School is hard. We’re about halfway through the year in Kindergarten, and it’s tough. I knew it was going to be difficult. I heard many of the older kids at past Williams Syndrome Conventions saying they hated school. That always broke my heart because of the way in which they said it. Sure, everyone “hates” school. Every kid would much prefer to stay home and watch tv all day. But these kids hated it because of how hard it was for them — and sometimes because of how their teachers reacted to them. They didn’t necessarily want to sit home and watch tv all day. They just wanted to be able to do their schoolwork without a major struggle.
When you perceive things differently because of your genetic makeup, schoolwork is a struggle.
We have a couple challenges on our plate right now. The first is the visuo-spatial difficulties that we’d always heard about regarding Williams syndrome. This blog, written by a Williams syndrome mom and Science teacher, explains it nicely: http://understandingwilliamssyndrome.blogspot.com/2012/04/visuo-spatial-difficulties-and-how-they.html
We’ve seen Emmy struggle in the past with visuo-spatial relationships. But now that she has to put pencil to paper every day, I see how difficult it is for her to even write her name. Imagine if you practiced writing your name every day for a year, and it was still difficult for you. Imagine if you were asked to write “E,” “M,” “M,” “Y” on a lined sheet of paper, and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t write those darn letters on those lines. For an “E,” you have to first start with a straight line down, and that is often a wobbly line, but it’s getting better. Now, you have to do those three little lines to finish your “E,” and it’s absolute torture. You can’t get the small lines to follow the lines of the paper. In Kindergarten, those are called the sky line, the plane line, and the grass line. You have to draw your three little lines exactly ON the sky line, plane line, and grass line. Yours are often above or below, and you spend a long time trying to fix that. Now that’s just the “E.” That takes a good five minutes to work through, and it still isn’t properly lined up. On to the “M” and so forth…
Now imagine that this skill comes easily to all the other kids, and they’re flying through name writing and onto sentence writing and onto story writing…and you’re still back trying to get that darn “E” on the page.
So our second challenge is the pace of the work. The other kids are easily off to the races but, because of Emmy’s challenges it takes us a long time to do the tasks that take other kids two minutes. So homework usually takes over an hour and a half, and that’s after a full school day.
At the last Williams Syndrome Convention, we had an awesome keynote speaker named Paul Daugherty. He is the father of a young woman with Down syndrome, and he wrote a fantastic memoir called An Uncomplicated Life. I both laughed and cried through the whole book. My favorite chapter is called “Homework.” It’s the most simple chapter title, and it sounds like it would be the most boring read. It is unbelievably beautiful. He writes about the homework struggle, and how it affected both him and his daughter, Jillian. Their relationship could be mirrored by homework. He would go bonkers with frustration at 11:00 pm at night when they were still working on spelling the same one word that they had been working on for hours. And she would keep her positive spirit and persist, even though it was tough for her.
I read that chapter over the summer before Emmy started Kindergarten. In a way, I am living it now. I’m not going bonkers at 11:00 pm, thank goodness! Hopefully that won’t start until the high school years. But I am aware of the fact that we drill the same sight words every night, and even though Emmy seems to know the word “the” on Monday, she won’t know it on Tuesday.
But like Jillian, Emmy’s positive persistence is a beautiful thing. She sits down at the kitchen table every day with me and does her homework with no complaints. None. She just smiles her way through it even though it’s so freaking hard for her. I see her fingers struggling to write those lines. I see her steadfast concentration when she stares at the sight words. And I know that none of this is easy.
It’s amazing that Emmy is willing to try and that she’s persistent. If this were me, struggling to write my name on the lines after a year of trying, I might have broken my pencil in half and said, “You know what? SCREW THIS!”
Not Emmy. She smiles and often cheers herself on. When she claims a tiny accomplishment, she’ll say, “I did it!” And if I try to gently feed her a sight word, she’ll say, “I can do it myself.” If she gets a sight word right, she shrieks for joy and hugs me tightly around my neck.
We have other challenges too. Math is a doozy… Yikes. Math makes me want to pull the covers over my head and go back to bed. I have my own issues with math, so I’m having a hard time teaching math to someone who also struggles with number sense — but in different ways. Emmy doesn’t see what I see when I place counting bears on a table. I can figure out how to help her with writing and reading, but I still don’t have my math strategy down. I have to ponder that one.
But we do have some major accomplishments too! Emmy is reading! She’s really impressed me with her reading skills, and I’m seeing a lot of nice gains in that area.
And even though I’ve highlighted some challenges, Emmy has progressed tremendously since the beginning of the year. She is making huge, huge strides, albeit at a slower pace than the other kids in the class. But the progress is very much there.
So the last challenge falls on me, her mom. I have to keep my patience and a positive attitude. I am actually a pretty patient person, which is helpful. I try not to lose my cool too often. But positivity isn’t necessarily my strong suit. I can get discouraged. I can see the huge mountain ahead instead of the little, AWESOME gains we’ve already made. I can get into a spin cycle in my head about what my dreams and goals are for Emmy and whether we’re on track.
I really don’t want her to hate school. I’m wondering if there are any older kids with Williams syndrome who like school?? I’m hoping so? I’m trying my hardest not to put too much pressure on Emmy so that it makes her hate school, while also balancing the need for her to still do the work and make progress. That’s a tricky balancing act. I’m working on it!
Ok, now for some other updates. Thank you for all your support during Theo’s hospital stay a while back. I think we have FINALLY figured out what is going on with him. He has enlarged adenoids and tonsils. He also possibly has asthma, though he’s too young for that diagnosis yet. For now, he’s on medicine that shrinks his adenoids, and he has been doing MUCH better. He has much less drooling and much less mucus in his throat. He’s like a different kid. But he’s a boy, so he still runs around like a maniac. 🙂
And Charlotte is doing great. She loves school, sports, dance, and especially art. She’s a sweet kid and a very helpful big sister.
So here we are! (Well, except for me because I’m always behind the camera.) Happy January!
Your blog is an inspiration and gives me hope for the future of my son, recently diagnosed. I do not know what is in store for him, but I hope that in a few years we are when you are right now, trying to make school work and being happy about all the accomplishments. Right now it is hard to imagine he will ever walk, talk, be proud of his achievements…. I worry all the time that he has a severe form of Williams and he will never be able to lead a normal life…
Thank you for sharing your life with us. I really hope our will turn out just as positive.
Oh Vera, I’m so glad you found my blog and reached out!! Just this morning, I was thinking about how awesome and funny and sweet Emmy is, and I never would’ve imagined that I would’ve been at this place of acceptance all those years ago. It’s actually moved past acceptance into joy. But it’s not just Emmy who brings joy. I’ve met so many people with Williams syndrome, and I can assure you that I have ONLY met wonderful people. I completely understand your worries. I was there myself not too long ago. But, truly, I believe it will be ok. Truly I do. ❤ Vanessa