Name: Denali
State: California
Child’s Age: starting at age 6 (now, she’s 18)
Child’s School Level: Elementary through High School
Area(s) child struggles: Reading, Self-esteem, Writing

Describe a challenging incident or situation involving your child’s learning or behavior; how you addressed it; and who helped.

This is a positive story that helped my daughter understand:

  • everyone is different
  • good teaching helps
  • perseverance pays off, no matter where you start

My daughter, “DD,” has a language-based learning disability (dyslexia). Before we knew about her LD, she started at age five in a non-competitive gymnastics program, offered by particularly gifted teachers.

There’s a particular gymnastics move called a tinsika (a bit like a slow-motion cartwheel), which was very difficult for her to master. She was getting discouraged because the other girls were nailing it, and she wasn’t.

Her teacher took her aside one day and said, “DD, you are not a natural gymnast like X, Y and Z. But when you do master a move you are much stronger and more graceful than X, Y and Z. I will not give up on you if you won’t quit working.”

So they kept at it, talking about where things went wrong and what DD could do to fix that little piece. (Remember, at this point she had just turned seven.)

Teachers celebrated each little bit of accomplishment. They figured out that DD’s arms are unusually short (compared to her trunk and legs) which made the move more difficult for her. They figured out some other moves which would be easier, given her particular conformation.

After nine months of steady work, she mastered the tinsika.

It has become a metaphor for her of the value of persistence, of figuring out where the realistic barriers are, of figuring out ways of either strengthening the weak areas or looking for ways around it, of how “weak areas” can also have benefits. It also became a metaphor for overcoming her learning challenges. I believe that these teachers planted in her a gift for teaching, and a life-long interest in helping others.

My daughter is now eighteen, and a senior in high school. She will start college in the fall of 2007 at one of five selective institutions. The tinsika experience, which she does not remember particularly clearly in her own mind, has become a template for evaluating her instructors and recruiting support in her academic life.

What did you learn from the situation?

  • Keep looking for teachers who understand.
  • Let your child keep struggling, as long as the teachers are supportive.

What did your child learn from the situation?

  • Analyze the reason for difficulty in performance.
  • Understand and undertake what I can do to overcome performance challenges.
  • Celebrate little steps along the way.

What do you think the other party learned from the situation?

I only have great appreciation for my daughter’s tumbling teacher — he saw her determination, helped her overcome her deficits, and celebrated/enjoyed each step upon the way.

I only wish every classroom teacher had this attitude.

What advice would you give other parents in this type of situation?

Many of our kids with LDs aren’t fully at home in their bodies. I’d encourage parents to have their kids try out different physical activities.