When Your Kid Learns Differently

freaking out about school doesn’t help

Of course I’m going to start out with a little story . . .

When I was 9 my mom remarried. I gained two more older brothers in this arrangement. To make it even more complicated my bio brother and my step brother shared the same name. This particular story is about my step brother Richie.

Richie had a “birth defect” because they used “forceps”. For the record — never explain anything to a nine year old with those words. They didn’t mean anything to me but what did mean something to me was that Richie could not hear, could not talk, and sometimes couldn’t control his movements. He rocked, he snorted, he made all kinds of sounds. Richie was unpredictable in a familiar way.

Richie made a lot of people uncomfortable but for me . . . it all seemed normal. On the farm, I spent all my time with my animals — they didn’t listen to me, couldn’t talk and were unpredictable. Living in the natural world of the unspoken, early on I developed a sense of ease with the unpredictable patterns. Yes, my first living paradox.

It was my job to learn sign language to communicate with him when he came home on the weekends. It wasn’t ASL but a bastardized version. It worked. And the best part is if Richie wanted cookies . . . my parents would give him cookies. If I wanted cookies . . . the answer was no. Richie and I both recognized this unfairness yet always found a way to enjoy cookies together.

Richie and his friends all had different issues that left them with profound challenges. I was able to navigate it all. I was often overwhelmed and exhausted when I left the group home but it was so worth every minute of watching a movie, reading a book out loud, playing candy land while trying to figure out who wanted ice cream. I had an opportunity to spend hours and hours, week after week, year after year visiting the group home. I had always thought of myself as intuitive but the gift of time spent with these men fine tuned my ability to “know”, “understand” and be “understood”.

Fast Forward Many Years

I went off to college and moved around a bit finally ending up back home. My mom died less than a year of me moving back home and the torch had been passed. I picked up the task of making sure Richie had what he needed. I wasn’t sure if he would remember me after being gone so long — but he greeted me with a huge hug and I gave him a bag of homemade cookies. His entire body smiled. Once again reunited in silence.

How could I thank him for teaching me sign language, showing me how to listen without words, using my observation skills to figure out a situation before it ended poorly. The only thing I could do, was to be his advocate. I went to the meetings, I stopped by the group home making sure he had things he needed and replacing whatever needed it. I made sure he had a winter coat, socks, and cookies. It wasn’t much but it was just what he needed.

Educating Richie

Very early on, there was a woman named Doris, Richie’s teacher. I learned an incredible amount by watching her. It didn’t seem much like teaching in the way my teachers taught me but rather just a continuing story. Richie excelled under her care. I think of her as an Annie Sullivan.

Richie the Teacher

Richie died a very tragic death. He was killed instantly by a train. I was asked to give the Eulogy.

I’d never given a eulogy before but I thought it went pretty well. The room was filled with his friends and many, many of the people that worked with him over the years. I of course poured my heart out and not a dry eye remained. The sign language interpreters were most affected as they had worked intimately with him— telling someone’s life through sign is extremely emotional.

My focus was how Richie was a teacher. He has spent most of his life with other people “teaching them” how to respond, how to interact, how to communicate with someone that was a challenge. He touched the lives of doctors, every kind of therapist you can name and then some, our family and the families of his care givers. We have richer lives because of Richie. Richie also taught me that possessions don’t really matter and we only have this moment.

Renee the Student of Richie (turned Teacher)

Richie armed me with the tools needed to work with kids that had Autism, Dyslexia, Apraxia, Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and loads of other issues. When I lived in California, I was offered a job working in a preschool/school as an aide simply because I knew sign language and could also teach it. This opportunity paid for several university classes in Early Childhood Education where I excelled. We moved before I finished my degree but the education was invaluable in teaching my own kids and volunteering in many schools public and private, homeschool co-ops and enrichment programs over the last 17 years.

One of my passions is sharing this gift of Intuitive Teaching that Richie gave me. I’ve been dragging my feet for years but now . . . finally with the advancement of technology I can make quick videos to teach kids reading and math. It is my way. Some kids will love it and some kids won’t. My style will not appeal to every one but if it only reaches one kid — it is worth it.

My First Video

Renee’s video teaching rows and columns. Of course my first video, I forget to hit record — so typical of me. Expect more and follow the you tube channel for more lessons. Also if you have something that your kid just isn’t getting — let me know in the comments and I’ll see if I can’t explain it in a way that resonates.

Lessons Learned

Teachers are everywhere.

Everyone learns, it just might look different.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Or in my case, when the teacher is ready she will make videos and the student will appear.

Learning happens without books.

Everyone matters. One life is not more important than the other.

We are all one.