I was suspicious that something might be “wrong” with my 4 year old son when he could not recognize the letters of the alphabet or say their sounds, regardless of how many times we went over it, or what games we played with letters. He could remember the letter we were studying the day we were studying it, but the next day it was as though he had never seen that letter before. He went to kindergarten not knowing many of the letters, but I did not feel too concerned yet. I knew he was a very smart child, but maybe he was not developmentally “ready” yet….I heard other moms say that about their child. Besides, that’s what he was supposed to learn during kindergarten…there was still time.
My son’s kindergarten teacher loved him. He was polite and respectful, was kind to the other kids and well liked by them, and she mentioned that he was a “very bright child.” Because he seemed more mature and “smarter” than many of the children in her class, she took a special interest in him. She called him up to her desk one day a few weeks into the school year to see how well he could read. When he stared at the page blankly and acted nervous, she actually got frustrated with him and slammed the book down and said, “You’re not even trying!” (Did I mention that she was not the sweetest, kindest lady?) I did not know about this situation until the end of the school year, but it turned out to be a very traumatic experience for my son. From that moment on, if anyone said the word “read” to him, his proverbial “wall” would go up, and anxiety would set in.
In our school system, the policy was that a child could not be tested for learning problems until the second grade. So, at the beginning of the second grade, he was tested and diagnosed as “learning disabled.” For some reason, I really dislike that title. It seems so final and permanent, and implies that the child is unable to learn. When I specifically asked if he was dyslexic, the ladies who did the testing acted like it was a mythical thing, and said that we would call it “learning disabled.” They commented on how his IQ was extremely high, which they found very interesting. He was put in a Resource class and they tried to work with him, but their reports showed almost zero progress throughout that year and the next. I never sent him back to public school for the third grade, because his self esteem was suffering, and I felt inspired to homeschool him…something that had NEVER crossed my mind before. I was able to give him a lot of one on one help, and it seemed to be helping in some ways (especially with his self esteem) but he still could not read much at all…he was still sounding out every 3 letter word…even by the end of the 5th grade.
Fast-forward to the 9th grade. I had purchased a zillion “learn to read” programs by this point and tried everything I could get my hands on to help my son learn to read. I researched endlessly on the internet, and there were so many differing opinions and philosophies, and I had no idea who to believe, so I picked what seemed to be the best. I would start off liking the program, but it wouldn’t take me long to realize that this was NOT a program for a dyslexic child. I would toss it or sell it and pray desperately for help in finding something that would really work. But, the real issue staring me in the face now was that I now knew I had FOUR dyslexic children!! I had one daughter out of 5 children who could actually read, and she learned to read with ease. That brought great relief to me, but naturally caused some resentment in her older brother!
As the days (and years) passed, we all became increasingly frustrated and felt like we were banging our heads on the wall…or at least that would have seemed more fun. I poured my heart and soul and time into helping these children read, but the next day seemed like the movie “Groundhog Day.” We felt like we were starting over every day. It took one of my sons over a year to be able to sight-read the word “the.” I started wondering if I was doing something wrong. Why could my children not read?????? A few family members and people we associated with started judging me as a homeschool mother. No one knew or believed the many hours we all spent each day trying to learn. I must admit that sometimes we just had to take a break from our “normal” school work and do FUN things! Learning to read was not fun for my children. As a matter of fact, they thought it was an excruciating and mentally exhausting experience. So occasionally we took a break and did fun activities and projects for a few weeks, and I read voraciously to them, and they loved it. I made a point to always be reading some good book to them, and they all thankfully developed a love for books and learning.
When the “fun” was over, reality would set back in and we were faced with our reading issues again. I truly felt like I had given it my all, and had found small successes, but I needed to see a LOT more progress to ease my worried soul. One day, after a particularly rough moment with all four children in tears expressing their frustrations and fears and inadequacies, I realized that this situation was a lot bigger than I could handle on my own. I remembered the beautiful promises in the blessings that my children had been given during Father’s Blessings…I remembered promises that the Lord had made to me in blessings…I believed them, but I could not see that any of them were fully coming to pass. I was at a breaking point and really worried about my children. I went to the Lord and plead again for help and guidance.
My prayer was answered in the form of a wonderful lady named Ann, a research professor at a prestigious university, who was researching dyslexia and other reading and spelling issues. (And also has a personal struggle with dyslexia!) She got us pointed in the right direction and literally saved us! We have been using what she taught us and we have seen huge improvements. My children still struggle a bit with reading (and spelling) and they probably always will to some degree, but they have managed to take big steps forward and are becoming very successful in life! (My oldest just returned from a successful 2 year mission for our church in Scotland and Ireland and will start college classes in a few months. He knows it will be a long road, but he wants to become an anesthesiologist! And I know he can do it!) We know that we are using the right methods and programs that are designed specifically for dyslexics. When we have rough days now, we understand that those moments are just part of life and learning, and we stand firm and confident in the direction we are taking.
I find much strength and hope in the words of Dr. Sally Shaywitz:
“I think it is important to know and appreciate that dyslexia represents more than a weakness in reading. There are also many significant strengths that each child who is dyslexic possesses. My strong belief is that an educated, informed parent is an empowered parent — one who is a champion for his or her child, and that there is no stronger advocate who can make a difference in that child's life. I would really strongly advise the parents who have dyslexic children to feel their power, to exercise their power and not listen to naysayers, to believe in their child, and to know that that child will succeed. Finally, to let that child's strengths and not his weaknesses define him as a person.
Success is waiting for your child. Above all, you must maintain your belief in him, provide unconditional support for him, and hold true to a vision of his future. Rewards will be great. Today, each dyslexic child is free to develop his talents and to pursue his dreams — and to know he will succeed. Dyslexia can be overcome."
In my next article, I will discuss the things I learned from Ann that saved my homeschool and possibly my children. I will also dispel some myths about dyslexia, and mention specific programs that we are using with much success. I will reveal a trusted source that you can rely on for proper information on dyslexia and how to best help your child. If you have dyslexic children, or even think that your child may have some kind of reading problem, please bypass some of the struggles and mistakes many parents make and learn from my experiences. The faster you get proper help, the faster you get your child on the path to success.