““All kids can fail us at times. ““But if you work with them, nine times out of 10, they’ll make you proud.”
says Debbie Phelps, middle-school principal in Towson, Maryland, and mother of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps who won record eight gold medals in the Beijing Games.
Photo Credit: China Daily
““I was told by one of his teachers that he couldn’t focus on anything,” says Debbie. She consulted a doctor, and nine-year-old Michael was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD, ADD).
““That just hit my heart,” says Debbie. ““It made me want to prove everyone wrong. I knew that, if I collaborated with Michael, he could achieve anything he set his mind to.”
Debbie taught middle school for more than two decades and began working closely with Michael’s school to get him the extra attention he needed. ““Whenever a teacher would say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœMichael can’t do this,’ I’d counter with, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWell, what are you doing to help him?'” she recalls.
As you can see today, Debbie’s initiative, perseverance and creativity helped shape Michael Phelps, the super-athlete he has become. My friend, Cathy is right when she says that we can draw inspiration from Debbie’s story – whether our children have ADD or not. Steadfast and resourceful, Debbie saw strength where others saw weakness, and kept looking for ways to help her son after others were ready to give up.
Debbie’s story reminds me of my daughter, Marielle. In my daughter’s case, she was not diagnosed with anything.
When my two girls were growing up, Lauren seemed to be the brighter one over her younger sister in terms of reading, writing and speech. Naturally, friends, teachers and relatives compared the two. It got me worried because I didn’t want Marielle to feel inferior beside her elder sister. At the age of six (see how important it is to catch that window of opportunity), I discovered by accident that Marielle is an Alpha child, right-brained and creatively different. I took matters into my own hands and in the summer before she entered First grade, I initiated exercises to develop her right brain.
Little did I know that 1994 summer was Marielle’s turning point. A few months before she received her first grading report card, I held a 7th birthday party for her classmates. Naturally the parents went along with their child. A mother approached me and gushed ““My daughter told me so much about Marielle. She is so smart. You must be a proud mother”.
I was ““huh? really? I don’t think so. You must have mistaken me for another mother.” Then the mother got her child ““Isn’t Marielle the smartest in your class?”
Was it the brief summer activity that spurred her development? Was it the confidence she gained because she found a pathway to learning? Maybe I caught her preference for right brained thinking patterns just before she reached her 7th birthday. Was it the recognition from Marielle ““You mean I’m not really dumb!” after I told her that she might be predominantly right-brained? I may never know but I am proud of her.
As parents, we don’t necessarily have to be doomed to a child’s failure or learning disabilities . There are so many ways to help them overcome their limitations. We can’t rely on schools alone to help our children especially if the school is the traditional educational system designed for left-brained , auditory learners.
We, as parents need to work with our children during this window of opportunity before it is too late.