Perhaps you have heard the story but I want to give it a different slant with a new and (I hope) inspiring story. When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teacher sent his mom a letter informing her that since her son was addled (mentally retarded), there was no further need of him attending school. When young Thomas queried his mother about the letter, she replied that the teacher wrote that since her son was a genius, it was beyond their capacity to teach him. Years later as he was sorting through his deceased mother’s belongings, the world- renowned inventor found that letter.
Like Edison, the “Jane” in this true case history was misdiagnosed. Unlike Edison, she had genuine mental deficits and no intellectual gifts. Would Jane ever learn? What would finally unlock her mind in her struggles to learn?
While there is a place for legitimate diagnosis and we do not want to be in denial of any real or potential problems, misdiagnosis or incorrect labeling can be detrimental.
When Jane was nearly three years old (1953), she developed a brain infection and was in a coma for several weeks. When she awoke, Jane was partially paralyzed and her speech was so garbled no one understood her. Gradually, she was at least able to walk and attended private kindergarten but she did not, like other children, learn the basic alphabet or the sounds the letters represented.
Her mother brought Jane to one of the leading medical centers in the South where she was diagnosed as “mentally retarded”. Ignoring their diagnosis, her mother sent her to public school. She usually received C’s and D’s with a few “F’s on her report cards.
One day Jane listened secretly as her sixth grade teacher told her mother that Jane was mentally retarded. Mother responded, “I do not believe she is. You probably don’t understand her speech. I will review the multiplication tables with her and you will see that she can indeed pass.” The results? That one year she achieved all “A’s” and one “B”.
Ravages of Mental Illness
Her mother developed a cruel disease—paranoid schizophrenia—in which she would deny that Jane and her twin were her daughters. Before she got really sick, she did Jane one last favor. Much of the knowledge students are supposed to learn in their junior and high school years was lost as Jane spiraled down into a paralyzing depression. She skipped many classes to stay with her Mom.
She attended summer schools and did graduate from high school, but without any permanent memory or real understanding of the knowledge she was taught. Because her short-term memory was good, she could excel at history. As she approached her 20th year, her long-term memory of all subjects (except history and typing) was below 7th grade level. English skills, science, and math were more like 5th grade level. To complicate matters further, Jane was totally ignorant of any practical skills—cooking, housekeeping, sewing, budgeting, etc. Socially, Jane was “scared of her own shadow”. Physically she was awkward.
Jane came as a lifestyle patient to Wildwood in 1972, but stayed as a student. In those days, the Wildwood’s mission school did not care how ignorant a student was as long as he/she was committed to learning. In her second year at Wildwood, some in administration felt she should become a worker in a nearby school for the mentally retarded. They certainly did not consider her as a suitable candidate for long-term service. After all, it took some people over 30 minutes to understand what she said in a mere 5 minutes! With her garbled speech and her clumsiness, where would she work? Others saw promise in her efforts. Fast-forward through several decades.
The Lost Keys: Humility, Persistence, Manual Labor
Jane performed seemingly menial duties—housekeeping, dish washing, juicing carrots, bagging food, and gardening. She dropped out of a very basic physiology class twice, nutrition, and other health courses. She relearned the basic process of reading and pronunciation. By concentration on her tongue and lip position, Jane could discriminate between the sounds and her speech improved enough. At age 37, Jane also learned grammar and when to indent paragraphs. She attempted physiology a third time and finally succeeded. She eventually became a physiology instructor and has authored several health e-books with the help of proof-readers. You see, Jane was not mentally retarded. Her accurate diagnosis would have been auditory dyslexia and clinical depression. True story. I know. I am Jane.
Retarded? No. Slow Learner? Definitely. Dyslexic? Yes! So what helped me? A lot of physical activity, several years of manual labor, being willing to work anywhere, starting at the beginning as an adult because, evidently, I missed many sequential steps for learning as a child. As I shared what I learned, my ability to understand rapidly increased. Support and encouragement of a few teachers and a sense of humor sustained me. Beyond all these blessings is a loving God. As a classroom teacher I have observed that these same principles have helped other slow learners to succeed too—if they stay with the program.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is helpful and is educational. It is not the author’s or authors’ or Wildwood Health Institute’s intent to substitute the blog article for diagnosis, counseling, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
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