You sat in the psychologist’s office and she said the words you were dreading to hear… “Your daughter is dyslexic.” Your wonderful, smart kid has been labeled and it breaks your heart.
First, know these five things:
- It will be okay. You’re not the first person to head down this path and you won’t be the last. Many successful people struggled with dyslexia and your child is lucky, because you care and you will help her.
- Dyslexic brains work differently. That doesn’t mean she’s broken or that your child will struggle forever.
- You need a plan and you need to be your child’s advocate until she can learn, and have the confidence, to speak up for herself.
- Dyslexia is hard for kids – it impacts their confidence and can lead to their intelligence and potential being underestimated in school. You need to help fix this.
- There are many positive traits that having a dyslexic brain has given your child.
Dyslexia is Relatively Common
Dyslexia is more common than most people realize. Between 15% and 20% of the population struggles with it and the number could be higher since many schools are disincentivized to diagnose dyslexia. This means that in your child’s class of 20 kids, 4 could be dyslexic. Sadly, there is still a stigma to having what is viewed as a reading “disorder”, so you probably don’t even know these kids are dyslexic.
Having a dyslexic kid is kind of like when you buy a new car and suddenly you see that car all over the roads. Once you start talking about dyslexia, everyone you meet has, or has a close friend or family member who has, a dyslexic child.
One of the first things you’ll notice when you Google dyslexia is the large number of celebrities and business leaders who have come out in recent years talking about their struggles with dyslexia. A lot of them struggled because they didn’t know what was wrong with them – think Richard Branson and Charles Schwab. Your child already has a leg up on them because you are going to have a plan to help her starting when she’s young.
Dyslexic Brains Are Wired Differently
The brain structures of people with dyslexia are wired differently from non-dyslexics. It’s easier for those without dyslexia to recognize patterns when learning how to read. This does not mean that your child is doomed to a challenging academic career or that she cannot ever become a good reader. It means that the way that most kids learn how to read is not working for her. She needs a different strategy to end up in the same place as her peers. Will she always need accommodations? Perhaps, but if having a little more time on tests and being able to use audio books are the worst obstacles that our children face in their school years, we should consider ourselves, and them, very lucky.
You Are Now Your Child’s Advocate
You have to be your child’s biggest advocate. Start reading everything you can to educate yourself. A great first read is Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. Dr. Shaywitz runs the Yale Dyslexia Center which has some very good resources on it’s website http://dyslexia.yale.edu. My only issue with this book is that it approaches dyslexia as a learning disorder and a disadvantage, which I think is the wrong approach. Focusing on the positive aspects of dyslexia will provide you and your child with some much needed wins in the face of all of the challenges. The Dyslexic Advantage, by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide, takes a refreshing approach, focusing on the positive traits that go hand in hand with dyslexia.
Next, you need a plan. At the least, you mostly likely need a tutor to teach your child. Orton Gillingham (OG) is a widely used, very successful approach to teach dyslexic children to read. The tutor should have a good rapport with your child so she’s not miserable every time she has to go to tutoring. You will also need to talk to the school to ensure that any accommodations recommended by the psychologist are in place. This will embarrass many kids, but if they don’t take advantage of them (things like getting extra time on tests), they could lose the ability to utilize them in the future.
The Confidence Hit
All of this can be overwhelming for a child. There’s nothing wrong with easing her into the reality of the diagnosis. You don’t have to name it Day 1. You can tell her that her psychologist said she is smart but that her brain learns to read differently than the way that most schools teach reading. Over time, work your way up to putting a name on her reading problems. Helping your child “own” her dyslexia will ensure that she doesn’t view it as a flaw, but as a different way of learning, ensuring that she doesn’t feel badly about herself because of it. And the added benefit, a dyslexic kid who has to do two years of tutoring two days every week will eventually learn to put her shoulders back and own her way of thinking, she will learn that good things come to those who work hard, and she will learn to persevere when faced with challenges.
The Cool Things about a Dyslexic Brain
Believe it or not, dyslexia is not all bad. Dyslexics have certain strengths like seeing relationships and connections that others don’t see. If you’ve seen your child make a connection between seemingly unconnected ideas, you’ve seen this strength in action. Making the leap between a conversation you had with her about supply and demand to understanding how Disney can jack their ticket prices up so high is a pretty cool ability for an elementary school kid.
Try to recognize that the messiness and what often appears to be a scatterbrained existence is how your child learns. Some of what she comes up with might be really cool. After all, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell were dyslexic. The light bulb was a pretty good outcome for a child whose teachers thought he was “addled” and father thought he was “stupid”. Embrace the positive traits and let your child’s dyslexic brain shine!
Most importantly, take a breath and don’t freak out. You are traveling a well-worn path and there are people who can help you. You need to educate yourself, educate your child and find the amazing tutors and teachers who can help you navigate the next couple of years. Then focus on the cool stuff like the dumbwaiter invention your child makes with some string, a shoebox, and the stair railing.