A Mother’s Story
WE WERE in our middle 20’s, and now we were about to become parents. Oh, how we wanted this child! I was careful about my diet, had good prenatal care and did all I could to ensure a normal, healthy baby.
At the onset of labor we excitedly went to the hospital. But how long we waited! After more than 24 hours, the doctor, afraid that the baby might be showing signs of stress, ordered drug-induced stimulation of labor.
Several hours later I awoke to learn that we had a baby girl. When we first saw Jessica, how thrilled we were! We noticed, though, that she was very red—unlike the other newborn. The doctors assured us that she was normal and healthy; it was a temporary condition caused by the difficult delivery.
The first three months with any infant can be most taxing. But Jessica always seemed to be screaming for long periods of time. The doctor dismissed it, saying, “She’ll get over it.” At about six months of age Jessica started crawling. She seemed filled with energy, quickly moving from one thing to another. Observers would say, “Watching her gives me a headache.”
As Jessica approached two years of age, things worsened. She was always falling and hurting herself. She cried easily and often for no apparent reason. Mealtime was usually a tearful scene. Worst of all were the temper tantrums. “Why,” we would ask, “just because we said, ‘You can’t have another cookie’?”
On the lighter side, her behavior did have its amusing aspects. Why, once in a department store she got into the store window, undressed the mannequin and started to carry it away! ‘But how does she think of such things?’ we wondered.
Then there were the disasters at home, constant messes in big order. I was wearing thin. How could I keep up with this child who was only two but didn’t go to sleep until midnight and got up at dawn? Even observers were saying, “She sure is a handful.” We tried to be firm, but why wasn’t anything working?
About this time a visiting friend, seeing our plight, told us that her child was hyperactive and had we ever thought about seeing a doctor who specialized in treating hyperactivity. She was convinced that her son had been helped, and she urged us to do something.
Hyperactive? we wondered. We did not want to jump to a wrong conclusion. But after a lengthy consultation with the doctor and some observation of Jessica, sure enough, she was diagnosed as hyperactive. The doctor recommended the removal of sugar from her diet and that she take certain vitamins, suggesting that the lack of various nutrients in her body was causing a chemical imbalance, which produced hyperactivity.
Reflecting, we had long observed that after eating certain foods, especially “junk foods,” Jessica appeared supercharged. We now felt that at long last we had something to go on. We began keeping a log of foods eaten and behavior. Sugar alone didn’t seem to be the culprit; some foods with sugar didn’t seem to affect her.
Shortly thereafter we stumbled on an article in a newspaper about an allergist and his recent book on how artificial colorings and flavorings had been linked to hyperactivity. Now that seemed more specific, we thought. In reading the book, it seemed to make a lot of sense. Could this be Jessica’s problem?
Our suspicions apparently proved correct. Eliminating all artificial colors and flavors produced dramatic results! Jessica slowed down greatly. It was as if her motor, once racing too fast for her body, was now down to its normal rate.
Eliminating artificial colors and flavors, that’s easy enough, we thought . . . until we started reading labels! They are everywhere! Add to that, eating in restaurants, at homes of friends—it is no easy task. However, there were times when Jessica would eat a confirmed “artificial” and nothing would happen. Thus, she did not prove to be allergic to every artificial coloring and flavor.
Problems at School
Time passed. When Jessica was four and a half, her brother Christopher was born. We thought we were finally settling down to a more normal life. People noticed the change in Jessica’s behavior. For the first time we were beginning to see her real personality come through.
Now a new dimension was surfacing. We already knew that Jessica was very clumsy, often falling and habitually spilling things; she was always covered with scrapes and bruises. But she would soon be starting school. We were concerned. Why, at five years of age, did she have such a hard time holding a crayon and coloring on paper? Would she have difficulty learning?
School started. Excited and happy, Jessica was so eager to learn. And so began the coloring, pasting and cutting that go with kindergarten. But her obvious difficulty with these skills was soon noticed.
We worked with her at great lengths at home. Those homework hours were often painful for her and for us. By the end of that year we reflected: Why did it seem so difficult for an otherwise bright child to master the printing of the alphabet? Other things puzzled us too: Why did she always write her name Jesscia? And why did she frequently reverse letters, such as b and d?
In first grade Jessica progressed very fast in some areas. She seemed to read quite easily, but math and spelling were very weak. It seemed strange that her papers were marked either very good or extremely poor. “I didn’t get it,” or, “I couldn’t see the blackboard,” she would explain.
Promptly, we took her for hearing and vision tests, which, much to our surprise, revealed hearing and vision to be normal. The situation, however, only worsened. There were far too many headaches and stomach aches related to school, as well as repeated cases of crying in the classroom and again when returning home.
Even at home we were noticing a child of almost seven who had to be told over and over again to do something, as if she didn’t hear us. She seemed so absentminded. Shoes were always on the wrong feet and dresses put on backward. The days of the week made no sense to her and she didn’t know the difference between yesterday, today and tomorrow.
By second grade Jessica’s problems in school got even worse. How could she know the words one day and then, come the spelling test, reverse letters, like siad instead of said? Math was no different. Simple concepts like 2 + 2 = 4 made little or no sense to her. The teacher kept writing, “You must help Jessica at home.” We were exasperated!
Learning Disabled Too?
Finally, at one of our many visits to the school, we asked to see the learning disabilities specialist. We described Jessica and her learning problems. A psychological evaluation was ordered. We were tense, anticipating the results.
They were conclusive. Jessica was indeed learning disabled. She had both auditory and visual perception problems. Visual and auditory memory were far below average, and there were significant problems with muscle coordination.
It was painful to face these facts, but we accepted them. The psychologist explained to us what these findings meant in Jessica’s case. With proper help she could, by special teaching techniques, be taught the things she had failed to grasp and in time catch up with her class.
We were certainly relieved. All along she really was paying attention! It wasn’t her fault that her brain was misinterpreting the signals received from her eyes and ears. For the first time we now really understood our daughter.
It has been a few years now since Jessica’s learning disability was determined. Our only regret is that we lost valuable years in tracking down the source of her problems. In addition to the special aid given her in school, we have found a private tutor most helpful. The progress has been more than we expected. Her own sense of self-worth has returned. Instead of a frustrated, rejected child headed for serious emotional problems, she now knows that she can learn. She is happy much more of the time, and the bond of love between us has deepened.
As for the future, we realize that it may take Jessica longer to reach the maturity of adulthood. But having isolated the problem and having learned how to work with it, we will do all we can to help her reach her full potential.—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 12]
We had long observed that after eating “junk foods” Jessica appeared supercharged
[Blurb on page 13]
How could she know the words one day and then, come the spelling test, reverse letters, like siad instead of said?