For most of Josh’s seven and half years we have been told he has a language impairment and learning disability resulting from the stroke… he’s heard it over and over again at multiple appointments… he’s heard the doctors say repeatedly where is weaknesses are, and he’s heard his teachers tell me over and over again where he’s missing the mark… it’s been a fact of his life; it’s become a fact of our lives…
Last fall Josh came downstairs after only 4 days of school crying; he told me that he didn’t want to go to school because it was ‘too hard’ and he ‘can’t do it’… he told me that he ‘can’t read’ and that all the other kids are reading but not him… it was hard to hear him so defeated but no matter how hard we all tried his progress was painfully slow. His test scores for reading were quite low (way below his grade level should be – according to provincial standards, which is not necessarily achievable by the average kid if you ask me)…
When my Grandpa died we had to drive up north to the funeral; on the way to keep the kids from fighting I started asking Josh math questions… turns out that he can do double digit (carrying the 10) addition in his head, as well as subtraction… I made a bit of a deal about it because I was so impressed… The next day I noticed something different about him; he was wanting do math more and more, he kept asking me to ask him questions. That was when I was hit in the head with the truth of Joshua’s life. I should have seen it before; but Josh has been hearing how he ‘can’t’ do things from everyone, doctors, teachers, therapists, and even me when I am talking to the doctors and teachers… without even realizing what we were doing we were crushing his self-confidence. You hear you ‘can’t’ enough and you start to really believe you can’t.
So, I started that very day working to build that confidence in him. I talked endlessly to whoever would listen (when Josh could hear me) about how much his reading was improving, how his language was so much better, how the new medicine he was on was allowing him to do things he couldn’t do before. I started telling him multiple times a day that he ‘can’ do it, that he ‘was’ doing it.
It has been a month since Grandpa’s funeral, just one month. Josh is reading is getting so much better already, he’s not where he needs to be, he’s got a long way to go, but he’s TRYING, and he’s getting it, I can see his brain engaging and the code of letters is starting to click for him. Yesterday he started to try to read the signs on the way back from an appointment at Sick Kids… We were sitting in the cab and the taxi driver commented to him what a great reader he was and Josh’s little face lit up like it was Christmas.
This morning when we waited for the bus I told him how proud I was of him, that he was getting so great at reading and that when Daddy (who has been a way for the week) comes home he will be so surprised with how far he’s come… Josh looked at me with so much pride in himself, and then he came over and initiated a heart warming hug. It almost felt like a thank you. (I hug Josh so much that he never really initiates hugs; so to get one from him was a gift).
I got so used to the appointments where Josh is being tested for things (learning and language), appointments where he’s present but often busy with a game or colouring, that I forgot he’s taking in absolutely EVERYTHING we are saying about him; and he’s taking it to heart. It should not have taken me so long to see this, to change the language we use around him from ‘can’t’ to ‘can’. It should not have taken so long… but I am so glad it didn’t take longer.
If you learn anything from our story learn this: Words are powerful. They can break a spirit or they can make a person whole. They can defeat a person or build them up to be victorious. They can be heard even when we don’t think the person is listening. How and when we use words to describe our kids will determine a lot of things about who they will become. It can’t always be helped; these conversations sometimes need to take place; but balance is imperative; when the doctors/teachers are done telling them what they can’t do, you need to step in to tell them that they can, and you need to help them believe it. The change I have seen in Josh in just one month is proof that self confidence in a child, believing in themselves, is a huge part of the battle and it will determine if they win or lose that battle.
The wonderful thing about kids? They bounce back; they overcome.