I’m a great teacher, so why can’t this smart kid read?

 

You’ve tried everything in the book.  You’ve spent countless additional hours working one-on-one with a child before/after school.  You’ve drilled sight words until you’re blue in the face.  You’ve read passages and then had the child read them back to you, but they read it differently every time.  The child skips over words that you know they know.  They even substitute words that have the same meaning, yet they can’t read the word as it is written in the text.  What can you do to get through to this clearly bright child?

Your student is most likely dyslexic.  So what is dyslexia, really?  Reading from right to left, reversing numbers and letters, writing in mirror image?  Could be.  But it could mean lots of other things as well.  There are many resources out there to help you understand dyslexia, as well as to help those dyslexic children in your classroom.  A good place to start is Dyslexia Help at The University of Michigan.  There you will find information aimed at professionals such as yourself.  Another good place to look is The International Dyslexia Association.  The IDA has excellent resources for teachers wanting to address dyslexia in their classrooms.

As an educator, you probably want to do reading and research on your own as well.  Great books on the subject include:  Dyslexia, A Teacher’s Journey, by Ruth Fuller Lature,  Beginning to Read, by Marilyn Jager Adams;  A Mind at a Time, by Mel Levine; Overcoming Dyslexia, by Dr. Sally Shaywitz;  Words Fail Me:  How Language Develops and What Happens When It Doesn’t, by Priscilla Vail; Speech to Print, by Louisa Moats; and About Dyslexia:  Unlocking the Myth, by Priscilla Vail.  Through these books, you will develop an understanding of dyslexia as well as methods to help dyslexic children in your classroom.

It is also helpful to familiarize yourself with “red flags” that might indicate a potential reading disorder.  There are different indicators at every age.  If you are wondering whether your student is dyslexic, consider this list of “red flags for an emerging reading disorder.”

Preschoolers should be able to:

  • Produce rhyming words
  • Divide words into syllables
  • Divide sentences into words
  • Discriminate rhyming words
  • Delete roots, syllables, and phonemes
  • Substitute phonemes to form new words
  • Identify phonemes by their positions in words (beginning, middle and end)

Six-year-olds should be able to:

  • Write words
  • Write sentences
  • Blend sounds together
  • Decode nonsense words
  • Segment words into syllables
  • Identify sounds and letters

Children in second – fifth grades should be able to:

  • Spell well
  • Have appropriate handwriting
  • Enjoy reading and writing
  • Have appropriate or strong written expression
  • Have appropriate or strong reading strategies
  • Recall sight words quickly without much repetition
  • Comprehend reading material on or above grade level

If your student struggles with these skills, there is a good chance that he or she is struggling with dyslexia.  About 20 percent of children are dyslexic, one in 5 children in any given class.  You want so much to be able to reach every child in your care and tutelage.  You are a dedicated professional, deeply concerned about and committed to helping your students achieve success.  By learning about dyslexia and developing strategies to address this particular kind of learning difference, you will hone a skill set that will enable you to reach your struggling readers. If you would like to learn more about training in the Orton-Gillingham method, contact the Orton Gillingham Academy.

Orton-Gillingham is a scientific, research-based multi-sensory method designed for the remediation of dyslexia.  According to the Academy, “Orton-Gillingham is an instructional approach intended primarily for use with persons who have difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing of the sort associated with dyslexia.”  Dyslexics cannot learn to read through the whole-language method. They must be directly taught decoding skills that will allow them to sound out, blend, and break down words.

Without this direct instruction, letters and words make no sense to dyslexics because they lack an understanding of sound-symbol relationships. Their brains process letters differently.  They must learn to read letter by letter, sound by sound.  Most people seem to read whole words at a time, but they are actually looking at each letter and automatically blending those letters to create words.  Dyslexics lack this automaticity.  Reading is a slow, laborious process.  It is so difficult that often by the time a student has finished reading a passage, he or she has no concept of what they have just read because the act of reading itself has been so arduous.

In an article published by Carnegie Mellon, researchers found that specific reading remediation programs, such as the Orton-Gillingham approach, the Wilson Reading Program or the Lindamood-Bell program , actually permanently rewire dyslexic brains.  Prior to remediation, the brains of dyslexics are weaker in the parietotemporal lobe, the part of the brain that processes language.  The Carnegie Mellon study found that after a year of specific, targeted remediation, “the activation differences between good readers and dyslexics had nearly vanished, suggesting that the neural gains were strengthened over time . . . due just to the engagement in reading activities.”  During the study, dyslexic children worked in small groups and were trained in decoding and comprehension skills.  Following remediation, their brains showed no difference from their non-dyslexic counterparts.

Dyslexic children can learn to read.  They may never read as quickly as traditional learners and they will probably never spell well, but they can be very successful students given the time and tools they need to learn.  They just need to be taught differently.

 

 

 

 

My child is dyslexic! Hooray! Now how do I talk to our school???

The testing is finished, and you have your dyslexia diagnosis in hand.  Now you are ready to go to your child’s school and talk about the accommodations they have to provide, right?

I wish I could say yes, but the correct answer is, not so fast!!!  Mainstream schools usually are not prepared to provide services for your dyslexic child.  They may be overwhelmed with requests for special services, they may not have the resources to provide extra support, or they may be completely uneducated about what dyslexia means and have no idea what support your child will need.

Once again, you must be your child’s advocate.  The first step is to educate yourself by talking with others who have been a part of this process in the past. (See The Yale Center for Dyslexia for advice on whom to partner with as you prepare for your meeting.)  Seek out parents who you know have been through this before.  Talk with your child’s teachers to learn what they think about your child’s learning needs, ask the psychologist who did your child’s testing for referrals to other parents or education professionals who can talk with you, and chat with your pediatrician to learn what resources he or she may have.

If your child is in a public school, familiarize yourself with the difference between a 504 Plan and an IEP.  The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) provides protection for students with disabilities by enforcing Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  A 504 Plan provides accommodations for children who are placed under a 504.  An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is a legal document that details your child’s learning needs and spells out the services the school will provide.  Kristen Stanberry, a writer and editor specializing in education, has excellent resources for parents seeking to navigate the waters of public school accommodations.

What sort of accommodations might you wish to secure for your dyslexic child?  Of course, all children are different.  In my earlier blog post, “What Psychoeducational Testing Can Reveal About Your Child’s Learning Profile,” I discussed the various types of issues that often accompany dyslexia.  If your child is dysgraphic (trouble with handwriting), you might ask the school to allow your child to type his/her assignments.  You might also ask for copies of the teachers’ notes or the services of a note taker.  Your child may have visual tracking issues, so make sure that he or she doesn’t have to copy from the board or bubble in a scantron form.  You might request permission for your child to use voice-to-text recognition software and a computer for writing assignments.  Request that there are no penalties for poor handwriting.

If your child has dyscalculia (trouble with math), you might ask permission for him/her to be excused from timed math tests or to be tested in another setting with no limitation on time.  In later grades, your child might benefit from the use of a calculator.  Many children learn best through the use of manipulatives, so ask if concepts can be retaught using a multisensory approach.

Your child may have processing issues, so an appropriate accommodation would be to have extended time on tests or abbreviated homework assignments.  Spelling issues are significant for dyslexics, so common accommodations are to reduce the list of spelling words and to refrain from deducting points for spelling in other subject areas.

Finally, reading accommodations include providing books on tape, allowing students to listen to texts when taking AR tests, and providing extra time for reading tasks.  Students should not be required to read aloud unless they have been permitted to pre-read the material.  An alternative might be to allow the student to read aloud to the teacher, rather than before the class. To assist in comprehension, you might ask that the child be allowed to talk over reading assignments in order to provide a comprehension check.

Make sure that you understand your child’s learning needs so that you have a good understanding of which accommodations will be most useful.  The list of potential accommodations is long!  For these suggestions and many others, visit the following sites:  Reading Rockets, University of Michigan Dyslexia Help, Dyslexia Reading Connection and Bright Solutions for Dyslexia.

Once you feel that you have a good grasp of accommodations your child may need, it is time to schedule your first meeting with the school.  The Yale Center for Dyslexia has a wonderful outline for steps to follow in advance of this meeting.  You can ensure your best results by investing time before the meeting to be sure that you have all the information you will need to advocate for your child.

 

My child is empathetic…

As admissions director at a school for dyslexic students, I open my interviews by asking prospective parents to describe their children.  I always expect to hear heartfelt stories about struggles, frustration, lack of self-esteem.  What I have begun to really listen to, however, are the descriptors parents use when they talk about their children’s personalities and make-up.  These words and phrases are truly telling about the kind of people their children are growing to be.

The number one characteristic that parents use to describe their children is empathetic.  They say things like, “He’s always the one to look out for other children who aren’t included,” or “She is a friend to everyone.”  So often I hear parents say that their dyslexic child is “an old soul” or “wise beyond his years.”

This certainly holds true in our classrooms.  Here at our school, we ask children to do the very things that are the hardest for them, all day long.  They struggle to read, spell, and write.  The days are long and the work arduous.  What I was most surprised by as a classroom teacher, however, was the abundance of care and support that our students show for each other.

Before coming to us, our students were often forced to read aloud in front of others.  Pretty terrifying task if you can’t read.  There you are in front of all your peers, running the almost certain risk of humiliation.  Our children have learned school can be a very difficult place, full of pitfalls each and every day.

When I taught my reading groups, I was stunned to see that the most dysfluent readers were the first ones to volunteer to read.  Every time.  Even more surprising was the fact that their fellow students sat patiently while the “poorest” readers struggled through each passage.  If you’ve never listened to a struggling reader read aloud, you won’t know how very easily the meaning of a passage is lost.  Most of our children love to hear stories, but their patience while listening to their peers is very impressive, and the empathy they show is heart-warming.

Is empathy inherent in the psychological make-up of dyslexics?  I couldn’t say . . . I doubt it.  It is more likely that this empathy is a learned response to the world that has handed these children a dose of humility.  Dyslexics learn from a very early age that they struggle mightily with something that most people find simple.  Could this be the root of their strong empathy for their fellow humans?  Sounds possible to me. Pretty great people, wouldn’t you say?  The world is lucky to have them.

 

 

What Psychoeducational Testing Can Reveal About Your Child’s Learning Profile

In my last post, I discussed the fact that there are many different issues that can interfere with your child’s learning.  I said that it is important to find out as much as you can about your child’s learning profile so that you can obtain the proper help.  A psychoeducational evaluation is critical to understanding exactly how your child learns.  Here, in a nutshell, are the pieces that make up a typical psychoeducational report:

  • Developmental History and Background Information: Your evaluator will conduct a lengthy interview with you to learn as much as possible about your child before working with him or her.  In addition to questions about developmental milestones, they will ask about family history of learning disabilities, ADHD, and more.
  • Observations During Testing: The evaluator will share their observations about your child’s abilities to complete assigned tasks, to process verbal and written information, and to pay attention.
  • Cognitive Functioning: The WISC IV or V is the most frequently used tool, but there are others that give you equally important information.  Examples of these include the DAS (Differential Ability Scales), the RIAS (Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales), and the Stanford Binet. Intelligence tests typically include a measure of a child’s intellectual strengths and weaknesses, as well as a measure of a child’s cognitive potential.
  • Oral Language Skills: This portion of the test addresses your child’s phonological processing, including phonological awareness (the ability to analyze sounds, segment words and blend sounds), phonological memory (the ability to hold information in short term memory), and rapid naming (the ability to efficiently retrieve phonological information from long-term memory).
  • Comprehension: Tests given here are designed to assess a child’s ability to understand words, word relationships, sentences, and conversational speech (receptive language).
  • Verbal Expression: These tasks are designed to assess a child’s ability to communicate feelings, perceptions, and ideas (expressive language).
  • Visual Processing & Visual-Spatial-Motor Integration: Your tester uses these instruments to evaluate your child’s skills, such as visual perception, discrimination, and memory on school achievement.  Difficulty with these tasks may mean that your child will struggle with letter recognition and number recognition.
  • Academic Achievement Testing: The report should also contain information about your child’s level of academic achievement as measured by tests like the WIAT (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test), the KTEA (Kauffman Test of Educational Achievement), and/or the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement. Specific testing is given to address your child’s reading and reading readiness skills.  Also tested is your child’s ability to express himself or herself in writing and his or her mathematics skills.  This is an important part of the assessment, because it tells you whether your child is performing academically at the level one would predict, given his or her intellectual potential.  A discrepancy here is an indication that there are factors interfering with his or her ability to learn.
  • Behavioral and Emotional Functioning: Instruments in this portion of the test are used to assess your child’s social and emotional skills.
  • Summary: This is the portion of the test where your evaluator summarizes the findings, makes diagnoses, if any, and recommends future educational steps, as well as academic strategies and tips for educational interventions.

Once your child’s testing is completed and scored, the psychologist will sit down and review the results with you. This is your opportunity to learn just what issues are interfering with your child’s ability to learn.  Your child may be diagnosed with ADHD, a receptive and/or expressive language disorder, weak processing skills, dysgraphia (difficulty with fine motor skills and handwriting), dyscalculia (difficulty with math), poor working memory, or some combination of these.  Be certain to ask for details about what the diagnoses mean, and make sure that you receive information about ways to address each diagnosed learning disability. Ask about accommodations, such as extended time (if your child processes slowly or has dysgraphia which prevents them from completing work in a timely fashion), tests read aloud, seat placement at the front of the class, writing answers in the test booklet instead of bubbling in on a “scantron” form (your child may have visual tracking issues that make it hard to transition from a test booklet or chalk board to paper), having directions repeated (your child may difficulty with auditory processing), and reduced work load.

Remember, every piece of information about your child’s learning needs is important.  It can be daunting to hear about all of your child’s issues, but when you are armed with this information, you can begin to find the help your child needs to be successful.  If your psychologist recommends a complete speech and language evaluation or an occupational therapy evaluation, it is in your child’s best interests to follow that recommendation.  I know it feels like your child has been tested beyond belief, but the answers you receive will help ensure that his or her academic future will be as productive as possible.

Finally, an evaluation usually ends with an admonition to enjoy “the whole child.”  A child is so much more than a student . . . they are adored family members, friends, athletes, artists, problem-solvers, and caring, empathetic human beings.  The list goes on and on.  Just be sure to love them for who they are and continue to give them the all the caring and support they need.

(For more information on learning issues related to dyslexia, visit Understanding Dyslexia, by Emily Lapkin.)

What do you mean it’s not just dyslexia?

When my son was diagnosed with dyslexia, we were pretty devastated. But we overcame that hurdle with support from his teachers and tutors. However, we were not prepared to hear that dyslexia was not his only challenge. We couldn’t believe there were more barriers to his academic success. Wasn’t dyslexia enough???

So what other kinds of learning challenges often co-exist with dyslexia? We learned that there can be many related issues, including ADHD, verbal and visual processing issues, receptive and expressive language issues, and many more. There is a 33% overlap in reading and math difficulties. Dyslexia is not clear cut, nor does it typically occur alone without other issues. According to the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “dyslexia is not a disorder with clear cut boundaries or with a single cause.”

What exactly are these co-morbid issues?  One disorder you may have heard a lot about is ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), a term with which most of us are familiar. We were very surprised when our son was diagnosed with ADHD.  He wasn’t hyperactive in any way . . . he was a dreamy child who loved imaginative play.  However, ADHD presents itself in different ways.  I learned that there are actually 3 types of ADHD:  the inattentive type only (my son!), the hyperactive/impulsive type, and the combined type.

In my job as admissions director at a school for dyslexic children, I often have parents tell me that they don’t agree with their child’s ADHD diagnosis, because their child can focus for long  hours on a Lego set or puzzle.  What parents sometimes don’t realize is that this need (and ability!) to hyper focus on a task of their choosing is actually a symptom of ADHD.  This becomes an issue in the classroom when this same child is asked to focus on a task in which he is not interested, such as a difficult academic assignment. When this happens, teachers often see avoidance behaviors, such as needing multiple bathroom breaks, trips to the school nurse for small ailments, and behavior that is distracting to classmates, as well as the child.

So what are some symptoms of ADHD?  If your child has the inattentive type of ADHD, he or she may daydream, make careless mistakes, forget things (including their shoes!), lose or otherwise misplace things, get distracted easily, or avoid tasks that require a lot of mental effort.  My son could never find his shoes, even though we set up an official shoe closet!  If your child has ADHD, hyperactive type, he or she may seem to be in constant motion, have trouble staying seated, or become physically active at inappropriate times.  Children with the combined type of ADHD are often impulsive and speak without thinking, have trouble taking turns, interrupt others, or call out the answer before the question has been completely asked.

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms and it’s interfering with his or her success in school, you should confer with your pediatrician or psychologist.  They can diagnose ADHD and suggest options that can help your child cope. One excellent resource for parents is a non-profit organization called C.H.A.D.D., Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, which offers a clearinghouse of  information and groups throughout the country that offer support and parenting tips.

What other issues may be interfering with your child’s learning? Your child’s psycho-educational report contains precious information about his or her learning profile.  Even if your psychologist sits down and discusses the results, you probably still have questions.  The amount of information is really a great deal to absorb, especially when you are trying to process the fact that you child does indeed have a learning disability.  I’ll be explaining more about psychological evaluations and other learning issues in my next post.  There is so much to know, and we are always discovering more about these challenging learning differences!

Where did my happy child go?

Until the age of 5, my son was a happy child. He delighted in the world and loved exploring it. His favorite activity was imaginative play . . . he concocted elaborate scenarios with himself at the center of the action. And what a vocabulary! He spoke like a little adult! Since a strong vocabulary is the greatest single measure of intelligence, we knew that he would soar academically once he got to school.

But at age 5, the stomach aches began. It became increasingly difficult to get him to school. When I tried to have him practice his letters at home, he became angry and resistant. My little boy, who had always delighted in stories, suddenly lost interest in any activity related to words.

This began to filter into the rest of his world. Always a happy, self-confident child, he became moody and teary. His delightfully sunny disposition had been replaced with one filled with fear and self-doubt. Where did my happy boy go?

Not long afterwards, his kindergarten teacher called me in. She was worried about the way he held his scissors (which I now know is related to motor planning.) She also said that he didn’t seem to be able to make the connection between letters and sounds.

My two older daughters had always excelled in school and I was certain that this was just a “boy thing.” With his exceptional vocabulary skills, I was sure he would come to love reading just as much as the rest of his family but at his own pace. His father holds a Ph.D. and I graduated summa cum laude. The die was cast, right?

Wrong. My son continued to struggle . . . in kindergarten! What in the world was wrong? He had the same kindergarten teacher that his two older sisters had, so that wasn’t the problem. Was he really so different from his peers?

As it turned out, the answer was yes and no. Most of the boys were soaring along, but one of his closest friends was struggling as well. One day I had the chance to talk with his friend’s mom. We had taken the boys to have lunch and play at a local fast food place, giving us a good chance to chat. I mentioned my concerns about my son, and she immediately began asking questions. Is he reluctant to go to school? Does he hate working with his letters? Is he resistant to pre-reading activities? Her questions were spot on!

I couldn’t believe how insightful she was . . . it was as if she had been a fly on the wall in my home as I tried to work with my son. How did she understand so much about what we were going through?

My friend began to talk with me about dyslexia. She told me that dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. In fact, many dyslexics are very bright. It doesn’t necessarily involve reversing letters, although reversals are fairly common with dyslexics. Sometimes it is accompanied with weak visual perceptual skills, so it is hard for children to cut or color with the lines. Dyslexics struggle with sound/symbol relationships and are reluctant to learn their letters. (This was starting to sound very familiar!)

Her older son had attended a special school for dyslexics, The Schenck School. She talked about the wonderful progress he had made as a result of the remediation he received at the School. And now she was about to send my son’s friend to the School as well because, as I was about to learn, dyslexia has a strong hereditary component. With one dyslexic in the family, there was an excellent chance that there would be more. She recommended that we schedule a complete psychoeducational evaluation so that we could learn exactly what was going on with my son.

I have to admit that when the results were in and we had a dyslexia diagnosis, we were pretty devastated. We were afraid that our son would never finish school and that he would struggle his entire life. We worried that he would never be successful in a career.

We went straight to The Schenck School where we learned that, with remediation, dyslexics can be very successful in life. We also learned that another benefit of remediation was the return of self-confidence. My son was fortunate enough to have a wonderful tutor for the remainder of his kindergarten year and went on to attend The Schenck School for first through third grades. His confidence returned, he became an excellent self-advocate and is now highly successful in his career in sales.

In my role as admissions director for The Schenck School, I hear this same story day in and day out from parents. Many tearful hours are spent in my little office as I console parents who fear for their dyslexic children’s futures. I share with them my own story about my little boy who had his struggles but became a happy, successful adult. I repeat the phrase I hear over and over again from our outplacing parents: “I have my child back!”

I have heard parents say they don’t want to label their children so they are reluctant to have testing done. They cling to the hope that their child will outgrow dyslexia, and that it is probably developmental. Dyslexia is not developmental. Your child will be dyslexic for life. But with remediation, he or she can lead a rich, productive, successful life.

If you are wondering whether your child is dyslexic, consider this list of “red flags for an emerging reading disorder.”

Preschoolers should be able to:

  • Produce rhyming words
  • Divide words into syllables
  • Divide sentences into words
  • Discriminate rhyming words
  • Delete roots, syllables, and phonemes
  • Substitute phonemes to form new words
  • Identify phonemes by their positions in words (beginning, middle and end)

Six-year olds should be able to:

  • Write words
  • Write sentences
  • Blend sounds together
  • Decode nonsense words
  • Segment words into syllables
  • Identify sounds and letters

Children in second – fifth grades should be able to:

  • Spell well
  • Have appropriate handwriting
  • Enjoy reading and writing
  • Have appropriate or strong written expression
  • Have appropriate or strong reading strategies
  • Recall sight words quickly without much repetition
  • Comprehend reading material on or above grade level
  • Read accurately: Decode words on or above grade level

If your child struggles with these age-appropriate skills, your next step is to call your local psychologist and set up a psychoeducational evaluation. Ask your pediatrician or school psychologist for recommendations.

Finally, if the diagnosis is dyslexia, get busy and obtain good remediation for your child. See my earlier blog post, “Your Child is Dyslexic: Now What?” for suggestions on how to proceed. Don’t despair if there is no special school for dyslexic remediation in your area, there are many other resources to help.

Enjoy your dyslexic child. Explore the world through his or her eyes. Dyslexic children’s brains are remarkable and they experience the world in different ways . . . they can be counted on to express extraordinarily complicated thoughts and arrive at solutions in unique and creative ways, often possessing higher order thinking skills. Have fun with your amazing child!

Does this remind you of a child you know?

I was lucky enough to have a visit today from one of my former students. She is an extraordinary young woman . . . accomplished in academics and athletics, a very successful college student, personable, articulate, intellectually curious, empathetic beyond words, and dyslexic. However, when I first met her, she was timid, unsure and unhappy. Her educational experiences from early on had convinced her that she was stupid, she would never go to college, she needed remedial math because she clearly didn’t get it (she turned out to be a gifted math student), and she had no potential.

The people who said these things to her had clearly never met her mother.

When my student was diagnosed with dyslexia, her mother immediately educated herself. She read every book on the subject, she talked to every one of her patients who was dyslexic, and she looked long and hard to find resources in her community that could help. She became what every dyslexic child needs . . . an advocate. This mom, a busy physician, devoted much of her time trying to make things better for her daughter. She talked with her daughter’s school about accommodations; she went to bat with teachers over all the red marks on her papers because of spelling errors; she asked for extra time and for oral testing. But as so often happens in many schools, she was denied the help her daughter needed. “Your daughter just isn’t trying hard enough, she isn’t smart enough, she is clearly working to her potential and isn’t capable of more, if we give her accommodations it isn’t fair to the other children.”

But my student’s mother was an unstoppable force. She refused to accept what these people had to say about her daughter; rather, she became even more determined to find help for her child. She found a wonderful tutor in her community who began the work, and then learned that there were schools devoted to the remediation of dyslexia. Tireless champion that she was, she made sure that her daughter found a place in our school. I should mention, however, that our school was over an hour away from their home. Undaunted, this mother found a way to make it work. She drove her daughter on some days, and on some nights the girl spent the night in town with her grandmother. Her daughter even came to school on a day that was so icy that most of the other children in school were absent!

Meet another unstoppable force . . . her daughter. The one who never wanted to miss a single day of school. In the beginning I was especially concerned about this student because she so clearly lacked confidence in herself academically. She was fearful to answer questions and was reluctant to ask for help. But she was the hardest working student I have ever known. No assignment was too much, even though she was usually working in the car on the hour-long ride home or studying at 6 a.m. on her way to school. I came to learn that this young woman personified persistence. She was doggedly determined to learn everything that she could. Through encouragement and praise, she came to realize that she actually had tremendous potential. She became an excellent math student, one of the strongest in the grade. She studied harder than anyone and made exceptional marks. Most importantly, she became secure in the fact that her dyslexia was a gift.

That’s what our dyslexic children need to understand. Their brains function differently. Their problem-solving skills, strong work ethic, intellectual curiosity, impressive verbal skills and out-of-the-box thinking make them extraordinary people whose worth will be recognized and valued in the workplace. Traditional academics may always be a bit difficult for them because they are required to memorize information. But when they encounter situations that allow them to learn experientially, find solutions to problems and think creatively, they will soar. They need advocates to encourage them and help them find these strengths within themselves. Not every child can attend a special school for dyslexics, but there are resources within many communities that can help.

So just how do you go about becoming your dyslexic child’s advocate? Begin by reading everything you can so that you can understand your child’s academic challenges. I recommend starting with Overcoming Dyslexia, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D. Dr. Shaywitz and her husband, Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, are co-directors of the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. The Center’s website contains much helpful information, such as a good explanation for what dyslexia actually is as well as suggestions for how to talk with your child about his/her diagnosis. The parents’ section includes information about signs of dyslexia, suggestions for parents of dyslexic children and perhaps most importantly, excellent advice for those parents planning for their first meeting with their child’s school after diagnosis.

There are many other wonderful resources, including PBS Resources for Parents of a Dyslexic Child which includes such items as a reading list for parents, books written for children about dyslexia, and web sites such as All Kinds of Minds and Misunderstood Minds. Reading Rocket’s Top Ten Resources for Dyslexia is another good source of information. The International Dyslexia Association offers a wealth of information for parents and educators.

Now that you’ve become an expert, where do you turn for help? If you’ve done your research, you know that your child will require remediation in order to achieve his/her true potential. But where do you look to find help? You could begin with your state chapter of the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practioners and Educators. The dedicated folks there will be happy to help you find an Orton Gillingham tutor who can work with your child, no matter their strengths or weaknesses. The Orton Gillingham approach is a scientifically research-based method for the treatment of dyslexia. The Academy will also help you locate a specialized school for the remediation of dyslexia if you are interested in pursuing enrollment. Keep in mind that OG is only one method of remediation . . . there are other good ones as well. Just be sure to investigate your tutors to make sure that they are fully trained and have a proven track record of success.

Become actively involved in your local chapters of The Orton Gillingham Academy and the IDA, and become members of the national associations. You will be kept apprised of legislative efforts regarding dyslexia remediation at both the national and state levels, and you will have access to on-going research about dyslexia. At your local chapters, make a point to become acquainted with fellow parents because they can be a tremendous source of guidance and support. Ask for help and you will realize that you and your child are not alone; some sources report that dyslexia occurs in as many as one out of every five people!

Finally, talk to your child about the gifts that come along with dyslexia. Help him/her understand that dyslexic brains function in a wonderful way and that his/her problem-solving skills, strong work ethic, intellectual curiosity, impressive verbal skills and out-of-the-box thinking make him/her an extraordinary person whose worth will be recognized and valued in the workplace. Traditional academics will always be difficult for them, even with remediation. They will have to work harder than anyone else. But when they encounter situations that allow them to learn experientially, find solutions to problems and think creatively, they will soar. They need advocates along the way to encourage them and help them find these strengths within themselves.

And take heart . . . you have an exceptionally gifted child in your care. Don’t listen to people who tell you your child is lazy or unmotivated.   Keep looking for solutions that can help them become the extraordinary people they are destined to be.

Like my former student who came to see me today and reminded me just how extraordinary dyslexics can be when someone believes in them.

Dedicated to Dana and Mary Elizabeth