The entire day I was waiting in anticipation to leave the office, end of term report day. The one day where I sit quietly and “analyze” Kai’s progress at school.

The third term has been particularly challenging for us. The workload increased not only in volume but also in its complexity. Maths! Writing a Story! Reading! All areas that Kai’s had great difficulty with, like many other Gr.1 children. Add to this the passing of the school social worker and then a substitute teacher for 3 weeks because his class teacher had to undergo surgery (she made a very good recovery and we happy to have her back at school!).

How are children expected to cope? The loss of a woman who played an integral part in the lives of many students and all the teaching staff – no more weekly chats with Gerry the Giraffe. The transition from having your teacher greet you with a smile everyday to now having to adjust to a substitute teacher for 3 weeks who didn’t use the FM system for the first week…

In this an opportunity for Kai to start advocating for himself. I encouraged him every morning “what do you do when you walk into class?”, “put on my FM and ask my teacher to use it” – this has worked very well and he’s been doing it every morning ever since.

Like I said before, the third term was fraught with challenging situations. The biggest challenge has been the fatigue, many a day went by when I would get home from work and my mom would inform me that Kai didn’t go to rugby practice – he was too tired, he got straight into bed after school. Some days I would get home from work just after 4pm and I could see there was no way we were going to get any homework done tonight. School work and learning however does not stop for a tired child…

This term he has again made me extremely PROUD – his diligence shows in his report.

  • Meritorious Achievement for Maths
  • Meritorious Achievement for Life Skills
  • Substantial Achievement for English
  • Adequate Achievement for Afrikaans

This term our strategy had to be adapted. I stopped working late, unless it was an absolute necessity (if it had to be done it would have to be done from home and when he was asleep…)

Today I want to take the time to share with you just how hard my 7 year old works:

  • Reading has to be done every day – not easy, his words “my brain is tired”, the last thing my child wants to do is think about phonetics, sounding out words and connecting a letter with a sound after a long school day
  • We literally stopped using the school recommended reading books because it just did not interest Kai. The pictures are boring, the story is horrid; surely our education department do not expect my son to read a book I read when I was in Gr1. (more than two decades ago!!). We chose to read books recommended by his Speech Therapist, books with words he could sound out with confidence, a godsend since his self-confidence was soon going to take a knock if we continued reading books that weren’t working for him.
  • One of the best tricks has been for us to read together. I read one page he read the next, taking turns, taking turns to ‘HELP’ each other “no mommy not train, it is trains”, “not the dog is drown, the dog is BROWN silly” – lots of laughing when mom makes silly mistakes, it’s okay to make mistakes, this is how we learn after all. Also coloring his world with language and word meanings – just this evening he asked me “what does chaos mean”, always looking for opportunity to enrich his language experience
  • Utilising all the skills we learn in speech & language therapy “mom, can you break that up for me please, the word is too long” SOME – THING covering the second part of the word for him to read, then covering the first part of the word until he can successfully put it together.
  • Sights words are not great, visual memory skills are weak. At home we’ve now incorporated visual memory games as part of our homework routine.
  • Maths has to be done every day – the language of math is challenging, it is not easy to maintain consistency when trying to explain to a 7 year old the basics of same, equal, less and more without adapting the language, expressions; it is human nature, we change our sentences around all the time when we try and explain something to someone else.
  • Kai loves numbers, but he needs lots of “space” to process information in a quiet environment, it takes him a bit longer, but if left alone, he will get it. What’s worked is explaining to him the easier sums and leaving him to complete it on his own, in his own time – work that strictly requires him to look at the numbers or follow a pattern. Bigger than, smaller than, more than, less than, patterns and functions – all things that he can work out by just looking at it.
  • The minute the maths become more language based and abstract he struggles, really struggles. The language of math is not easy, explaining concepts is a challenge.
  • Writing a story – thank goodness the focus is NOT on spelling, but rather on the child’s ability to put a story together. The difficulty with writing a story is to “remember” the story because just writing and constantly repeating a sound in order to write it takes a lot of effort. By the time he gets to the second word he’s already forgotten his sentence.
  • Thankfully we started working on storytelling early on in speech and language therapy. Working on phonics and sounding out words and breaking it up into syllables through clapping it out “CAM-PING”, “JUM-PING”, IN-TE-RES-TING” learning that each vowel represents a syllable, learning about vowel sounds and consonant sounds – all work that we do now to prepare Kai for Gr.2. Some may say, but why are you doing this…well, for a child with hearing loss, a solid language and phonetic skills base is essential in order for them to cope as work load increases. Again, spelling is not always on par, but the skill is developing…

Look at every day activities as an opportunity to incorporate all day long learning – auditory, visual, language and speech – it never stops. Often my son is not even aware of the work that we do. However school work is more obvious and therefore a bit more of a challenge since much of it requires THINKING, working the “tired brain”.

Did you know that for a child with hearing loss, listening takes up more of its fair share of cognitive resources, especially when required to do more than one task at the same time…

How did we adapt our strategy to cope with the increase in work load and cognitive fatique?

  • Until I get home in the afternoon, Kai’s time is his – be it that he sleeps, watch tv, play with his cars – the two hours before I get home is his.
  • I prepare him for after school activity every morning “when you get home this afternoon, I want you to just relax – play, tv, whatever is going to let you rest your mind, when I get home we going to the library to do homework. We will do maths, reading (or whatever it is that we going to focus on) and you can choose a DVD, CD and book as a reward. He is more manageable if he knows what to expect. We do this every alternate day. Then the CD is a reward to listen to before he goes to bed and the DVD is to watch the next day after school. The book we read when we have a few minutes, sometimes it’s a page, we take turns, whatever works.
  • If he is very tired and irritable then I run him a hot bubble bath, this relaxes him (also our quiet mom-son time for chats) – he spends about 30 minutes in the bath, just relaxing. Sometimes I will say “okay we going to read 3 pages, then you can play cars for 5 minutes, then we going to do one page of maths homework (this can take 30 minutes!) – but every day we spend about a hour on “formal” homework, everything else is incorporated into everyday activities.

In an ideal world, we would do this all the time, but there are days when he is completely unmanageable and we do not do any work at all! This is okay.

I worry about him, I do. He is only in Gr.1 now and the workload is increasing at a rapid pace. He has been coping very well, but I am reminded that we’ve developed his auditory skills over the past 2 – 3 years, this has made a significant difference in his ability. He uses a FM system in class – a big plus for him, he struggles to focus in class when there is too much activity around him, he exercises a lot of restraint in the classroom.

I was very anxious when I decided to move Kai from special needs to mainstream, I am still anxious at times because like any parent, I do not know how he will cope as the years go by. The one thing I am certain of is that we will make it work, we always have and we always will.

He knows that he need to work harder. He enjoys occupational therapy, he is able to self modulate when too much sensory input. At night when he is very tired, he pulls his hair out to fall asleep – I get it, I get him.

His report today is a reflection of all his hard work and it is a compliment to everyone that’s worked with him. Our speech therapist, his occupational therapist, the extra maths class and the extra language and reading class at school. His approachable teacher, always available to answer questions and give input. We teach the way he learns and there should never be an expectation for him to learn the way others may teach…our home is an extension of the school, just like we expect our school to be an extension of our home…