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Many times over recent years, I have told this story privately; Best Version Media has invited me now to share it publicly, in print no less, and it is a daunting yet compelling prospect. During these years, I have walked the path from parental necessity to professional vocation and hope now to teach others, perhaps you, whose path may in some way resemble mine. Had I known then what I know now, I would have altered the path to be shorter, more clearly marked, and less painful. As it is, I am thankful, though not fulfilled, to have arrived at this forward point along that path. Trail’s end is still somewhere ahead.
Until adulthood, more specifically parenthood, I had assumed that reading occurs naturally for all, as it had for me. I assumed that given adequate motivation, intelligence and opportunity, all early readers become advanced readers, as I had. This is not the case, as I came to experience second-hand, and has been described to me now by many other parents, students, former students, teachers and administrators. Some students, approximately 15%, do not learn to read early, naturally or in the traditional sense. Most of these are dyslexic, though few have ever been diagnosed. One of my children was once such a student. His decision to drop out of school rather than endure more frustration and failure changed both our lives. Though I have played a central role in his experience, he has been the lead. I am here to tell it, and to help others avoid what our family experienced. I do not parent him now – he is an adult, and making his way in the world. You may be parenting a child or children like him – it is for you and yours that I now hope to speak.
Raising my two bright children in a suburban school district, I anticipated an above average school experience and academic success for both. With educated parents and plenty of resources available, each child achieved developmental milestones, confirming that all was proceeding according to expectations. It was puzzling that at around 3rd grade, things went differently for my second child. Initially increasing support and eventually calling in specialists, we family members worried about possible underlying medical circumstances that may have been blocking learning pathways. Dyslexia was never mentioned to us.
Several years were given over to testing, counseling, discipline, alternative methods and alternative schools. There were alternatives to the alternatives. The determined parents dug in deeper; the reluctant student withdrew further. He gave up while more alternatives were being considered; in retrospect, his choice was the wisest, as the alternatives available to us would have likely failed also.
Too late, I pursued the possibility of dyslexia, a condition I knew nothing of at the time, and which had not been identified despite ongoing assessments by school and medical “experts.” I have learned the origins of it, the characteristics of it – which confound life in general and seriously disrupt learning – and methods of remediation, primarily specialized tutoring. Yes, dyslexia is complex, but it is not life threatening. I determined to acquire knowledge and skill sufficient to help my child and short circuit this convoluted system of “red tape” that prevents capable and deserving students from being identified and supported before they fail or give up. Along the way, my son chose a different life in a different state, but I understand now why things were so difficult for him, and I believe he does too. That is some consolation. If he has children, I will be ready for this aspect of their lives should they face it.
For 10 years I have been studying this condition and its proper remediation. I now offer assessment, tutoring and assistance to families who experience dyslexia. I have been trained to tutor in the method which has been shown by research to be the most effective: a multisensory method based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. Students rise to this method, and build confidence while developing skills necessary to “crack the code” of the English language. Reading, writing, and spelling are all improved with individualized tutoring. When reading improves, all other subject matter becomes more accessible. Consequently, grades usually improve across the board, but more importantly, the student comes to believe that he or she is capable of learning and succeeding. Their natural desire to learn returns to them; many ultimately succeed beyond their dreams.
I once sought feverishly anyone who could help my child. I now enjoy being able to say to another parent: “I can help.” Next to helping my own child, it is the best and most gratifying action I can take. If you or someone you love is struggling to read, please call me; I can help.
Dyslexia means trouble with words. It was ﬁrst recognized in the 1800s by doctors who were puzzled by intelligent patients who seemed unable to read. Questions arose concerning the process of reading, how language develops, why it occurs smoothly for some and with great difﬁculty for others. Thousands of research studies have examined the nature of dyslexia, and many professions have contributed essential yet incomplete knowledge to the study. Adding to the confusion, there is some disagreement amongst professionals about causes of reading problems and the proper means of remediation. Confusion and debate amongst the professionals slows progress of the ﬁeld overall and blocks solutions which can be helpful to the dyslexic individual. While the debate continues, much is now known and provides reliable guidelines to those of us dedicated to assisting motivated dyslexic learners and struggling readers in general.
This informal deﬁnition is somewhat helpful for its brevity:
Member of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition
No wonder help for the dyslexic has been hard to ﬁnd! A common deﬁnition is needed to help families understand their student’s challenges, to help professionals communicate with one another, and to achieve an accurate diagnoses so that educational resources can be deployed in aid of the struggling student.
This formal deﬁnition has been approved by the International Dyslexia Association and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development:
Dyslexia is a speciﬁc learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difﬁculties with accurate and/or ﬂuent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difﬁculties typically result from a deﬁcit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.
Research reveals other facts which are helpful in understanding what dyslexia is and is not. Dyslexia is not a vision problem, nor is it a hearing problem, though either of those conditions can be secondary to a language processing problem. Dyslexia is not deﬁned simply by letter reversals, though that is one characteristic which may appear for some dyslexics. Dyslexia is not limited to one segment of the population, nor one gender. It does tend to be repeated in families and can occur in any family. It can be reﬂected in varying degrees of difﬁculty, and can also be accompanied by great strengths in other areas such as art, music and mathematics.
In addition to providing rigorous instruction in key aspects of language processing (reading, writing, spelling), helping dyslexics to recognize their innate talents is essential to overcoming barriers. Those who are able to master the skills needed to successfully remediate their challenges ﬁnd that the future presents unique opportunities for personal and professional achievement. As one remediated dyslexic stated: “Dyslexia was the worst gift I ever got!”