Our Dyslexia Journey
I suspected there was something wrong when my twin boys were 5. We were homeschoolers and for the first 5 years we lead an idyllic life of playing and QUESTIONS. Questions all day, every day, about every conceivable topic. My boys were happy, curious and very smart.
Then I decided that they should start learning how to read. So I got the book called “How to Teach Your Child to Read In 100 Easy Lessons.” I read the directions numerous times. We went through each lesson slowly and lovingly. No pressure, no stress. They wanted to learn. And then we went through the book again because it just didn’t seem to be sticking. The second time was no better.
Now they were 6. And not only were they not even starting to read, everything we had been going over was not sticking. That was weird. At this point I started considering that I was doing something wrong. These were my first babies and my first time trying to teach people to read. Could it be a failure on my part?
I was part of a homeschool support group so I went to them for advice. Numerous times I was told by older moms that I trusted “Don’t worry. They will read when they are ready.” Likewise, their pediatrician was not concerned. Boys naturally mature later and it’s not unusual for boys to not read until 7 or 8. So from all sides I was being told to not stress over it. But my mother’s intuition was buzzing.
They turned 7, then 8. They are intelligent, have a huge vocabulary, excel in science and hands-on projects and love when I read to them. I got them access to books on tape through the library so they could listen to books whenever they wanted. I was losing my voice from reading out loud.
I still pushed reading. Not overwhelmingly, but I certainly didn’t let it drop. And they were finally picking up on things. I was feeling pretty good. Crisis averted and the advice given seemed to be true. Then I started noticing something weird. I would ask them to read a sign, read a menu, read a simple book. Sometimes it was right, sometimes it was wrong. They were breaking the words up like I taught them, they were sounding out letters like I taught them, but their conclusions were way off. Then it hit me! They were taking the first and last letters of the word, looking at the shape of the entire word, and guessing. What in the world was that?
Then I discovered dyslexia. I remember reading about signs and symptoms several years earlier but they were still too young and I didn’t really consider that as an answer. But that weird adaptation they created? I needed answers and when I need answers I go into research mode. I spent days on the internet and days at the library. At this point it was glaringly obvious. Out of a list of 100 symptoms of dyslexia, between the two of them, they covered about 98% of the list.
They also had most symptoms for dyscalculia (numbers) and dysgraphia (writing). This whole time I was working with them on math, spelling and handwriting. And having similar results as their reading. It all snapped together and it was both heartbreaking and a relief. I finally had a reason for their struggles. But also understood that this was something that they would not grow out of. That they would struggle with things that most people do effortlessly. That those people will never comprehend how hard they are trying to do something as simple as writing their names.
The boys also knew by now that they were not like their peers. Still homeschoolers, they were not subjected to peer pressure and being singled out at school. But that didn’t save them from low self esteem. I remember one day my son said “If I ever went to school, I would be the baddest kid there.” I responded “What do you mean? Would you get in trouble?” He said “No Mom, I would fail everything and never get it right.” He was 8 or 9. That sense of hopelessness in his voice and the conviction that they were never going to be able to learn brought me to tears.
They were 9, 10, 11 years old. I got certified to tutor them in an Orton-Gillingham reading program. I introduced tricks to help them in math and spelling. And that helped a bit.
All this time I was a wreck. I sobbed almost every day. Each math lesson was filled with tears for both me and my sons. Each reading session was filled with frustration. I remember literally crying on a friend’s shoulder for 2 hours. How are they going to succeed in the world as independent adults? How are they going to have careers? They can’t write, spell, read or do math. They are illiterate. Someone said that to me during this time and they are lucky they escaped with their lives. It was true, and yet not true. They were still extremely intelligent, well spoken and truly interesting people. This problem they had with learning did not define who they were.
Then a breakthrough! I had heard about a home therapy which was supposed to help with letter reversals. My boys had terrible reversal issues. Z, S, 2 and 5 were interchangeable. G and e were mixed. P, b, q and d. 3 and E. 6 and 9. Even 4 and H were confused. One son struggled to write his name correctly as it starts with J and he could not remember which direction the hook went. We did that therapy 6 days a week for one solid year. The only way to know if it was going to work was to truly implement it. And it did!! It was the first time that we were able to see some true progress in any area. I will say that the exercises solved about 90% of their reversals. A miracle, yet we worked diligently for a year to make that happen.
I got them professional tutoring, which helped a bit but not what we all expected. I got them officially diagnosed. I knew what was going on, and they knew, but maybe were were missing something. Nope, I was spot on. “Extreme dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia with slow processing. Average to above average intelligence.” Even though I knew what the psychologist was going to say, that meeting was devastating. Having it verified, having someone else voice my fears out loud, was crushing. The psychologist ended with giving me a few resources that were uninformed and outdated.
I read a book called The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide and that was when our attitude turned around. Finally! Something that offered hope my boys would be able to lead fulfilling and productive lives if they really wanted it. It pointed out all the strengths they have because of their unique brain structure. Things we had never noticed before. Incredible spatial skills. Big picture thinking. Visualization skills. I read them the book out loud so they could hear for themselves.
It was about this time (about 14-15 years old) that I started feeling like I couldn’t supply them with the schooling I felt they needed. It seemed they had stalled out. They were learning a ton by watching YouTube. Any questions about the Roman legions? They had the answer. How to build a smelting furnace? No problem. Alternative engines? Easy pease. But reading, writing and math were not progressing. I’ll be perfectly honest. I knew what they needed. They needed to be pushed. They needed to be challenged. And I couldn’t do it. I spent too many years seeing them struggle. I knew they worked 5x as hard as other kids to produce ⅕ the work. A math lesson that could be done in 15 minutes for an average learner took them 2 hours. My heart just couldn’t make them suffer anymore.
I was a committed homeschooler, but I always said that we would homeschool until it wasn’t working anymore. My boys were perfectly happy at home, but the schooling part just didn’t feel like it was doing them justice. I called our local high school to see what they would offer the boys. I was dumbfounded to hear that the boys would have to fail for a whole school year before they would even consider offering accommodations.
As it so often does, a door opened. Our state has what’s called Middle Colleges. A combination of high school and college. The boys could get a high school diploma from a public school, legally bound to offer accommodations, and they would earn an associate’s degree at the same time. Two years of free college? No brainer! I was pleasantly surprised when they accepted the neuro-educational assessment the boys had taken two years previously. They agreed to look at accomodations after a 4 week trial period.
Predictably, they failed in those 4 weeks. It was interesting to see what they struggled with by being in a classroom for the first time. Most of it we were ready for. Trouble with taking notes. Copying information off the board. Timed quizzes. But we also discovered some things that were unrecognized strengths. They had great memory and attention skills. They knew if words were spelled wrong or if the grammar in a sentence was incorrect. They already knew alternate ways of learning information that worked best for them. They were perfectly happy doing research on their own and didn’t bother with handouts, notes or textbooks.
The school was very good about offering accommodations to the boys, but it was their teachers that will forever hold special place in my heart. Unbelievably, just about every one of their teachers would evaluate assignments based on content, not the messy writing or atrocious spelling. They allowed assignments to be typed rather than handwritten in class. They would have my boys give verbal answers rather than requiring essays. One math teacher told them to do as many problems in the homework assignments as they could in one hour, rather than demanding all 20 be finished. I realize how rare this is and how incredibly blessed they were to have landed in such a supportive environment.
The boys are 20 now. They are still in school, finishing up their associate’s degrees in welding. They enjoy welding and are getting straight A’s in that program. The last English class they took (college level), they both walked out of there with A’s. I have no idea how that happened.
My boys are happy and have a very bright future doing something they enjoy. They have realistic plans for the future and are taking steps to reach their goals. They are hard working, interesting conversationalists and have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They still struggle signing their names. I pity any employer who asks them to fill out a handwritten job application. But all my worries, all my fears for them over the years, have melted. They are the bravest, most tenacious and hard working people I know.