"Come here, I want to show you something," Khai Walker calls upstairs to his father. His fingers flash across a video game controller as he maneuvers a pixilated basketball player down the court. His father, Kenith, sticks his head into the room and Khai, with a few precise key strokes, guides the player through an aerial spin and perfect slam dunk.
"Nobody can beat him at his games," says his mom, Jacqueline.
Where others are all thumbs and air balls, nine-year-old Khai makes those digital alley-oops and free throws look easy. But despite his mastery of complicated video games, he has a hard time in school, and reading and math throw him for a loop.
"It really felt like there were many moments when Khai, I would say for lack of a better word, faked it well," says Jacqueline of his first years in school. Khai's grades weren't so bad, but when it was time to do things on his own, he had difficulty applying what he was learning.
Jacqueline and Kenith were doing everything right-they spent hours each night working with Khai on his homework, setting up routines to reinforce his learning, and coming up with ways to improve his study habits-but Khai was still having trouble.
"He wanted, with all his heart, to learn and be understood, but he just wasn't able to," Jacqueline says.
"You think, 'He's our son, he's going to learn,' but at the end of the day, the question is how he's going to do it," adds Kenith.
Then hope was handed to Khai and his family in the form of a flyer. A teacher told Jacqueline about a study on reading disabilities that was being conducted at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. The study was providing testing and tutoring. Jacqueline and Kenith decided to enroll Khai.
Jacqueline brought Khai to Kennedy Krieger for three days of testing and intensive tutoring. During the tutoring sessions, a researcher would work with Khai on basic phonics, starting small with vowels and consonants and working up to phrases and sentences. This approach was crucial in building Khai's confidence in himself. At first, the normally outgoing Khai was shy and reserved. When a task got too hard, Khai would be on the verge of tears, truly afraid of his own inability. But as the tutor continued to work with him, Khai became more confident in his abilities. By the end of the week, even Khai's teacher at school had noticed a difference in him.
"I can't begin to tell you how instrumental the study was," says Jacqueline. Before Khai underwent several days of testing and tutoring, his parents knew that he was having trouble, but they weren't able to pinpoint the problem or implement strategies to help. After being involved in the study, they had a whole new vocabulary and were thinking in terms of listening skills, comprehension skills, and learning styles.
"It definitely brought light to where we thought he was versus where he actually is," Jacqueline notes. "We felt like those first two years of school were lost and we can't get them back, but we're working diligently to recoup them with the help of what we've learned through the study."
Now Jacqueline and Kenith have tapped into their son's learning style. They're using charts and graphs to illustrate ideas, laying out crayons to make multiplication 3-D.
"He is not a sit-down, textbook child," says Jacqueline.
Khai still has trouble in some areas, but he's making progress thanks to the study at Kennedy Krieger. Soon he'll be solving math problems with as much ease as he sinks baskets.