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Special Needs Kids

Right Brained Children in a Left Brained World 
by Jeffery Freed, M. A. T., and Laurie Parsons (ISBN 0-684-84793-0) 

If I had to pick ONE book to recommend for parents who have a child struggling with "learning", this  would be the book. First and foremost, the author simply begins by encouraging parents to recognize that their child's unique learning style is an ability, not a DISability. People who are "right-brained", or right-brain dominant, are often labeled as ADD or ADHD. The author points out that most school teachers are left-brained people.....and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to immediately understand that a child who learns "right brained" is going to have problems with a "left brained" teaching approach.  The child is already at a distinct disadvantage. 

By way of explanation, left-brained learners/thinkers are generally very logical, sequential, rational, organized thinkers. "A" is followed by "B" which is followed by "C". Right-brained learner/thinkers, on the other hand, are very disorganized, non-sequential, non-logical thinkers. They are dreamers. They are creative and imaginative. Right-brained folks are often artistic and/or musically inclined. Many, many scientists and inventors are/were right brained. And yes, you can have some of both....or "whole brained". There is definitely a spectrum, or continuum, of right/left brained dominance. Some folks are very, very right brained or left brained, and others are "just a little bit" right brained. The book includes a checklist to help (unofficially, of course) decide just where a person falls. It's fun to evaluate yourself and see where you fall on the scale. It can be a bit surprising, too.

If you are right brained, or have a right brained child, you understand the statement that right brained children just learn differently. Typically, a right-brain dominant person is classified as a "whole to part" learner, while a left-brain dominant person is "part to whole". A very simple explanation of that difference is that the part-to-whole learner needs to learn the sound of the letter "C", the sound of "A", and the sound of "T", then learn to combine those three sounds to make the word "cat". Exactly opposite, the "whole to part" learner needs to learn the word "C-A-T" is "cat", THEN break it down into "C" says /k/, "A" says /a/ (short "a"), and "T" says /t/. The "whole to part" learner needs to see the whole picture, and then study the individual components within the framework of seeing the whole, rather than learning tiny parts and then putting it all together.

So you can well imagine why a child who needs the whole picture first, in order to be able to learn the "parts" will have major problems with a teacher who teaches "parts" first and then expects the child to put the pieces together to make the "whole". This applies to all subject areas, not just reading or spelling. These kids are the ones who like to take things apart and then reassemble them. This is how they learn!!

The author of this book emphasizes that many right-brained children have the ability to visualize things 3-dimensionally. This is a great skill later on, (like when he wants to become an architect!) but it creates all sorts of havoc when the child is trying to learn to recognize letters or numbers, as the child can actually reorient the shape in his mind. This is why they often struggle with differentiating "b" and "d" and "p" and "q"....simply because it's exactly the same shape, just oriented differently on the paper. This child may struggle with spelling a simple 3 or 4 letter word, but actually may be able to spell a 10 letter word after only looking at it for a few seconds. They learn to see "pictures" in their mind, and recreate it on paper or verbally.

These kids are often great at mental math, too. They often can look at a very long, "difficult" math problem and immediately spout off the answer......but may not be able to take you step by step through how they got that answer. The author points out that one of the most frustrating things you can do is to force the child to work through every step of every problem every time. Yes, they need to learn the "rules" and steps of problem-solving. But the truth is, what matters most is that the child can get the right answer, not so much that he immediately understand how he got there. The author's point is that you can so totally frustrate a child by bogging them down in the process of doing math that they totally lose sight of "finding the answer". There has to be a balance between the two. And he also points out how much benefit it can be to a child's self-esteem to realize the child can just whip off answers to big, hard math problems without the struggle of "working it out."

The author gives all sorts of "tutoring" ideas for parents (and classroom teachers) to use in working with their right-brained children. It is written from the perspective of a parent with a child in a traditional school setting, but the ideas are for the parent to do at home with the child, so obviously they are very adaptable to homeschooling. He recommends about 15 minutes per day of "tutoring" with your child, to teach your child new strategies for learning. The simple concept is to help your child succeed using his own differences as a strength rather than a "disability". 

I found the entire approach of this book to be very refreshing. While not all of us have a child who learns "whole to part", the underlying concept is accepting a child as an individual, with his own strengths, whether or not it fits what we would deem "normal". While the book is not a "christian" book per se, I was impressed with the fact that this author is more concerned with encouraging individuality than with "fitting the mold".

This book is available at local bookstores, and retails for about $13.00. It is, by far, the best $13.00 I have invested in a book in a long time. The surprising thing is that nothing suggested in this book is difficult or "technical". All of the suggestions are presented as making the most of the child's special "gifts" and to a large degree, making it fun for the child to be able to excel where (s)he has previously been frustrated. It's well worth the price, and it's well worth the time it takes to read.