Your bright, verbal child (or your niece or nephew or neighbor) has been diagnosed with dyslexia. What do you do now, or what advice can you give to parents you know? Explore all the resources you can and learn as much as possible about dyslexia. You are your child’s best, and most passionate, advocate. When you understand the rewards and challenges ahead, you will be best prepared to ask for the help your child will need.
You might begin your dyslexia tutorial by reading some of the wonderful resources that have been written about the topic. Excellent reads include Overcoming Dyslexia, by Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Straight Talk About Reading, by Susan Hall and Louisa Moats, and Basic Facts About Dyslexia, by Louisa Moats and Karen Dakin.
Where can you turn for help? The Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators and The International Dyslexia Association offer wonderful resources for parents. You should also speak with the psychologist who conducted your child’s psychoeducational evaluation for suggestions of resources near you. Be sure that you understand the recommendations that your psychologist included in his/her evaluation. For example, does the psychologist recommend placement in a school that specializes in dyslexia remediation, or does he/she feel that your child may remain in his/her present environment with support?
If a specialized school is recommended, summer is a good time to begin researching your options. Call the schools in which you are interested and learn as much as you can about their admissions process. Find out how to sign up for a tour, keeping in mind that tours may fill quickly. Determine whether the school has an admissions deadline, or if the admissions process is rolling (i.e., spaces are filled as students apply, rather than by a pre-determined.) If the school maintains a rolling admissions process, make sure to complete your application as quickly as possible.
Remember that there is no “cure” for dyslexia. However, with proper remediation, your child can make progress and become a successful learner. Left unremediated, dyslexia can present a seemingly insurmountable barrier to your child’s academic success. Students with unremediated dyslexia often feel tremendous academic stress, experience intense frustration and suffer from low self-esteem. Advocate for your child, provide the resources they need, and your child will likely feel excited about learning again!
My father still questions me about my son’s dyslexia, even though he was diagnosed sixteen years ago and has now graduated college. I feel as though I’ve explained my son’s learning difference ad nauseum, but Dad still struggles to understand exactly what dyslexia means. It probably has something to do with the fact that I didn’t even tell my dad about my son’s diagnosis until I went to work at a special school for dyslexic children, and my son had already been a student there for two years! I must admit that I was not at all forthcoming about my son’s learning difference!
But why wasn’t I more open? Could it have had something to do with the fact that I was concerned about the stigma that I thought accompanied such a diagnosis? (That actually couldn’t be further from the truth . . . many dyslexic students possess higher order thinking skills that allow them to be more successful in this global, fast-changing world than “traditional learners.”) Perhaps I felt my father would think that my son wasn’t smart or wouldn’t be successful. Maybe I was afraid that my child would be seen as lesser than his cousins in my dad’s eyes.
Of course that couldn’t be further from the truth. My dad has always been keenly interested in my son’s progress, perhaps even more than he was with his other grandchildren. He always asks about my son and remains closely involved in his life. Yet his confusion about dyslexia still remains.
So what is the best way to talk with loved ones about your child’s diagnosis? First, be direct and honest with them from the very beginning, when you first suspect that there is an issue. Let them come along the journey with you . . . in fact, you will probably find that their support is invaluable to you as you come to terms with the diagnosis yourself.
Educate yourself about dyslexia, so that you know how to help educate others. Read Sally Shaywitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia. Learn about the truths and myths of this learning difference. Visit websites such as Dyslexia Help at The University of Michigan to learn as much as you can about ongoing dyslexia research.
And most importantly, become comfortable with the topic yourself. Once you have accepted the fact that dyslexia can be remediated and that dyslexics have much to offer the world, you will be a much better spokesperson. (See my earlier blog post entitled, “Does This Remind You of a Child You Know?” for discussion about the gifts that often accompany dyslexia.) You will become your child’s best advocate by first understanding dyslexia yourself. And you will be able to reassure those loving grandparents that with help, your dyslexic child is going to be just fine.