Last Monday morning the phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. The caller quickly introduced himself: “This is the tester from the University of Washington.”
The graduate student who will test my girl for learning disabilities during the next few months had a soothing voice. His cadence reminded me of my little brother John’s cadence. We quickly chatted about meeting on Wednesday for the hour-long parent intake meeting. I hung up the phone and thought, there it is, the sound of change, it’s coming for me.
The night before the parent intake I found myself sobbing, telling my husband how much I still sometimes don’t want to be in this life, the one with the girl who learns at a glacial pace and takes up much space in my daily existence.
“I don’t want to test her; I just don’t,” I said to him.
“Don’t,” my husband, Chris, said. “If you don’t want to, don’t. Cancel all the tutoring, too, and just let her go to school like a regular kid. She’s doing really well right now.”
“I can’t do that. The testing will tell us more about her issues. And she is doing well but she is doing well because of all the tutoring,” I reply.
This crying jag was about nothing more than pent-up emotions about Annie undergoing eight hours of testing that will tell me both her IQ and details about how she learns, whether that means her memory glitch is really dyslexia. I wonder quietly, and mostly only to myself, if the tests will examine her social tics and label those, too — the way she takes her left index finger and traces her hairline, is there a name for that?
I’m a thinker. I’ve thought about my girl’s social tics, her current bewilderment at learning numbers, and how reading is slowly but surely beginning to make sense for her. I was thinking about labels as I drove to meet with the tester at the UW last Wednesday morning. The students who walked and biked across my path were a pleasant diversion from the task ahead. How refreshing it was to be in a world where pedestrians rule, where knowledge was the main thing, and this quest fell a close second to getting my car to the lot, following the escalator up and out to the frosty campus and into the right waiting room at the Clinical Training Laboratory.
The man who will be testing my daughter walked toward me, and I was surprised to see he didn’t appear to be a young 20-something. Of course, I thought, it takes some years of learning to get a graduate degree and perhaps someone quite unique to end up learning how to test children for issues.
He was about my husband’s height and stature, broad and almost tall with a small, round belly, and dark brown hair shot through with grey. Weirdly, his eyes were brown like my husband’s, too. The resemblance was clear, like he is my husband’s cousin. The tester reached out to shake my hand and said hello. I missed his name, and I never caught it when he called a few days ago.
“What did you say your name was again? I missed it,” I said.
My husband’s name. His cadence was like my little brother’s cadence and his appearance was similar to my husband’s appearance and his name is my husband’s name. Strange me, I breathed a sigh of relief, because Annie isn’t so fond of men right away, so these similarities will help.
Soon enough, we were sitting in folding chairs at a small table by a two-way mirror. A professor and students were watching us. I was so good at this part. I was nothing if not a talker. I prefaced my words with the fact that I might cry. Chris placed the Kleenex box right in front of me, and my tear ducts, which had already started up, actually calmed down.
I began to talk and talk and talk. Chris placed question after question in front of me. During the next hour I told him detail after detail about my Annie.
I told him about her 10 tutoring sessions a week, how she was learning to read thanks to a reading program geared toward kids with dyslexia, and how I first knew she might have a learning disability when she couldn’t learn her colors as a 2-year-old. How asking her what color an object was became a guessing game, and she eventually refused to play along with any childhood memory games.
I don’t cry. This has become my life. Although I do cry lots sometimes, mostly I see this girl before me as a marvel and a mystery, and I’m just the woman that gets to help my girl figure herself out.
Chris told me he is learning and we will take this journey together, that we will both learn as we go along.Because it is administered by a student in the Educational Psychology Department, this testing for our daughter will be free, as opposed to the up to $4,000 typical of this kind of assessment. The diagnosis at the end won't be "official," but the details we learn will be the exact same as those from regular testing.
I’m a reporter. I watched Chris’ eyes light up when I mentioned the memory glitch. I saw the way he reached for a plausible answer when I asked about hearing and visual processing testing. He readily explained why it’s not about what a person hears or sees but about how they process it, but he couldn’t really go as far as I wanted. I imagined him talking to his professor about this kind of testing, and what therapy in these areas really means. Or maybe I was reaching, and he really knew every angle but he just couldn’t explain some of them to a lay person yet. It didn’t matter; the journalist in me was happily soaking every detail up.
The hour was up. As we stood, Chris pointed to the Kleenex box and said, “You didn’t even cry!”
We smiled at each other. “I know! I can’t believe it,” I said.
But I could. I am a thinker who loves learning. This testing is about knowledge, which I know leads to power. There may be more tears on this new part of my journey, but I’m much further along this path than even I realize sometimes.
Writer, editor, and writing coach Nancy Schatz Alton is finishing the last draft of her memoir about the beginning of Annie’s learning journey. She is co-author of two holistic health care guides: The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When not navigating parenthood, she uses her brain power to write, edit, and fact-check articles for websites and magazines. She lives in Ballard with her husband and two elementary-age daughters. Find her blog at Within the Words.