As a young single mom, I was a coach, cheerleader, chef, comedian, and tutor to my son.
I could handle just about anything.
Except for the homework.
When it came to homework I barked out commands and expected my 6-year-old to hit the mark. After all, I had been told by teachers he wasn't working hard enough.
But despite my efforts, his grades continued to slip and so did his self-esteem.
Do you want to guess what I did next?
I pushed him harder. There were tears and feelings of frustration, anger, and hopelessness for both of us. I realized he was working harder than most children and still not passing tests.
I realize now how that focus of mine — that for him to be successful he must pass tests — was so misguided.
Getting a diagnosis
I started to see a pattern with him when he was reading, writing, and spelling. He was transposing letters, which can be common with young children.
But after studying for a short time, the words became more jumbled up, not less. He made unusual word replacements. The sounds of letters didn't seem to make sense to him.
It was time to request testing so I could understand how to help my son, instead of pushing him with tactics that clearly weren't doing anything but causing us both anxiety.
That was when I also made an important decision: A grade on a test or report card would not define my son.
My suspicions were confirmed when my son was diagnosed with dyslexia. I went to every workshop, started implementing new strategies and was his fiercest advocate.
I can't say that any of this made things easy because, honestly, it was so hard.
But I wasn't powerless anymore.
Remember, as a parent, you have a right to have your child tested or evaluated. You can make this request to your child's school.
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What is dyslexia?
Reading is complex. It requires our brains to connect letters to sounds, put those sounds in the right order, and pull the words together into sentences and paragraphs we can read and comprehend.
People with dyslexia have trouble matching the letters they see on the page with the sounds those letters and combinations of letters make, as reported by The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity. And when they have trouble with that step? All the other steps are harder.
Dyslexic children and adults struggle to read fluently, spell words correctly, and learn a second language, among other challenges.
But these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence.
Dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.
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How can you support your dyslexic child?
What I discovered was that while reading is a critical skill, self-esteem is more important. When my son couldn't perform in school like the other children, he felt defeated and stupid. He had few friends. He wasn't allowed to participate in extracurricular activities such as choir because he had to maintain an A/B average to do so. He became isolated and alone until we requested testing.
Once the testing was complete, a 504 Plan was written. A 504 plan is an individualized plan schools put in place to give kids with disabilities the support they need.
Our 504 Plan is a guide for teachers to understand my child better. It includes strategies on how best to teach him. Our 504 Plan also includes accommodations such as additional time for tests if needed and allows for extracurricular activities, even if he doesn't maintain the required GPA (it meant my son got to join the choir).
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If you suspect your child might be dyslexic, here are some steps to take:
1. Get your child tested.
2. Recognize their strengths and accomplishments. Here are ten things you can do to help your child.
4. Work closely with your child's teacher. Your child's teacher should be a resource. The teacher, like you, wants your child to be successful.
5. Advocate for the right accommodations for your child. For example, for a child with dyslexia, a creative writing assignment can be graded on content rather than spelling.
6. Have re-evaluations done as needed.
Experts are still learning about dyslexia, and advancements are still being made. For instance, a Dutch designer, Christian Boer, developed a font for dyslexic readers. It is dark blue, letters are slanted differently, and the lines of the letters are weighted in different areas. Additionally, the letters are spaced further apart. Mr. Boer, who is dyslexic, claims the font — which he calls OpenDyslexic — is much easier for him to read.
While this font is not new, I hadn't heard of it until recently when it was shared with me by a special education teacher.
Does it work? My thought — it never hurts to try.
Missy Robertson is the publisher of Macaroni KID Monroe-West Monroe, La.