In 1996 I took a role in California in a company providing HR services across the US accompanied by my wife Judith and Jen (9 years old) and Rob (6 years old). Promises of endless sunshine and Disneyland being around the corner overcame most concerns as we set off for our great adventure.
Rob had started school two years before in a village school in England. He had begun to learn to read and had moved on to cursive writing. He had been doing fairly well at school and apart from a slightly lower level of co-ordination than his peer group and an inability to tie his shoe laces there was no indication of any problems.
When he arrived in Irvine California he joined a local Elementary school in First Grade as it was felt best if he stayed with his peer group. Although most of the local American children had attended Kindergarten they essentially started one year later than children in the UK and so Rob was at the top of his class in reading and generally seemed to settle quite quickly. He did have issues with adapting to a different culture as he was not allowed relief until he referred to the ‘rest room’ rather than the ‘loo’!
There were some issues evident as his handwriting deteriorated as he was forced to go from the cursive writing he had begun to learn in the UK back to simple print, but no indication of major problems. Only at the Parent Teacher evening did it emerge that Robert had gone from the top of the class to the bottom of the class in reading and that he had been kept in during virtually every break throughout the year to catch up with work as he was working much more slowly than everyone else in the class. He was bright orally but very slow when writing.
It was at this point that we first became aware that Robert had physical problems and a consultant ophthalmologist explained that his eyes were operating independently and he had to work much harder than the average child to get both eyes to focus on the same line. Eye exercises were prescribed. This seemed to explain the difficulties he was having. We moved Rob (and Jen) in to the private school system in the US due to our concerns about the quality of support that he had received and he made good progress in the second year in the States.
We returned to the UK in 1998 and Rob went to a Prep School. Reports continued to indicate that Robert was orally extremely bright, but his written work was slow. There was no attempt to identify a cause and simply commented that ‘Robert seems to be slow, I guess he always will be’.
After Rob had moved up to secondary school a routine eye exam in our local opticians, which was carried out by a leading Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon getting back to his roots, identified that Robert was suffering from an eye condition which was causing Diplopia (double-vision). As a child the brain had compensated avoiding the confusing image, but at 12 he was beginning to be increasingly conscious of the double-vision. Botox injections into the eye muscles were prescribed to reduce the impact of the double vision.
It was when Rob moved to a private boarding school when I took another job in California that we were prompted by the Special Needs Teacher to have Rob tested as she felt that he clearly had issues that were holding him back. Once tested it was established that Rob was dyslexic, dyspraxic and was in the bottom two percentile for short term memory. With the diagnosis it was possible for the school to support Rob in beginning to develop coping mechanisms and to get the support that he needed. In reality, however, there were issues.
Although all the teachers were advised of the results of his assessment a number of ‘traditional’ teachers did not believe that the diagnosis was anything other than an excuse for lack of application and the hours that he was expected to study put an enormous strain on him given his eyesight problems. However, the support they gave him in learning to study effectively gave him a foundation that he has been able to use ever since.
When we returned from the US Rob opted to return to the State system where he did not have the strain of very long days without a break. Academically he began to do much better even though the system gave him little additional support and advice other than the allowances that he was given in being able to use a laptop and have extra time for exams. He achieved very good GCSE results and then three Grade A’s for his A Levels enabling him to go to Bath to read Business Studies, where he is currently.
Overall the education systems in the UK and the US were not very good at identifying that Rob had issues despite what seemed classic combinations of intelligence and reading problems, but once identified he has had good support that has enabled him to achieve his academic potential.
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