When Orange Is Blue...

Several years ago, I received a call. You know, the kind that sets your heart dropping into the bottom of your chest. It was my mom, and she’d just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. At the time, we didn’t know if it was malignant or not.

Fortunately, it wasn’t, and she endured major brain surgery. After a long recuperation, I got my mother back!

You see, the brain tumor was causing a ruckus with her thinking. She would be talking and try to say the color “blue”, only she’d say it as “orange”. Before we knew that she had a brain tumor, we thought this was the aging process. Dementia…or maybe Alzheimer’s Disease.

The same thing happens with people who suffer from dyslexia, autism, or other learning disabilities. As a thought pops into their head, such as the color “blue”, another thought or word comes to mind, such as “orange”.

Even though they know the color is “blue”, the word “orange” creeps out of their mouths. Even after a lot of work and practice, even after building new neural pathways in the brain, there will be a lag when the person tries to process the information correctly. Is the color really “blue” or is it” orange”? A hiccup of sorts occurs.

Can you imagine how difficult this can be? Of course, compassion is the first step in helping these learners, and because of this, I’ve put together a list of things you can do to help your child, friend, or even parent who struggles to learn.

1. Be patient. I know this sounds trite, but it’s imperative that you don’t add to the person’s anxiety by pushing or prodding. This only adds to the problem and gives them a serious case of “hiccups”.

2. Don’t try to put words in their mouths. This only adds one more layer of confusion and hesitation to an already confused plate!

3. Refrain from correcting unless it’s crucial to meaning or comprehension. Does it really matter if she said that blue was orange? Not really. But it matters if the person is studying for a driver’s test or important examination.

4. Limit expectations. I was getting frustrated with my mom until I found out what she was going through. Once I knew she had a brain tumor, I realized I was expecting too much from her. This doesn’t mean I gave her crutches or reasons not to strive for more but chose to ignore a few “hiccups”.

5. Find help. Children don’t outgrow learning disabilities without interventions. Some kids manage to push through their learning issues and become successful, but the issue won’t magically disappear at a certain age. The same was true with my mom’s brain tumor. We didn’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it would shrink on its own accord. She went to a brain surgeon who removed the problematic tumor.

6. If you do choose to correct someone who struggles with learning, be sure to do it in a way that will maintain dignity. “Did you mean blue instead of orange?” is much kinder and easier to swallow than, “It’s orange. Not blue.”

There are so many things you can do to help a struggling learner, even when “blue” is “orange”, “pink” is “green”, and “hiccups” occur!

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