You’re worried about your child because he is having trouble learning to read.
Your smart-as-a-whip child, who can carry on a conversation with any adult and create a masterpiece out of Legos without instructions or guidance, can’t figure out the words in his book.
Homework that takes most of the other kids fifteen minutes takes your child an hour. It’s often an agonizing, tear-filled sixty minutes, and you just want to scream.
So you’re worried. And you can tell that your child is worried, too. He is starting to complain that he doesn’t want to go to school.
What is wrong? You talk to your best friend, who tells you, “Don’t worry. He’ll catch up.” You talk to your child’s teacher, who says, “He is just a late bloomer. When he is ready, it will all just click.” She takes him aside to help him with his schoolwork.
That is not enough!
Your smart child may have an under-diagnosed reading problem that affects 15–20% of the population — dyslexia. That’s right; one out of every five people in the world has some form of dyslexia and struggles learning to read with traditional methods of teaching.
So that advice you’re hearing telling you to just wait and not worry is HOGWASH!
For most struggling readers, learning to read is not a question of being given more time. The theory of children being “late bloomers” with regard to reading has been disproven by research. Children who have difficulty when young will not just “catch up” on their own or with traditional methods of teaching.
Are You Noticing These Signs?
During preschool and into Kindergarten, children learn pre-reading skills that prepare them for learning to read.
These include (among others):
· letter knowledge — identifying the names of letters and their sounds; and
· phonemic awareness — the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds in words, and to recognize and say rhyming words
If your child has had opportunities and experiences around language to learn these readiness skills yet still has difficulty remembering letters or rhyming words, she may have dyslexia.
Dyslexia: Disability or Gift?
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that is characterized by problems with phonological processing skills. In layman’s terms, dyslexics have trouble with accurate and fluent word reading, spelling and decoding (sounding out words).
Functional MRIs show a difference between the brains of dyslexics and non-dyslexics. Simply put, the wiring in the brain for reading processes is different.
But while their reading skills are lacking, dyslexics excel in other areas. They are often creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. That may explain why 35% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic.
Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. As a matter of fact, some of the most brilliant people in the world are/were dyslexic, such as Albert Einstein, Steven Spielberg, and Bill Gates.
Many successful dyslexics have “come out of the closet” so to speak, to tell about their struggles. For many of them, the dyslexia was undiagnosed for a long time, which prolonged their difficulties.
What Do These Famous People Have in Common?
Steven Spielberg, famous producer, director and screenwriter, was interviewed on Good Morning America in 2012. He said his “inability to read, particularly in class, caused a lot of bullying and mean treatment” from his classmates, and his teachers called him lazy.
He dealt with it by making movies. “Goonies” got its inspiration from his experiences and those of his friends that also didn’t fit in in school.
Spielberg wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until the age of 60! For him, it was like “the last puzzle piece to a great mystery” that he kept to himself.
Anderson Cooper, journalist and CNN anchor, came from a family of avid readers where everyone carried a book around, so he did, too. But, in a speech he gave at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, he admitted,
“I would just pretend to read it, because I had trouble reading and making sense of words, in particular, letters.”
His dyslexia was diagnosed early on and he worked with a reading specialist several times a week. Cooper is grateful to her for her role in his career success. “It made all the difference in my life early on.”
I could go on and on with stories about famous dyslexics, because there are many. (Remember, 15–20% of the population is dyslexic!)
But instead, I want to tell you a story about Jake. He’s only nine, and he isn’t famous (yet). But his journey describes what it is like for many kids who are confused and struggling and needing to be understood and helped.
Jake: A Story of Hope
A few months ago, I got a call from Mary. Her son Jake (names changed) has had trouble learning to read since Kindergarten. Mary knew something was wrong then, but she was told (by almost everyone) to just wait and that Jake would catch up when he was “ready.”
So Mary waited, and Jake struggled.
He struggled in first grade, when he threw his book down and told Mary he couldn’t read. Mary wept in bed that night, praying that her sweet, smart little boy would catch on.
Jake’s struggles didn’t end in second grade or even in third. He got some help from the reading specialist, who took him out of his classroom to practice, but he still couldn’t figure out how the pieces fit together in the puzzle of reading and spelling.
Since Jake was smart, he learned to compensate for not being able to read. He memorized lots of words and worked for hours on homework that took his classmates only a short time. He didn’t want to disappoint his parents or his teacher, but he was getting tired and frustrated and wished he knew what was wrong with him.
In fourth grade, Mary was finally fed up and went looking outside of the school for help. She read about symptoms of dyslexia and was pretty sure that was Jake’s problem. She talked to Jake’s pediatrician, who gave her a referral for testing. Back at the school, she hit yet another roadblock when they told her they didn’t do testing for dyslexia.
So Mary took Jake to a neuropsychologist for an evaluation. And that confirmed what Mary had suspected since Kindergarten. Jake had a reading disorder that wasn’t going to resolve itself by waiting. Her Jake had an above average IQ but was dyslexic.
More research prompted Mary’s call to me. Now, finally, after years of waiting and struggling, and with the right instruction, Jake is learning to read and spell in a way that works for him. (More about that later.)
Mary tells me that Jake’s anxiety has eased. He is relieved to know that there is an explanation for his difficulties, and that he isn’t “dumb.” He knows that having dyslexia means he needs to learn in a different way.
The work has begun, and Jake is making progress. I’m confident that he will become a successful reader and regain his love of learning once more.
How to Save Your Child From Years of Struggling
The possibility that your child could have a reading problem may be surprising to you, even if you’ve heard of dyslexia. Your child is probably adept at speaking and carrying on conversations. She may display a sense of humor and intelligence and is a sponge soaking up new information she has learned.
We tend to equate the ability to learn to read with intelligence. And that is the misconception.
Smart kids can have trouble reading. Smart kids can have dyslexia.
Your pediatrician can refer you to a neuropsychologist that can provide a full evaluation. This will consist of an interview about medical, social, and family history, as well as educational and psychological assessments. With a proper diagnosis, recommendations can then be made for the best course of treatment for your child, whether it is dyslexia or another issue.
Consider this advice from two leading experts in the acquisition of reading:
“The idea of a ‘maturation lag’ is not supported by science. To the contrary, research has shown that if a child seems to be behind, it is critical that he receive help as soon as possible… I have yet to meet a family that feels they acted too soon.”— — Sally Shaywitz, neuroscientist and professor of pediatric neurology at Yale University and author of Overcoming Dyslexia
“The best solution to the problem of reading failure is… early identification and prevention.” — — Joseph Torgesen, Researcher and Professor of Psychology and Education, Florida State University
Now What? After the Diagnosis
Once your child finds out he is dyslexic, it is such a relief to him (and his parents) to find out that he can overcome his difficulty. The fact that his brain is wired differently means that he has to learn differently.
Your dyslexic child needs a special person that can skillfully transform him into a successful reader.
Whatever you do, don’t get help from anyone other than a trained professional. You’ll be wasting your child’s time.
Most tutors and classroom teachers and even some reading specialists do not have the right training and experience to effectively help dyslexic students.
Dyslexics require intervention that is multisensory, explicit, language based, and emotionally sound. The gold standard for effective treatment of dyslexia is the Orton-Gillingham (O-G) approach.
If you needed heart surgery, you’d want to be operated on by an experienced heart surgeon, not someone in training or someone that is a general practitioner, right?
Find someone who is a certified Orton-Gillingham (O-G) practitioner. They are the surgeons of reading and writing.
There are also some programs based on O-G, such as Wilson, Barton, and Lindamood Bell, that can be effective. The teacher must be properly trained and services should be provided one-to-one for optimal gain.
If you get the right help, your child will make progress. She’ll learn to read. He’ll be able to spell. Your heart will sing.
Your child’s self-esteem will go through the roof. And you’ll be crying — but this time they’ll be tears of joy.
If you want to learn more about dyslexia or Orton-Gillingham, check out my website at www.shapingreaders.com.
Do You Have a Story to Share?
If your child is dyslexic, I would love to hear about your experience getting him diagnosed and treated. Please share your story in the comments.Judy Packhem of www.shapingreaders.com is a reading specialist/ consultant and dyslexia therapist who holds certifications from both the International Dyslexia Association and the Academy of Orton-Gillingham. She tutors struggling readers of all ages in RI and Palm Beach County, FL. She also provides online tutoring for students who do not have access to local certified dyslexia practitioners.