بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
By J. Samia Mair
“Mixes up letters b and d. Check. Replaces words in sentences. Check. Complains of headaches. Check. Trouble with spelling. Check. Trouble reading a word she just read. Check. …”
The list continues to apply, and I quickly call my husband at work.
“I think —– has dyslexia. I’m sending you the link to the website.”
After a short pause my husband says, “I think you’re right.”
I feel bad for two reasons. One is that I realize that my seven-year-old daughter is going to face some challenges. Two is that I feel terrible that I have been thinking that she was just being stubborn, purposefully difficult—another not-so-stellar mommy epiphany—I go into fix mode.
After an extensive search, including speaking with two nationally-acclaimed schools for dyslexia in our area, we settle on a specialist to evaluate our daughter. It is not cheap (to say the least), but we want the right diagnosis and have heard horror stories about the evaluations done by public schools. The results confirm what we had thought: our daughter has mild dyslexia. She scores within the top 2% in some areas and then much lower in other areas, but still within the average range. The discrepancy in her results is what supports the dyslexia diagnosis. But because she tests within average levels, even her lowest scores, she is not eligible for special education services in the public school. If she were in a public school, she would fall through the cracks—put in classes below her intellectual capability because they would not accommodate her learning style. Fortunately, we home school. I start to panic though, not feeling quite up to the task to teach a child that requires such a different approach.
We are also a family of book lovers—see my previous blogs: “Seeking Knowledge in Books” (posted October 21, 2014) and “Why Dads should Read to Kids at Night” (posted January 14, 2015). I worry that reading might become too frustrating for her and she will lose her love of books. And reading and comprehending well opens up many doors of knowledge and independence, and is essential for many classes and professions. I want her to have as many choices as she can with respect to her future.
We start with some specialized reading and spelling materials for dyslexic kids, and my daughter begins to read to me a chapter in a chapter book of her choosing most days of the week. She is not pleased. Her sister—her twin sister—is reading very thick books above their grade level on her own. Her sister has no regularly-scheduled mommy reading sessions. I get it. It’s hard to be having trouble in a subject when your twin sister is excelling at it. It’s also not so fun to struggle daily with slow improvement. I try to make it fun—she reads one chapter and I read the next. We sit on the couch comfortably. We have tea, sometimes sweets. She chooses the books. But nothing can hide the fact that she is way behind her sister and other friends and not improving as much as she would like.
A couple of months in she begs me to let her read on her own, without reading to me out loud. I tell her that she just isn’t ready yet, but by the end of the “school” year she might be. More time passes and she asks to read the very thick books that her sister and friends are reading—my heart aches for her, but again I tell her, “Not yet.” She bugs me, and bugs me, and bugs me some more about it. My husband and I decide to let her try it, but tell her we have to monitor her progress occasionally. She is thrilled. We go out, buy the book she wants, and she attempts to read it. It’s very challenging just to read the words. And because reading is so difficult, her comprehending is compromised. She isn’t understanding the story the first time through. She reads each page three, four, sometimes five times, but she reads with a smile. I admire her perseverance. Slowly by slowly her reading improves. Slowly by slowly we realize that the chapter books and reading- to-mommy are behind her.
Now I have to tell her to stop reading! If given the choice, I think she would read most of the day. She can crank through a 500-page book in a couple days if she wants to. Lots of kids with reading disabilities avoid books—so we are told—but clearly it doesn’t have to be the case with every child. Several factors, I believe, worked together that allowed our dyslexic child to overcome her challenges. First, long before her dyslexia was identified, she had developed a love of books. I read to my children. My husband read to them. We have filled bookcases all over the house. We visited libraries and bookstores. Books were always a part of her life and our family’s life. She had a great incentive to read well. We also identified her reading issues fairly early and got the right diagnosis. I was surprised to learn during the course of getting her evaluated that there are numerous different processes that could affect a child’s reading. Fortunately, she has a mild diagnosis and the prognosis is good. But I think perhaps the best thing we did was to trust her. She felt ready to move forward—a leap which we initially thought was too big to make, but she did what it took to accomplish her goals. I was at a lecture a while ago and I happened to meet a woman who was also dyslexic. She recommended the book, The Dyslexic Advantage. Just speaking with her made me rethink about my daughter’s “challenges”. My daughter will always have some issues related to dyslexia but we do not think she has a disability any more. In fact, my daughter’s mind works in amazing ways.
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s books, the most recent Zak and His Good Intentions (2014). She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, the magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.
© IIPH 2015