Today I’m sharing something written by a good homeschooling friend and teacher. Sarah Hopkins.
Hi! I’m Sara, and I have two girls. I was a teacher and loved my own school experience, but my husband did not. Long story short…we’re homeschooling and loving it! It’s given us the freedom we need as a family with his shift work schedule and my oldest daughter’s dyslexia. We are very eclectic homeschoolers. I don’t use just one curriculum and probably never will. I use a big variety and it’s always changing. I love family style learning and incorporate it as much as possible. I am so excited to walk with all of you on your own homeschooling journeys!
Dyslexia: My story. What every parent should know.
Let me start by saying that I hope you read this. Even if your child and family is not affected by dyslexia, you know someone who is. I guarantee it. Up to 20% of the population is dyslexic. I tend to be gentle in my posts. It’s my personality. But my mama bear is coming out in this post.
If there are reading struggles in your home, you are not alone. A good many of us successfully homeschool our children with learning differences. We are the ultimate IEP (Individualized Learning Plan).
What is dyslexia? First it is NOT… It is not seeing and writing backwards. It is not lack of intelligence. It is not a vision problem. It is not something that can be cured. It is not something that a child can outgrow. It is not caused by not reading enough to your child. It is not something that can be prevented. It is not just a reading disability.
It IS… It is a LANGUAGE learning difference marked by difficulty in reading, writing, spelling, and speaking. It is something that can affect all academic subjects, especially reading, and including math. It is often genetic. It is something that can be diagnosed as early as age 5. It is something that can be overcome. Dyslexics can be highly successful!
🚩In my story, I’m going to place a red flag after every time I mention, well, a red flag or symptom of dyslexia. 🚩
I knew something was different when my daughter was about three. She hit milestones late, but all were on the normal end of late, so we weren’t overly concerned. We read books often. She learned to push books to the couch while crawling, so that I’d read to her. But at age three, it was still difficult to understand her speech.🚩 Pronunciation wasn’t clear and she had a hard time expressing her thoughts and feelings cohesively. 🚩Words were mixed or always on the tip of her tongue, so to speak. 🚩 She couldn’t remember names of loved ones or common objects.🚩 Her pediatrician was not concerned. But at age 4, I had her evaluated by our local school district anyway. They said she was a delightful and intelligent child, but qualified her for speech services in our home. About age 5, when we had officially begun to homeschool, I expressed my concerns to her speech therapist about her not being able to learn sight words or consistently recognize numbers and letters. 🚩 No matter how often we tried to find “her E” in our environment, she couldn’t recognize it. The therapist was not concerned, and said she’d catch on. She’s smart, after all. About this same time, I noticed that she could not recognize rhyme. 🚩 We’d always done nursery rhymes during play, but I began to read silly poetry with emphasis on rhyme, hoping it would help. At age 6, she aged out of the home therapy services. I was becoming increasingly concerned by all the struggles we were having, so I signed up for a program at the Speech and Language Clinic at LSU. After another evaluation they said she’s a smart girl, but has deficiencies in language. They said let’s memorize these sight words and their spellings. This was a disaster. 🚩 She couldn’t, and they said we weren’t trying hard enough. They said maybe she has a hearing problem. They couldn’t find it. They dropped us from the program.
If you’re keeping track, we have seen at least six professionals at this point. NOT ONE SAID DYSLEXIA.
I asked in homeschool groups. Why are we having a hard time remembering letters and numbers? 🚩 She wants to learn. She loves books! Yesterday she read a sentnce beautifully, and today she stumbled on every word in the same sentence. 🚩 They said give her time. They said she’s just not ready. They said wait. They said it’d click. They said better late than early. It almost hurts me to type this paragraph, because I adore the homeschool community. I owe a lot to these lovely people. I am part of this group. But this one well meaning sentiment hurt us. A lot. It left me feeling alone, like I was doing something wrong by expressing concern, when I knew that I knew that I knew something was just not right. All my concerns were dismissed time and again.
MAMAS. You have intuition. Listen to it. Often times the public school expectations are not age appropriate, so it’s easy to say “wait” and “more time”. And in some cases, yes, that’s just what is needed. But there are many age appropriate milestones and skills that should be considered before falling on the “more time” answer.
Finally, when my daughter was 7, I met a fellow homeschool mom, who just so happened to be an SLP and reading interventionist. The wonderful Lucie agreed to look at the evaluations I had from our school district and LSU. I think she could tell I was at the end of my rope, and was so kind to take the time with me. After going through the mounds of paperwork, she said dyslexia. She said it. And I googled it. And suddenly ALL MADE SENSE. My daughter checked every box. All of them. I was able to get a formal diagnosis for my daughter at age 8 and barely at a kindergarten reading level. This is five full years and 6 professionals AFTER I first started to become concerned that something was not quite as it should be.
Listen. I have a Master degree in Elementary Education. My Master thesis was about helping struggling readers. I was ignorant to what dyslexia truly meant. I don’t blame a single one of the professionals or moms who dismissed my concerns. I know that they didn’t know. Of all people, I should have been able to recognize dyslexia in my own child, but I didn’t. What I did know is that she was not hitting age appropriate milestones and it was affecting her daily life. There is a huge lack of understanding about not only this learning difference, but all learning differences. It affects our children and it affects their lives into the future. I could go in depth about this, but I won’t, because it would take so much space here. Google dyslexia in prison. It’s a real societal issue. Anyway…
Our story has a happy ending. With some help, she was able to be taught in a way in which she could learn. If there are reading struggles in your home, I highly suggest an Orton Gillingham based program. This is one in which phonics is taught explicitly and is multi-sensory. (Barton, All About Reading, Logic of English) It is important to provide or seek out the right type of instruction. I once heard that a “typical” learner is like an automatic transmission, and a dyslexic is like a manual transmission. They can perform at the same level. But a manual can’t get to that level without someone physically shifting the gear, and don’t you dare skip a gear or there will be some stalling and jerking and harm done.
A step by step approach to reading, and not moving forward until ready, is what a dyslexic child needs to read at their full potential. It won’t just “click” because the elements that click to create a reader (phonemic awareness) are not present naturally. I have two daughters, and I can clearly see the differences in how they learned to read. My daughter with dyslexia never picked up on sounds, recognized the letters in her name, read incidental and common words in her environment, played rhyme games, etc. When my daughter without dyslexia was about 3, she drew a pig and said, “p-p-p PIG starts with P!” I did not teach her this. She literally taught herself how to spell and write her own name around age 4. She didn’t read well until she was almost 8, but she had all the “parts” needed to “click together” to be able to read as soon as she was ready. Overnight, she went from early readers to upper elementary level chapter books. There is a distinct difference in a child who is just not ready and for whom reading will click, and one who needs extra specialized instruction.
I love gentle and free learning. I do think we push children too early, in general. However, recognizing that a child is not learning and working to fix the problem is NOT pushing. My daughter was just a frustrated as I was. She wanted to read. She was beginning to feel down on herself, because she couldn’t. Having a diagnosis and a plan was freeing for both of us. We did work slowly, at her pace, and I followed her lead on how much to do each day, adjusting as needed. Around age 11, she began to really take off on her own with reading. Her most recent standardized test scores had her at grade level in reading. From age 8 to age 12, and with the right type of instruction, she went from kindergarten to 6th grade reading. This was not without hard work, but it was achieved!
Please take a second and look at this checklist I have linked. I said a child can be diagnosed at age 5. How? Because dyslexia is more than not just reading well. Reading struggles is just often the first huge red flag, but there are smaller red flags that can be recognized as early as age 3 or 4. Even if this is not something you struggle with in your own family, read it anyway. You know a child. You know a family. If any of this rings a bell, reach out. There are many of us who would be happy to support you with ideas and a listening ear.
Thank you for reading this far. I am now stepping off my soapbox.
Advocate for your kiddos!!