Reading was such a pleasure when my son was just a little boy, back in the days when I read aloud, and he delighted in the stories and the brightly colored pictures of “Goodnight Moon,” “The Runaway Bunny,” and “Owl Babies.”
We laughed and played with words in our collection of Dr. Seuss books—he especially loved “Fox in Socks,” “Hop on Pop,” and “Go Dog Go.” And he was mesmerized hearing the tales of “Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
But when it came time for him to read, it wasn’t much fun anymore.
I would read one paragraph, he would stumble over another. He guessed, over-corrected and hesitated. Reading books together changed from a relaxing, bonding experience—in which he always asked for more, and I finally had to end—into a stressful ordeal that made us both uncomfortable and anxious—and could scarcely bear.
I thought he was just slow to catch on, that reading would come if we just relaxed, trusted that he would make progress, and kept working hard to encourage him.
I was wrong.
After a battery of school testing and my own independent research, I finally realized that the confusing diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability (SLD) —with the visual, memory and auditory processing issues—was consistent with dyslexia.
Dyslexia means trouble with words—sounding them out, spelling them and writing them. It also means that the brain is wired a bit differently, making the typical demands of today’s classroom very challenging.
Where does the mother end and the advocate begin? The lines get blurred all the time for the mother of a child who struggles to read. But getting informed is the best way to get some help.
Here are some of the most important things parents should know about dyslexia:
It’s very common. One in five individuals, according to the International Dyslexia Association. Students with Specific Learning Disability typically comprise more than 60 percent of all students receiving Special Education services.
* It has nothing to do with intelligence.
* It’s widely misunderstood.
* It can be the cause of unnecessary difficulty in school.
Some of the smartest, most innovative people who ever lived have/had dyslexia: from Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and President John F. Kennedy.
Some of the most creative people who ever lived have/had dyslexia: from Pablo Picasso, Ansel Adams and John Lennon to Stephen Spielberg, Walt Disney and Sir Richard Branson.
Yes, it’s a long way from a little third-grader who can’t seem to sound out the words on the page to an international superstar. But here’s the wonderful little secret for parents of a struggling reader, especially one with “Specific Learning Disability” aka Dyslexia to hold onto: it’s about the strengths, not just the weaknesses.
Characteristic strengths shared by individuals with dyslexia include big-picture, out-of-the box thinking; creativity, strengths in 3-D spatial reasoning; a holistic approach to problem-solving, and plenty of people skills—all of which may lead to great success in life, but not necessarily in the typical school setting.
And here’s another secret: there’s never been a better time to have dyslexia than right now for a few major reasons:
Assistive Technology: including the intuitive and tactile the iPad and iPhone; speech-to-text and text-to-speech computer programs; pens that can tape-record a lecture; and computer software that organizes thoughts in visual mind-maps—provide access to information in ways never imagined years ago.
Research and Resources: the internet makes everything accessible everywhere, from scientific papers to You Tube videos—and there are literally thousands of them dealing with dyslexia.
Grassroots movement: Parents are taking it upon themselves to learn all they can about their child’s learning style, and sharing information to help others. The new national organization, Decoding Dyslexia, which began in New Jersey, is spreading across the country, including a chapter in California.
What’s a parent to do?
In school-speak, dyslexia is considered a “learning disability.” But don’t get hung up on labels. If your child is struggling to read, write or spell; if your child experiences significant difficulties with rote memorization or in test taking; if your child can tell a story rich with details, but can only write a few lines; if your child is overwhelmed with too much homework, frustrated by too many math problems and hopeless at trying to take notes in class, it might be time to take action.
You may request (in writing) your child be tested for all suspected disabilities, which may qualify him or her for Special Education services. In the case of students with SLD/dyslexia, such services would legally entitle the child to accommodations that may include extra time on tests, notes provided, modified homework assignments, preferential seating assignments in class and alternative assessments.
You may communicate with your child’s teachers and school administrators so that they understand that your child’s learning style and develop a teamwork approach.
Most importantly, you must educate yourself about the considerable research and resources that pave the way to the dyslexia success. And encourage your child by providing positive role models with dyslexia, information about how to “own” the learning difference and to pursue talents and special interests—often in the arts, sports or math and science. Be aware that academic struggles in school can lead to emotional difficulties, behavioral issues and a poor self-image.
Remember, everyone has strengths and weaknesses; dyslexia is just one that doesn’t show—but is particularly apparent in the classroom where standardization is becoming the norm. Heed the message of Albert Einstein who noted: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
That, from one of the smartest people who ever lived—who also happened to have dyslexia; it didn’t seem to get in his way. In fact, it was the secret to his success.