My husband and I always said our daughter had a style of her own. She's the 3-year-old who said "flutterby" instead of "butterfly," the 4-year-old who wrote her name backward, the 5-year-old kindergartner who could discuss current events but could not tell time, tie her shoes or rhyme. During those years, we didn't give it much thought. It was all part of the package that made her unique. After all, she was very bright, had a colorful personality and solid self-esteem. She was a gift to others.
Within six weeks of entering first grade, her packaging quickly began to unravel. Reading was very difficult, and there was nothing easy about writing. In fact, all tasks associated with language were arduous. As a former elementary school teacher with a master's degree, I found this quite troublesome. Homework was stressful and we spent seemingly endless hours trying to read the most basic three- and four-letter words on her weekly word lists. While she could talk up a storm on almost any subject, I could not read her written stories; her writing was illegible.
After three months of struggling, we knew something was very wrong. Previous tests had placed her in the gifted range, and she put forth more effort than any child I'd ever taught during my years in the classroom.
Her teacher's response was one of "wait and see." We heard it could be "developmental lag," as our daughter was one of the youngest in her class. It was even suggested that she might repeat first grade. We were urged to "work harder" at home. Our daughter's spirit quickly deflated. She had frequent stomachaches and she dreaded going to school. This was not acceptable. It became evident she was not going to get the help she needed in the classroom. Thus, we began our search.
A Mother's Quest
I enrolled myself in a phonics class for educators where I was taught a multi-sensory program for teaching reading and writing that was developed by a local teacher. I implemented this program at home and worked with my daughter for hours each night. I even went into her classroom and taught parts of the program to her classmates so she wouldn't feel so alone. It wasn't quick or easy. It was, however, fun and effective! She began to read words. She learned more easily and began to catch up with the others in her class. Her self-esteem was on the upswing, and we celebrated every success!
Second grade was delightful. She had a young, energetic teacher with a "hands-on" approach to learning. This was my daughter's style of learning! She was very motivated and fell in love with school again. Never mind all the letter reversals, misspelled words and problems memorizing math facts; she could read the basic primers. We did it. Or so we thought.
Third grade hit like a ton of bricks! More difficult vocabulary, additional math facts, cursive writing and longer spelling lists quickly lead to frustration. Within weeks, I called her teacher who responded, "I think she has some sort of processing problem." I'll never forget those words. Parental instinct had told me for years that something was just not right. Why hadn't I acted sooner? Here we were, two educators who could not put a finger on what it was. It was a mystery to us.
Uncovering the Secret
Calls to our pediatrician lead to an appointment with the neurology department at one of Cleveland's finest children's hospitals. Two long months later we finally had an explanation for why, with above average intelligence, she struggled so much. She was diagnosed dyslexic. What a great relief!
I could hardly wait to tell my daughter. After reading the few dyslexia fact sheets we were given, it was very clear. I sat her down and told her the good news. I explained that the reason she had specific struggles actually has a name: dyslexia.
She cried. To my surprise, not tears of joy but tears of sadness. She yelled. She was angry. I stumbled, as I was shocked by her responses. Her first words were, "Now I know I'm different!" Oh, she knew for years and I had just confirmed it with the doctor's report. I cried with her. I cried the pain of a parent seeing her child hurt so deeply and feeling so helpless. She continued, "It's not fair!" I knew I would do everything in my power to help make it easier for her.
A Turning Point
Upon getting the diagnosis, we immediately set out on a mission to learn all we could about all aspects of dyslexia. We headed off to our daughter's school to get some information about how best to meet our daughter's educational needs.
Hours spent on the phone with local agencies provided little help and confirmed the fact that there was no local group for children with dyslexia. It was evident that while information and support was abundant for many other disabilities, very little was being done to meet the needs of families living with dyslexia. Just getting information to educate us was difficult. We still needed to educate her teachers. This all seemed inconceivable to us, as conservative estimates indicate that approximately 15 percent of the population is dyslexic!
We turned our efforts elsewhere. We found comprehensive, up-to-date information online when we came across SchwabLearning.org. SchwabLearning armed me with the tools, support and resources I needed to become a better parent to my daughter with learning differences. SchwabLearning also provided me with the guidance, practical information and support I needed to become my daughter's best advocate and more easily navigate her journey with dyslexia.
Personal contacts were established within SchwabLearning, and I received a great deal of guidance from key individuals. They encouraged me to forge ahead and make a difference in my community.
That evening I approached my husband with the idea of opening a resource center offering materials and support to other families who were going through what we were. He agreed immediately, and together we started the Learning Brook, a not-for-profit organization based in Cleveland, Ohio, to help empower children with dyslexia and related learning differences.
A turning point for my daughter came when she decided to do a required three-month research project culminating with a 30-minute presentation on nothing other than dyslexia. As she began to better understand what dyslexia was, she felt much better. She was fascinated with what she was learning. Her embarrassment and nervousness were replaced with confidence and strength. She wanted to teach others, a true self-advocate. Her presentation was incredible and well received by her teachers and classmates.
The most important thing to come out of her independent study was her empowerment.
True to her dream, our daughter has started a "club" for kids with learning differences. She and I recently hosted the first "Saturday Social" for kids. The theme was "my gifts and talents." You see, my daughter has always been a gift to others. Her ribbons are once again brightly colored. As I looked around the center, her eyes and the eyes of her new friends shone so brightly and their smiles were huge.Online Resources
- www.SchwabLearning.org – A Web site that acts as a parent's guide for children with learning and attention problems. It provides research-based information and guidance on the academic, emotional and social needs of these children and offers practical strategies parents can use to help their child work effectively with schools and teachers.
- www.SparkTop.org – The first Web site created expressly for kids ages 8 to 12 with learning and attention problems. It offers a variety of activities, games and creative tools to help kids discover their unique way of learning and develop their strengths and self-esteem. SparkTop.org also provides a means for kids to express themselves and explore their interests, helping children feel positive about the fact that everyone's brain works (or "sparks") differently.