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July 22, 2014 / 24 Tammuz, 5774
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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Mindless Mind-Numbing

Dear Rachel,

Our family recently experienced an amazing breakthrough, and I just felt the need to share it with your readers. We are forever reading and hearing about children afflicted with attention deficit disorders and the like, and about the many school kids who are administered drugs with the aim of calming them down or otherwise helping them “get with the program.”

Insofar as our own children are concerned, my husband and I have always marveled at their distinctive personalities. We find each of them to be uniquely special and are deeply grateful to Hashem for His blessings.

Their contrasting natures have surfaced, for instance, in their learning aptitude. Whereas some of our children study hard and get good grades to show for it, another of them manages straight A’s without so much as opening a book. At the other extreme, one of their younger siblings has consistently demonstrated difficulty in “making the grade.”

Most parents would love for all of their children to be top learners, but that is not a very realistic expectation by any stretch. This lovable child of ours who happens to be a charmer, interacts well with others and is perpetually cheerful was never able to sit still for long when it came to his schoolwork. We never pushed too hard because it was obvious to us that he had trouble focusing and concentrating.

Understandably, schools do not rank a non-achiever by his or her state of happiness and good cheer, and the subject of placing our son on meds was raised with us from time to time. We strongly resisted the notion; to our way of thinking, medication was simply out of the question. This was a child who had always proven himself to be resourceful and quick-witted (when not sitting in front of a book).

This year his yeshiva put us on notice: either we consented to having him take meds, or he’d have to leave the school. We knew he was lagging behind and that something needed to be done, but we remained firm in our resolve: no kid of ours was getting drugged. Moreover, if it was extra help he needed in order to catch up and keep up with his grade mates, surely the school could find a way to work with us in providing it.

After much heartache, prayers and back and forth wrangling, our son was finally assigned a qualified instructor to work with him daily on a one-on-one basis for a set amount of hours. We had long argued for such personal intervention that we were certain would benefit him. Little did we dream of the outcome…

The highly trained, dedicated and intuitive educator who worked with our son soon contacted us with eye-opening news: she was convinced that his impediment was vision-related and urged us to have him checked out by a competent ophthalmologist who would in all probability confirm her belief.

We heeded her advice pronto and discovered that our son had a visual perception issue. In short, any text that consisted of more than one line became illegible to him. On top of seeing double, all the letters on the page would merge together and become one big blur. For years our son thought himself incapable of deciphering the jumbled text that somehow didn’t seem to elude his peers. Thus he coped by disengaging himself from his impossible predicament and appeared to be disinterested in learning.

I need to add that at one point a couple of years ago this child began to badger us for glasses. When we took him for a routine eye exam, we trusted the optometrist who matter-of-factly told us that “all kids go through a stage of wanting glasses” and that our son’s eyesight was perfectly fine.

A visual perception problem is wide-ranging and can manifest itself in various sight-related obstructions. In our son’s case, his eyes weren’t focusing in sync due to tension of the optic nerve; the harder he tried, the worse the result. The immediate solution is to have him fitted with specially filtered lenses designed exclusively for reading. As for the long-term fix, an intensive eye-exercise therapy regimen should with G-d’s help eventually lead to normal visual perception.

Best of all, Rachel, our son was evaluated as being remarkably well adjusted, especially in light of his deprivation. Had we capitulated to the school’s demand to have him put on meds, a child with wonderful potential and a great disposition would have been relegated to the status of “dysfunctional” and “learning-disabled” — and we would have in effect sentenced our son to a life of illiteracy. Oh, but we mustn’t forget that he would have “behaved” in class.

The scary part is that over fifty percent of the student body in this elementary school is on meds.

Count us lucky

Dear Count,

Luck certainly plays a part in everyone’s life, but by virtue of choice we can end up chasing our mazel away. Good for you that you chose to pay no heed to mindless opinion and instead allowed yourselves to be guided by your parental instincts.

Before proponents of meds for kids get all worked up, let me add that there are instances when diagnosed behavioral disorders require medication intended to treat symptoms such as poor concentration and hyperactivity. Still, a school with half their students on medication just doesn’t add up.

Your experience will hopefully alert parents not to be so quick in bending to the will of a school’s random determination that may be driven in part by a lack of tolerance to deal with the atypical student. Even in the event that a trained health professional with expertise in the field – recommended by the school – makes the call, parents would be wise to seek a second opinion.

Had you agreed to have your son placed on medication for his inattentiveness, his whole future may have been jeopardized — to say nothing of the personality change he’d have undergone as a result of messing with his mind for no good reason.

Way to go! May you continue to shep nachas from all your youngsters.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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