Left public school for 3rd grade: flourishing in a special dyslexia program

In first grade, red flags began popping up in our son’s school life. Having just moved to Decatur from upstate New York, we thought the problems were probably due to the change of schools, particularly Decatur’s different approach to reading instruction.

But the reading problems persisted well into second grade—despite extra effort from classroom and support teachers; despite growing up in a language-rich environment; despite being read to every day; and despite additional work we did with our son at home.

It didn’t make sense. He was a bright, creative boy, a great storyteller with wonderful ideas and imagination. But he couldn’t learn to read. He was coming home exhausted and frustrated, thinking he was “dumb” and “stupid.”

We were lucky. My godmother, who teaches in New York public schools, asked her reading specialist about our son. He told her to do the following immediately:

1) Get us to read Overcoming Dyslexia;
2) Have our son evaluated thoroughly for a language-based learning disability; and
3) Begin interventions right away.

Why the rush?  Interventions are most effective before age 10, before children’s brains become “hardwired.” The older kids get, the more frustrated and defeated they become when they can’t read. They fall further and further behind, particularly in third grade when “learning to read” becomes “reading to learn.”

We did all the things recommended to us. Thank goodness! We learned our son has dyslexia. He needed intensive remediation and special instruction to teach him how to work independently and to manage his learning disability throughout his life.

Throughout the second grade the Decatur school strove to help our son, but it just wasn’t working. We learned how to advocate for a child in a public school and eventually got him an IEP, but it was clear that our son needed more specialized support than they were able to provide.

We are very fortunate that our son now attends the Atlanta Speech School. It’s transforming his life. We struggled mightily with the question of staying in Decatur schools, but feel confident that we made the best decision for him. Learning disabilities are complex. The unfortunate reality is that public schools have limited resources, especially in tough economic times, and particularly in small school districts.  And while our son is no longer in Decatur schools, we are committed to advocating for change so that all our city’s children have the support they need to learn to read.

Identified dyslexic in 3rd grade: where do we go from here?

I have two boys, seventh grade and third. The older boy took to reading like a duck to water. He chooses books by the inch just so they last longer. The younger boy had a hard time learning letters, sounds and sight words. He put in a lot effort but showed little progress. “Does he need to attend summer school? Repeat kindergarten?” I asked. “No.” So we started first grade. He continued to struggle. He could read the word “cow” on one page but not on the next. I was baffled! The teacher mentioned, “There’s a little warning light in my head.”

Over the years, I expressed concerns about my son’s reading. I heard, “He’s on grade level,” and, “there are other kids who are lower,” and once, “you’re not giving him enough credit.” By third grade, my math whiz couldn’t read his math problems (or his social studies test). I was convinced something was amiss, and his teacher agreed.

A friend loaned me a copy of Overcoming Dyslexia. AHA! We took our son for a psycho-educational evaluation. The evaluation documented “the hallmarks of dyslexia.” He had many strengths but showed weakness in phonics, decoding, spelling and processing. We took the evaluation results to school, thinking that the school would have a plan to get him on track. Well, they didn’t. Even though the school staff was willing to help, we weren’t convinced they had the resources to help dyslexic kids become independent learners. The remedial activities were too little, too late.

We hired a wonderful dyslexia tutor and began to see a difference; he was no longer so afraid to try. After much soul searching, and after considering the cost of tutoring for the next decade, we decided to send our son to a short-term private school that specializes in dyslexia remediation. We really wanted to stay in our community school, but we knew we had to build up his learning foundation as quickly as possible to get him on track.

Home-schooled 6th grader: a journey of discovery

Here’s a little about my journey with my only son, now twelve. He doesn’t fit neatly within a learning difference category. He got a solid start in a nurturing early-learning environment, followed by Kindergarten, with an additional year of K at a Decatur elementary. I was involved in the classroom and had a handle on the challenges my son was beginning to show.

Everything changed in first grade. Despite great teachers, my son was visibly disturbed about school. EveryDay Math was a disaster. In reading he missed easy words and correctly read much harder words. A hearing test showed perfect hearing. I requested an IEP. He seemed very bright and tested quite high—too high for help from “Special Needs.” Despite meetings with the school, we made no progress in changing the approach to his education. In frustration I took him out of school mid-year and started homeschooling as a transitional solution, trying to figure out, on my own, how to educate my child.

Homeschooling has opened doors to a journey of discovery! We’ve learned ways to overcome and accommodate for learning differences. We haven’t applied to private schools because we discovered the freedom to choose curriculum and techniques to meet my son’s varied needs.

Tests revealed a significant auditory disability, plus weakness in phonetics and writing. He seemed a verbatim match with the book Visual Spatial Learners, Upside Down Brilliance. Like us, most of our homeschool peers choose to homeschool because of a poor fit with schools, both public and private. At age twelve, my son is taking high-school geometry and earning very high scores in math at the Duke TIP program and on the ITBS. He’s in his fifth year of Latin. He loves standardized tests. He participates in fencing, choir, art and cello, all of which seem to help with his development. He struggles with writing, spelling and memory but is making progress in these areas.

I’ve discovered that kids with learning differences make progress asymmetrically and in leaps. It builds my son’s scholastic confidence when we pursue his strengths. We present the most difficult material and let him take his time through it. I’m learning every day! Just when I think that I can’t process any more information, I find areas for new inspiration. In the end, children are young for such a very short while…efforts to help them with their struggles are not in vain, but bring us closer during their brief childhood.

Hit the wall in 5th grade: relieved to finally know what’s wrong

My daughter is in 5th grade. Over the last five years, I’ve repeatedly said I think there’s something wrong, and have heard more than once that “her scores are not low enough” and her problems are not significant enough to warrant help. We were told in first-grade that she was ADHD, and although I didn’t believe this was her problem, we agreed to try medication. Her reading skills improved tremendously in the two weeks following, so we elected to keep her on the medication though I was uncomfortable with the decision. After a couple years on medication, her anxiety level reached a fever pitch and we decided to take her off the medication. I couldn’t believe how she blossomed—she once again became the happy, friendly, loving child she used to be. We are so happy to have our daughter “back” from medication.

I look back on the decision to medicate as one that sent us in the wrong direction, and helped mask the true problem of dyslexia. When I started doing research on dyslexia, I was astonished that no one saw this in her earlier. She has exhibited so many markers for dyslexia since she was three that I am stunned we have gotten this far without more help. She is smart enough to have compensated very well until now, but she has hit a wall in 5th grade. School is finally too hard for her.

While I’m sad that she’s already ten and the “window” of remediation is fast closing, I am relieved to put a name to her problems, and I have great hope that we’ll be able to help her recover all those lost years. I know she has great potential and I am pouring my heart and soul (and wallet!) into helping her get there.

Teacher’s daughter struggles with reading

My daughter started school in a large urban public school district. In kindergarten I noticed my daughter had a lot of trouble with sight words, didn’t blend sounds, and had a lot of reversals in her writing. The teachers told me nothing was wrong and I just needed to spend more time reading with her. A list of sight words brought tears to my daughter’s eyes and trying to get her to read was a nightmare. She loved listening to me read stories, but detested reading and writing on her own. Homework was a constant struggle. She’s a summer birthday so the teachers thought she just needed more time to grasp reading.

In first grade, my daughter had a teacher who thought yelling, humiliation, and intimidation were good methods for classroom management. My daughter qualified for extra reading help with the Early Intervention Plan, working with remediation teachers in small groups. When I asked about private tutoring, the teacher with 30 plus years of experience told me that the extra work would overwhelm her and I just needed to read with her more at home. I asked the EIP teacher if she noticed any traits of dyslexia, and she said my daughter just needed to work on her reading more.

I began taking Orton-Gillingham classes. Working with a diagnosed dyslexic, I knew that my daughter had mild–moderate case of dyslexia. My friend began to tutor my daughter, giving her the tools to begin to learn how to read and spell. Her interaction with the tutor gave her the positive feedback she wasn’t getting from her classroom teacher.

As I began networking with other parents of dyslexics, public school teachers, and private school teachers, I learned that dyslexia simply doesn’t exist in some public school systems because they don’t have adequate resources to address this learning difference.

I met parents who had hired advocates and attorneys just so their child’s IEP plan could be implemented and when a dyslexic child’s learning needs could not be met, parents needed an attorney to help them get their child placed at private schools that specialize in remediating dyslexia. In my OG class I learned from public school teachers that they weren’t allowed to recommend private tutoring to parents because the school could be required to pay for any intervention that they recommended.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bashing public schools in general. I’m a former public school teacher, and I know many talented professional teachers who inspire children to have a lifelong love of learning each day. It’s very tricky for a parent of a dyslexic to navigate a path for her child in a school system that does not even formally recognize dyslexia.

Sadly, most educators have very little knowledge of dyslexia. I personally don’t ever recall reading about it during my graduate studies. When a bright child isn’t reading or writing on grade level, he or she is often viewed as lacking motivation.

As for my daughter, with the tutor she continued to make steady progress throughout the school year but was still considered below grade level in reading. We decided that a small private school would provide a better learning environment for my super-sensitive girl who had pretty much shut down in first grade. When I learned that the teaching team completed “Recipe for Reading” training and used multi-sensory methods along with OG spelling rules, decoding, and syllable division, I knew it would be the best option for her. Many of the teachers and student support team members have some form of OG training to work with struggling readers in small groups. My daughter is much happier at her new school and her reading has improved by leaps and bounds.