The following story is a first-person account from an Eaton Arrowsmith parent. It shows the impact the school can have on children with learning disabilities from the perspective of a family that has experienced the life-changing program firsthand.
Life before EA
My search for an alternative to mainstream schooling was spurred on by our son’s struggles in social situations. We began really noticing it around grade 2-3. He would come home in tears, saying how bad his day went, and that many of the kids laughed at him and treated him badly. When I observed his peer-to-peer interactions, I noticed he was missing social/non-verbal cues. For example, someone might look away to signal disinterest, or shrug and try to move on to a different topic, while he would “plow on” and stay on the same train of thought. He would also sometimes misinterpret and/or over-react to a person’s response.
All of these missed social cues made it hard for a kid like him, who is actually desperate for friendly connections. He is very affectionate (requests lots of hugs), has a soft spot for animals, and takes lots of interest in little kids and babies. Many who know him call him a gentle giant.
Academically, he was “meeting expectations” and yet teachers would say some days it felt like they were dealing with two different kids. At times he would seem highly engaged, and at other times he seemed to be in his own world and they weren’t really sure how to get through to him. I had that sense of unease as a parent too – there were days when I felt that we were trying to talk to him while he was lost in a fog, and I wasn’t sure how to clear that fog from his mind so he could focus. Unfortunately, there was no additional support available at school because the teachers didn’t think there were academic concerns.
He started reading in grade 1, and remains a full-fledged bookworm to this day, devouring books enthusiastically. So, I never had to convince him to read. Math was something he was less sure about – often needing to use his fingers to count – and while he was mostly answering questions correctly, I could tell he wasn’t confident about it. One thing he intensely disliked was writing. He used to complain that his hands tired easily.
So, that was the state in which we approached Eaton Arrowsmith: no major academic concerns, but moments of inconsistency.
On the social side of things, there were definitely struggles that were starting to impact how he felt about school in general. In grade 4, he was starting to resent going to school and also started saying things like “I’m dumb and I don’t get things”. That’s when I knew status quo was no longer an option. The “aha” moment that really sealed my decision was when I was answering the online EA questionnaire. I would say about 95% of the questions described my son.
Life after EA
My son was 10 years old when he started the full-time program at Eaton Arrowsmith and we are now partway through our second school year.
Since he started at EA, my son:
- Corrected his pencil grip (it happened within the first few weeks of starting the program), which he constantly struggled with at school, and could never “get quite right”
- Can comfortably write and/or doodle/draw for extended periods of time. He went from complaining about writing to (now) writing for 30 minutes at a time, or sometimes longer.
- Has a hugely improved sense of numeracy and math confidence. For example, he’ll glance at the clock and say “OK we have 23 minutes until the movie starts”, whereas he used to ask for help.
- When he gets to go to the store to use his allowance, he insists on counting out his money and change without asking for help. He confidently does multiplication problems on paper – even challenging us parents to give him a “tough one with lots of digits”.
At home, we have noticed that he:
- Shows a renewed interest in playing piano
- Is more able to express his frustrations, even acknowledging when he is too upset to talk or needs a “reset”
- Is more willing to ask for clarification in social situations, or when he observes a social exchange
- Is more open to trying new things, whether it’s food or a new way of doing something
At times, my son has said: “My brain is calmer/quieter, and I can think more clearly”. We are confident we have found the right place that understands his struggles, and we believe EA is helping our son:
- Rewire his brain through targeted, specific cognitive exercises so that the different parts of his brain can make new connections
- Accumulate more strategies and tools to work through what is challenging, uncomfortable or unclear so that he can become a more informed, confident advocate for his own learning going forward
This post is sponsored by one of our community builders, Eaton Arrowsmith
At Eaton Arrowsmith we teach our students a series of exercises to help them strengthen their brains and address the cognitive weaknesses that cause their specific learning difficulties. We operate on the principle of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to be strengthened over time with targeted training. This sets us apart from other learning intervention programs. www.eatonarrowsmith.com
Kelly is the Managing Editor for VancouverMom and Director of Corporate Development for Crisp Media. She can't function without her morning coffee and hates making school lunches - especially when she forgets its hot lunch day. When not out enjoying the city with her husband and two daughters she can be found on her laptop at a cafe working on her novel.