Thursday, February 5, 2015

Gifted? ADD? Right-Brained? Visual-Spatial Learner?

I've never really liked labels, because it gives people some kind of pre-conceived idea of a person, without really emphasizing the individual, but I've discovered that in some ways, having a category to fit into helps to make sense of the individual's characteristics, and to learn how to connect, teach, and understand them.

Recently, we've been discovering a lot of great resources that might help us understand Monkey's learning style better. He has always struggled with focus/distraction. It would take him hours to do simple homework in kindergarten. It wasn't that he didn't know how to do it, he would just lose focus so easily! It was infuriating. This went on each year until we pulled him out to homeschool, assuming that, now that he has PLENTY of time to get the work done, he'd finally have more free time to explore other interests.  He has always been very analytic and understood concepts at an early age, and he was always eager to jump into bigger and more advanced projects, wanting to learn multiplication before he learned addition, or wanting to build a robot, without understanding electricity, or wanting to create a Minecraft mod, without learning how to program. He'd understand math concepts, yet get a lot wrong because of simple arithmetic mistakes or just copying errors. He had trouble reading at first, really not understanding how to 'sound out the words.' And his spelling was....well, creative??


In school, he would space out and daydream. He claimed it was because he was bored and already knew the material, so his mind wandered. This got him in trouble more than once.  So we knew that in some ways, he needed more of an academic challenge.  At the same time, he also was a somewhat delayed reader, and has always had trouble with spelling, capitalization/punctuation, reading aloud, organizing his thoughts on paper.  He tested high when testing for the gifted program at school, so we read up on giftedness, and learned that asynchrony is common in gifted kids, as one area develops faster than others. We read about how oftentimes, gifted kids have similar characteristics as ADD kids, because they are bored.


But after a year of homeschooling, speeding up the academics so he doesn't get bored didn't seem to make a difference in terms of his focus. It would take him 2 hours to do an assignment that should take 30 minutes.  We tried silence, we tried music. We tried couches, we tried tables and chairs. We gave him something to 'fiddle' with in his hands, and we tried having nothing in sight. He could just lose focus! After seeking some advice, we started looking into Inattentive ADD. He certainly fit most of the descriptions of ADD! But we felt he wasn't a severe case, and we don't want to medicate him, so we didn't look into getting him diagnosed officially, but I've still be reading up on how to adjust the teaching, the material and the environment to address the situation as if he has ADD. Just changing my mindset from 'You just aren't even trying hard', to 'I know this is really difficult for you to focus on this' was a huge game-changer for me. Realizing that his brain may not be producing the right chemicals to keep his attention made me more sympathetic rather than frustrated with him. I got some great insights at Learning-Abled Kids, which has a section specifically on homeschooling, as well as so many other resources.


And THEN, someone else mentioned that he sounds 'right-brained'. I had no idea what that meant. The Right Side of Normal was recommended as a great resource, so I started reading up. The descriptions fit like  T! Whole-to-part learning, vivid imagination, loves to build, global (rather than sequential) thinker...everything began to make a lot of sense. So now I'm devouring all the info I can about right-brained thinkers and how teaching them is different from the typical teaching methods in schools, which is geared much more toward left-brained thinkers(spelling tests, math drills, phonics). The difficulty with spelling, math facts, and reading makes sense now, as does the desire to learn algebra or build a robot.

Visual-Spatial Learner? 

As I read one of the articles in the Right Side of Normal page, I found that another author had previously categorized certain types of learners that have similar patterns as 'Right-brained' people as 'Visual-Spatial Learners'.  This is a term I had heard, but pretty much ignored.  A great homeschooling blog that I follow, Eclectic Homeschoolers, had quite a few posts about Visual-Spatial Learners, with curriculum suggestions, and I had pretty much ignored every post, because I didn't think it was relevant to my son! Well, now that I realize that 'Visual-Spatial' has the similar characteristics as 'Right-brained', I am combing through all her articles about what she uses for her Visual-Spatial learners.

So, what is he???

Maybe none of the above, maybe a little of each, maybe ALL of the above....we just know he is still our little Monkey, and now we know how to address some of his differences. Well, we're learning how...It's a HUGE relief, and an open door, to finally realize that he is not alone, and WE are not alone as parents trying to teach with these differences. As much as I don't like the idea of labels, it certainly has allowed us to find the resources we need to address our concerns.