How to uncover drive and determination

This is a guest post from Danielle Ali Shah. She is an Australian living in Rawalpindi, Pakistan with her husband, and three children whom she homeschools. You can read her blog here. This post is about Danielle’s daughter, Diyana, pictured above.

I often think of my kids as pretty non-self motivated learners, since they tend to glue themselves to their computers to play games for hours on end whenever they are allowed. It is one of my biggest fears with the idea of unschooling… that they will NEVER leave their computers if they were given the choice.

But lately I have realised that learning doesn’t always come in the form you expect it.

My daughter Diyana has a very, very lazy left eye. It was diagnosed when she was about 5 and at that time in Australia they tried to make her wear a patch to exercise the bad eye. She really, really hated it and I think the torture was even greater for me than her, watching her bump into walls and cry with frustration about not being able to do anything. After a few months we gave up on the patches and decided whatever benefit they were bringing, it was not nearly as much as the psychological damage that she was undergoing.

Now she is 11, and for the last 6 years we have basically ignored her bad eye, since her good eye was more than capable of taking up the slack. Lately however, her good eye has been deteriorating, and she has been terrified that she will go blind. Finally we set off for the eye specialist, and he told us that her left eye was essentially so lazy that it was not working at all. He explained that because her two eyes were sending completely conflicting messages to her brain, it totally made sense that she experienced extreme anger, frustration and learning difficulties. The only solution to prevent a permanent squint, useless eye and increasing mood swings was to start the patches again.

I was absolutely sure this was never going to happen in a million years. But I seriously underestimated the willpower of my daughter. She is now old enough to appreciate what is good for her, and I am in awe of her commitment to this regime. She wears it for two hours a day and from the first minute until the last, she endures intense anger, frustration, fury, nausea, headaches, and about 10% vision. Yet she hasn’t missed a day in a whole month. As much as she hates it, she knows she needs it and her patience with the process is incredible.

So while she refuses to do maths, has tantrums about science, and has frequently declared her hatred of anything to do with learning, she is learning bigger lessons in patience and perseverance at the age of 11 than most adults have learned in their entire lives.

I couldn’t be more proud.

19 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    this may seem sort of unrelated but maybe she hates “learning” so much because of her vision problem.

    If a kid was going hungry and had difficulty learning we wouldn’t even question it. So maybe something similar is going on with this little girl.

    I love her perseverance.

    As of late, when I feel daunted and the story I keep telling myself is very defeating I recall all the times when I had to pull myself out of my shell and make it on my own: learning English as second language, learning to read/write/make my own way for things that seemed impossible, etc.

    It really changes your perspective on life to come across challenging situations (and overcoming it) at an early age!

    • Danielle
      Danielle says:

      Hi Karelys – this is Danielle, Diyana’s mother and writer of the blog, and you are absolutely right… I think her attitude towards learning has a lot to do with her eye. When we first saw the eye specialist he asked what kind of girl she was, and when I hesitated he described her learning issues to a T.
      Struggling alone as a child is one thing, but I have to say, since I published that blog and she has had it affirmed that she really is a strong person, her will power has grown even more. Now having her story on Penelope’s blog is the icing on the cake. THIS is one of those turning points in life I think. Thanks so much Penelope :)

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Danielle, I think Diyana must be a strong person. It’s good that she now knows she can overcome obstacles that come before her in her life. I would also let her know she is not alone (vision or other problems) and can always ask for and get help from someone else or learn from them in some fashion. Thanks for sharing your family’s success story.

  2. Carmen
    Carmen says:

    This was great. Who knows where this could lead this little girl, being so driven by what really matters to her and experiencing the results. We should all be so lucky to learn this lesson so young.

  3. Natasha
    Natasha says:

    This is literally the stupidest thing I have ever read. First off, the worst thing you can do is ignore a lazy eye. I don’t care how much a child hates having an eye patch on, it is a parent’s responsibility to make sure he/she wears it so that the eye can get better. Secondly, who the hell moves to Pakistan from Australia? It’s one thing if you’re unfortunate enough to be born there and can’t get enough money to emigrate. But why in the world would a westerner voluntarily move there?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, Natasha. Usually I’d delete a comment like this. Because you are not adding anything to the conversation. You are mostly asking questions that everyone else knows the answer to, so they are not interesting questions.

      That said, I’m leaving your comment in order to make one point: It’s very easy to overlook a serious problem in a child. In fact, it’s more common for a parent to overlook a child’s serious problem initially than treat it. Because we have cognitive dissonance. We love our children and think they are perfect and don’t want to admit there could be something very wrong.

      There is a saying in the medical community that the parents who are the slowest to notice a problem in their kids are doctors.

      My cousin had diabetes and even though all kinds of kids made fun of him at school for how often he had to pee, my aunt and uncle – a doctor – didn’t have the diabetes checked until it was an emergency.

      Most kids with Asperger’s are undiagnosed because the parents are unwilling to recognize the shortcomings of the kids.

      These are not bad parents. They are normal parents. Normal parents love their child so much that they are nearly unable to mentally take in that their child has a huge problem.

      I also want to say that my son, at sixteen months, was failure to thrive from not eating, and even after the doctor told me, I took no action. I was in shock. I just wanted it to not be true.

      Years afterwards, when I told the doctor I couldn’t believe that I walked out of his office and did nothing. He said that it happens all the time. Which is why he knew to call me into his office a second time.


    • Bec Oakley
      Bec Oakley says:

      Given the ignorance of your comment, I seriously doubt that this is the stupidest thing you’ve ever read. I do, however, hope that it’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever written.

    • grace
      grace says:

      Natasha, this is the first time I have ever posted a comment on either one of P’s blogs and I’ve been reading her blog for years. I have to tell you that not only do you sound stupid, but you also sound hateful and elitist. You have NO idea what true parent love is- if my daughter was running into things and feeling bad about herself I would say ‘screw the patch’ until she was able to take the patch-wearing-frustration on as this lovely little girl has done. I hope your stupidity does not make this young girl, or her mother feel bad. They both did the perfect thing to make sure Diyana felt good about herself- now she can not only take on the issue with her eye but all the issues life will throw her way.

      • Danielle
        Danielle says:

        Hahahaha. I have just been able to see all these comments and I so appreciate your support. It’s pretty sad that someone would write such nasty stuff. Penelope, Bec, Grace et al have all added great explanations of why parents choose to ignore a problem in their kids, but I wanted to address the comment about moving to Pakistan.

        It IS a strange thing to do, but please remember what you see in the media is not a true reflection of how a community is. Just like all we see here is violence, drugs, bling and bikinis in America… but is that how the whole society is? I dont think so. We cannot judge each others’ lives by what we see in the media.

        We moved to Pakistan because my husband is Pakistani and his family is all here. We all live together in 2 houses and there is a much stronger sense of family here than anything we experienced in Australia. My kids love it here so much that they do not even want to go back to Australia for holidays any more. They swim, horseride, have friends, do homeschooling and are well adjusted (most of the time), happy kids. We have never seen a bomb, felt threatened or anything at all like that. Plus we know that if anything happened to us, there would be hundreds of people around us who would help, just as we would help them. Can you say that about America, or Australia, or anywhere else in the west?

        This is our community and we belong here. Believe it or not.

    • CJ
      CJ says:

      several weeks ago I ranted at another mean person that came on just to say something awful. one piece of my recent work is based on researching and reporting on the judgmental ugliness faced by many peaceful homeschool families. i wont repeat any of it. i will say that i wish i could wrap my arms around Danielle and Diyana, place a protective shield before them against the rotten you spew and comment: a bully is a bully is a bully.

      • Danielle
        Danielle says:

        You are very sweet CJ. However one thing i have learned through my experience of becoming a Muslim particularly, (and i think you can imagine how much bullying I have received for that!) is that a bully is only effective if you respond on the defensive. Diyana and I talked about Natasha’s post a lot this morning and we decided that there was no point countering ignorant bullying by being defensive and belligerant. We saw all the lovely supportive emails as a huge positive that came from a sad negative. We are far from hurt. We feel so lucky to have received so much support from so many people who we don’t even know and don’t know us.

        • CJ
          CJ says:

          i absolutely adore your point, and you cannot know how wonderful i feel knowing you and your daughter feel supported! and my children and I are inspired by you today. now we are talking about you and learning.

          and i agree very much that beauty and blossoms often grow from the negative, very often in fact…

          most of my personal and professional goals are all based on/in protection of human health and wellness– simply to say, we need defenders and protectors too! the bus monitor bully story here in the states is one shining example: many people were outraged by the abuse and bullying she suffered and now she has $400K+ being raised in her honor (not that $$ is the main point, but it shows the supportiveness from strangers), as well as the inestimable impact the story has on awareness about bullying. The response to your story is similar in that a cruel person is being told that there is a community of lovely human beings that are not here for the abusiveness of others. You told us something about your life (we are sincerely grateful) and then it becomes bigger than you in a beautiful, educational way for us all. That’s been our family chatting over bagels this morning ;-) love and peace from the USA…

    • Sadya
      Sadya says:

      and Natasha – Pakistan isn’t exactly a village. There are good doctors, Westerners are actually treated really well here and hey some folks from Pakistan even read Penelope’s blogs.

  4. Adrian
    Adrian says:

    Would you mind if I shared an article with you? These people are worldwide experts in brain development and they have treated many cases like yours with a very different type of approach. I took my son to them when he was 3 and having speech and coordination issues and their program was extremely successful for us. He’s 14 now and has no trace of his earlier problems. Might be worth a quick read anyway.

    Best wishes for your daughter’s bravery and high hopes for her recovery.

  5. Andi
    Andi says:

    I’m embarrassed to say that initially I somewhat agreed w/ the hateful comment left above. I’m glad you let it stay, Penelope, & replied… & I’m glad to for others piping up. This is what I love about your blog — I’m always learning new things, sometimes from your posts, & sometimes from the other readers, & sometimes from the conversation that ensues. Thank you for teaching me a lesson I obviously needed to learn.

    And good luck, Danielle. I know you must love your daughter much & struggle to see her so unhappy. Good on you for allowing her to make the decision herself to take action toward improvement, regardless of the difficulty.

  6. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    My daughter (6) also has a lazy eye and is also supposed to wear her patch for about 3 hours a day. It’s all that I can do sometimes to encourage her to wear it for 1. We spend a lot of time talking about why it’s important and what the consequences are for not wearing it, but as I am sure you know, she doesn’t care most days. All she knows is that it’s harder to see and it makes her very tired, sometimes it gives her headaches. I’ve backed off significantly over forcing her to wear it for the same reasons that you mentioned. Now I merely suggest it and she usually goes to get it for at least a little while.

    Thank you for sharing your daughter’s story. I agree that the lessons our girls are learning with their vision will have far-reaching effects in their lives.

  7. Acorn
    Acorn says:

    Just want to chime in regarding your daughter’s lazy eye. I had the same situation with a lazy eye that basically didn’t work because the vision was so bad in it. It was so weak that it would actually roll into my head because I simply didn’t use it at all. I never had patches, but as an adult I chose to wear specs with the lazy eye very heavily corrected (VERY strong prescription) and my good eye, barely corrected. Essentially forcing my eyes and brain to allow the lazy eye to take over. I still do not use my eyes simultaneously, but my former lazy eye is now my stronger eye.

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