A Diagnosis, of Sorts

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It all started out like you imagine the appointment with your doctor where he tells you that you have cancer will.

They laid out the tests one by one. I couldn’t read fast enough to process ahead of what they were saying.

They being a teacher, a psychiatrist and a resource, as she called herself. 

My heart was beating a little faster than normal, and I was yawning a lot. If you know me, then you know I yawn a lot when I’m nervous.

It all started out nice. 

“The good news is that this has a 50 percent survival rate.”

Except in this case, it went something like this: “If I could clone him, I’d have the best class of kids ever.” 

“He’s so sweet and caring.” 

“He is so amazingly bright, and his ability to think and communicate ideas is outstanding.”

And the numbers on the tests seemed to correspond to what they were saying.

“Your white-blood cell count is very high, and that’s encouraging.” Is what I can imagine the doctor saying at this point.

But the teacher, the psychiatrist and the resource talk about his cognitive reasoning skills and the fact that if he was in a line of 100 kids in America, he’d be in front of 80 of them. 

Somehow, the high is too high. It doesn’t really stand to reason. Their smiles and infectious remarks about my middle boy start to sound like preparation for a fall. Fluffing the pillow, so to speak. Then, “lay your head back, because you’re going to get dizzy.” 

The numbers start to go down. Not slowly, in fact, but rapidly. Where he was once in front of 80 American children in a line of 100, he’s now in front of only 8. 

Memory. It’s a bitch. 

I flash back to junior high. Mr. Nordhagen’s pre algebra class. For me it was like starting a foreign language class in year 3. It’s beyond the beginner phrases. They are conjugating verbs, and I can’t tell the difference between feminine and neuter. 

According to the resource, my son understands the higher functions of math, but he has to relearn the basics every time he’s faced with long division. 

Did you ever see the movie “Memento?”

At this point in the conversation, I actually thought about how much trouble I’d get into if I tabooed the multiplication tables on his abdomen.

The basics of mathematics are found in the rote memorization of the numbers. What is 2 + 2? What is 8 x 8? Most of us can do these in our heads. My son seems to have a condition wherein he’s unable to memorize these solutions, and so to accomplish a problem, he must start at zero and try to accelerate to the sum by counting on his fingers. 

In this way, he has fallen behind his classmates. 

Much like myself in 7th grade, Carson has a coping strategy. In his case, it’s shear personality. He’s a very engaging little guy. He’s polite to a fault and charming in a small and unassuming way.

His teacher, the psychiatrist and the resource absolutely adore him.

He’s involved with the student government, and he’s a mediator for other students. If it’s not his calling in life yet, I have no doubt it will be someday. 

The ability to be so well behaved, so helpful, so utterly attentive and adorable is what has carried him this far. 

It’s also what gave him away.

To test so high in reasoning, thinking and communication skills and so low in memory is, apparently, a dead giveaway.

Like Icarus, Carson flew a little too close to the sun. Many kids are lost because they don’t shine, they don’t try to stand out at all. It takes an attentive teacher to really recognize the symptoms. 

As the doctor begins to discuss treatments and therapies, he brings you to the lowest point. The diagnosis.

“The reality is that you have cancer.”

“We’ll aggressively treat it with a combination of homeopathic remedies as well as a basic regimen of chemotherapy and radiation.”

I waited for their words to fall. They had hinted around the concept for almost an hour. 

Learning disability, challenged, medical condition, learning disorder. These words raced through my mind. 

The one I didn’t really expect to hear, much like you don’t expect to hear leukemia when your doctor is reading off your test results from the biopsy you took, was dyslexia. 

He reads well, he’s fascinating by languages, cultures, books and legos. How could he possibly be dyslexic? Mathematically dyslexic at that? 

But deep down, I knew his diagnosis already. His curse is mine too. 

When my boss asks me to make percentages out of page views, I ask my mathematically gifted staffers to crunch the numbers. Why? Because I cannot remember the basic principles behind making numbers into percentages. 

It’s called Dyscalculia, and if I was never formally diagnosed, it makes complete sense to me, especially seeing it now through the eyes of my son’s teacher, school psychiatrist and ‘resource.’

To graduate from college, I took advantage of a law that allowed me to take a decidedly easier to memorize statistics rather than math 111, which was college algebra. 

The term team was tossed around liberally. Suddenly, Cheryl and I were members of this “team” with the teacher, the psychiatrist and the resource. We were charged with understanding our parents’ rights. We were tasked with acknowledging that language problems, teacher issues or other mitigating circumstances were not responsible for Carson’s problems. We signed on the dotted line. 

In some ways, I felt guided to this particular position. Not the idea that Carson has Dyscalculia, that makes sense. Like cattle through a chute, we jumped through the hoops from diagnosis to treatment plan. A federally mandated pathway for our child, who, on his own, left to his own machinations, might just end up forced into complete and utter talent and ability because of his apparent disability. Think Picasso, Rembrandt, Hemingway and Mozart.

Or is having a well-rounded child better? A child who can learn to overcome his disability to achieve even keel and swim with the current is what we all strive for, right? 

In some ways, my ability or disability to understand math shaped my interest in writing, which shaped my interest in journalism, which has framed my life and given me more pleasure and more pain than I ever thought possible in one lifetime. 

Do I want that for him? Do I?

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