Saturday, January 2, 2016

Fred's Story

As a parent of a child with special needs it's easy to see it in many places, even if it's not 100% the issue. I probably over mention it, at times, to other parents who have children struggling in the same way our child did.. but had a parent not done the same to me, we might never have learned.

Imagine my shock while reading my husband's most recent Reader's Digest {Aussie Edition} to see an article in there entitled "What's Wrong With FRED?" Within a paragraph I wanted to scream at the author that he really should suggest Fred get tested for Irlen.

Fred, as it turned out, gave up on learning very quickly because most of his teachers thought he was a lazy student. They didn't understand that Fred wasn't only giving it his best he was giving it more then he had. He exhausted himself trying to read & write. He went to tutoring on the weekends, he worked hard to do all the things "normal" kids do.

It wasn't until he was in 5th grade that a teacher noticed Fred's efforts & realised that Fred just failed a test he should have easily aced. Rather then call him lazy he kept Fred behind & re-administered the test orally. Fred aced it, & in that moment he met the teacher who taught him he wasn't lazy but incredibly capable.

Fred's parents took him to a psychiatrist who said Fred had an incredible IQ, but he couldn't explain why Fred couldn't do all the things other children could do. So Fred struggled on, meeting new teachers who tried their best, a principle who ate him for breakfast, & parents who did their best. Fred wondered at himself.

He wondered why he could memorise the Gettysburg Address in record time, but he couldn't write without it looking like a jumbled mess of chicken scratch. He wondered why no matter how hard he tried he could barely scrape by. It took tutoring & all he had to pass his science class with a C+.

It took him a lot more effort & convincing to make it to medical school & eventually become a Neurosurgeon. Medical schools wouldn't accept him because of his poor academic scores, they were convinced it was a poor choice of career for him. 

Yet Fred persisted, & with the help of his parents & an Aunt he made it. A moment I'm sure no one forgot as he walked across the stage & took up his medical diploma. 

Yet, the part that really struck me about Fred was that he never knew what was wrong with him. When his own child came along & she too struggled, he did all the things his parents had.. including taking her to a psychiatrist who confirmed that his child had an incredible IQ but was hindered by a severe "learning disability". 

Fred found peace in realising that 5-10% of American children all have a learning disability. He felt that he learned something about himself & finally understood that he wasn't stupid or different. That there were others out there, just like him. 

There was a subnote at the end of the article stating that Fred had died in 2006. I admit that when I reached that point I had the wind knocked out of me. I just sat there & had to reread several portions of the article several times before seeking out Mr S & demanding, "Did you notice Fred has SSS? He does! How could he die & not know that?! He was a Neurosurgeon!! Isn't it funny that the very part of his body that worked in hyperdrive is the very part of the body he so desperately wanted to focus on fixing for other people?"

Mr S stared at me, perhaps because I was so serious about the injustice that Fred never knew. The concern that his children, & his grandchildren, & so on could go on & on wondering & never knowing. Then I was reminded of something our beloved Dr T told us, “We need more awareness of Irlen. We need people to know this is a real thing & not just some made up craziness. We need the schools to take it seriously & understand that kids aren’t stupid. We need people like you guys to help bring awareness on your end of Tassie.”

So I did the only thing I could think of to do & I wrote her an email. I told her to seek out the issue & read the article. To tell me if I’m crazy or if I might be right that Fred has Irlen, or Visual Processing Disorder, or Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. They may have different names, but it really doesn’t matter what you call it.. I told her if she can’t find the article to let me know & I’ll send her a copy of the article.

I said if it was what was wrong with Fred I’d write a letter to the Australian Reader’s Digest. I’d admit just how moved & crushed I was by the article. How I was filled with hope to know that Fred could accomplish such great & amazing things without the same help my children now have access to. Because, that’s exactly how I felt, it’s how I still feel.

I am crushed for Fred, his parents, his devoted Auntie, & his beloved 5th grade teacher. The people who knew him from the inside out & knew how much effort & time he put into the things he did. There might not have been the helps we have now, or even a label, but they didn’t need one to know their boy was amazing. Bright. Intelligent. Capable of great & wonderful things.

So while I mourn, for them, what they may never know, I also realise that great & wonderful things are ahead for my own children. After all, if Fred can be a paediatric neurosurgeon, what can’t a person with Irlen/SSS/VDP become?!

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