Recognizing a child's needs requires following your heart

If you are a parent and you have concerns about your child no matter what age talk to your pediatrician. Photo: National Maternity Hospital/

HOUSTON, March 2, 2012 – On the day my daughter was born, tears of joy streamed down my face as she emerged tiny and pink from the depths of my wife’s fragile body.  My heart swelled as I saw her cradled in the arms of the doctor delivering her from her aquatic accommodations of the past nine months.

My happiness would be short lived as doctors suddenly rushed to the incubator where my daughter was fighting for her life. She had aspirated amniotic fluid on her journey into the world from my wife’s womb and was not breathing. For what seemed like an eternity, I stood perched over the shoulders of the four figures clad in blue as they worked to save my baby girl.

My heartbeats turned into hours as I offered up any price to a higher power to give her life and a chance for me to tell her I love her more than anything. 

As the whirlwind of activity progressed to breathe life into my daughter’s tiny body, the sound of her cry healed the ever-emerging crack in my heart. Minutes later I held her for the first time before she was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to spend the night. 

As I looked into her eyes my words and emotions flowed like the floodwaters of a broken levy. “I will love you with all my heart from this day forward no matter what you do this will always be our truth” I whispered into her ear.

My wife had given birth to twins and the first one to arrive was my son who emerged with a calm that he would later constantly shatter. My daughter emerged the next day, as the four of us came together to unite as a family. My daughter possessed a certain tenacity that was undeniable and as I stared into the deep pools of her eyes I saw myself reflected in their endless depths.

I would soon find out it was my daughter who was destined to face difficult odds, only to beat them every time.

As my daughter grew older, we noticed her brother reaching developmental milestones some time before her. At first we thought nothing of it, but concern began to set in and we had a difficult consultation with our pediatrician. We discovered my daughter was developmentally delayed and needed help learning to walk.

We were referred to a Pediatric Physical Therapist who over a period of a year helped my daughter learn to walk. She also had a learning disability.  My daughter’s speech was also delayed, so we sought out the best Speech Therapist we could find to help her learn how to communicate.

With twins, it is often the case a delay can occur between the two, and as my son excelled in reaching the stages of development my daughter lagged behind.        

According to the US Department of Education, 1 in 5 people in our country have a learning disability. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates learning disabilities affect 1 in 10 school children. The cause is attributed to a neurological disorder that affects the way a child’s brain responds to and processes information.

Learning disabilities are often considered a “Hidden Handicap” because they can go unnoticed and without early intervention can grow in severity. In parents who noticed their children having difficulties, 44% wait up to a year before getting any help.  Learning disabilities transcend ethnicity, gender and race and have increased 22% over the past twenty-five years.

They are not caused by a lack of education or mental retardation. According to the National Institute for Literacy 30% to 50% of the U.S. population have undiagnosed learning disabilities. Those afflicted can be lost to the indifference of society as 35% drop out of High School and 43% of those who struggle with the disorder are living at or below the poverty level.

My daughter’s condition could have gone unnoticed had it not been for the persistence of my wife and I in insisting she be evaluated. Our Pediatrician was part of a large practice and my daughter sometimes had to see other Physicians in the practice when she was unavailable. This was when my wife and I learned the importance of continuity of care. 

When you see different doctors, the subtleties of a child’s development can be lost in the ink scrawled pages of a chart. My daughter’s delay would have been lost to inaction had we not trusted the feeling in our “guts” that something was not quite right. There are an immeasurable number of diagnostic and scientific tools to evaluate a child but none so accurate as the intuition of a parent.

Learning disabilities can be present in many forms and children can be affected in a range from mild to severe.  Dyslexia is a reading disorder which involves the inability of the brain to process single words. It is also hereditary and can occur in families over time.  Close to 80% of children with learning disabilities have a reading disorder.

Dysgraphia is a writing disorder that is often called “motor clumsiness” and the cause is currently unknown. Those who suffer from this disorder have problems with the production of words and with physical activities such as eating. Dyscalculia is a math disorder where an individual has difficulty with spatial orientation as well as the concepts involved in mathematics. 

In my daughter’s case the effect [the effect of what?] was mild, but in the more severe cases loss of the ability to understand and comprehend words can also occur. Other disorders can occur alongside a learning disability but are unrelated. Attention Deficit Disorder is one example of a condition that is frequently seen but is separate from the diagnosis of a learning disability. Intelligence is typically unaffected and can range from average to above average.

My daughter’s intelligence was masked by her speech delay and once she began to communicate more effectively, that became clear to everyone. I had known for some time that my daughter was extremely bright since she had expressed herself from a young age in a unique language I understood well. She had been a gifted artist since the first day she could hold a crayon in her hand. I could see the creative talent she possessed and the brilliance in the things that she drew. Today we often draw together and she adds depth and detail to each picture I draw.

A child with a learning disability is a challenge to be met with education and determination to let nothing stand in your way in helping them reach their full potential. My heart would break as I watched my daughter struggle to take a step or form the words to say “ I love you daddy.” In my most difficult times when my strength and determination would wane, the one thing that saved me was my daughter. She would never let me give up because she would never give up on herself.

My daughter is one of the strongest people I know and she proves that every night when I tell her she has to go to bed. 

If you are a parent and you have concerns about your child no matter what age talk to your pediatrician. There are no stupid questions when a child’s welfare is at stake. If that feeling in your gut still feels unresolved, keep searching until you find a professional who can give you the answers you need. It is never too early to begin treating a learning disability.

If you find yourself in a position where you feel as if you ignored all the signs and could have done something sooner do not waste time blaming yourself.

Taking action to give your child the best chance of overcoming a learning disability is the best possible thing you can do. In dealing with my daughter’s learning disability I wasted a great deal of time feeling guilty about not acting sooner. I second-guessed myself and even though we took early intervention and my daughter had blossomed, as a father I felt I had failed.

The truth is that a learning disability can be so hard to detect that even a trained professional can sometimes have difficulty diagnosing a child as having one.

I strive to be the best father I can but I now realize that despite all my strength and intelligence the most powerful force I have to change the life of my children is the unrelenting love in my heart.        

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More from A Heart Without Compromise; Advocating for Children
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Jerome Elam

Raised in the south, I joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen and spent the next eight years seeing the world. After my enlistment was finished I attended college and graduated to work in the Biotechnology sector.

I have struggled against many things in my life including childhood sexual abuse and somehow I found a way to survive. Writing is my passion and it keeps me in touch with the wealth everyone holds deep inside their hearts and minds. 

I am married with two beautiful children, and they have made my life complete. I have written all my life and enjoy creating lyrics as well as novels. I enjoy spending time with my children and teaching them about music, art, nature and the value of family.

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