Most people know the word dyslexia, but few understand it. Diane Reott is one local parent who knows a great deal about it. She just wishes she had learned it earlier for the sake of her son.
People generally think dyslexia means switching letters or having difficulty learning to read. It is much more than that. Dyslexia is a genetic, language-based disability that affects not only reading, but also writing, spelling, handwriting, and the ability to express oneself, even in speaking.
When Reott’s son, Matt, entered kindergarten, he was bright and happy, able to recite his alphabet, had a great vocabulary, and his parents read to him every day. But he could not identify any letters.
The school told Reott what parents frequently hear: “He’s a boy; he will catch up.” In fact, dyslexic students do not “catch up.” Without early intervention, they fall further behind, and their self-esteem plummets. Matt was on that trajectory.
By the second semester of kindergarten, Reott requested that her son be tested by the school. The diagnosis came back as attention deficit disorder, for which the school developed an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Reott attended the IEP meeting, not really understanding but trusting all would be fine.
For the next five months, she reviewed sight words with Matt every day, but he made no progress. Both mother and son were confused and frustrated. She began begging him to “pay attention!” One day Matt looked at his mother with big tears rolling down his face and said, “I am the stupidest kid in the class.”
This happy, bright little boy had given up. Reott realized that something was really different in the way her son’s brain was seeing and hearing the words.
Matt eventually had further testing and was diagnosed with dyslexia. Today at age 17, while Matt’s learning issues are profound, he understands that dyslexics have other gifts and thinks of himself as intelligent and worthwhile.
If parents sense their child is struggling, they should familiarize themselves with the signs of dyslexia and act as their child’s advocate. As Reott learned, kids need early support for their learning challenges – by the end of kindergarten at the latest.
By preschool, the signs of dyslexia are clear. They include an inability to recognize letters and trouble learning common nursery rhymes. By kindergarten or first grade, signs include reading errors that show no connection to the sounds of the letters on the page (the child will say “puppy” when the written word is dog accompanied by a picture of a dog). Additional signs include an inability to read simple words such as “cat.” Even the ability to recall a new friend’s name is challenging.
If your child shows signs of dyslexia, especially if there is a family history of reading problems, here’s what you can do:
Take responsibility for your child’s education. Learn about dyslexia. Work with the school – but trust your own instincts.
Ask for regular meetings, about every two months, to review objective data on progress. If the instruction is ineffective, ask for changes in instruction.
Have a knowledgeable person accompany you to IEP meetings. Parents need to understand everything said in the meeting.
The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity offers a useful list of signs of dyslexia and other resources.