My Story of Raising a Child with Dyslexia
Demystifying the early signs of Dyslexia is challenging and navigating treatment options can be overwhelming. As a parent of a dyslexic child and a psychologist, I know the challenges that are familiar among families raising a child with a learning disorder. Dyslexia is confusing, painful, hidden, and real. Through the lens of my journey raising my son, this post explores how awareness, resilience, creative responsiveness, and early interventions can make a huge difference in the life of a child with dyslexia.
Early Signs of Dyslexia
Our son had been already been identified with Child Find at 18 months for Sensory Processing Disorder and speech language delays. By the time he was 6 we had already received years of interventions from speech pathologists and occupational therapists. There was something else wrong that we were missing.
In pre-school, he was the child who never sang his ABC’s. In kindergarten, he never remembered the days of the week. And, by the time he was in first grade he told me he was “stupid”. Every day, after school, he brought home his “reader”. He was at level “C” but the other kids were at “J” and “K”. He said, “the other kids can do something I can’t, mom.” As a six-year-old boy, he was smart enough to know that something wasn’t right. I listened.
The Raw Truth about Parenting a Child with Dyslexia
We sat down side by side on the couch so he could read to me; that was his only first grade homework, 15 minutes of reading a day. But my son had stories to tell so I listened to those first and he closed his book. Then I would open his book and he would yawn and say he was tired or suddenly have so much energy he would jump off the couch and run around the living room. I corralled him back to the couch, “I want to read in my room, instead.” We get comfy upstairs but the avoidance behaviors continued. Then we would finally break down a word, “his,” “the,” or “what.” Success! However, the same word was on the next page and we would have to start over, every time. It was nearly impossible to remain patient. We would melt down in frustration, tears, and anger. Was he just being defiant? Couldn’t he just try a little harder? I had already been through early reading stages with my older child and it wasn’t like this.
Identifying and Demystifying Dyslexia
By mid-year of first grade we had my son tested by a neuropsychologist whose testing supported our experience. What I loved about having my child tested was the ability to see his strengths as well as his challenges. He is very smart, has visual-spatial strengths, has an extraordinary memory, and generally is a delight to be around. He has Dyslexia. He didn’t have the neurological capacity to develop meaning associated with the symbols that are the basis of letters, phonics, words, and language itself. Until this point, I had taken for granted how we learn to read.
Shortly after my son was given his diagnosis I sought out opportunities to educate myself as his parent. I heard Jonathan Mooney (author of The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal) speak about his journey from a dyslexic, 6th grade drop-out to international speaker and published author. I took my son to watch the movie “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia.” at a local sold out showing. We looked around the theater with over 500 attendees and I said, “All of these people are here because they either have dyslexia themselves or love someone that does.” After the movie, he turned to me with a big smile and said, “I’m not alone.”
Creative Responsiveness and the Power of Early Intervention
As a result of early intervention and a profound journey providing him social and emotional support, my son is currently completing 3rd grade and is reading at grade level. Here is what worked for us:
- I had to learn to be flexible and creative as his parent in order to support his learning. I have learned to trust my instincts as his mom.
- I understand that no one can learn when in fight/flight activation and that connection and calming down must precede schoolwork.
- I’ve had to educate myself in order to be an advocate for his learning needs with his school such as appropriate IEP services and classroom accommodations. We approach his school with gratitude for all that they can do and recognize that his classroom and special education teachers are caring human beings with real life constraints of high demand, limited supply, and limited budgets.
- In addition to school interventions, we chose to work with after school teachers and tutors to provide homework support and one-on-one direct instruction methods that are well researched for dyslexia. (This significantly reduced the homework struggles at home and improved the quality of our family time).
- Most importantly we found that teaming up with our child’s educators allowed them to connect to my son in a kind and compassionate manner and helped him to feel safe to learn at his own pace.
The “Gifts” of Dyslexia
There is a lot written about the “gifts” associated with dyslexia such as inherent right-brained, out-of-the-box thinking. While these traits will indeed allow him to bring his creativity into the world, in our experience thus far, the most valuable long-terms gifts are related to the development of strength of character such as:
- The recognition that not everything comes easy and that hard work pays off.
- That he learns differently than other children in his class and it is important accept who he is rather than compare himself to his peers.
- To focus on his strengths rather than his weaknesses
- To trust himself and his pace
While good grades in math or reading are important, the wisdom gained from facing learning obstacles builds a person capable of handling life’s challenges.
As a parent and a psychologist, it is a pleasure to support you to raise your child through his or her unique journey through the increased awareness, creative responsiveness, and early interventions that make the difference in the life of a child with dyslexia.
- Assessing and Treating Sensory Processing Disorder and other Related Diagnoses
- Parenting a child with Sensory Processing Disorder – My Story
- Raising the Highly Sensitive Child
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole. She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.