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Something's Not Right
One Family's Struggle with Learning Disabilities
by Nancy Lelewer

From Chapter 10

Kelly's Downhill Slide
"I go to school wearing a smile,
but in my heart I'm dying."

It was when Kelly was in first grade that I began to notice a change in her. She had neat penmanship, she did well in gym, art, and music, and she was popular, but she did not learn to read. Her spelling was atrocious, and her math skills were marginal. Early in the year, her teacher said, "Kelly can do the work if she just sits still and tries."

Ridge School began teaching the multiplication tables in second grade. . . . Her homework sheet contained problems like 35 X 5 equals __ and 65 X 10 equals __. Kelly, I discovered as soon as I sat down with her, had no idea what "something times something" even meant, let alone what the combination of numbers might equal. Without her book with the multiplication tables in it, . . . she couldn't come up with an answer.
I took her upstairs to her bedroom. On the floor, I made five stacks of books with five books in each stack. I said, "If we add together all the books in the five stacks, it is the same as multiplying 5 X 5."
Kelly didn't understand, wasn't interested, became angry as I said it again, and kicked the books all over the floor. For the next two hours, I tried to show her the connection between addition and multiplication, and she tried to leave the room. Each time I stopped her. Finally I said, "Neither of us is leaving until you understand the meaning of 5 X 5 and how much it equals." Kelly cried, threw things at me, dumped everything out of her dresser drawers, and finally climbed onto the windowsill and ran back and forth in front of the open window. The sill was like a balance beam, and there was a full-story drop to the tiled patio below. I didn't dare go near Kelly as she ran angrily along that narrow precipice. Finally, she grew tired and agreed to help me build stacks of books and count them.
That night as I lay in bed, I wondered if what I had put Kelly and myself through that afternoon had been worth it. Kelly now understood the difference between addition and multiplication, and she knew that 5 X 5 equals 25, but the afternoon had definitely put a strain on our relationship. What was it going to take for her to master the rest of the multiplication tables so that they would come to her as automatically as her own name? Her teachers certainly weren't getting through to her, and my explanations also didn't seem to bring immediate enlightenment. I knew she was intelligent. Everyone knew that. So, why was it so hard for her to understand reading and math? Kelly already hated her school tutoring sessions, so I hated to suggest tutoring in arithmetic.
We struggled on at home, improvising as we went. But the struggle at home and at school took its toll. She was learning to read, maybe not as well or as quickly as her classmates, but still she was reading. In the process, however, my beautiful Kelly, with her flowing light brown hair, hazel eyes, magnetic smile, and outgoing personality was losing confidence in herself.

All excerpts from Something's Not Right,
Copyright 1994 by Nancy Lelewer

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