Extraordinary and Outstanding Points!
POSTED ON: December 6, 2021
“Oh, you are dyslexic. Why didn’t you get your son tested sooner?”
This was what I heard immediately after telling a teacher of my younger son’s dyslexia diagnosis and family history of dyslexia. Looking back, I’m sure her intentions were not to place blame, or maybe it was her way of deflecting her own guilt. Either way—at the time it was crushing. I couldn’t get to my car fast enough so I could let my tears flow freely. As this was a point in time where I was already beating myself up for not doing the “right things,” I felt like I was failing as a parent and I was pretty sure my son was about to face the same painful school experiences as I did.
Yes, I am dyslexic, and I can understand how a non-dyslexic would expect me to know what dyslexia looks like, the early signs, and even know what to do. But the truth is, I didn’t know! I didn’t know my own dyslexia, which kept me from identifying my childrens’ early signs and quite honestly made the journey to their diagnoses much more difficult and emotionally trying than it needed to be.
I am an undiagnosed dyslexic—labeled as a struggling student in middle school and placed in special education. Growing up in a family lacking financial means, getting a formal diagnosis was not an option. The way I see it, by not having a name for my struggles, there was no proper remediation, there was no knowledge around my learning difference, and no way to self-advocate. I was left believing my challenges with spelling, reading, and writing were a “me thing.”
I wasn’t smart.
I wasn’t capable.
I wasn’t good enough.
All I understood was I had a learning disability—emphasis on “disability.” I felt ashamed, limited, and believed the teasing from my school mates—those I called “friends,” must be true–I am dumb. This made my school experience extremely difficult and quite frankly traumatizing.
I know this is a complete downer, but this is exactly where my mind went every time I saw a hint of my own struggles in my boys.
My dad is severely dyslexic and I’m confident my mom was too. She died when I was 10 years old, but there is dyslexia on her side of the family and one wish she often expressed was for me to be better at reading, spelling, and writing than she had been. I clearly have a family history of dyslexia—it’s something that was never talked about and dyslexic fumbles were often laughed off or ignored. I never learned what it is and is not and most importantly, I was never properly equipped to navigate the challenges that come with dyslexia. I believed what I thought the world was telling me, which was not a positive or supportive message.
What I have learned is that there are common themes that anyone who suspects or is new to the world of dyslexia should be aware of and address to make sure a child is being properly supported.
1. KNOW FAMILY HISTORY
Take note if there is any family history of dyslexia. Knowing this gives a parent the upper hand to early identification.
Harrison is my youngest son, and the teacher asking me why I hadn’t had him tested previously, was his preschool teacher from the prior year—a playground conversation forever etched in my memories. This teacher suspected there was something more going on when Harrison struggled with his ABCs, colors, and shapes, and said, “you might want to get him checked out,” but also used phrases such as:
“He’s probably too young to get tested,”
“He’s strong in other areas, one day it can just all click—I’ve seen it before,”
“Let’s check in at the end of the year.”
To any parent, these are mixed messages, and believe me, I grabbed on to any sliver of hope that my children would not face the same challenges I did.
2. TAKE NOTE OF CONCERNS
If you think something is not as it should be, calmly start doing your research. Read and talk with others about what you observe. There is a fine line between ignoring signs and overreacting–take time to do a thorough evaluation of what you see so that you can communicate effectively to educational professionals.
As you read or listen on, you might think I have it all figured out—I do not!
What I do have is awareness, knowledge, and understanding that has equipped me to navigate through the challenges that often come with dyslexia, even though it took me until later in life to get there. In fact, I would even go as far as to say I was a hot mess!
Like so many parents who find themselves on this journey, there were a few years of that gut feeling indicating there was something more going on. But a lack of awareness–not only my own, but from those who we often depend upon to guide us or that we expect to have the answers—though most often well intentioned, can set parents on a path of wasted time frequently full of frustration, confusion, loneliness, and at times heartbreak.
Attending pre-school provides an opportunity for early identification and intervention for dyslexia and other learning differences, but not knowing the at-risk and early signs, opportunities are missed by parents and educators.
I have two sons, Marshall, 10 and Harrison, 8. If it wasn’t for Harrison’s more severe at-risk and early signs, Marshall’s more mild symptoms may have been identified much later when the focus would have been reactive versus proactive treatment approach. For more on this approach, see our post They’ll Catch Up.
Harrison early on—even before he entered preschool—presented signs. I second guessed myself, shushed my intuition, and continued to aimlessly lead my children down a path designed for children who fit into a certain box. Looking back—it‘s obvious to me now—a box not meant for them.
Even with additional instruction, time, and effort from their teachers, three years of speech therapy for Harrison and tutoring for both boys, situations kept popping up that screamed “there is something more going on.” Feedback from teachers reinforced my husband’s theory that our boys were just late bloomers—assumptions made and precious time lost.
At six, Harrison was entering kindergarten. He couldn’t identify letters or match them to their sounds, nor could he identify numbers, shapes, and colors. He struggled with pronouncing words and word retrieval. As a toddler, he had speech delays, substituting sounds in words, making it extremely difficult to understand him. He would often point at familiar objects rather than naming them. He’d get frustrated and emotional over not always being able to verbalize his needs or thoughts.
Now knowing the at-risk signs of dyslexia, including family history, Harrison basically checked every box.
3. KNOW THE AT RISK SIGNS
This opens an opportunity for your child to get the proper support so they don’t have to experience failure after failure before getting the help they need. Check out our Six-At-Risk Signs of Dyslexia printable.
On the other hand, Marshall (now in 4th grade) prior to kindergarten showed an interest in reading and could identify letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. He wasn’t just an early talker, he was a chatterbox and had what I believed was an advanced vocabulary. Honor roll here we come!
In kindergarten and 1st grade, he presented early signs of dyslexia. Marshall took longer to learn phonological awareness skills–compared to his peers, had weak decoding skills (reading), and struggled blending sounds and segmenting words. Even at the most basic level his reading was slow and laborious. He was working so hard you could see him visibly fatigue. I noticed he would recognize a word in one sentence and struggled with the same word in the next. He often couldn’t explain what he just read—all early signs of dyslexia.
That said, he still met expectations in most areas at school. An evaluation was never recommended, meaning no remediation or support services were implemented and he was left to struggle on his own.
4. DYSLEXIA LOOKS DIFFERENT FROM TO PERSON
Not every person with dyslexia will experience the same symptoms or severity. Marshall is a prime example of children who go undiagnosed but struggle their whole lives, often leaving an everlasting effect on their self-confidence and how they view themselves. If I hadn’t been insistent and proactive, this could have been his fate—one that I am all too familiar with.
Even though a diagnosis prior to the 3rd grade is considered early, Marshall’s unsupported struggles had already left a mark on his confidence and the way he viewed himself as a learner. Not to mention the impact of the anxiety he experienced. Marshall is a kid that enjoys going to school, but there was a time period prior to his diagnosis where there was a switch. Our morning commute was often full of tears and words that expressed he didn’t want to go to school. He also became a frequent visitor to the nurses office complaining of a stomach ache.
Now in the 4th grade, it’s been two years since his diagnosis and with all the support he has received at home and at school, he’s back to the kid that enjoys school. The way he views himself as a learner can be seen through the way he shows up at school. This note from his teacher says it all:
“I wanted to tell you how great Marshall is doing! He is kind, considerate, and helpful in class. He consistently works hard and gives his best effort. I’m so proud of his consistent hard work! He is an eager participant—today in math he shared his thinking and I was so impressed with the way he was thinking about and manipulating the numbers in his head! Great job, Marshall!”
I’m not here to discuss the lack of awareness in our educational system and education professionals, but I do want to share the role early identification played in my childrens’ lives and the impact it had on my dyslexic mindset.
Dyslexia is a lifetime condition, but what I’ve learned through my boy’s early diagnosis and intervention is that it does not need to be a life sentence of self-imposed limitations, self-doubt, and feeling less than.
There are two monumental differences between my boys’ dyslexia diagnoses and my journey with dyslexia
- Early intervention
- A supportive environment (home and school)
There is one thing essential to these differences—EARLY IDENTIFICATION.
Without it, the focus for Marshall and Harrison would have been reactive vs proactive treatment approach. Providing them with early intervention, they were taught in the way they learn–giving them the foundation of skills they need to thrive.
5. FOCUS ON WHAT IS WITHIN YOUR CONTROL
As parents, we don’t have control over what education professionals do or do not know. But we are not bystanders either. We have the choice to take charge and jump into the driver’s seat.
Getting proper support has been life changing for both my boys. Although the road will be long and at times hard, I’m not worried, I’m not scared, I’m not concerned about the impact dyslexia will have on my boys’ future.
Educating myself on what dyslexia is and, most crucially, what it’s not, has changed the path on which I lead my boys. I’m able to identify how dyslexia shows up in each of our lives and take the steps to properly support them. It has changed how I view my own challenges. It has changed my mindset on past struggles where I can look back and see I wasn’t supported the way I needed to be. My academic challenges were not a “me thing,” they were a dyslexia thing.
It’s been just over two years since my boys received their diagnoses, and we’ve already seen the benefits of early intervention.
Not long ago Harrison couldn’t identify letters and sounds, let alone even attempt to read words. This same child now volunteers to read in front of his peers. I would even say he likes to show off his abilities. Even though his reading is not perfect, he knows he is fully capable. He is more social and doesn’t shy away from completing work that challenges him. He is equipped to take challenges head on. This doesn’t mean he never experiences failure or frustration—they just don’t have the impact they once did.
Marshall is now reading at grade level. It may be the lower end, but nevertheless he has made strides and I couldn’t be any prouder of his effort and everything he has accomplished. He now works independently, which I was pretty sure would never happen. The biggest change is in his confidence in his abilities and to me that is the most important achievement!
Getting to this place–was all because of steps taken that were within my control.
6. BE EMPOWERED AND EMPOWER OTHERS
When my boys struggled to believe in themselves, it was one of the hardest aspects of being a parent. Seeing the hurt and defeat in their eyes was crushing, is something I will always remember, and is the driving force for making sure history doesn’t repeat itself. That pain was once my own and probably my parents’ as well.
By knowing and sharing the early at-risk and early signs of dyslexia, you can change lives and maybe even generations.
At some point I realized my boys’ journey with dyslexia didn’t have to be a repeat of my own. Acknowledgment, acceptance, and action brought empowerment. Coming to the realization that dyslexia is indeed a learning difference not a disability, not only changed my mindset about Marshall and Harrison’s dyslexia, but my own as well.
Labels are often seen as negative. A dyslexia diagnosis or identification should not come with shame or fear—it brings awareness; it brings hope; it brings empowerment through understanding. Without it, a child will not only have years of lost learning, they potentially lose the most crucial part of their success—believing in themselves because they label themselves based on what they think the world is telling them.
I see where my boys struggle, but I also see how their strengths outweigh any challenges. I never want to make them fit in a box that’s not meant for them. They are outside the box learners and were born to be extraordinary and outstanding!!!