My Son & My Pre 1978 House

A young child is crying while holding his hands.

We bought the house when I was pregnant and I have no recollection of a lead based paint disclosure, or what that even meant back in 2002. I probably should have had a lead based paint test, but this was not in our dialogue back then. As a lead inspector I do often think about how our choices back then affected our son cognitively. “Lead Poisoning”  of which children under the age of 6 are prone to permanent cognitive issues through the ingestion of lead through paint by eating chips or lead in the dust. My insights and  reflections come after years of working as a  Lead Paint Inspector and Risk Assessor in the DC metro area. 

My story: at the time we lived in an owner occupied SFH built in the early 1950’s. I am educated and had never heard of lead poisoning in children much less needing any type of certificate for a rental property (I’d  been in the rental industry for over 20 years between Takoma and College Park.) Before we moved out, we tore out the stairwell to the attic, rebuilt new attic access,  tore down walls, reconstructed…  “disturbing the paint” all along leaving  a thin veneer of dust (and lord only knows what else) all over the place. In this time period, my son went from a breastfeeding blob and slithering across the floor, to walking talking and putting anything and everything into his mouth whether digestible or not. Crayons, sand, blueberries, blocks, pacifiers… 

Fast forward to third grade; my son cannot read. I was aware of this for 2 reasons. First, was the comparing I did with his older sister.    Second an experienced middle school  English teacher with  “teaching reading” graduate credits under my belt. I knew from my studies the critical years in the classroom was 3rd/4th grade. From first to about 3rd grade,  the instruction focuses on  “TEACHING HOW TO READ”. Approaching 4th grade, there is a transition from teaching “how to read”, to “READING TO LEARN”. This is where we assume the student knows how to read, and can now read to extract information. I knew my son was not on level; I tried the public school route first and armed myself with graduate classes on special education needs in the classroom, thinking and Individual Education Plan (IEP) might answer the deficit in his cognitive ability and I could better oversee the special ed teacher. Within a month, it became apparent an IEP was NOT the answer,  I d had him privately tested for learning disabilities so it expedited the process, and by October of his 4th grade year, I was looking for a private school to place him in to address catching him up. 

Fast forward to the present. My son is 15 years old, and the angel of my life. He is compassionate and loving, stubborn, hungry (he eats a lot) and doing well in his second year of high school. He actually did better his freshman year of HS than his older sister did in her freshman year of high school.  He spent his 4  middle school years in a local private school, with class sizes in the 8-11 range. He excelled. He played on the soccer team, the lacrosse team, he was in the school play,  he wrestled on the team (1 season) he reluctantly learned instruments, he had a group of friends he did everything from paintballing at parties to goofing around on the playground. He confidence abounded. Were his struggles because we were overconfident negligent self employed contractors doing our own work on our home? Or because somewhere in the large class size and understaffing the public elementary school failed him? I don’t know, and I will never know. What I do know is that I am in the position as a lead paint inspector and risk assessor to help parents navigate their living environment and maybe not question themselves years after the fact. 

A drawing of a house with purple door.