Twins come in identical sets, and twins come in fraternal sets … this is a well-known fact! What is unexpected by most is for one twin to be very different from the other. What if one twin has special needs?
Do you have a special needs child?
We first suspected that our then five year old son Brandon (first born of our second set) was learning challenged when he couldn’t seem to grasp and recognize the sight words that his sister was easily memorizing in first grade. In addition, he was impulsive and excessively fidgety when required to sit still and focus on a class assignment. He didn’t exhibit intentionally disruptive behavior, but clearly was unable to control how easily distracted he would become. Although his teacher assured us that he was just wired differently and was less mature than his twin sister (as boys usually are), I felt instinctively that learning to read shouldn’t be this difficult. When second grade began, I was on bed rest with my 3rd twin pregnancy, and spent every afternoon doing homework with both of my younger twins, followed by an extra hour reading with Brandon. He found this activity almost painful. Before Christmas that year, just after my newborn twin boys came home from the hospital after arriving at 31 weeks, I received a message from Brandon and Erin’s teacher requesting a conference with me. We had begun to notice Brandon’s grades dropping despite our efforts with him. I, of course, was expecting this parent/teacher meeting to be called, and had intended to request it myself as soon as I was just a little more settled with our new arrivals.
The following is an excerpt from my book, TWINS x 3:
(After I arrived at school) I checked the other three kids into after-school care so I could have a private meeting with Brandon and Erin’s teacher, Mrs. Hilgers. When I sat down in one of the plastic chairs designed for the body of an eight-year-old, Mrs. Hilgers asked about the babies and how all of us were doing. When the small talk was over, however, she said, “Now, I know this is not coming as any surprise to you, but Brandon has been struggling, especially in the area of reading.”
“Yes, I know,” I agreed. “We work with him as much as possible, and at times he seems to improve, only later to fall behind again. Mrs. Torino (his first grade teacher) had insisted that he just needed to do some maturing, that he perhaps processes material a little different, but eventually catches on,” I explained, hoping somehow that Mrs. Hilgers would agree.
“Well, after assessing his abilities through assignments and test scores, I believe there is a more substantial underlying issue than simply a matter of immaturity,” she explained. “I do believe, based on my professional opinion, background, experience, and training in special education, that Brandon is struggling with a learning disability,” Mrs. Hilgers stated calmly, but with real concern in her eyes.
Her words hit like an eighteen wheeler slamming into my stomach. As Brandon’s teacher placed a sheet of paper on the table in front of me with a list of resources where I could have my son’s learning abilities tested and evaluated, it took every ounce of strength I had in me not to break down into a puddle, right there in the second grade classroom, in that tiny plastic chair. We talked for several more minutes, all the while I wanted to leave and pretend that this meeting had never taken place. My child has a learning disability. He is learning disabled. What does this mean?
When the meeting was finished, I walked numbly out of the room and down the hall toward the lobby. I signed out my children and waited to see the come around the corner, as I had so many times before. When Brandon rounded the bend, cheerful, playful, and happy as always, a sense of sadness and protective love came over me. Is this really true? If it was true, and it probably was, I knew that I must fit this situation into my already enormously demanding life. I simply didn’t have any other choice.
There was no denying it. My son is learning disabled. After several months and two comprehensive pycho-educational evaluations, complete with visual and audio processing evaluations, it was confirmed that Brandon possessed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) combined with dyslexia. New Oxford American Dictionary defines dyslexia as a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that do not affect general intelligence. This disorder may not affect Brandon’s general intelligence, but this disability considerably affects his ability to learn, participate and perform in school, and is not a curable. Also, a real link exists between ADHD and dyslexia.
Our Catholic school applied as many accommodations as possible for Brandon, and we hired a reading specialist to tutor him. When we could no longer afford her, we took her suggestion to place him into the public school system where county resources unavailable to us in parochial school could benefit him.
Brandon participated in an extensive reading program the following year, and really progressed. All in all, he did well in public school, but when ready to move on to 6th grade (middle school), we decided to see if he was ready to rejoin his twin at our Catholic school. Today as a sixth grader, he is still challenged significantly in language arts classes, but is doing well in math and science. Organizationally, he needs a LOT of guidance and constant reinforcement.
Again, my son Brandon will never be cured of his ADHD and dyslexia. With a diet free of preservatives, rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and micr0nutrients, combined with medical assistance in the form of a daily medication, Brandon’s ADHD is managed. His dyslexia, however, is still a significant challenge that we face daily. Our school is working with us to make accommodations, and Brandon himself knows that he has to work harder than his classmates. We must stay completely on top of his assignments/projects/homework. Every day is a challenge.
Do you have a special needs twin? Does one of your twins have severe ADD or ADHD, Down syndrome, dyslexia, autism, or cerebral palsy? Many multiples who are born early face life-long physical and/or mental disabilities. Brandon’s dyslexia may have been genetically passed down from family members, but he was a 35-weeker born at 4 lbs., 13 oz.
For information and support, please visit: NOMOTC’s resource for parents with special needs twins.
RAISING SPECIAL NEEDS MULTIPLES is a another great resource for support by Elizabeth A. Pector, M.D.
Dr. Pector also has a second site called The Special Challenges of Parenting Twins & More.