I’ve been up close and personal with dyslexia for many years.
It started back in 1992 when my husband and I were high school sweethearts. He is two years older than me, and therefore, two grade levels ahead of me. But that didn’t stop me from doing his homework. For years he had struggled through school after being diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade. Some years, teachers would really care about his struggles and help him navigate his school work with patience and grace. Other years, not so much. High school was no different. Some teachers would help him by giving accommodations, but other teachers thought dyslexia was just a euphemism for being lazy and would force him to do things he really could not do.
This is where I enter the story. As I watched him struggle, I began to help him with his homework. I would help him write papers for his Senior English class. Without a passing grade, he wouldn’t be allowed to graduate high school. And, as it would stand to reason, this Senior English teacher was one of those folks who thought his dyslexia was nothing more than a work ethic or laziness problem. Thankfully, he did pass Senior English. And he did graduate.
My husband is a very bright man. Gifted, even. He just cannot read and write like most people can, despite his high IQ. Through a series of events, he did attend community college and was successful in the automotive program. He now holds a job working for a company in the auto industry and makes more money than I could ever make with my degree teaching school.
When our son was born, the similarities between the two of them were almost instantly visible. My son is a true “mini-me” of his dad. Even in the early years of my son’s life, I secretly wondered if they would have dyslexia in common.
It didn’t take long to figure out they probably would.
My son was delayed in his speech. He’s nine now, but still has trouble pronouncing certain words. In the early years of preschool at home, I noticed his attention span wasn’t the same as his sisters had been, but I chalked it up to being a boy and didn’t worry myself too much. Kindergarten came along and he couldn’t write his letters or recognize most of his letter sounds. I kept telling myself it was too early to label him and that he could just be delayed.
We struggled through first grade even more. And in second grade the battle with oral and written language intensified.
I made an appointment with the local public school to get the ball rolling for testing. Because I was a former teacher in this district, I knew exactly who to call and what my rights were. Long story short, we had him tested and about 90 days later, we had a formal diagnosis of dyslexia. Even though I felt like the diagnosis was correct, I wanted more answers. His testing had raised some questions about his memory skills, and knowing he has a genetic syndrome that carries a neurological dysfunction, I decided to pursue deeper testing.
I made an appointment with a local and highly recommended neuro-psychologist. After our initial meeting, my son was tested over seven hours in the course of a week (not all at once, in little chunks). The testing, while expensive, proved to be worth every dime of our hard earned money. We learned so much more than the school testing told us. We found out my son not only had dyslexia and dysgraphia, but that he also had a central processing disorder. The doctor was not shy – he told us our son’s case was one of the worst he had seen. He even told me that no matter how hard I try, or what curriculum I buy, or what special school we might try, my son may never learn to read above a very primary level. These were hard…hard words to hear. But I needed to hear them.
After the initial shock wore off, something happened to me. I finally felt free of the guilt and shame that I had been dragging around for years. I had secretly been wondering if my son’s academic performance was somehow my fault – you know, not focusing enough on phonics, or focusing too much on phonics, or not doing this or that just perfectly. If only I had bought this curriculum, if only I had put him in “real” school….the questions in my mind were endless. I even worried that homeschooling him was somehow harming him and making his dyslexia worse. In my heart, I knew this was not true, but I was very torn watching him struggle day after day with reading and writing.
The neuro-psychologist gave us mounds of literature to read about dyslexia. He also gave us permission to let ourselves off the hook, so to speak. Our son’s struggles were not the result of anything we had or had not done. I know it probably sounds corny, but I could have kissed that doctor! I really needed someone with a few letters at the end of their name to tell me that I was not messing up my child!
Not only did the doctor make me feel better about my son’s diagnosis, he also told me that home education was probably the best gift I could give him. YES! (I was also secretly fearful the doctor would tell me the answer to my problem would be to stop homeschool immediately.) He was extremely supportive of our choice to home educate, and said that we would be able to give our son the patience and time he needed to get through his formal years of schooling. Of course he had some suggestions for curriculum, and while I didn’t agree 100% with all of them, I took them all under advisement.
Now almost a good year later we’re seeing progress. Not huge leaps and bounds mind you, but progress. I have relaxed a great deal. I have grieved my dreams of those things my son will probably never do (like read great novels with enthusiasm and eagerly discuss them with me). I have given myself permission to take things one day at a time, and that’s probably the biggest lesson I, as my son’s teacher, needed to learn.
Just like anything else in this life, no two people with dyslexia look alike. No two stories are alike. Take mine with a grain of salt, please. I wanted to share our journey here. Whether you think you might have a child with a severe learning disability, or you’re in the thick of things, making yourself crazy with guilt and questions you’ll never be able to answer, it is okay. It really is.
Photo by Sprittibee