Your Child is Dyslexic. Now What?

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!

How Can I Help My Child’s Grandparents Understand Dyslexia? (Or friends, neighbors, acquaintances?)

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.

 

 

The Myth of “the Gift of Time”

“He’s only six!”

 “He’s a boy and would rather play outside than sit inside and read.”

 “She just can’t remember nursery rhymes.  I’m sure she’ll learn them eventually.”

 “He’s just a late bloomer.”

 “She’s reading.  She’s memorized lots of books!”

When parents finally come to see me in the admissions office, they’ve often heard these statements from other parents or even teachers. There is the belief that children are pressured to be engaged in reading readiness activities too early. Parents also have heard that children’s academic readiness develops at different rates (true) and that everyone will be reading at the same level by grade 3 (not true).  Lots of folks can cite examples of children they knew who suddenly blossomed into strong readers after learning to read at a rate much slower than their peers.

While these anecdotes may be true, the likelihood is far greater that poor readers will never catch up to their peers.  A longitudinal study published in The American Educator, by  J.K. Thorgesen,  found that “children who are poor readers at the end of first grade never acquire average-level reading skills by the end of elementary school.”  These children typically enter a “downward spiral” from which they may never recover. School becomes a frustrating experience, and these poor readers suffer greatly in self-confidence and their sense of self-worth.  They often become the victims of bullying, becoming increasingly socially isolated.  But sometimes teachers are reluctant to talk with parents about their child’s learning struggles.  It can be a daunting task to tell an eager young parent that there is something “wrong” or “different” about their child’s learning profile.

In my own experience, parents go through stages, not unlike the stages of grief, when coming to terms with their child’s learning differences.  My husband and I were almost angry with our tester because we thought the tests were wrong.  Surely she had misunderstood our child!  There couldn’t be a learning problem here.  With the dyslexia diagnosis came anger and denial.

The next stage we entered was one of fear and grief.  We wondered what would become of our sweet son.  His life, which had seemed so full of promise, now seemed like a dark mystery to us.  What would he ever become?  Would he ever learn to read?  How could he be successful if he couldn’t read?

Finally, through much support, we came to accept his diagnosis, and we looked for ways to find help.  We were very lucky that his teachers recognized his learning issue and suggested testing when he was only five. They didn’t recommend waiting to see what might develop. He was spared that downward spiral that so many children experience.

I always tell parents that if you think there’s an issue, there probably is.  Don’t wait to get testing.  The psycho-educational evaluation will always give you a great deal of information about your child’s learning profile. Even if you find that there is not an issue, you will know so much more than you did before.

But if you find that your child is dyslexic, please don’t wait to get help.  Another year of kindergarten or first grade won’t help him be successful. Late bloomers are exceedingly rare. Waiting will only delay your child receiving the intervention she so badly needs.

Be proactive in becoming educated about your child’s learning profile and save him from the downward spiral that children can enter when their remediation is delayed. Make sure your happy child remains a happy child!

 

School’s back in session, and children are excited for the new year!

That’s a true statement, right?  After all, those long summer days have begun to stretch into sameness. Beach vacations are over, and the pool just doesn’t seem quite as exciting as it did in June.  New school clothes and backpacks have been purchased, and the promise of good times with school friends looms large.

But not every child is eager for school to begin again.  If your child is dyslexic and not getting the help he or she needs, the school bell signals another year of fear, worry,  and frustration.  Fear that reading aloud will clue classmates in to the struggles your child faces.  Worry because your child’s peers are racing ahead while his progress seems slow or non-existent.  Frustration that no matter how hard your child tries, it just isn’t enough to keep up.

Now is the time to seek help.  If you suspect your child has a reading problem, you are probably right . . . in my experience, a parent’s intuition is uncannily accurate.  However, it can be so tempting to hope that this year will be different, that last year’s teacher was right that your child’s struggle really was developmental.

Please know, however, that the problem is almost never developmental.  If your child is a struggling reader, call a local psychologist to schedule a complete psycho-educational evaluation.  With a diagnosis in hand, you will be prepared to seek the help your child needs. With proper intervention, she can become a successful reader.

Just think what a wonderful feeling it will be when the school bell rings again, and you know your child can enter that school building remediated and ready to take on the world!

Dyslexia…it isn’t just for kids!

I work with hundreds of parents in my role as admissions director for a school specializing in dyslexia remediation.  Many parents are understandably upset and concerned about their children’s futures.  They don’t know what to expect and are fearful about what impact dyslexia will have on their children’s futures.  Often parents have been very successful academically and they can’t understand why their children struggle so.

But there is another group of parents who are painfully aware of the challenges their children will face, because they faced the same difficulties in school.  These parents may not always realize it, but they are dyslexic themselves.   Oh, they may have never been diagnosed, but they carry the scars of years of underachievement, being labeled as “stupid” or “lazy,” failing to keep up academically, working harder than all their classmates with little to show for their efforts.  These parents are often especially worried because they know how very difficult school may be for their children. They had to suffer through school without remediation and their memories of school are incredibly painful.

I have often sat in my office talking with parents who have tears in their eyes because being in a school again is so traumatic. Many survived years of humiliation to rise above their challenges and become well-respected in their chosen careers. They were fortunate enough to find their way to fields that require visual-spatial or kinesthetic talents, such as engineering, architecture, music, entrepreneurship, medicine, art, acting and athletics.  Once they made their way through school, they were very successful at life.

What are some indicators that you yourself may be dyslexic?  If you have a dyslexic child, odds are pretty good that either you or your spouse is dyslexic as well.  Are you a poor speller or did you struggle with reading as a child?  Do you feel that you are a slow reader who rarely/never reads for pleasure?  Do you leave out words when reading or do you write in a disorganized way?  Do you ever read a passage and realize that you have no idea what you just read?  Do you have to read passages several times in order to understand what the author is saying?

If you answered yes to some of the questions above, you should consider the possibility that you are dyslexic.  In order to determine with certainty, you would need to obtain a complete psychoeducational evaluation.  If you learn that you indeed have dyslexia and you feel that your personal or professional life would be improved by remediation, there are many resources that offer help.  The International Dyslexia Association, or IDA, has branches throughout the country that can give you information about dyslexia and dyslexia remediation.  The Orton Gillingham Academy can help you find a tutor in your area that can help.  It is never too late to seek remediation.  Through remediation, your reading, spelling and writing skills will improve.  This can of course be of great benefit to you both professionally and personally.  You won’t have to worry about being able to read to your children, or draft an email or write a report.

Remember, there is help out there.  A dyslexia diagnosis is just the beginning.

What Can I Do Right Now for My Dyslexic Child?

When I began my job as admissions director for a school specializing in dyslexia remediation, I didn’t understand what I would be doing in the summer.  Admissions are finalized by the end of April at the latest, so what in the world would I be doing from June to October?

Now I know.  Now I know that the busiest time in a psychologist’s calendar is the summer.  Since psychoeducational evaluations are so time-consuming, often completed over the course of two days or more, parents take advantage of summer’s down time away from school to schedule their children’s testing.

Wonderful!  Makes perfect sense . . . the testing will be complete well in advance of the fall application season.  All on track for admissions for the following school year.

What I hadn’t factored in was the fact that parents want help NOW, once they receive that diagnosis.  You know us parents . . .  we will do anything we can do to help our children.  How frustrating to think that your child is going to have to wait an entire year to begin the remediation they so desperately need right away.  A whole year to languish in the old school environment without support for his/her reading struggles.  Fortunately, in our area, there are many qualified tutors who can begin that important remediation right away.

But those are the lucky children, the few who live close enough to attend one of the few schools in the U.S. specializing in the remediation of dyslexia.  What do you do if you have to have to rely on your current schools for the remediation?  Where will your child find the support he/she requires in order to be a successful learner?

The first step is to educate yourself about what resources may already exist in your area.  Most folks have no idea how to go about that, so I recommend that you get in touch with the Orton Gillingham Academy and/or the International Dyslexia Association .  Both will be able to help you identify programs and tutors in your state that can help.  They can also work with you to learn about the laws in your state governing what your local school system is required to provide (if anything) for the remediation of dyslexia.  You will need to find an Orton Gillingham tutor who can begin to provide remediation as soon as possible.

Next, read as much as you can about dyslexia so that you have a good understanding of the challenges your child faces with respect to reading.  You will also learn so much about the advantages that often accompany dyslexia . . . out-of-the-box thinking, higher order thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving skills, to name a few.  Armed with this understanding, you will be prepared to advocate for the help your child needs. (For more information about how to best advocate for your child, see my earlier blog post entitled, “Does This Remind You of a Child You Know?” )

Finally, do everything you can to understand your child and his/her academic challenges.  Be certain you know whether dyslexia is the only issue, or if there may be other factors interfering with your child’s learning. (See my blog post, entitled, “What do you mean it’s not just dyslexia?”  Talk with your psychologist to learn as much as you can about your child’s specific learning profile so that you know what kind of accommodations your child time on tests and in the classroom.  Your child may also need modifications in his/her homework or classwork if processing speed is an issue.  For more information about possible accommodations, refer to my post entitled, “My Child Is Dyslexic.  Hooray!  Now How Do I Talk to Our School?” Armed with information about your child’s needs, you will be prepared to go about the job of finding the help he or she needs right now.

How do I talk to my child about his/her dyslexia diagnosis?

 

I was so excited.  My son had just been accepted at a prestigious school for dyslexics!  Finally, he was going to get the help he needed.  The new school was going to teach him how to read!

But wait a minute . . . the new school.  Hmm.  Hadn’t really thought that through.  He was going to have to leave the school he had attended since the age of one in their mother’s morning out program.  The school his sisters had attended since the age of 3.

That wasn’t even the biggest issue though.  I was going to have to tell him he was DYSLEXIC.  My poor child was going to have, gasp, a label that would follow him for the rest of his life.  It took me back to the day when he was diagnosed, but at that time we were just so relieved to have an answer as to why this bright boy was struggling to learn his letters.  Now we were faced with a reality that he would follow him all of his days.

I must confess that I handled the situation badly.  I took the coward’s way out and waited until he had completed a summer program at the new school.  The summer program was lots of fun and he had a wonderful time.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a school like that?

You want to know the worst part?  He was only five at the time!  Imagine how hard it would have been for me had he been 10 or 12 . . . the age when children truly understand what is going on.

How in the world would I have been able to explain what was “wrong” with him?

Looking back on it, I realize that I robbed him of the chance to own his diagnosis.  I didn’t take the opportunity to talk with him about the truly wonderful skills and talents that so often exist in dyslexics.  A big part of that was probably because I didn’t understand these things myself.  I only knew that he wasn’t like his peers because he couldn’t read, and that seemed like a bad thing.

Since that time I have learned so much more about dyslexia.  I have met and worked with hundreds of gifted dyslexics.  Here at that school where I now work, I have become part of a culture that celebrates the unique talents that dyslexics bring to the world.  We teach children (and parents!) each and every day that dyslexics have “cool” brains that can problem solve in out-of-the box ways to create solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.

So when I am asked in my role as admissions director for that prestigious school how to tell children about their dyslexia, I encourage parents to talk openly and honestly about the challenges their children will face and the gifts they possess.  I hope that parents will feel proud of their dyslexic children because they have wonderful gifts to share with the world.  Proud parents create proud children.  Most children are relieved to learn that “it’s just dyslexia.”  And they can again feel like the smart people that they really are.