If I knew then…

In my last post, I shared the story of the journey my 4th grade daughter and I have been on since she began elementary school and how it has led me to advocating not only for her, but for all the kids in North Carolina. She was identified as dyslexic and ADD at the beginning of second grade, and I was suddenly dealing with a very real, very common learning disability that I knew little about. As a parent, it was upsetting because I was suddenly in a situation where I didn’t know how to help my child. As a veteran teacher, this was disconcerting to say the least because how many students had I taught that were struggling with the same or similar issues? It was an awful feeling as an educator, so this post will be what I needed over two years ago in the hopes that others will find it helpful.

First some statistics:

(these were compiled by Susan C. Lowell and Dr. Rebecca Felton, coauthors of Basic Facts About Assessment of Dyslexia. I had the privilege of working with Susan in Raleigh recently and she is nothing short of amazing.)

  1. About 37% of 4th graders are considered below basic level in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  2. This same test finds reading failure in about 67% of minority populations such as African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Limited English Proficient Americans, and impoverished Americans.
  3. Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) make up roughly half of all special education students. Of this group, 80% experience reading difficulties.
  4. Reading research scientists find reading failure in about 20% of the general school-age population. These same scientists predict that all but 2-5% of these students can be taught to read accurately and fluently with appropriate instruction.

I don’t know about you but to me these are sobering figures– especially the last one. All but 2-5% can be taught to read accurately and fluently with appropriate instruction. This shouldn’t all be falling on the shoulders of the teachers of Exceptional Children, and our kids shouldn’t need an IEP to rival a Tolstoy novel in order to access appropriate instruction.

Signs of Dyslexia:

I want to include the typical signs to watch out for, but I also want to point out there are characteristics that should have been giant, flaming red flags to me in hindsight had I known to pay attention to them. Generally, a child with dyslexia will have difficulty with the following (from the International Dyslexia Association Website– link below):

  • Writing letters and numbers backwards and reading backwards. No! All kids do this at some point– it is not something only people in Club Dyslexia do.
  • Learning to speak
  • Learning letters and their sounds
  • Organizing written and spoken language
  • Memorizing number facts
  • Reading quickly enough to comprehend
  • Persisting with and comprehending longer reading assignments
  • Spelling
  • Learning a foreign language
  • Correctly doing math operations

There are subtleties, too. People with dyslexia often have difficulty rhyming words or pronouncing multi-syllable words. L still calls ambulances “amalances” and though her rhyming skills have improved, she will still occasionally ask if words like “dog” and “done” rhyme. Another thing to look out for is substitution of words that may be in the same category or may have the same beginning or ending sound– this can happen in speaking or reading. An example given from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity cites using “volcano” instead of “tornado”. When this happens with L, she can verbalize that she knows it’s the wrong word and that the correct one is stashed in her head somewhere, but out it comes anyway.

So this is a VERY brief overview– there are organizations that have more exhaustive and detailed lists and I have noted them below. I cannot stress enough how important it is that if teachers are seeing these behaviors, it’s not because the child is lazy or defiant or immature or whatever. It’s also not personal. They. Cannot. Help. It. The more we educate ourselves about this, the better we can meet the needs of our kids and hopefully mitigate any more self-esteem nosedives.

Resources:

These are just to get you started and the tip of the iceberg. In other words, my thoughts on what I recommend you click on if you find yourself googling “dyslexia resources” (which now you don’t have to do because I just did it for you!).

Decoding Dyslexia NC: great place to find North Carolina-specific info, as well as advocates to accompany you to IEP meetings at your child’s school, tutors, etc. I met one of the advocates, Jeanette Meachem, this week when we went to Raleigh and I wish I had known her two years ago. She is fabulous.

Understood.org: This link is to their page on characteristics of dyslexia, but this amazing site has info on the whole dys- family and their cousins: dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, sensory processing disorder, ADD, ADHD and more. I print their math graphic organizers weekly to help L with her homework and they have worked wonders.

International Dyslexia Association: Lots of great info, as well as a self-assessment for adults. I highly recommend checking it out if you had difficulty reading as a child or had troubles with foreign languages.

Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity: I love that they have resources that speak directly to kids here. One thing L says to me frequently is “Dyslexia is my deepest, darkest secret” and it breaks my heart into a million tiny pieces every time I hear it. I am trying hard to chip away at this and some of the things on this site are helping. I’m hoping that the more I show her that there are so many others who face the same challenges and have the same type of incredible brain that she has, the more comfortable she will feel about it. Of course, as her mom I know exactly nothing about anything, so I’m relying on the hope that at least some of it is registering subconsciously…

I find myself thinking of more and more resources as I type this, but I’m going to stop here. This is a beginning– whether you suspect dyslexia in you or your child or student, know someone newly diagnosed, or have been at this a while and are looking for something else that might help, I hope I am able to point you down a path that has some answers. If you have other resources to help families, please share in the comments. I will address places to find things to help in the classroom in a later post– there are a lot of great things out there, but really no website or app will replace a good teacher.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with anyone who might need it, and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

–M.

(Sources: International Dyslexia Association, Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity)

 

(Cover image from gemmlearning.com)