S

arah: This is mortifying. I never imagined taking one of my children for therapy.

Therapist: Eli may need help with language, but his parents’ perception of him and his own poor self-image are his biggest disadvantages.

Eli: I wish they’d leave me alone and let me play baseball.

 

Sarah Beckman shakes my hand as she and her husband come in. “I appreciate you seeing us today,” she says. It’s July Fourth. “It was too complicated for Daniel and me to miss work.”

Their 12-year-old son hovers nearby. “This is Eli,” Daniel says. Eli bobs his head awkwardly.

“Hi, Eli. Have a seat in the next room.” I show him the bookshelf nearby. “What do you like to read?”

Eli shrugs, muttering, “I don’t read books.”

“Is there anything you like reading? Magazines?”

“Sometimes… if there’s a really interesting picture, maybe I’ll read the caption.”

“That’s fun. Can you tell me something interesting you read?”

“Uh, there was this picture of… like, a mountain… And this guy, he was… he wasn’t just a regular… whatever…and he was climbing, it was a whole thing.” [Eli’s inability to communicate the general storyline indicates difficulty with reading comprehension and expression. No wonder he hates reading and gets poor grades.]

Back in the office Sarah shakes her head. “I don’t know where he gets it from. My other kids are reading addicts.”

“Is that what brings you here?”

Daniel and Sarah exchange glances. “Yes. No,” says Daniel. “Well, we’re concerned because Eli isn’t doing well in school. I think that’s causing his resistance to reading.”

“I think he’s doing poorly because he doesn’t read.” Sarah leans forward. “Look,” she says. “I’m an actuary, my husband is an engineer. Our oldest son was valedictorian, our next son is in the honors program. I know you’re not supposed to compare, but something’s not working for Eli. He has a great memory, he’s good at math, but he hates school, hates reading, and he isn’t doing well.”

“Which subjects are hard for him?”

Daniel frowns, thinking. “All the language arts subjects — literature, writing. History. Science is spotty — sometimes he does great, sometimes he flunks.” [Eli has a good memory, so subjects where he can spit back information are easy. Those that require language processing and reading comprehension are challenging.]

“The worst are tests that require long answers,” Sarah explains. “Multiple choice or matching-style questions are easier for him to pass.” [Open-ended questions require strong comprehension and the ability to summarize. It’s easier to just identify the correct answer on matching and multiple-choice questions.]

“Pass!” Daniel rolls his eyes. “A 65 is a pass, but that’s still a problem.”

“Eli is going into seventh grade,” I note. “Is this a new problem?”

Sarah tilts her head. “Kind of. I mean, he never did amazing, but he was managing until now. Something changed this year and it’s been downhill ever since.”

“We have to figure this out,” Daniel adds. “Not only was Eli not tracked for the accelerated program for eighth grade,” he lowers his voice, “the school actually told us they want to move him to the lowest track.” He shakes his head in disbelief. [Eli coasted for years on his strong memory, but now that schoolwork requires deduction, reasoning skills, and reading comprehension, he can’t keep up.]

I schedule an evaluation for Eli. The results confirm my suspicions: Eli struggles with reading comprehension, language processing, and inferential thinking.

Eli isn’t really interested in therapy, but I promise him I’m not going to make him read.

Originally featured in Family First, Issue 608. D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist in private practice for over 15 years. She is the creator of the Link-It reading comprehension and writing curriculum for elementary school students and directs continuing education programs for speech-language pathologists and educators.