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Learning Difficulties and Differences or an Opportunity to Learn Brilliantly?

By Beverley Paine

Just wanted to share something my 26 year said to me the other night.

He was a late reader and writer, yet always called himself a writer. He would tell me his stories and I'd write or type them. There weren't many, but I trusted that he was a writer anyway. I don't think he's ever read a novel.

He is a reader and writer now of course. In fact, he's tutoring TAFE students while he studies for his Advanced Diploma (IT). He was unschooled and spent his time learning naturally, playing and helping mum and dad do whatever. It was a busy, productive and constructive life. A little bit socially isolated for the most part, but that didn't seem to hinder his social development or socialisation process.

A couple of years ago, after starting TAFE, he revealed that he'd discovered he was dyslexic. I wasn't surprised. I'd borrowed a book about special needs and dyslexia when he was aged nine and did a few 'tests'. He didn't tick the boxes for dyslexia. As a toddler he would have the most amazing tantrums, but I quickly worked out he was frustrated at not being able to communicate his thoughts. He was my third child and I'd learned a thing or two from parenting his siblings. Being attentive and observant and identifying needs had started to become second nature by the time he'd arrived on the scene.

A year ago a homeschooling mum was talking to me about her son and the issues he had both at school and home. This little boy has dyspraxia, more specifically developmental verbal dyspraxia. Little boxes were being ticked in my head as she talked. It was as though she was describing my son's early years.

Our son's dyslexia becomes apparent when he noticed he couldn't spell when handwriting but had no troubles when typing. He also has troubles when spelling words aloud. He skipped handwriting during childhood and went straight to typing in his early teens. It was only when needed to write notes by hand for exams at TAFE that he re-discovered the problem.

While visiting us the other night he described what happens when he's reading numbers. Throughout childhood he did maths mentally, occasionally using paper as an aide. I asked him to work through a grade 8 (first year high school) maths book when he was aged 14, but only to give him experience with that form of learning should he need or want to go to school. And he'd also taught himself algebra using online resources a few years ago because he needed to know it for a TAFE course. 

Over the past year he has worked out that not only does he have problems with spelling, he also reads numbers incorrectly (dyscalclia), for example saying 3 in 459, instead of 4. He knows it is 3, but says 4, not hearing or realising that he's said 4, thinking he's said 3. There is a definite disconnect happening somewhere in his head. Sometimes he reverses numbers too, for example 56, instead of 65, and only realises if he gets the sum wrong or it is pointed out by others.      

As his mum I knew school would destroy him. It would crush his sense of self-esteem, his confidence in his ability to learn, and his understanding of himself as a learner. They would not have been able to meet his individual learning needs. He would have had to conform to their learning schedules, study what they wanted him to learn, in the way they presented it. There would have been no flexibility, no allowances for his differences. And worse than that, they would have destroyed his instinctive understanding of the nature of learning.

At home we had all the time in the world to learn in whatever way worked for him. I knew he was different. I knew it was hard for him. I comforted him as best I could whenever his frustration got the better of him. Life wasn't always fun and games. 

Yesterday his dad proclaimed him a genius. The day before his older sister told friends he'd ace a MENSA test. We're all in awe of what he can do. He's a creative problem solver with a positive 'have a go' attitude.

Sometimes I look at him and think, "Wow. This kid did little else but play for the first twenty years of his life." And I think of all those kids in school and wonder what would happen if they were allowed to play too. Especially the ones that tick the 'learning differences' boxes. What a difference that would make!

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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