemingly get no benefit at all.  It's an individual thing. And as I said it's very expensive.  As long as you see it that way and go into it with your eyes wide open, you're willing to drive every night, sit and wait for an hour and fifteen minutes, then drive home, get dinner, homework, baths, etcetera, then I'd say give it a try.  It's not easy on the children or the parents.  It's the hardest 12 weeks we've had in a long time because not only was his nights taken up, so were ours.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  Every minute and every dollar.

We've giving him the summer off, and then there's a second program based just on reading and math that we may look at if he's still having trouble when he enters 2nd grade.  He'll be tested next week and I can't wait to see his scores.  If he has a good day and good night and puts his true effort into that testing it should be an awesome score for this program.

Some reading this may believe I'm anti-medication.   To an extent I am.  I need to see some physical or emotional need for that medication.  In our case simply allowing medication to control what he needed to learn to control himself would have been the wrong option.  There are children who probably need medication so therefore I would not be anti-medication in those cases.  The question I had to keep asking myself was--"Are you medicating him for his benefit or because you're tired of dealing with him?"  The answer was always "I'm tired of dealing with him."  Until I can answer that question that it's for his benefit, I'll always look for an alternative.  If one can be found I'll grab it first.

If you're interested in learning more about Learning RX, check out the link below.  Make sure you read all the reviews, good and bad.  Make a list of issues for your child, and ask specific questions of what you can expect over the course. Get involved in what's being done and watch your child's progress or lack thereof and discuss this with both the teacher and the administrator.  I've found them to be very open to both questions and issues.  And if you have a child with a learning disability, don't ever give up on that child. Seek therapy for yourself if you reach the point I have reached many times.  I did, and it helped to have someone to sound things off of.  Someone to understand what I was going through. Someone to encourage and help me through the rough spots.

Will all of this continue?  Only time will tell. He could revert and stop learning again. He could revolt and refuse to spend the time necessary to help him continue his learning process. He could eventually need medication. Only time will answer those questions. I have my fingers crossed.