Unfortunately, some learning disabled people end up as juvenile delinquents. Statistics show that up to 50% of juvenile delinquents are learning disabled. For some of them, their antisocial behavior are a direct reaction to the humiliation they feel from being categorized as stupid or slow in the classroom. To compensate for feelings of inadequacy, they pretend not to be affected by their poor performance at school. Their anti-social behaviors become a badge of pride for them.
Constant embarrassment and humiliation by insensitive teachers in front of a group of peers can stratify children with learning disorders. They end up feeling most comfortable with those afflicted by similar disabilities, thus creating a culture of limitations. Too, young adults with undiagnosed learning disabilities are often drawn toward self-medicating themselves with illegal drugs. Now the culture of limitations has become one of illegality. None of these compensatory behaviors have anything to do with healthy ideals such as the building of self-esteem. Instead, they are direct pathways to a life of clinical depression, ingrained ostracism, jail time, and – in some cases – violent death.
Estrella Caban s situation is – unfortunately – quite common. According to recent studies, a full 39% percent of children with learning disabilities have parents with learning disabilities as well. Estrella knew that her son was in for a difficult time; she d had difficulty reading and writing all throughout her childhood.
Would she allow her son to walk through the same hell as she had? Not on your life!
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As a little in grade school in Puerto Rico, I was very reluctant to read out loud. Whenever we did reading exercises, I would count the number of students ahead of me in class and glance ahead in the book. I would try to figure out which part of the selection I d have to read when my turn came.
It s difficult for me to describe this, sometimes – how reading filled me with so much shame. To me, reading felt like dying. Most of the time I d tell the teacher that I didn’t want to read, and this was never received very well, as you can imagine! But you see – back then, no one knew what was going on with me. They thought that I was lazy or dumb or acting out. No one knew I was Dyslexic until I was 16 years old.
I first found out about my learning disability when I enrolled in college at the University of Puerto Rico. College required more reading from me than I d ever done in my life – if I was to survive in that environment, I had to find a way to increase my facility with reading. I began to experiment with different techniques. For a while, I evolved a different way of looking at a printed page – by laying a ruler under the line I was reading so the text wasn’t jumping all over the place in my brain. Using this technique, I was able to increase my focus, and therefore my comprehension.
As it turns out, I never graduated college because of a political situation that was taking place in Puerto Rico at the time. But I’d earned enough credits from three years of college to get a job teaching school at Grades 7 – 9.
Even after I left college, I continued practicing my reading skills. By then I knew how important reading was. All the students I was teaching could learn so much and so quickly – all because they were facile readers! I kept practicing, kept laying my ruler under the lines on the pages of books. I forced myself to focus because I wanted so much to study the subjects I was interested in. How could I do that without learning to read?
Eventually, I got another job working for IBM in Puerto Rico. They trained me very well for the work I was doing; later on they offered me a promotion that would take me to New York City. I was awarded the position of Field Manager – a job that requires a lot of reading! It wasn’t easy for me. My problems with reading and spelling put me at a severe disadvantage from other employees. I had a hard time keeping up with all the evaluation work my job required.
I excelled at the other aspects of my job. I’m very good with numbers and I’m a terrific communicator – these are both important parts of being a Field Manager; you can’t do my job without them. Still, reading and writing became my Achilles Heel. There was no way around the fact that I performed poorly in these areas – and my poor skills meant that my job was at stake.
IBM eventually fired me, right around the same time that I had myself tested and discovered that I had an inner-ear problem. Along with difficulties reading and writing, I learned that inner-ear problems can affect a whole range of other problems – the doctors said that my speech was certainly affected, along with the persistent lower back pain I d always felt and sporadic bouts of dizziness. IBM heard these claims and said they were groundless. According to them, I simply wasn’t performing well.
I had to change my profession.
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My back problems got worse after the birth of my son, but doctors seemed hard-pressed to find any solutions. They couldn’t understand why I was in so much pain. By this time, I was about 34 years old. I d been knocked for a loop over the discovery of my inner-ear problem – knocked even more off-kilter by the reports I d read about the connection between Dyslexia and inner-ear conditions.
My doctors would tell me all sorts of things that struck me as conflicting. For instance, they d tell me my problems with reading were due to an eye fixation. Of course, I didn’t really learn this until my son started experiencing reading problems in the 1st Grade and I took him to get tested. I remember how horrible that experience was – first, all those memories of growing up, feeling different, feeling stupid because I couldn’t read. Then – to think that my son would have to go through the same sort of torture? It s a mother s worst nightmare.
Doctors examined my son at the same time as they examined me. “Yes,” they said. “You have an eye fixation issue. But you re too old to undergo vision therapy.” So it was irony after irony.
They said my son should go through vision therapy, but he didn’t want to do it. He was in complete denial about his problem. I guess he was a little embarrassed by it, and I can understand that. Lord knows I could understand it after what I d been through as a child! But apart from that, I also knew that – if he went through this type of therapy at an early age – he might be able to spare himself all the misery that I d gone through by not getting treated.
His school classified him as learning disabled. For 2nd and 3rd Grade, he was put in an ESL (English as a Second Language) class; even though he d been born here in the United States and spoke English perfectly, his reading and writing skills were remedial at best.
This should give you an idea of the state of education in this country in some places. They never tested my son for ADHD or Dyslexia. And because he had problems reading – because they had no other place to put him – they stuck him in a class with a bunch of kids who couldn’t speak English. Tell me how that makes sense!
I wouldn’t stand for it. So I put my son in a private school, hoping that they d handle the problem with more understanding. He had to repeat the 3rd Grade, which wasn’t a fun experience for him. And, although the private school handled the situation far better than the public school system did, my son still had reading problems. He was still afflicted by his disorder.
They didn’t help him. He was listening in class, but he couldn’t engage enough to learn, to comprehend. He complained all the time about how out of place, how unwanted he felt in school. For him to make sense of the lessons, he required constant input, a level of attention that the school couldn’t afford to give him. He grew very impatient with the environment he was in. His ADHD was a barrier that kept him from being a part of everything going on around him.
At one point the school wanted to give him Ritalin, but I wouldn’t allow it – I was, by that point, aware of the side effects. Instead, I took my son to a nutrition herbalist who recommended a special diet. But at 12 years of age, it was difficult to force my son to stop eating the same foods the other kids were eating.
When he turned 17, we took him to repeat the same eye test he d taken as a child. We hoped to prove that the doctors had been wrong. But the results came back exactly the same.
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What did I do with myself after I left IBM? Eventually I was recommended to a massage therapist and she was able to find ways that helped me. I was so impressed by the gains I made in wellness from my experience with massage that I began to study massage technique and therapy.
This led to my interest in more types of alternative therapy. For instance, I began to study colonic treatments after I read (using my ruler!) studies documenting the connection between toxicity levels in the human body and their connection to the development of learning disabilities. Colonic treatments remove toxic wastes from the body in the form of accumulated fecal deposits. With these poisons expunged, the levels of toxicity begins to drop off and the body begins to react differently to almost everything!
There are so many levels to explore with learning disorders, so many things that are within our control if we take the time to study them, make ourselves aware, and commit ourselves to action.
For now, I would like to send a clear message to the school systems of this country: you must hire more people trained to detect ADHD and Dyslexia problems in children at a very young ages! These people must work closely with those students – giving them the help they need to over come their limitations, avoid their frustrations, and lead a normal, healthy, productive life.
Without adequate training of this kind, we endanger our children s future. We doom them to lives of constant struggle and alienation – lives that all too easily turn toward juvenile delinquency. We build the future of our country and our world on a foundation of quicksand and air.