Mom of our Colorful VSL

Dear Power Tools,
Hello. I am a mother of 9 year old boy. He is in 4th grade. I have been trying to get some help on my son's academic or learning style issue. I have noticed that my son has been alert to colors and shapes ever since he was very young. He is very sensitive and caring. He loves colors, mixing colors, puzzles, mazes, and Legos. He can spend hours on hands-on activities.
Then his first grade teacher told me that he could not read. He had been memorizing the whole book with illustration on pages. He has gone through the phonics programs for a year. He reads at his grade level now. But he still has difficulty with writing. He does not like math computation but can solve complex word problems if I read the problem to him.
It feels like he is always catching up in school. Then he has taken ITBS and CogAT early this year. The analysis says his ability is 90th percentile but his achievement is 50%. He has "non-verbal" visual learner profile. His teacher has suggested to do some repetitive spelling and math computation to help him. I am not sure whether these tests are accurate. He can spend hours doing Lego, 3D puzzles, or folding origami papers but cannot stay still for 15 minutes of math computation or spelling. I have asked his teacher whether he should repeat the grade since he is young for his grade anyway. He teacher does not recommend repeating the grade. She believes my son is a late bloomer.
Is there a teaching method that I can use to help him? Is public school not meant for visual learners?
Mom of Our Colorful VSL
Dear Mom of Our Colorful VSL,
Many schools do not do a very good job of teaching anything but auditory sequential learners. Even the ones that do well in the primary grades will lose us around third grade, which is the most common time for VSLs to feel the gap. My first thought is that phonetics is not the way VSLs learn to read, and being behind in reading automatically puts him behind in everything except Art, maybe. Most VSLs learn using sight reading, which is that they memorize what the word looks like and build a vocabulary based on their memory and recall. When it is big enough, their ability to fill in the gaps allows them to become good readers. My second thought is that he could have a hidden learning challenge, such as dyslexia or visual tracking irregularities that are impacting his achievement. A normal eye test would not uncover something like this, yet it would make basic math (having to identify and line up the numbers) and reading, more of a challenge for him--both learning it, and doing it (you often see them getting tired and cranky when the brain becomes fatigued by the task). You'll need to see a Developmental Optometrist who is trained in Vision Therapy Techniques to know if this is the case. Repetition and rote work is definitely not going to help, if there is something organic going on.
However, it is important to address now, because as a sensitive, possibly gifted VSL, whatever it is will soon begin to impact his sense of self: it is very difficult for a bright child to emotionally reconcile the disconnect between knowing what he knows (that he can do harder things--such as math-- but not be able to manage what others find simple, such as math facts). That is exactly the kind of child I assess and counsel most frequently; by third grade they have become demoralized by the daily experience of not being understood or appreciated for their real gifts. Some shut down entirely and refuse to do any work at all, others begin to act out and get labeled with AD/HD inappropriately.
I would also suggest you get him a good IQ test, one that can adapt the test environment to his potential hidden learning challenges and uses the test to determine the areas in which he needs accommodations or treatment. The only one I know that is likely to understand both the VSL and potential learning challenges would be the Gifted Development Center in Denver. It might be worth a vacation out there to see if you can nip this in the bud before it goes any further. With their report and recommendations in hand, you'll have a much better chance of getting the school to reevaluate their perception of him and perhaps provide him with a better learning approach. If not, you'll know what to seek in a new school.
Good luck,
Linda Powers Leviton
aka Power Tools