On a wintry morning in early 2017, I gathered with friends, Sharon and Brenna, in a quaint Litchfield, CT, coffee shop to talk about "life." Brenna's life. Sharon's life. And their love for each other and God, which ultimately conquered Brenna's dyslexia.
Such a beautiful child! The apple of mom and dad’s eye. Brenna was a happy, healthy baby who hit the developmental milestones on time. She was a bundle of energy – so much so – that she was dubbed, Tigger, the infamous bouncy tiger in Winnie-the-Pooh. There was just one puzzle - Brenna’s recurring ear infections. Little did mom and dad know that this puzzle piece would factor into Brenna’s future reading struggles.
The Elementary School Years
When it was time to enroll Brenna in school, Sharon chose a Christian school which used the PACE curriculum. The PACE program consists of self-instructional workbooks following a mastery approach. By first grade, Sharon’s intuition began erupting in red flags - all was not well with Brenna. Brenna was struggling to manage the heavy writing requirements of PACE. Her fine motor difficulties had begun to surface. Sharon was told by the teachers that Brenna would “outgrow her struggles,” and she was “just faking it.” All the while, Sharon knew there was a real problem! Despite Sharon’s overwhelming feelings of helplessness, she determined to find a way to help her child.
The Silver Lining
As with most children who learn differently, there is typically a silver lining. While academically deficient in one or more areas, struggling learners often exhibit wonderful strengths and giftedness in other areas. Brenna’s silver lining was music. As a young girl, Brenna showed a remarkable ability to memorize both music and lyrics. She performed solos with ease. In addition, Brenna was also quite gifted at memorizing Bible verses. Brenna’s music and Scripture memorization earned her trophies as well as the much needed boost in confidence. Unfortunately, Brenna’s musical abilities were not enough to stem the rejection from classmates who saw her as different. The isolation was hurtful and troubling.
The Middle School Years
By fifth grade, a change had to be made. Brenna’s academic difficulties were compounding. Her greatest struggle was reading. Mom felt that God was leading her to home school Brenna. The decision was finalized. As a home-grown student, Brenna’s musical giftedness could be nurtured and encouraged. She engaged in voice, flute, and piano lessons. Brenna became a member of the Connecticut Children’s Chorus and toured in France. The Warner Theater in Torrington, CT, also became home to Brenna as she discovered her love for acting. On the academic front, however, Brenna continued to struggle with reading and writing. Sharon hired a tutor who introduced Brenna to the Wilson reading method. Brenna’s reading ability and confidence soared when she was introduced to the Star Wars book series. The uptick in Brenna’s reading aptitude was only temporary. The reading demands became increasingly more difficult as Brenna advanced in grades. Sharon began re-experiencing the sinking feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. She was facing another crossroad.
The High School Years
It was at this crossroad that I met Sharon and Brenna. Mom felt that God had led her to me (and I’m so glad that He did!). I knew from the start that Brenna was going to be just fine. My focus was to foster a strong self-confidence in Brenna. I had learned from experience that when self-confidence is present – the impossible becomes possible. I had determined that remediation would NOT look like a return to elementary school. No – Brenna and I would forge ahead with the rich language and syntax of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Together we wrote essays, created beautiful PowerPoint presentations, and immersed ourselves in Victorian culture. It was clear to me that Brenna possessed an inner strength and intelligence which would carry her through to her dreams and aspirations.
The Community College Years
Brenna’s home school graduation represented a beautiful milestone. Brenna and her parents decided that attendance at a community college would be the next best step. Brenna attended Tunxis Community College (TCC) in Farmington, CT, before enrolling at Cedarville University in Ohio. Brenna’s years at TCC were the proving grounds for her transition from academic dependence to academic independence. While at TCC, Brenna was supported academically by her mom and me. Brenna worked very hard to become independent. She recounts that while at TCC, “I didn’t have much of a life. It was either school or church.”
The University Years
In preparation for Brenna’s entrance into Cedarville University, Sharon had a neuropsychological evaluation done on Brenna. The results of this evaluation secured the coveted accommodations which were critical for Brenna’s academic success at the university. Ironically, Brenna’s lovely singing voice was her ticket into Cedarville (silver linings do pay-off). Brenna persevered through the myriad of adjustments related to college and her growing independence. One of these adjustments included the wrenching decision to change her major. With the help of family and friends, Brenna transitioned from being a music major to an education major. Ultimately, education was the path which Brenna was destined to follow. Brenna graduated from Cedarville University with a BS in Special Education, a minor in music, and a minor in Bible Studies.
A Word about The Listening Program
In the midst of Brenna’s university experience, Sharon and I reconnected. I shared with her about my new neuroscience finding – The Listening Program (TLP). I knew that it would help Brenna in dealing with her anxiety which was related to the stringent academic demands. I also knew that it would train her brain for peak performance. Thus, Brenna was introduced to The Listening Program. Within a few weeks, Brenna noticed that she was calmer and more organized. In fact, it is Brenna’s belief that she passed the Praxis exam (on her first attempt) because of TLP. As a side note, Brenna lost her TLP equipment in the final days at Cedarville University. This was quite a loss! Thankfully, almost four years later, Brenna received a random phone call from a college friend who had Brenna’s TLP in the back seat of her car. Thank you, Lord!
Sharon Shares Her Heart
Trust God at all times.
Never stop praying.
Cultivate empathy and compassion for others.
Be sure to give back.
Seek early intervention when you think your child has a problem.
Brenna Shares Her Heart
Keep going even if it seems like you are behind.
Conquer the battle between “I can and I can’t!”
Be personally convinced that you can achieve your dreams.
Know that what you have learned in your personal “struggle” can one day be a blessing to others.