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Topsy-Turvey Kid

Does your child have learning differences? How to parent your visual-spatial child!

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If there is anything I’ve learned over the years, it’s that our children all learn differently. This is particularly challenging when the public educational system is setup for linear learners like my son who thrives in front of a computer with succinct deadlines and expectations. Pandemic schooling at home was a nightmare for my daughter who thrives outside of the classroom. 

Learning Looks Different for Kids

She will graduate this year and it has been a journey. When she was in second grade, I saw early signs that my bright, creative, adventurous and fun girl was struggling in a traditional classroom.  The following year, a friend told me about a Waldorf-inspired charter school that had opened in our area so we made a switch to their arts-based education. For the next two years, her art flourished, she learned handworks like knitting and weaving, she camped with her class multiple times, played the violin, spoke Spanish and made dear friends.

Through it all, she still struggled in her main academics so we hired a wonderful yet pricey tutor to supplement her education. We learned very quickly that we could do math flashcards until we were blue in the face because she simply could not learn that way. We needed someone who could teach her out-of-the-box because she was easily distracted and lacked focus. ADD, Auditory Processing and even Sensory Processing Disorder were discussed. I  repeatedly asked the school to observe her but I was constantly shut down and told I was overreacting. She wasn’t far enough behind to qualify for Special Education yet wasn’t at grade level. She was one of many kids falling between the cracks.

What is a Visual-Spatial Learner/ Topsy-Turvey Child?

Next, I met with the interventionist/Special Ed teacher and we scheduled a time to have my daughter tested and she then offered to tutor her–for free–this summer. But then came another game-changer:

“I’ve been thinking about everything you’ve told me about your daughter. I very strongly feel like she is a Visual-Spatial Child a.k.a. a Topsy-Turvy Kid.”

I’d heard of Auditory, Kinesthetic and Visual learners but not Visual-Spatial and there’s a reason. After some extensive Internet searches, there isn’t a lot of information about it.

Visual-spatial learners (VSLs) are often artists, inventors, builders, creators, musicians, computer gurus, visionaries and healers. These children have powerful right hemispheres and learn in multi-dimensional images, while most schools, most teachers and most curricula are a haven for left-hemispheric thinking (or auditory-sequential learners) for  children who think and learn in words, rather than images, and in a step-by-step fashion. Though visual-spatial students are often very bright, they don’t always find success in academic environments. They have the most incredible moments of discovery, invention and problem solving but the skills of managing a time schedule, organization or showing their work may elude them. They march to their own drummer and nothing you do will convince them to change..and why should you want to? If there were not visual-spatial learners among us we’d be without art and dance, without science and invention, without drama and choreography, without most of the things that make life beautiful.

She sent me home with “Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids: Successfully Parenting Your Visual-Spatial Child” and it was like reading my daughter’s Book of Life. We’ve had years without answers and finally, windows, doors and the entire universe have been opened to us. We’ve known she was a right-brained kid living in a left-brained world. Unfortunately, we moved out of the area soon thereafter and she returned to a traditional educational model. In seventh grade, we finally got her tested by a neuropsychologist who confirmed our suspicions that she had ADD and processing challenges. 

What We Did Right with Parenting our Visual-Spatial Child

It’s easy to feel like we came up short with our daughter and school. There were many years of math meltdowns and stubborn homework refusals and Raising Topsy-Turvey Kids has SOOOO many practical tips for parenting your child but here’s what we did right:

    • We didn’t focus on grades. We knew her capabilities were different than her brothers and others. Being a regimented “Straight As or nothing” parents would have destroyed her–and our relationship with her.
    • Get creative. She learns best through arts-based experiences. The school didn’t always offer that so we had to dig deep.
    • We let her fail in middle school. OK, she didn’t actually fail but we started giving real-world consequences if she didn’t turn assignments in vs. helicopter parenting her every assignment. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but we did this during middle school when grades didn’t count against her. 
    • We held her accountable. Every single semester in high school, she came to the end of the term and she had Ds in most of her core classes (math, sciences) and we would work with her to get her grades up. She did it every single time and is graduating with a solid GPA and scholarship offers at several smaller universities.  She may go that route but she is also looking at trade school/licensing options which we fully support. 
    • We got her help. Tutors, school counselors, therapists, you name it. We talk openly about mental health and the importance of seeking help when you need it.

Remember: You’re not alone and neither are they!

Other Resources for Different Learners

Visual-Spatial Learners: Understanding the Learning Style Preference of Bright but Disengaged Students.  This book addresses strategies for preparing students to succeed on timed tests; easing the pain of handwriting; teaching spelling using imagery; incorporating mnemonics, rhyme, and other tricks that engage the right hemisphere of the brain

Different Learners: Identity, Preventing and Treating Yoru Child’s Learning Problems. This comprehensive, practical guide to children’s learning problems should be the first resource parents and teachers reach for when a child shows signs of difficulty in academic, social, or behavioral learning. By Dr. Jane Healy. 

Engaging Learners Through Artmaking: Choice-Based Education in the Classroom. This book introduces artistic behaviors that sustain engagement, such as problem finding, innovation, play, representation, collaboration, and more.

All Feelings Are Okay: A Kid’s Book About Different Moods and Emotions; Helps Kids Identify and Accept Feelings. This is a great book for younger kids that focuses on social-emotional learning for kids with autism, ADHD, ADD, and SPD. 

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