April 14, 2008 by Stacy McDonald

Learning Disability or Gift?

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Time and time again we see evidence of the beautiful gifts and amazing talents God has given to those who are labeled with various “learning disabilities.” Our daughter, Abigail, probably would have been considered “different” by many in the public school system. Perhaps we would have been instructed to medicate her; or maybe she would have grown up feeling like something was “wrong” with her. But in God’s providence, our sweet blessing is learning at home; and we are watching her blossom.

Abigail has had her challenges. She has hearing difficulties (she wears hearing aids) and poor eyesight, but it didn’t stop her from learning phonics and it doesn’t keep her from devouring every book she can get her hands on!

She is allergic to wheat and eggs, but she takes it in stride. This “limitation” caused our family to become healthier eaters and has helped us to become diligent (if not obsessive) label-readers (you’d be surprised by all the junk Americans are putting into their bodies!).

There are other things Abigail deals with that have driven us to our knees, brought us to tears numerous times, and sent us to the Word, and on a quest for answers – both through doctors and diet. She is at times sensitive to smells, certain noises, and chemicals. Though she is deaf to certain tones, other sounds drive her crazy and give her a headache – sounds the rest of us can’t or wouldn’t normally hear.

Certain foods, dyes, and chemicals (msg) act like a drug in her system and seem to affect her physical body, as well as her central nervous system (staring spells, headaches, pain in her legs, stomach cramps, and emotional melt downs that can last for hours). We’ve found similar symptoms in autistic children and those with Asperger’s, but no “syndrome” seems to fit her exactly. And honestly, I can’t say she has any learning disabilities. She just communicates her intelligence and gifts differently than other children.

In our Abigail, we see a brilliant mind that is thinking deeply – taking everything in. For years, Abigail has surprised us with the most profound thoughts and creative stories. Just when you think she’s not listening, she wows you with an interesting perspective. She is a voracious reader, a prolific writer, and a budding artist. Disabilities? Where?

We had a conversation with Andrew Pudewa at dinner about his son who is dyslexic. He shared how his son “sees” things differently than other children. He actually sees “around” things. He looks at a word and he sees it spatially. So while that may seem like a “disability” when one is trying to read a book, imagine the potential! I wonder if the builders of cathedrals were “dyslexic!”

God has gifted us all in many ways and we are so limiting in how we view our children. If every child doesn’t fit the median expectation they are either considered brilliant or disabled. I would argue that every child is gifted in different ways – because after all, why did God create man? For His own glory.

So, whatever difficulties or oddities your child may seem to be experiencing; whatever “disabilities” he may have, remember to put it all into perspective. Remember that God created your little one for His own purpose—for His own glory. And where better to see God’s power and glory exemplified, than in the life of a child who the world “thinks” is disabled or “weak?”

The following cartoon is a perfect example of how we could take just about any gifting and turn it into an “oddity” or a “disability.” Perhaps one of your children, or someone you know, has “the knack.” Better known as…”engineer-ism.”



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39 Responses to “Learning Disability or Gift?”

  1. Step says:

    Oh, thank you for writing this post! I, too, have a child who has his differences. My William is 8yo and the middle child of 3. So many people told me to get him “tested” back when he was around 4-5yo that I finally did after pouring over tons of books on children with special needs. We considered ADHD, Aspergers, HFA, sensory integration disorder, etc. Like you said, nothing fit exactly.

    You know what our pediatrician said…? He told us that there is absolutely nothing wrong with him unless you want to add “quirky” to the list of disorders out there. He said that he, personally, doesn’t believe in all of the labels heaped upon children these days by “lazy teachers” (his words, not mine, but I got a bit of a chuckle out of that). After that day, I vowed to always listen to my heart when it came to my children. I knew deep down that there wasn’t anything wrong with William, but I was swayed by what everyone else was saying that I caved in.

    So, now he’s almost 9yo and he’s still my funny, creative, kind, gentle, quirkly little fellow who beats to his own drummer and has this amazing connection with animals. Learning disbabled, I think not, he’s our gift for sure! :)

  2. Step says:

    Oh, one more thing! That Dilbert cartoon is just hilarious. I’ll have to send it to my husband, who just happens to be an electrical engineer.

  3. Jenn says:

    Have your kept your daughter at home and worked with her there? What is your advice about working with outside agencies for therapies (speech, etc)?

  4. Tully Family says:

    Thank you, thank you for this post and for your faithfulness to your daughter! God bless!

  5. elena rulli says:

    Dear Mrs. McDonald,
    thank your for this post.
    I’m not a mother, but I can understad what is like when people think you are ‘strange’ or ‘don’t fit’. Too quick they want to label and ‘dissect’ children and their wonderful complexity.
    Your Abigail is beautiful and perfect because she is made so by the love of her family.
    I hope I will be able as well to love so much my not-yet-here childrfen.
    Sincerely
    Elena

  6. Brandy says:

    I love this post! Two of my children have “problems” that would have been labeled by the public schools. My three-year-old daughter doesn’t fit anything exactly, but my son, from what I have read (we are careful not to seek diagnoses unless absolutely necessary), would be considered mild Asperger’s. We sought out natural remedies, and, through elimination testing, discovered gluten, casein, soy, and artificial-everything allergies!

    The amazing thing is this: when we eliminated all the allergens (including gluten-based shampoos and soaps), the children have begun to thrive once again. For our son, who is almost six, we are seeing all the “benefits” of Asperger’s. He sees the world in an amazing way, and seems to understand so many mechanical things automatically. I really consider his mind to be God’s blessing to him.

    Thank you for encouraging others to see the beauty that results from facing and conquering these challenges.

  7. Nickey says:

    I have a three year old that has a slight speech impediment and we have found that working diligently with her to memorize and recite scripture has gone along way in correcting it.

    She is very difficult to understand if she is excited and speaking fast, but getting her to slow down and pronounce one word at a time really helps.

    I was in speech class as a child in the public schools, although my mothers says she never did understand why they thought I needed it other than I pronounced a couple of words funny. Now that I am reading about it, it seems that in most cases it works itself out by the age of five. So we will wait and see but I think if she continues to progress as well as she is, we will not have a need for taking her to a therapist.

  8. Mary says:

    Stacy, I was just curious to know if you happened to have an ultrasound close to the time before Abagail’s birth?

    Our eighth-born son was very over-sensitive to many things (sounds, foods, quickly irritated…) as well in his first couple of years in particular, and I always wondered if a lengthy ultrasound near the time of his birth had anything to do with it. He was the only child of our 11 who had a lengthy ultrasound or had these struggles. Makes me wonder…

    He’s extremely bright and does not struggle with over-sensitivity anymore (he’s 12 years old now), but his early years were “interesting”.

    We thank God for the joy that God has given us in this unique child, and are grateful for the blessing of home educating him. I hate to think what a school system would have done to him. He has poor eyesight and wears glasses, and like Abigail, is a voracious reader and loves learning in our home school. He is extremely bright and has been able to learn at his own accelerated pace, yet with character training he is humble. I enjoyed the Dilbert cartoon as our son talks about wanting to be an engineer! :-)

    Your blog is such an ongoing encouragement to me in so many ways. Thank you, Stacy.

  9. Dovey says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been struggling with a myriad of health issues with a 19-month old for almost his whole life. He’s the youngest of 3 (#4′s on the way!). He is joyful, goofy, loving, cuddable and on the strictest diet you can ever imagine. Right now, he only eats beef, turkey or chicken with only salt, spinach, squash, carrots and peeled and steamed zucchini. We still can’t figure out the root of some of his issues, but it’s so encouraging to hear of others dealing with difficulties who remind us to praise the Lord and to seek His glory in all of it. You are an encouragement!

  10. Karen says:

    “I would argue that every child is gifted in different ways – because after all, why did God create man? For His own glory.”

    Oh wow. What a powerful assessment. I loved this post – it was very insightful and precious. Thank you!

  11. Mrs. Rabe says:

    I got a laugh out of the cartoon, but your post was right on Stacy. Thank you for your honesty in sharing about your child. I know many people who tend to put “well known” people on a pedestal and think that everything must be easy for “them.” I appreciate your “keeping it real.”

  12. Bonnie says:

    What an insightful-in-a-humorous-way video! My husband and I laughed out loud! He is an engineer (structural and mechanical), and he truly does have “the knack”. God has helped him to develop social “eptitude”, thankfully!

    Bonnie in FL

  13. Bethany W. says:

    Not only is this post encouraging as it relates to children, but grown ups with health issues as well. We all need to be reminded that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made!”
    I enjoy all your posts!

  14. Stacy McDonald says:

    “So, now he’s almost 9yo and he’s still my funny, creative, kind, gentle, quirkly little fellow who beats to his own drummer and has this amazing connection with animals. Learning disbabled, I think not, he’s our gift for sure!”

    Step – I loved your quote above. Thank you!

    Jenn – Yes, I’ve worked with her at home. I can’t really give advice on that topic because I’ve never come across any outside agency that I thought would be any better than what we’re doing at home. (However, we do utilize an optimologist that offers vision therapy). I guess it would depend on what the needs were with the child and how involved Mom and Dad could be.

  15. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hello Elena,

    I so appreciate your comment and I know what you’re trying to say, but I feel compelled to point out that it is truly God alone that makes Abigail beautiful and it is truly God alone that even allows us to see the beauty in her. In my flesh, I tend to notice the “problems” – the irritating habits, the sometimes irrational behavior. God is the one who reminds me (like He did today) how beautiful she is – beautiful by and for Him!

    We do love Abigail like crazy, but we can’t take credit for her unique beauty. We’re just thankful she puts up with us! :-)

  16. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Nickey,

    I wouldn’t worry about it at all. I would say that you can’t really tell if a child has a speech impediement this early. I’ve had early talkers and late talkers. I had one daughter who spoke as clearly as an adult before she was 3 and others that sounded like sweet lisping babies at 3. Relax. God’s timing is different with each child.

    The Scripture memorizing is great! I totally agree with you.

    Also, Scripture (reading it aloud) will also do wonders for children having difficulty reading.

  17. Stacy McDonald says:

    Hi Mary,

    Yes, actually we did. An ultrasound showed that she had an issue with her kidney, so they did several while I was pregnant with her. Interesting.

  18. Sallie says:

    Our son Caleb is on the Autism Spectrum and has what is known as Asperger Syndrome (AS, for short) and other “disabilities” associated with it. We always like to say he is AS God has made him!

    We homeschool now and he does so much better and he devours books! I bet he’d get along spendidly with your daughter :-)

    God bless,
    Sallie

  19. Lisa says:

    That video was soooo funny!!
    I live with an electrical engineer. Everyone thinks he knows everything because of it.

    Thank you for your honesty about your daughter. I have a son that has a language processing problem and can be very frusterating at times. The Lord has sure shown us our impatient hearts.

    Lisa

  20. Sommer says:

    Stacy~This was a wonderful post! If you don’t mind…I think I will link to it:-)

    I may use what you said about being made for the glory of God to encourage my Mom. She has had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder(OCD) since she was a small child and she is struggling with “why ” right now. Perhaps your thoughts on this will encourage her.

    Lots of love,
    Sommer

  21. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this post – so often the world wants to label and thereby medicate these gifts – how wrong we are to suppress them. Good friends of ours who have 9 kids, one of theirs has sensory integration disorder and would have been destroyed by the public schools. She has such a meek and quiet spirit – very in tune to Spiritual things. But it took her until she was nearly 10 to read or write anything.
    Her mom’s efforts with her have been a painstaking process, but they have paid off because they refused to see her as damaged or handicapped.

  22. Sonja says:

    Your daughter is beautiful! How boring would the world be if we were all the same.

    Love the video. My dad’s an engineer and it’s just very fitting!

  23. Jenn says:

    Thank you for sharing :) Our daughter is also allergic to wheat and eggs, and several other things. She also has a high-need temperment and that, combined with her behavioral and physical symptoms when she’s having an allergic reaction, would make it very easy for her to be labeled with having a social disorder, learning disorder, behavioral disorder, and who knows what else. We have inklings every now and then that she may be obsessive-compulsive, even at the young age of 21 months. She is highly sensitive to sounds and other sensory stimulations as well, so we are very careful to think it may be this and are trying to have a very open perspective about what gifts these things might be in her – thank you so much for the reminder!

  24. Michelle says:

    “I feel compelled to point out that it is truly God alone that makes Abigail beautiful and it is truly God alone that even allows us to see the beauty in her. In my flesh, I tend to notice the “problems” – the irritating habits, the sometimes irrational behavior. God is the one who reminds me (like He did today) how beautiful she is – beautiful by and for Him!”

    Thank you, thank you Stacy for this post. I especially liked what you said in what I quoted above.

    We are struggling here with at least our oldest 2 sons and our third, it is hard to tell if he is just learning the behaviors of the other two or if there is something more.

    We are looking more into diet to help us at this point, as I am desperate and it is so hard sometimes to not get frustrated.

    Thank you again for the gentle reminder that we’re all created for His glory!

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hi Stacy;

    Thanks so much for sharing your heart. I too have a daughter that has eye problems and has really bad reactions to chemicals in foods such as dyes, msg and gluten. When she was a baby she would violently throw up when she ate anything with dyes in it. We did not put two and two together until she was about 6. At that time instead of throwing up after eating something dye in it, she would have melt downs…violent melt downs. I began to keep a record of everything she was eating. Typically, the reaction to the food would be the next day…not the same day she ate them. So now that we know and we stay away from them, she is doing tremendously better. All three of my kids are adopted. Each of them have different things that they struggle with. I am so thankful God has shown me how I can help my daughter through her diet, reading, scripture memorizing and praying. She hates when she has fits and tries so hard to make sure what she is about to eat does not have any of those chemicals in them. If she is unsure…she will not eat them. She is such a blessing, has the gift of help and hospitality and is non-stop busy. What a blessing God has bestowed upon us!

    Question, is there a way I can email Andrew Pudewa to ask him about writing curriculum and spelling for my son who has dyslexia and dysgraphia. He loves to create stories, but cannot put them on paper. At this time, he dictates to me. I was wondering if Mr. Pudewa has any more creative ideas. I tried searching for a way to email him on the internet but could not find anything.

    Thanks again for sharing your story and your heart. I love your blog, it is always encouraging.
    kellie

  26. Jenny says:

    This is a great post! Our foster sister had all kinds of difficulties but she had gifts and graces that others did not. It is amazing how many people cannot look past so called “disabilities” to see the potential and unique talents of these children.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Dilbert cartoon you posted!

  27. Lisa says:

    What a wonderful post, I love the cartoon, I have had it posted on my blog several weeks now as a story about my husbands childhood. He definitely has “The Knack”. I laughed when I saw it, it was so surreal.
    I love that your daughter is in such a wonderful home, where she is seen as just who she is, a beloved child of God, with all of her interests, gifts and whatever struggles she would have. Where she will be raised for His glory,a testimony to Him. Not in the world, simply labeled.
    You summed it all up in your first paragraph. Would to God that all children with disabilities could find such a home.
    The world labels everything, sometimes it’s is necessary sometimes it’s superfluous labeling.
    I’m thankful for the only labels we have to wear:
    Sinners saved by God’s amazing grace.
    A Child of God, joint heirs with Christ.
    God’s blessings.

  28. Candace says:

    Beautiful.

  29. Mrs. Hewett says:

    Stacy,

    Thank you! Gracias! Merci! Xie xie! Thanks! I appreciate this post so much!

    Our son has vision issues (due to childhood cataracts) and multiple developmental delays (from 2.5 years in a Chinese orphanage before we adopted him), so life with him is anything but dull. I’ve been getting discouraged and frustrated with all the challenges and other people dismissing him as “defective” because he is different.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. It is a breath of fresh air. Our son is learning so much and there is such potential locked up inside him, sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that when progress seems slow (he’s 4 with the development of a 2-3 year old – for now) or hard days seem endless. You have been a huge encouragement to me.

    God bless you!

    Mrs. H

    P.S. I’d like to link to your post on my blog, if it’s okay. Thanks.

  30. Christin says:

    Thank you, you and I have the exact same thoughts on children and how the world so easily “labels” them. I, too, have a son who doesn’t learn at the same “rate” as the “medium”, but we know how bright he is. At one point the doctors wanted me to have a physical therapist visit the house because at 21 months he wasn’t walking alone – but he was cruising the furniture and walls just fine! My husband and I knew he would do it when HE was ready. There wasn’t anything wrong with him, physically.
    He also had a wheat and egg allergy (among about 1/2 dozen others) for 18 months of his life. Praise God, he was healed of some of them, but his body still just isn’t able to handle things like cow’s milk/dairy, eggs, peanuts and even some environmental allergens. God really taught me that He creates people to be different – that doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with them. Each person is unique, whether they are “ahead” of the “medium” or “behind” the medium. To me, there is no medium. There is just God and His perfect Creation and plans for each individual’s life. Thank you for sharing your heart. :) God bless you and your beautiful family.

  31. Simply Heart And Home says:

    Bless your heart. What a lovely post. God does bless us with perfect children regardless of any disabilities. God does not see them as disabilities. He give us the love and patience we need with all our children.

    My youngest also is allergic to all dairy and wheat products. I know the challenge of cooking and feeding him nutritious foods in spite of his allergies. It isn’t easy but with a bit of creativity, it can be done.

    Thank you for an encouraging post.

    Blessings,
    Gina

  32. Heather says:

    Stacy,

    That was so funny!!! Our little one is very much like what you describe with Abigail. Abigail is such a sweet little girl!!

    Thank you so much for writing this!! It was very encouraging to me.

    Love, Heather

  33. linn98367 says:

    Stacy,Thanks so much for your encouraging statement on disabled or gifted.My 14 yr old daughter was recently diagnosed with Static Encephalopathy or severe development delay and is at about a 5-6yr old level and it is so easy to get your focus off of the Lord and on to a diagnosis or disability and to start having a pity party,why me? why my child?Your article has shown me dispite what the medical community says my daughter can still learn and still accomplish things.She’s beautiful in God’s eyes and ours.Thank you for helping to get my eyes back on the Lord where they belong.Linn

  34. Cath says:

    Thank you for this post! My china-adopted 5 yr old daughter has been diagnosed with Autism. Every one of your commenters seem so gentle and loving and accepting of their children. It makes me even more sad…that I can’t seem to get past this! I’m angry, sad, disappointed, tired! How do you get to that “happy place” where you just “love”?????
    Cath

  35. Michelle Taylor says:

    thank you! I can totally relate to your post. We have a son that is very similar in some ways and has driven me and continues to drive me to my knees along with lots of reading, doctors, and counselors through the years. Would you mind if I posted your post on my blog with your permission?

  36. Stacy McDonald says:

    Michelle,

    Please feel free.

  37. Stacy McDonald says:

    Dear Cath,

    It’s not a “happy place;” it’s simply an understanding of God’s sovereignty. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have days where we are angry, frustrated, or even unthankful. It just means that we understand that our children are blessings, and when we sin, and think or act unbiblically, we repent and rejoice in what He’s done.

    This post was my attempt to think “right thoughts” – to think biblically. It doesn’t mean I speak or act perfectly or walk around sounding thankful all the time. My children and my husband can attest to the fact that I struggle daily. However, as a Christian, I know how to repent. And God is so gracious and loving. He is so much more patient with me than I am with my family. He forgives me and gives me the grace and patience to go on. Praise the Lord!

  38. Sandra Deal says:

    Dear Mothers,

    As the mother of a 21 year son with Autism, I want to encourage each of you with special children to trust the Lord as you seek guidance in diagnosing, caring and educating them. As a homeschooling mom I struggled with getting help from the school district, using meds, seeking private education and therapy, etc. I felt I should be able to meet my son’s needs at home. It has been a VERY hard, heartbreaking and lonely road. At the age of four we were told that most likely my son would need full time inpatient care his entire life. He did for a short period. Many times I could not see the end of the tunnel. I was exhausted and fearful about his future.
    Through God and God alone, my son now works full time as a machinist while attending trade school. He drives! (I never prayed for these things… I was praying for day to day survival.) He has his quirks….they make him who he is. He asks for help when he needs it & I pray for him a LOT. His siblings are his best friends.
    God is faithful all the time…no matter what. Be encouraged! God is always working. Take joy in the small victories. Search out support from other Believers who value ALL people, even those some churches and the world view as difficult and imperfect.

    Each of our special children is invaluable in God’s plan. After all, His plan is perfect!

    Grace and Peace,
    Sandra

  39. I was born July 1, 1973 and I went home from the hospital in an adorable outfit my grandmother made for me from flowered feed sacks. I still have it today and I love it dearly.

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