Orton-Gillingham Weekly welcomes guest blogger, Ashley Roberts! Ashley shares her personal journey about parenting a child with dyslexia on her blog, A Mom’s Journey- My Dyslexic Child. As our guest blogger, Ashley shares her heartfelt reflection about her hopes and fears for the new school year. Some of this may be difficult to hear, however, we hear these concerns from so many parents of dyslexic children, Therefore, we feel it is necessary to share!
Well, the school year is about to begin. You’ve probably started to prepare yourself by getting up early again. If you are a planner, you probably have your school supplies all purchased and put together, and you’re ready to decorate your room.
Over the summer, you may have attended a training relevant to your subject area or perhaps you even started graduate school to work towards a masters in education. Maybe you have taken the summer to unwind, destress, breathe and come up with a strategic plan for the upcoming year, including what you will do differently and what you will do the same as last year.
Speaking as a parent of a dyslexic child, I can honestly tell you I am counting down the days to the start of school with mostly fear and dread. I am scared that when I walk into your classroom with my beautiful dyslexic child, you might not know anything about dyslexia and therefore may not understand how this affects my child. Because of this, you do not understand this will be a challenging year, at least more challenging than it was already going to be.
And none of that is your fault.
It is not your fault that dyslexia was not a part of the curriculum at your university you attended to get your degree. It is not your fault that you may have barely heard about “dyslexia”, except maybe briefly mentioned in a college lecture only as a passing phrase.
And to be fair to you, this brief instruction was not enough for you to understand what dyslexia is, and it definitely is not enough for my child.
You see, 1 in 5 of the students you will have in your classroom this school year will likely have dyslexia. This means, if you have 30 students, an estimated 6 of them will be dyslexic. I have heard teachers say they have gone years without having a dyslexic child in their class. While that is statistically probable, it’s probability is so remote to not even bear mentioning, because here is the other side to that coin … dyslexia is a spectrum learning difference. It is not equal in all children and they do not all struggle in the same way or with the same things. Some children are so mild in their dyslexia that they may get all the way through college without anyone ever knowing they are dyslexic. Some are so severe that every single day from kindergarten on will be a struggle. Furthermore, dyslexia does not discriminate across gender, race or socio-economic status.
What my child hopes for from you, deep in his soul, is patience and understanding.
Patience… because it will take him 2 to 3 times as long as his peers to get to the end of the paragraph.
Patience… for the fact that, if you ask him to read out loud, he may attempt to avoid reading in front of his classmates in order to defend himself against the potential of being made fun of.
Patience… because dyslexia is hard to cope with inside most traditional school settings and my son will, therefore, find it exhausting both mentally and physically. Headaches and stomach aches will appear from the mental strain and anxiety that naturally accompanies being a “different learner” in a system that is typically not designed to teach or work with his differences.
But the bigger piece is understanding, and this is far more encompassing.
Understanding… that reading is a relatively new skill for humans. While speaking is natural, reading is not, which is why it must be learned.
Understanding… that dyslexia is a language processing disorder and is not simply limited to struggles in reading. No matter how many times you correct his speech, some words will always come out wrong. Components of math and writing along with other academic areas may also be affected.
Understanding… that just because my son struggles with reading, does not mean he is broken, deficient, stupid, lazy, or not working hard enough.
Understanding… that while I may have him protected under IDEA, he is not handicapped.
Understanding that he must learn in a very specific way and when this way is not provided to him, he absolutely will not learn, no matter how good of a teacher you may be.
Understanding that his services and accommodations are essential in providing you with the same work the other 4 out of 5 students turn in.
Understanding that dyslexia is simply not reversing letters (which is a myth by the way), but is actually much, much more.
Understanding that while my son’s non-dyslexic peer is able to read you a paragraph in 2 minutes with no errors and with perfect comprehension, my son will spend much longer on the same task. It may take him 6 minutes to read aloud with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension, the latter being the last thing he focuses on. He will likely struggle to answer questions, due to so much effort required in the actual reading process. He may need to use the bathroom and get a drink, and when he finally sits down to write his paper his eyes may wander around the room for 10 minutes.
And while you may think I have got to be delusional in my level of exaggeration, please, please, please know that I absolutely am not.
I fear… you will dismiss what I am saying.
I fear… you will label me as “that” parent.
I fear… you may be tempted to not follow my son’s accommodations because you do not see the point.
I fear… you will dismiss what I am saying because you have been taught that dyslexia is not real.
I fear… you think I am making way too big of a deal about something incredibly minor because everyone can learn to read and those who do not are just lazy.
I fear… you will call on him to read, checking your watch repeatedly while he tries to make his way through the paragraph.
I fear… you may become angry if he smarts off in response to his frustration and label him the “difficult student”.
I fear… you will not notice how scared he is inside, how hard he is working and the toll it all is taking on his heart and soul to just get through the school year.
I fear… you will not hear the names his peers call him as he walks down the hall. You will not see the notes and social media threads taunting him for being stupid.
What I can never do is show you his tears. I can never show you how he breaks down and calls himself stupid. I can never show you the soul-crushing exhaustion that dyslexic children feel. I can never put you inside their heads when they make the decision to drop out of school, or worse yet, take their own lives. I cannot make you understand the anxiety and depression and PTSD that is very real in our children.
While the majority of your students may spend an hour on homework most nights, my son will spend 3 hours doing the exact same work. He will not get to play with his friends, play on his X-Box or watch that movie he has been dying to see. Because of how hard reading is for his brain, he will end up 5 times as tired at the end of the school day compared to his peers. However, he will still do it. … He will go to bed late, more drained than you can possibly imagine! Yet, he will wake up to do it all over again tomorrow.
I cannot show you how I do not sleep either, because I am ravaged by the fact that I cannot console my son and I cannot do his school work for him. I have done everything I can to help him, but I cannot change this reality no matter how hard I try.
Do you have a child? Do you remember the first time they smiled at you as an infant? Do you remember that glorious high? I certainly do. This is the face I see in front of me every day. This is the face I wish I could see again, but when we do not have an understanding teacher, that smile and that face will lose something from deep inside that he will never get back again. He will be diminished and it will fuel the anxiety/depression/PTSD monster just waiting to devour him.
You see, school is designed for the normative kids, the ones who fit perfectly into the box. However, 20% of the school population is dyslexic and they will never fit into that box no matter how hard we try. EVERYTHING I have said above applies to these kids, as well as my son.
I can help you understand more about dyslexia. I can recommend books to read, webinars to listen to, seminars to attend, trainings to attend if you allow me to share my perspective. I can recommend a simulation where you can get just the slightest glimpse into what school is like for him which will help aid your overall understanding. I can help you learn how to overcome dyslexia. I can help you understand there is no cure, that my son will be dyslexic his entire life. And, of course, I can show you the success stories like Steve Jobs, Einstein, David Boies, etc.
I would love to help you. If you let me help you, you will start to recognize the markers in other students who struggle. You will have so much knowledge and when you help identify a child, this child will always be able to point to you as that amazing teacher who helped pull him/her from the struggle of learning and into a life well lived with dyslexia.
Next to parents, teachers have the most profound impact on each of our lives, both good and bad. I would love for you to have a positive impact on my dyslexic son. Please let me help you be that teacher.
The Mother of a Beautiful and Intelligent Dyslexic Son
*This has been a guest blog.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR ACCREDITED ORTON-GILLINGHAM PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.