Parenting children

How One 4 Year-Old Jumped From a Developmental Level of 18 Months to Top of Her Class

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She was like an 18 month old in the body of a 4 year old.

When my daughter came to us, we knew we had our work cut out for us. As foster parents with years of experience in handling kids with special needs, we had already planned out a complete program for her.

Because our daughter came to us with a background of severe neglect, and was so severely delayed, there were people who doubted whether or not she could ever be “normal.” But while in the beginning it was a lot like raising an 18 month old in the body of a 4 year old, we always knew that she was not only smart, but sweet, loving, and determined to succeed.

So when we took her to be evaluated by a psychologist after she’d been with us for 6 months, I looked forward to the results. I was certain they would show at least some of the hard work that had been done with her. After all, here was a child who saw a child with a toy that was just like hers and was convinced it was hers. She had no concept of the child having stolen it – that was beyond her – she only knew that somehow her toy had mysteriously appeared in some other child’s hands.

The tests placed her as "severely retarded."

As I sat and watched her “perform,” I was bewildered and embarrassed to find that she did dismally on the tests. Even more infuriating was the psychologist’s unwillingness to hear what I knew my daughter was capable of. As an educational specialist who also gives didactic evaluations, I am careful to ask parents if the performance of their child compares to the child they know. It’s certainly not unusual for children (or anyone for that matter), to perform poorly in a test situation. Regardless of what I said or did, her IQ tests placed her as severely retarded. The psychologist told me it was progress: last time she was so low functioning he couldn't even test her.

As I left the office, I tried to make some sense of the conflicting information. What I realized was this: I had spent 6 months working on skills, not concepts. When I sat down to evaluate her, it was immediately obvious to me that I couldn’t start teaching her to draw a circle if she didn’t even have a concept of a drawing.

I focused first on helping her learn the skills she needed in order to be ready to learn. That’s because in learning, good skills are critical to a child’s success. However, possessing good learning skills doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll know a lot.

Just like a fork, a spoon, and a knife are necessary if you want to eat in a civilized fashion, but are not food in and of themselves, learning skills are tools that allow you to acquire knowledge efficiently and effectively.

Another important point: the WISC for children, which she’d taken, isn’t a great test for telling you how your child learns, and what her specific areas of strengths and weaknesses are. In comparison to Dr. Mel Levine’s evaluational tests, it’s a lot like comparing a flophouse piano to a Steinbeck baby grand.

Can you tell I hate IQ tests with a passion?

I find them limiting, demeaning, and inaccurate. I’ve met so many parents who lost all hope and faith in their child after seeing the results of a test that was never designed to measure intelligence anyway. Aside from that, I personally know so many children who tested below average, only to be retested later (after receiving the proper intervention), and received a score of average, bright, or even genius level.

I refused to let an IQ test determine my - and my daughter's - reality.

So I returned home, determined to do what I knew was right for my daughter. I continued to focus on skills, generally introducing concepts in the context of learning a new skill. We played games to teach her number sense, and to improve her vocabulary. We worked on improving her ability to express herself, while at the same time building her vocabulary. She learned about where animals live, what people need to survive, and what makes a family – but skills were always first, concepts second.

And you know what?

It worked.

A year and a half after she first walked in our door, she has just turned 6. She knows all of her colors, shapes, numbers, and letter sounds. She wants to know why things are like they are, and how they came to be that way. She is particularly gifted in math, and is already adding numbers in the hundreds. She is also a popular girl in her class, and will hopefully go up to first grade next year.

We call her our “little miracle.”

Update: Since so many of you asked, here's what's happening now. My daughter is now ten years old, and in fifth grade. She is an A student, although she works hard for it! There are still issues that we are dealing is a process, and she (and I) are still growing.


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