* My dear Isaac

Dear Isaac is my nephew with an unidentified auditory processing disorder and dyscalculia, all mixed with a heavy dose of emotional distress.  He’s a bright, creative youngster with strengths in science and art.  But as a third grader, he still can’t add or subtract single digit numbers without his fingers.  If we hadn’t used Alan Walker’s multiplication methodology, Isaac wouldn’t have learned any multiplication facts.  After his initial refusal to engage with the Walker approach to memorization, Isaac cut his losses and became proud of his new knowledge.

After my initial assessment, I estimated that it would take six months to correct fundamental math reasoning errors.  That was an accurate estimate.  Isaac has made solid progress in solving problems.  You would be so proud if you could see him working on multiple-step word problems!

Sadly, dear Isaac is now burned to a crisp at school and when it’s time for homework.  He doesn’t act out at school but his teacher reports that he is frequently inattentive and withdrawn.  The school year has been too long and taxing.  Isaac feels stupid, is depressed, and his teacher flat out refuses to lessen the homework load.  Oh dear!

A predictable conundrum for him (and me!) is dealing with his errors.  He has made too many and now wants to be error-free for life.  If only!  He is reluctant to accept alternative methods of calculation when he feels especially low.  We had a difficult session this past week when he refused to write multiple digit addition problems vertically instead of horizontally.

After staring at his horizontally-written problem, Isaac screamed, “I can’t do this!   I thought you were going to help!”

“Write it vertically, Isaac.”

“I’m going to do it MY way!”  

“Go ahead.”  [I walk across the room because I know he’s going to implode if I stay close.  Or I might just bite my hand off.]

Repeat above scenario 3 times.

Finally, amidst tears and growls, Isaac rewrites the problem vertically and gets so much praise from me that we are back on track.  I remain at his side as his sense of humor returns and he completes all the dreaded homework in record time.

Here’s the adorable Isaac, taking aim at homework with a tripod?

Isaac 3



17 thoughts on “* My dear Isaac

  1. This was so interesting, and such a challenge for both of you! The school year is so long for one who struggles, and I have a hard time accepting that a child this young should have a bunch of homework after a long day in school. In reading this I can tell what a pro you are after years of experience, knowing just how to deal with the frustration and the outbursts so that it ends up a win-win situation and Isaac has reason to be proud of his success. So much of adult self-esteem, or the lack of it, is based on our school experiences. He is blessed to have you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Josie. After all these years, I know there will never be one perfect response to a student meltdown. I hated to see him suffer but until he was willing to erase 8 + 8 + 14 + 14, we were stuck. The greatest sadness I feel is that he is so misunderstood by his teachers and that is likely to persist. If he were staying here next year, I would have advocated for a formal evaluation by this time. He and his sibs are returning to their “home” after 3 years.

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      • Very true and I appreciate that you help people so much. I grew up in Europe and they did not have a term for this until I moved to America and learned Dyscalculia. Even now it is not very well known, I appreciate it when someone highlights it in any way.

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      • Thanks! You’re right that it’s not well recognized or understood. There’s been much more research on dyslexia. Both struggles make kids (and adults) feel “less than” and even stupid. It’s not a matter of working harder; in fact, my students with discalculia work much harder to retain math skills. I’d love to hear more about how this affected you. Have you blogged about it?


      • As a kid I had trouble with math (understatement it was like a different language). My first language is French, then English, but in any language I was awful at math. My mom is not good either (they say it can be inherited) my dad is okay at it but not brilliant. Around age 7/8 I started remedial math classes after school for approx 10 years to NO effect. Not diagnosed they just said I was bad at it. Did after school math club the whole nine yards so you are so right about working harder to no avail. Moved to the US at 28 first diagnosed – by Uni when doing my MA. They told me I would need years of remedial to get an MA that I would probably fail etc, when I graduated top of my year I took them my medal and said ‘you have it, maybe it will remind you not to tell people they will fail’ – this from a leading tester in dyscalculia no less. Yes it has held me back. I love virology would have died to be a virologist, cannot due to how much math is involved. I’m about age 8 in terms of ‘ability’ in math, sometimes worse when I panic. I can do long-multiplication and balance a check book and I’m told I’m good with money (I am) but that’s about it. I can work things out in a different way in my head and get ‘close’ but sometimes I am literally a moron. It mostly affects things like sequences, trying to think in reverse, trying to abstract vis-a-vis numerics or similar code (computer code for example) and I cannot understand the high math at all it’s completely beyond me. It does impinge but not ruin things, though I’d love to know more about what causes it as it seems quite different to Dyslexia. We should swap notes as you are fascinating! As you say too little research. And yes we are told we are stupid. I took the GRE and got a very, very low math score only because I had my diagnosis was I permitted to continue my MA otherwise they’d have not even let me try, what a waste. I also did not pass math in Europe so I was told I couldn’t even go to Uni but I basically did not take no for an answer, in such cases where this is impossible, think how many are held back? I believe that is wrong. I don’t retain or recall numbers, nor do I do well with IQ tests because of this. xo

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      • (last one I promise!) when I was a kid it affected me the most because I simply thought I was ‘stupid’ and teachers didn’t really disabuse me of that notion! I also thought I was dense because everyone would say how easy it was and I struggled at the simplest things. It was like only being able to understand half of the conversation. I also had undiagnosed ADHD which amelorated with time around age 16. I was a hard worker but it was challenging to learn I felt I had to try harder than most. My working memory isn’t great, my language and comprehension and critical thinking are higher than average, my spelling in two languages is probably below average for my educational level but I do not have Dyslexia. I learned to read very early on, I had good speaking and reading skills, but very poor math from the get-go, even going back to understanding measurement and dimension and volume. I can recall not really understanding the abstract of volume shifting – as if I were too literal to relate to the abstract. But I usually was an A student in other subjects aside Physics (math) but good at science over-all and other subjects I studied. I did give up on learning math age 16 simply because i’d had years of it and was totally fed-up I was offered more remedial but by that point I said no. It hasn’t stopped me in every day life except when I worked in stores as a kid and would have to count out change I would sometimes panic if someone wanted to give me more money to avoid breaking a bigger bill I would get confused and they’d think I was an idiot! Confidence wise when you think you are really bad at something it really, really affects your confidence. What helped was I was good at other things, what did not help is how judging people are without meaning to be. xo

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. You are so kind to take the time to share your background. And very smart. It takes a strong will and intelligence to achieve what you did. Many researchers believe there is a genetic link but since dyscalculia is so poorly understood (and there’s no conclusive test for it), we still see the “work harder” approach. So sad. I have tried several approaches with kiddos and most importantly, you have to start early. With early intervention, the brain can actually be “rewired” with dyslexia, but we don’t know enough about dyscalculia to systematically approach the problem. I’ve used an eclectic strategy and had more success by linking language and visualization skills to math, to provide a bridge to understanding. Hands-on activities, self-talk about problem solving strategies (often left out for struggling students because they are still stuck in calculation) also seem important. Giving kids early success makes it easier to go forward. If I start with someone in the later years, it is a mighty challenge to correct improperly learned strategies and huge gaps in understanding while the rest of that age are surging forward. Either in school or after school tutoring, it becomes this dreadful dilemma of students wanting to get their class work or homework done but lacking a foundation for doing so. Summers are best for tackling these issues but many kids are so fried from a year of failure that they can’t bear working all summer break, too. Thanks so much for sharing. It would make a terrific post if you stuck it all together. You are not alone in this! Thanks again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You know a lot about this, you should write a book precious little has been written about it. I would always help or contribute if you did end up doing that, you’d do a great job. It’s my pleasure, the more the merrier 😉 Thank you for caring about things like this.

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