Thomas Rimkunas’ Story

Thomas RimkunasThomas was born on May 24, 2002 in Pinsk in the Brest Region of Belarus. He had a difficult birth and had to be given supplemental oxygen. Thomas spent the first two months of his life in the hospital and then the following six months in an orphanage. On Feb. 11, 2003, he was adopted by his parents Patty and Walter Rimkunas and was moved to his forever home in Seymour, CT, USA.

Tom was a bright eyed, alert, inquisitive boy who learned English quickly and talked early. But, he was a little behind the curve in reaching other milestones. For example, he didn’t walk until 18 months old and didn’t go through a long crawling phase. Also, as Thomas puts it, “I didn’t have control of my body”, meaning he was unaware of his physical space. This resulted in a couple of bad falls as a toddler.

However, he was in all other respects, a normal, healthy bright boy who made friends with children and adults alike. This all changed when he began kindergarten in 2007. He’d had a bit of trouble writing while in preschool but this got worse as the academic demands in kindergarten these days are much higher than they were for previous generations. When it was suggested to Patty that Thomas repeat kindergarten, she asked the school to test him instead. Testing revealed dysgraphia and some perceptual issues but many things were still not considered abnormal at that point.

He was given an IEP but it was not sufficient given the workload that was to come in first grade.

In first grade, Thomas found himself falling further behind his peers, not only with writing but also with reading, spelling, and learning math facts as well. When he continued to fail his weekly spelling tests, his mom did some research and learned that poor spelling is often a warning sign of dyslexia. She had him tested at Dyslexia and ADHD Institute of CT where he was identified as having “ severe to very severe” dyslexia. Because the school did not recognize dyslexia as a learning disability at that time, the school system did not give Thomas the type of multisensory reading instruction a dyslexic person requires in order to be able to read. It was up to Patty and Walter to send Tom to private tutoring, which they did for two years. While Tom made great strides, his progress was still a bit slow, even for a severe dyslexic. Moreover, he was beginning to have more issues with math, as more multistep processes were introduced. When Tom’s tutoring had to abruptly stop due to Walter losing his job temporarily, Tom really began falling through the cracks.

By the time Tom got to fifth grade, he was very behind his classmates and all too aware of it. He was once again tested and he was found to have areas of great strength, verbal and problem solving, combined with massive weaknesses in perceptual reasoning and working memory. The neuropsychologist who examined Tom said it was as if “he had his head in the oven and his feet in the freezer”. While he suggested many accommodations that the school system could make to help Tom succeed in school, such as a laptop, a dedicated paraprofessional to keep him on task, and finally a multisensory reading program, it was very difficult to get these things implemented consistently, particularly the additional classroom help. In addition, the State of CT had decided to deny Tom the use of a scribe for the state Mastery Tests that year, stating that he didn’t appear to have any problems accessing a computer. Tom was becoming extremely stressed about school and becoming ill on a daily basis. In Feb. 2013, just a few months shy of elementary school graduation, he decided to ask his parents, who both have teaching backgrounds, if he could instead be homeschooled. They agreed and Tom has been homeschooled for over a year now. This has given him the gift of time to work on areas that he struggles in as well as time to pursue his interests in video making and photography. He has also been swimming on the Valley YMCA Sprinters Swim Team since age 7 and doing German Folk Dancing with the Harugari Schuplattlerverein Bavaria Jr. Schupl, giving performances all over the Northeast and Mid Atlantic states.

Very shortly after Tom left school, he and his mom did some checking of his symptoms online and wondered if he could have dyspraxia. Their search brought them to the Dyspraxia USA homepage where they realized they found a community where people finally “got them”.

One of Tom’s passions is helping other kids so that they do not have to suffer the way he did in school. This led him to joining the organization, Decoding Dyslexia CT and working to pass legislation to finally recognize dyslexia as a specific learning disability. He knew that he would have fared much better in school if he were identified earlier and had gotten the right reading instruction. He spoke before the state legislature in Hartford, with the support of his State Representative Theresa Conroy (D- Seymour), and many dyslexic kids, their parents, and educators. A few weeks ago the bill was passed, and Tom and his family were invited to the bill signing where Tom, at long last, got to meet one of his heroes, Gov. Dannel Malloy, who also suffers from dyslexia and many of the other perceptual concerns that plague Tom.

These days, Tom enjoys attending co-ops and meet ups with his homeschool buddies and is looking forward to going to Town Recreation Camp this summer where he hopes to become a counselor. In addition he would like to become a junior moderator for Xbox, where he has made many friends who struggle with similar issues.