It has been five years since our son was in second grade and identified as dyslexic. His early school years were awful; I’m sure many of you have experienced the same. We went from feeling excitement and pride as he settled into Kindergarten to the startling realization that he was not making any progress in learning to read. Despite reassurances from his teachers, my husband and I grew increasingly alarmed as he moved onto first grade and then second, clearly behind his peers. Our concerns grew to panic when he started to cry every morning when I dropped him off at school, and again every evening during homework.
His diagnosis was a relief. Now, while we understood why he couldn’t read, we had no idea what to do next. I started digging through resources and asking advice from friends and coworkers, many of whom had dyslexic children of their own. While we learned that there was a lot of support and information available, what I wanted was someone--a parent or a knowledgeable teacher--to ease my concerns. But no one was able to tell me unequivocally that it would get easier.
Now, five years later, I know why they didn’t share those words of comfort with me, and I suppose I am thankful that they didn’t. It doesn’t get easier, and had they lied and told me it did, I would be disappointed and confused. Parenting in general does not get easier; we all know that. I imagine I was under the impression that once our son began learning to read, everything would fall into place. Under the patient guidance of an OG tutor, he has learned to read, but it is still really hard for him. And really hard for us. So, while no, it does not get easier, you learn some things along the way that help you cope.
Denial is not your friend. There is no value in trying to rationalize away your worry about your child’s struggles with reading. If you have concerns, act on them. Talk to your child’s teachers, and, if they do not take your concerns seriously, talk to them again. We waited until our son was in second grade to have him tested. We knew as early as kindergarten that he was having difficulty, but followed the advice of his teachers instead following our instincts, and as a result, we all cried a lot of unnecessary tears.
Time is not on your side. The sooner you identify the reasons behind your child’s struggles, the sooner you can develop a plan. My heart aches for the children who are not identified until middle school or beyond. For too long they fought to make sense of a world and a system that doesn’t fit their needs, or worse, wrote themselves off as “stupid.” As a parent of a child with a learning disability, one of our most daunting tasks is to help them maintain their self-esteem. The longer they struggle, the bigger the challenge.
Check Yourself. When I envisioned my child’s life, it never occurred to me he would learn differently. I pictured many different scenarios, but never that one; I just did not foresee any academic speed bumps. I imagine many parents think their children will mirror them, but parenthood is an incredibly humbling experience. For me, well, lo and behold Miss Smarty Pants has a kid with a learning disability. While there has never been a point at which I felt anything other than pure pride for my son, I now realize that things may not shake out exactly as I thought they would, and that is OK. I know that my son has the potential for success, but that his path may be different than the traditional one I envisioned. It’s his path anyway, not mine.
Focus on the Big Picture. The dyslexic mind excels in big picture thinking, and I now think about the big picture too. In the big picture, is being a world champion speller really that important, or is being an “okay” speller good enough? (I have been a working professional for over 20 years, and I have yet to see someone’s career broken by poor spelling skills.) Dyslexics thrive in so many situations. They are able to navigate their way to success, develop awesome coping mechanisms, and cultivate tremendous strengths. My son, for example, learns through observation and by reading people--it's the way he makes his way through the world.
Find Your Tribe. Like many of you, I am a busy, working mom. I don’t have time to do tons of research, or to tutor or homeschool my son. But I do know the value of having a community’s support. I also know how important it is to share my story, and by doing that, I have met some tremendously talented people who have guided me on this path, and with whom I have shared victories and frustrations. Having a community has made all the difference. Reach out to others with children who struggle with reading. These are the people who will see you through.
There Really is an App for That. There are so many tools available, it is easy to see where our kids are going to be in the future. I don’t want to wish his school years away, but we do remind our son often that most of his challenges will be nonexistent once he is through school. Computers have spell check and dictation capabilities; Learning Ally and other organizations offer audio books; Siri and Alexa can figure out pretty much anything. Take advantage of these types of resources.
When my son was diagnosed, I thought it was just that-- a diagnosis. I now know that it is so much more. It is part of him and part of us as a family. Some days we embrace it and other days it’s more of a challenge. But, like his blue grey eyes and his sweet personality, it is part of who he is. Would his educational path be easier if he weren’t dyslexic? Perhaps. Would his life have the potential that it now does? Probably not. I truly believe that. I also know that there is no greater joy, for any parent, than to see their child achieve something that once escaped their grasp. Every time our son reads out loud my husband and I just look at each other in sweet awe, remembering that there was a time we wondered if he’d ever read. I have learned to cherish those moments above all, because while it isn’t easier, it’s all good.