Could it be Dyslexia?
We first noticed the problems in Kindergarten. Her handwriting was sloppy, often letters were reversed, she had a hard time copying work correctly and reading was hard for her. She was ambidexterious and could write with both of her hands without a problem. Often times, she would be writing with her right hand and without a thought, switch the pencil to her left hand and carry on writing. She could use scissors with either hand as well. I immediately began to question “could she have dyslexia?” but was told that it was just an age/stage issue, that she would outgrow it and that she simply needed more practice and time to master these areas. She was pulled out of the classroom twice a day for individualized reading and writing help.
At the end of Kindergarten, we had seen some progress with reading but very little with handwriting and reversing letters/numbers. We worked with her over the summer and she began 1st grade. The problems were all still there only this time, she was having trouble copying work from the chalkboard onto her paper correctly, she was behind in reading, and was still reversing letters/numbers on a regular basis. Again, she was pulled from class (now 3 times a day) for specialized reading/writing/math help. David & I wondered if she might have ADD and the thought of dyslexia still lingered in the back of my mind. We were told by the school counselor that she was too young to test for dyslexia and she didn’t have the “classic signs” of ADD. Most public schools discourage dyslexia testing before 3rd grade and we were encouraged to wait and see if our daughter would simply outgrow these issues.
In 2nd grade, the problems continued and our daughter’s attention span was so short and she was easily distracted. She was now sitting beside the teacher’s desk, away from the door and not facing the window and was still having trouble staying on task. In fact, one day during reading time the students were taking turns reading a paragraph each from a story. All the sudden, there was a great crash in the room. When the teacher looked over she saw that our daughter had fallen out of her desk, flipped the desk on its side in the process and spilled all of her books. When the teacher asked what happened our daughter said, “I was watching that red bird in the tree and fell out of my desk.” She also had no idea what page they were on in the story. At this point, she was very behind in reading comprehension, still reversing letters/numbers and developing further learning issues on what seemed to be an almost monthly basis.
By the end of the first six weeks of 2nd grade, her teacher suggested we have her tested (outside of the school system) for ADD and Dyslexia. Most public school systems don’t test children for dyslexia. They will test them but it is only to find out if they are eligible for special education services. It is not a specific test for dyslexia. As a mom, I wanted only the best for my daughter – for her to enjoy school the way I had and to have the best educational experience possible. If there was an issue, I wanted to know about it, learn all about it and solve it so that she could do better in school and not struggle at such an early age, much less in middle/high school.
We found a child psychologist who would test our daughter for not only ADD but an entire battery of possible learning disabilities including ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, processing defecits, nonverbal learning disabilities, etc. After our consultation with the psychologist, we learned that a child can be professionally diagnosed with dyslexia as early as 6 years old. There is no need to wait until 3rd grade (or a “magic age”) for testing. Our daughter underwent a series of testings and the results showed that she had ADD (Attention Defecit Disorder), Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is a learning disability that includes a wide range of math difficulty, which means that she may not understand the basic operations of addition/subtraction, complex problems such as multiplication, division and more abstract word problems. Because she may not understand basic math concepts she can’t build on them to master more complex problems.
Thankfully, we had a wonderful doctor who sat down with us and explained how we could best help our daughter to overcome these issues and how to work with her to help her learn in a way that her brain would understand, comprehend and retain. We needed her school to join us in this effort. We took the clinicial diagnosis back to her school and talked to the counselor and her teacher about getting her the help she would now need to learn. Sadly, most kids with Dyslexia are not severe enough to meet the school’s criteria and the legal definition of a learning disability. Such was the case with our daughter.
Despite her clinical diagnosis, she was not severe enough to warrant being placed in a special education classroom. We requested an IEP plan (Individualized Education Plan) that would allow our daughter to receive special accomodations in the classroom to specifically meet her learning needs. She was also still being pulled out of the classroom several times a day for individualized teaching in math/reading/writing. Despite their best efforts, the public school system was just not serving our daughter the way she needed to be receiving instruction.
From 2nd to 3rd grade, we watched our daughter’s self-esteem decrease, her confidence lessen with each day of school and she began to call herself “dumb” and “loser”. Peers in the classroom can be so cruel when a child is different as well and they would tell her “hurry up, we are all waiting for you to get done.” In 3rd grade, she began having an extremely hard time organizing her work/belongings. She was constantly losing papers at school, not turning in homework when it would be in her notebook/folder,etc. At the end of 3rd grade, David & I made the decision to bring our daughter out of the public school system and begin homeschooling. While some children with the same learning issues are able to function in a public school system, our daughter was not and she was falling further behind every year.
I once heard a saying that I will never forget: “Dyslexia is not a disease to have and be cured of. It is a kind of mind, very often a gifted mind.” Our daughter may not have been the best at writing, reading to comprehend or doing math problems but she has an amazing art talent, is gifted musically and has the most creative mind. She is so smart but in her own unique way. Her handwriting is a constant battle and while she can read fluently she still has trouble understanding what she has read and comprehending what she has read about. The beauty of homeschooling is that we can teach her in a way that her mind will understand and use various methods to help her learn. We often use manipulatives/drawings in math to help her grasp mathematical concepts. In reading, we will occasionally draw pictures to illustrate what she has read about. We can also spend a little extra time in an area she may be struggling with where in public school she would be forced to move on with the class regardless of if she understood that concept or not.
We have also been able to go back and re-teach some of those basic core concepts that she never grasped at early ages so that she understands them now and has an easier time building upon them. She still will reverse letters/numbers, she has difficulty with time concepts (months of the year, yesterday, tomorrow, etc). At times, I can see her “space out” and realize that she needs a little break to re-focus and get back on task. I can give her a 10-15 minute break and when its over, she can sit back at the table and be back on task ready to learn. She does grade level work but it is done in a way that meets her individual learning style.
If you suspect your child to have a learning disability, I highly encourage you to find a professional (outside of your school system) to test your child. Remember, most of these can be diagnosed as early as 6 years old so don’t buy into the “wait and see” game. Do your own research and learn all you can about the things your child is struggling with but most importantly, you have to be your child’s advocate. Nobody else is going to stand up for your child the way you will and nobody else cares about their education and character as much as you do. If your child does have a learning disability, remember that your influence on your child outweighs any other. If you take on the challenge of dyslexia with optimism, encouragement and maybe even a sense of humor, your child will too. You can help your child see the issues they face as a detour rather than a roadblock.