I remember as a child riding in the back seat of the car in Philadelphia, looking out the window, daydreaming, when my eyes fixed upon a billboard on the Schuylkill Expressway with an image of an elderly man with the words “illiterate” written beneath it. I was stunned to think that there were people in our country who didn’t know how to read. I had thought this was a problem that existed in third world countries, but not in our country, not in The United States of America. I remember thinking that it must be a problem only for people who were from poverty-stricken areas. I felt sad but soon forgot about the billboard, until about 30 years later, when its image and words popped back into my mind.
My older daughter was ready to graduate from prekindergarten. From the day my daughter was born, I was so impressed by her; there was no question she had a brilliant mind. When she was a toddler, I could watch her play for hours—her creativity and imagination fascinated me. I just knew she was very smart and so advanced; it made me excited about what the future might hold for her.
One morning I had a meeting with her teachers. After a few pleasantries, they showed me a list of the alphabet and some numbers, and next to each entry was a box, most of which were empty. The teachers told me that the checked boxes indicated that my daughter knew those letters and numbers, and as there were very few checked, there was obviously an issue. I still remember the teacher explaining this accusingly, implying this was my fault. I went home feeling totally gutted, wondering where I went wrong, convinced I should have been doing more for her. Then, I got annoyed. Here I was, paying tons of money for prekindergarten--wasn’t it their job to teach my daughter? Was this really my job or my fault? I felt helpless but began spending much more time at home trying to help her.
Kindergarten was a big success. She could read!!! While she didn’t enjoy reading books we had at home, she was bringing home little books that she received in class. She loved them and could read them to me word for word. I felt so hopeful and happy! We were finally on our way to reading success! However, one day when she wanted to read one of her books to me and we couldn’t find it. We searched and searched until she finally said, “Don’t worry mommy, I don’t need it. I can read it to you without looking at it.” Though I had just found the book, I asked her to go ahead and read it without looking. Sure enough, the little stinker had been memorizing the books. I realized then she was still not reading.
At the beginning of first grade it became apparent that there was an issue and I reached out to her teacher, the guidance counselor--anyone who might be able to help me. Guess what? I found NO help. In fact, people told me I just needed to give her time, which made me question my concerns. Well, I didn’t give it time. I Googled, read, and spoke to and asked questions of anyone who would listen.
Hello Dyslexia! Dyslexia was not an issue raised by anyone who was supposed to be helping my daughter. No one acknowledged dyslexia, no one said the word. This issue that is present in every corner of every school, in every classroom, in every hallway, was ignored, or worse, unknown, by everyone at her school.
That’s when I remembered the billboard – illiteracy. My heart was breaking.
So, where are we now? Five years have passed, and I am now certified in the Orton Gillingham methodology, which teaches dyslexics how to read. My daughter is homeschooled, as is her younger sister who is also dyslexic, and they are both doing so well, and we are all very happy. I have also become a HUGE advocate for children who struggle to read.
I think of that billboard often, of the picture of that man -- that man who couldn’t read, that man who I thought must have come from an unfortunate background. I realize now that man could have been anyone, even my daughter.
I share my story because I want to erase the silence surrounding dyslexia. I want to raise the issue as often as needed, scream the word at the top of my lungs, and want to let other parents know that there is no shame, no reason to hide their children’s struggles.
Parents, please share your experiences with your friends, family, teachers, the person in the checkout line—with whomever will listen. Open discussion will erase any shame around dyslexia and will lead to more and more solutions – solutions that will allow our children not only to learn to read, but to soar.