HOCC: “I wouldn’t trade her challenges for anything that wouldn’t make her who she is…”

Humans of Calvert County, Sarah Merranko & Anita Santoyo

“My husband is in the Navy, so the kids have moved around a lot in their lives. When she started in public pre-k and kindergarten, we lived in Florida. We could see there was something different in the way that she was learning and processing information, and the pre-k teachers were concerned at that time too. But we just figured that it was just her personality.

But then in kindergarten, they told us they wanted to hold her back and have her do kindergarten again, and enroll her in special education. Her father and I thought, ‘she’s not special ed’, and unfortunately, no one explained to us what that meant either. So we had no idea that it ranged in the spectrum and even includes gifted-we just had no idea. Looking back, I don’t know if they had explained it to me I would have been responsive at the time either, so I can’t blame them for all of it either.

But if I had understood what they were trying to do, I think I would have been more receptive to trying it. Instead, my husband and I decided we were done, and we pulled both our girls out of public schools and I started homeschooling. And I wrestle with that choice that I made. It’s hard feeling that they might not have gotten all the information they would have gotten in public school. But at the time we were part of a fantastic homeschooling group. It was the greatest group we were ever part of -extremely diverse, with classes and all these other activities.

We moved from Florida to LA and I came across some information about dyslexia, and I thought that sounded a lot like her. We had some testing done there, and they came back with a basic diagnosis for dyslexia. A lot of medical places, however, won’t recognize dyslexia as a diagnosis. Yet there are studies that show possibly 1 in 5 children may have some form of dyslexia, even in a mild form.

Some are great in math and have difficulties in reading. She has an extreme form, and even now, I don’t feel like we have the full picture. When we moved here, we did a full-day evaluation at Kennedy Krieger and she also came out with expressive-interceptive language disorder and reading and math learning disabilities. Her reading ability was much lower than her verbal ability, Still, when you talk to her, you have to explain things differently. When she watches movies, for example, she will have a lot of questions throughout the movie, because what she hears and sees doesn’t make sense for her.

But it really taught me not to be afraid to advocate for your child. If you are feeling like something else is there, don’t be afraid to push the schools or the doctors to look at things. As moms, we always want to feel that whatever they are experiencing will be okay, but we know deep inside when there is something wrong.

When we moved back to Maryland, my kids both went back to public school. We are very fortunate that Huntingtown Elementary has great teachers and staff, and I am really going to miss her team next year when she goes to middle school. She still has bad days, where she really gets down on herself, so that’s challenging. But recently it has been really good and she says things like, ‘I’m learning so much’ and “I can do this now’. She’s nervous about starting middle school, but she’s also really excited too for all the different opportunities. She loves singing and acting, and wants to participate in volleyball. She is really excited, and nervous too, but I think that is normal.

She has to work harder than a lot of her peers, but I always tell her that drive will pay off later in life because she does work harder. I still struggle with guilt that I didn’t push harder to figure things out earlier, or that I didn’t give her enough when we were homeschooling her. But I also think that homeschooling her gave her self-confidence. She wasn’t always down on herself like she was early on in public school. She is a very self-confident person, and for her, that was one of the best things I could give her. She’s not afraid to fail. And that’s really one of her strengths. As she works through things, she has the self-confidence as she works through the challenges she has in school. Her brain does work differently than mine or yours, but she has an amazing brain.

I always tell her how amazing her brain is, and where some areas she has to work harder, other places she doesn’t have to work as hard. She is very gifted at memorizing things and remembering things, like information about animals. She knows way more than I know about animals because she remembers things so exceptionally well. And she’s compassionate and unique, and she sees the world differently than anyone I’ve ever met. I really think she’s a cool kid, and I wouldn’t trade her challenges for anything that wouldn’t make her who she is.”