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Dream Big - How Dyslexia Changed Our World

I have been an avid reader who has always had a book in hand for as long as I can remember.  My love of reading was sparked by my dad, who loved Westerns, Clive Cussler, and Ken Follet.   We would pass books back and forth to one another and have spirited debates about plots and character development and he would always encourage me to read things a bit outside of the box to expand my world view.  I became a mother 9 years ago to an amazing, witty and delightful little boy, who is the center of my world. It brought me great joy to read stories to him at night like my father had done with me when I was a little girl. As he got older, my son began carrying around his own books, eager to read to himself. The only thing was, he couldn’t.  

In Kindergarten when we expressed our concern, we were told “give it time, boys mature much slower than girls.  His reading will come.” At the end of first grade when he still couldn’t read, we were told he was “lazy” and “not intrinsically motivated.”  He started second grade reading on a pre-k level and I did not know what to do. Here was my bright, precious child who could assemble a box of Legos for kids aged 9-14 without consulting the instruction manual, who could hold his own in a conversation with adults, who could memorize entire episodes of Henry Danger, but he could not read “We went to their house.” The very thing that I enjoy and that brings me so much excitement was a source of complete frustration for him.  He had no self-confidence in his ability and would often say that he knew he was not smart and he would ask why couldn’t he read like the other kids in his class.

As a parent, there is nothing more heartbreaking than watching your child struggle and not being able to help them.  Homework that should have taken us an hour or so, would stretch on for three hours or more, every night, and both of us usually ended up exhausted and in tears. I felt like a complete failure as a parent so I began researching and reading everything I could about learning disabilities. Once he reached the age to be tested (because we were told he needed to be at least 7), we had him tested by a psychologist. The diagnosis came back “severe dyslexia.” I was so relieved to have a name, to know what we were dealing with, so that I could develop a plan of action and help him get to where he needed to be.

Reading proficiently by the third grade is considered a “make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development,” according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Children are learning to read from the time they are born up until the time they complete third grade.  Beginning with the fourth grade, children are reading to learn. Time seemed against us as we searched to find the right available supports to get him back on track.  Ensuring that my son is getting an education that is well rounded and grounded in the fundamental basics that will set him up for a lifetime of success has become a critical part of my day to day life. I was surprised to discover that none of the teachers that my son studied under recognized his dyslexia. Not one.  

We have been so fortunate to have found an amazing reading clinic that has been incredible in providing my son with learning strategies for his dyslexia and that has also built his confidence as a reader. Watching a tutor work with my son has been inspiring –  I saw him blossom in brand new ways and to be able to give him confidence in his abilities and know that there is nothing wrong with the way he learns is priceless to me.  I know first hand what it’s like to wipe your child’s tears away when they come home devastated because people made fun of them in class when they struggled to read an assignment out loud. I know how crushing it is to spend hours a night, every night on homework, only to have your child fail the test that they worked so hard to pass. It breaks my heart to see him have to work ten times harder just to barely be on the level his classmates are.  I know what it’s like to feel as though you are failing as a parent and I know how hard it is to advocate for your child within the school system, because I am doing it. Every. Day. But I also know incredible pride and joy, now that after a year of working with his private tutor, my son can read on a 2nd grade level and he is reading anything he can get his hands on. We are huge Dav Pilkey fans in our house and he grins from ear to ear and loves to tell people that the man who wrote his favorite series is also dyslexic, just like him. He has come so far in fact, that he is currently the class librarian for this semester.

When you read the statistics, it is very easy to get discouraged. 1 in 5 children are dyslexic and here in Louisiana, 77% of fourth graders in Louisiana scored below proficient in reading achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. I am learning new things about the way my son processes information every day. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do know, is you have to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t seem right to you, pursue it, get to the bottom of it - the sooner the better. There is so much need, so much demand, and so little response to fill this critical gap when it comes to how dyslexic children learn and how it is being handled in the schools, so ask questions and research as much as you can. You have to be their voice and their advocate.

There are so many life lessons that I draw upon daily from my time with my daddy. He taught me that big things can start from the passion ignited by one person, and I am a firm believer in this.  Because in the end, that’s all you need. One light, one voice that looks upon that sweet face of a child and says “I believe in you.  You have been blessed with the ability to learn and see the world in a different way and you need to DREAM BIG. YOU ARE CAPABLE OF GREAT THINGS.” My heart skips a beat now when I go in to my son's room late at night and move the book that he has fallen asleep reading and put it on his night stand. Dream big, baby. You got this.