From the time Emma was very little, Matt and I knew she was different. There was nothing we could put our finger on, it was mostly just a feeling that we both had. A feeling that she was special. Even as an infant we both had very tender and protective feelings for her even though there was nothing to warrant those feelings. She grew and developed normally, with the exception that she seemed to get sick more often than usual. Not just mildly ill, but really sick. What would give Lucy a stuffy nose or a sore throat would make Emma throw up for days. It was heartbreaking watching her wither away before our eyes only to bounce back once she could eat again. I talked to her doctors and they would just tell me to keep an eye on it. She also started talking a little later than what you would expect. It wasn’t too bad, not even enough to be considered “late”. Once she did start talking we could tell she was trying, but it wasn’t until she was after she was two years old that we could understand her consistently.
By the time she was school age the illnesses seemed to level out and she wasn’t affected so badly anymore. By then we had already started homeschooling and I remember saying more than once that one of the benefits of our decision was that Emma would be easily labeled a “problem child” if she were in public school. She wasn’t disobedient at all, in fact, she was unusually compassionate and thoughtful. While for the most part she seemed perfectly normal, there were times when she was just “in her own little world” so to speak. Even now, nearly eight years old, the only thing that seems “uncommon” is her innocence and joy for life.
By the time she turned 5 I started her with math and reading. It did not go well. After a few weeks of trying and failing to make any progress I decided to put off formally starting her with school for another year (she wouldn’t officially be able to start public school until the next year anyway because of her late November birthday). Emma just needed a little more time and that was OK. Everyone develops at their own rate and it does no one any good to try and rush things along.
The next year rolled around and as we started again and we officially started “kindergarden”. At age six, Emma did much better with math this time, especially once we switched from Saxon to Math-U-See (we switched to cater to Emma. She was much more of a hand’s on learner than Lucy, who can pretty much learn from anything), but we still saw very little progress with Emma in reading. We tried so many different things. Now I’m Reading books, 100 EZ Lessons, Happy Phonics. Nothing worked well, but again, everyone develops at different rates and I didn’t sweat it too much. As we did our other subjects we would reenforce the concepts that had stuck and keep trying to add more. She also worked on handwriting (copy work, no problems there) and her dexterity.
1st grade and 7 years old. Now was the time. We can do this! Seven years old is old enough. She had plugged along happily and easily with math, if she could be far ahead of her peers in math, she could learn how to read! She was so close already. She would try and write things and while her spelling was what you would expect from a non-reader, it was clear she knew her letters and she knew her phonics. But, there is only so much you can do with a non-reader for a student. Pictures and drawings can only get you so far. She needed to learn how to read. She was ready.
We started again with 100 EZ lessons. We got about to lesson 40 and hit a wall, so we made a deal with her. Matt and I had already purchased an American Girl doll for her eighth birthday (the doll she wanted was being retired). If she could finish the yellow book and the current year she was working on with her math, she could get her doll early. Every once in a while whenever she needed a little motivation I would take Elizabeth down off of the shelf and she could look at her and hold her in the box. Over the course of the year she worked hard and pushed through to around lesson 85. There was no amount of bribery or other motivation to get her through that lesson. We would take a break. No use. Then, inexplicably, she started to regress. All of a sudden she couldn’t read things that she had been able to before. Not only that, but if the same words she had just read in the yellow book were in a different book, she couldn’t read them at all. After several weeks of stagnation I decided to back off again. We went back to lesson 4o, which was the farthest lesson she could easily do and we started again from there.
Knowing this little girl and her love for books since toddlerhood and watching her become increasingly frustrated with her inability to be independent with them was heartbreaking. Slowly I watched her slide from someone who was excited about the prospect and being “a Wilson who could do hard things” to being a girl with no self-confidence in this subject. She stopped even trying.
Lucy had learned to read while she was in public school. By the time I brought her home all that was required was a little refinement and practice. So I started doing the things we did with Lucy to help Emma along. I got out the Book of Mormon and started with 1 Nephi 1:1 , it had worked so well to get her sister up to speed. On day 1 of this school year the goal was the entire verse by the end of the day, then half of the verse. Then a third. By the time we got to the end of the day Emma and I literally spent hours on working out just the first few sentences of that verse. We finally got through the first little bit and I asked her to read it again to me for practice so she could show Dad when he got home. It was as though she had never seen those words before in her life. We had spent hours going over and over these words, sounding them out, talking about their meaning, talking about what compound words were and sounding them out again only to be back to square one in a matter of a few seconds. Later that day I let Emma use the iPad to play Reading Eggs since I had bought her a subscription in addition to Spencer (reenforce with games right?). I came back to check on her after a few minutes only to find her in tears because of the game she couldn’t do (a game she had already succeeded with before.) You can imagine what this process has done for our mother-daughter relationship.
She was done. I was done. I sent the kids off to play for quiet time while I had myself a good cry (every pregnant woman needs a good cry now and then right?) I was doing something wrong. She was trying so hard but something I was doing was keeping her from reading. Like I said before, Lucy learned in public school, so this was my first attempt at teaching a child how to read. This is beyond “in her own little world” sometimes and it had something to do with what I was doing. I said a tearful prayer then I googled “my 2nd grader can’t read”.
In a very short amount of time I found the quote “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing it is stupid.” Albert Einstein said that.
Albert Einstein was dyslexic.
Before I go any further, the most I knew or had heard about dyslexia was “it makes the words look backwards” or “they mix up b’s and d’s”. Never once did I hear that it might keep a child from learning to read at all. I also know that there are quite a few people who think that it isn’t real. They think that learning how to read is only a matter of using the right method or maybe your child is a “late bloomer” and you just need to wait another year or two. I never thought that dyslexia wasn’t real, it just wasn’t on my radar at all. However I did used to think that depression wasn’t real until I found myself struggling with it myself.
I have since learned not to judge the struggles other people have. I don’t know the storms that the Lord has had others walk through. I’m not perfect, I still judge a lot, but I’m working on it.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled post. It’s been four days since I was led to this path for Emma, and even now I still cry with relief now that I know what is going on. I listened to lectures on dyslexia by Susan Barton for several hours while I worked in the kitchen and did other chores. I listened to Susan Barton and I read everything on her website that I could to help me understand what dyslexia was, what were the symptoms and how to overcome it.
Here are a few things that I learned:
- Dyslexia is not a reading issue. It is a language processing issue.
- Generally teachers send kids to the doctor to be tested, doctors say it’s a teacher issue and that you can’t medically test for it. I have not had Emma “tested” beyond a free online screening. I have known Emma’s struggles long enough to know when something is off and my own personal “diagnosis” is perfectly enough for me. Since it’s not considered a medical issue having an “official” diagnosis will not help me with getting my insurance to pay for curriculum or anything like that. I’m not going to waist my time, nor am I going to waste hundreds or thousands of dollars to get her professionally screened. None of that will change the outcome nor will it change what I need to do as a mother/teacher.
- They say you can’t test for dyslexia until third grade and that most people who have it don’t have it severe enough to qualify for special accommodations or training.
- Not everyone with a symptom or two has it. Almost everyone experience one or two of the symptoms of dyslexia, yet only 20% of the population actually have it. I’m not worried about Lucy even though she is a horrible speller and sometimes says “mazagine”, nor am I worried about Spencer (yet) even though he mixes up his b’s and d’s (a problem every child who has ever learned to write has had). Think about it a little harder once you hit three or more symptoms. Obviously the more symptoms, the more profound the case.
- It is generally hereditary. Susan specifically said, “if you have it, you can count on at least half of your kids having it in some degree”. After hearing this I was a bit confused. I was not dyslexic, neither was Matt. Then she said “this is what mild dyslexia looks like in a teenager or adult”; she then gave a list of things that made me feel like I’ve had a microscope all over me during my high school years. Among other thing she mentioned someone who is extremely uncomfortable reading out loud around other adults. That is something that I have always struggled with that no amount of practice can seem to help me over come (I mentioned this little idiosyncrasy of mine to you in jest during my review of Liberty Lee’s Tail of Independence.) There were several things she said that didn’t apply to me, but dyslexia looks different on everyone and not all symptoms apply to every person who has it. For example, I have no discomfort at all writing as long as I have a spell checker. Oh yeah, people with dyslexia are chronically bad spellers. So here I am, a straight C student who can’t read out loud, has to read new concepts and material several times before I can understand it, slow reader, often substitutes similar looking words even though it may change the context of the sentence, horrible speller, poor and inconsistent penmanship especially cursive, poor long division skills, can’t memorize my multiplication tables (I can do it, I just have to figure it out instead of just memorizing it), poor organizational skills (not for lack of trying), and I have a hard time reading small print on white paper (the words shimmer, I often zoom in on my computer screen to read). I guess we know who she gets it from! Matt comes home Monday evening and I get as far as “I think Emma has dyslexia” and he nods his head and says. “That makes sense. I have dyslexia.” Yes, my straight A, valedictorian, could be a professional audiobook reader, has better handwriting than I do, artistic, musical, curious, mechanical and genius of a husband is also mildly dyslexic. Basically, as a teenager and adult, I embodied almost every symptom of someone with a mild case of dyslexia and my husband embodies all of the strengths. How did I not know this about him?! That poor girl never had a chance.
- Children with dyslexia are late talkers and sometimes don’t talk until they are three years old or later. FYI, Jack is over two and only says three distinct words (“Dad” or “Daddy”, “Mom” which sounds like “Bob” and “Hi” or Hello”). He is practically perfect in every other way, understands everything just fine and will almost always do what is asked of him. He will mimic animal sounds and will occasionally mimic human sounds but whenever he is asked to repeat a specific word it always comes out “da” (except for the three words he already says.) It’s actually very cute listening to him pray (a da, a diga da, da, a da.)
- They often have chronic ear infections. Now as far as I know, none of my children have ever had chronic ear infections (or any ear infections at all until the age of 8) but I already told you about how sick she used to get when she was little. I’m sure it has just manifest itself with her in a different way.
- Mixing up sounds in multi-syllabic words: For example, aminal for animal, bisghetti for spaghetti, hekalopter for helicopter, hangaberg for hamburger, mazageen for magazine, etc. Now all of my kids have had this to a certain extent. I don’t know of a single child who hasn’t. But it usually corrects itself as they get older. Emma doesn’t seem to hear the difference between the right and wrong way to say it. To be fair, I don’t think I will ever be able to say “nuclear” the right way unless I say it slowly :)
- Stuttering. It’s mild, but it’s there.
- Can’t master tying her shoes. You wouldn’t believe the concentration it takes for her to tie her shoes. It’s been a long time since she learned and it still isn’t an automatic movement for her.
- Confusion over left versus right, over versus under, before versus after, and other directionality words and concepts. This is another big one for me. It’s so bad that if I say “right”, Matt will just assume I meant “left” since more often than not, I did. I know my right hand, so if I have enough time to think about it and am able to physically lift my right hand and point right, then I will be able to give the correct direction. Maps are a nightmare for me.
- Late to establish a dominant hand. Sometimes they never do or have one dominant hand for one thing and use the other for another thing. This doesn’t apply to me but Matt said his dad uses one hand for writing and the other for athletics and if I remember correctly my dad is the same and I think my mom is ambidextrous as well (or a lefty, I can’t remember).
- Artistic ability. Something Matt and I have often commented about with Emma and how for a while she was better at drawing than her older sister.
- Musical ability
- Mechanical ability. There is nothing my Matt can’t fix. He has replaced almost everything on our various cars and I have long since stopped asking him if, even though he’s never read any directions, he will be able to put something back together once he has taken it apart. I’m starting to be more mechanically minded myself.
- 3-D visual-spatial skills. See mechanical ability ;) But this would also include why reading is difficult. The printed word is 2D. Reading music is also difficult (something Matt specifically said he has a problem with).
- Vivid Imagination. Oh how I wish Emma would ask me why the sky is blue. You wouldn’t believe the some of the questions that come out of her mouth. There is just no way to answer some of them!
- Excellent intuition and people skills
- Curiosity. This is one strength that I am pleased to say I have developed over the last few years. As a high schooler and young adult I was curious about nothing. I just did was I was told and what I was supposed to and didn’t care to learn anything beyond that. This was something about me that frustrated Matt to no end, but since I started homeschooling I have started to be curious again. Add curiosity and my increasing mechanical ability to my “dangerous self-confidence” and you’ve got a pretty exciting lady to be around :)
- Logical. This would be why I can’t seem to memorize my multiplication tables and it’s easier for me just to figure them out. Learning something just for the sake of knowing it isn’t enough. I need to know why and how. I also have noticed that when Matt studies things he has to memorize he always needs to come up with some sort of association so make it logical in his mind.
- Good careers for people with dyslexia include:
- interior or exterior design
- marketing and sales
- culinary arts
- performing arts
- scientific research
- graphic arts
- Only 13% of the general population has dyslexia but 50% of people who have dyslexia are left handed.
If you have stuck with me this long, I applaud your patience and clearly you don’t have ADD, which can occasionally accompany dyslexia ;)
Now this is not at all to say that every child who struggles to read has dyslexia. Sometimes they do just need to wait another year. You know your own child best. If your four year old is struggling, then maybe you just weren’t meant to be a homeschool mom with a four year old who could read Shakespeare. I know we all want that, but it’s rare and the child who reads at four will read at four regardless of what mom does (I had a neighbor in Seattle with a three year old who could read. He taught himself and she didn’t do a thing.) Most of our kids will learn at five our six. Some even later. If you don’t have any suspicions or worries about your child then please don’t take this as a rebuke or in any way think that I am suggesting something is wrong. I only know my own daughter and we have both watched and suspected “something was off” since she was an infant. Call it a parent’s intuition.
I have a brother with Aspergers Syndrome. My mom knew something was different with him since he was an infant and he was an adult before my parents had a name to put with it. Aspergers is on the very mild end of the Autism spectrum. Mild as it is, his case is comparatively severe. It will come as no surprise now when I tell you that with every single pregnancy I am a little scared. I’m sure that every expectant mom feels this way to a certain extent. For me it is a constant fear that lifts only when my child reaches the age of three. At every developmental stage of every child I rack my brain to remember what my mom had told me about William when he was that age. I also watch carefully for regression or any other symptoms that have been said to accompany autism. If something like that is an issue, I want to be aware of it as early as possible so we can do what we can as a family to help them overcome any weaknesses they can. This is a fear/desire that Matt and I share and we have had no small amount of discussion over Jack’s lack of discernible speech. I’m not trying to say in any way that a child with a disability would be unwanted or unloved in our home. Quite the opposite, I would feel quite honored (though admittedly overwhelmed) that the Lord would have trusted one of His choice children within my care. It’s the knowing something is off but not knowing what. Nor am I trying to minimize mothers who have been blessed with those choice children. They have so much more work to do than I do and I admire them. I’m just trying to be honest with my thoughts and feelings.
Starting about three years ago, Matt and I would talk to each other about maybe getting her tested. Like I said, nothing I could put my finger on, just a feeling we had. She hadn’t met any of the Autistic or Aspergers criteria that we knew of. I would hear about kids with auditory sensitivity and that would sound almost, but not quite right. I would mention it to doctors and they would suggest testing her, but we never did. What on earth would we test for? They don’t have tests for “space case” or “flaky kid”. I knew that anything they could tell me would involve ADD or ADHD, which I knew wasn’t the problem and that any solutions would include medication, something I am not inclined to do.
I tried to tell myself that she would grow out of it and that she is just a late bloomer or “a young seven year old”. But it all came to a head on Monday. I can’t tell you my relief to know what the “problem” is now. Not only is it nice to have a name to go with it, but also to know it’s not something more serious. Now that we have a name we can start to address it and cater to her needs even better, hopefully in the process I will become more equipped to handle the more severe case I suspect is on it’s way with Jack.
Finally I had a name. Now what to do about it? In every article I read I heard about how the “Orton-Gillingham” method and how that is the best method for moderate to severe dyslexia (Emma’s is not a mild case). Phonics is great, but it can only take you so far with these kids. They can’t make the leap between sounding things out to actually reading, especially because so much of the English language doesn’t follow the phonics rules. This is exactly what I had experienced with Emma.
As I researched Orton-Gillingham my relief turned to despair. Everything I found cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars and hours and hours of training for the teacher. I could find nothing beyond regular phonics for homeschooling moms. Everything seemed to point to a private tutor, something that, even if I had wanted to turn this over to someone else, wouldn’t be anywhere near within our budget. I finally found a 20 minute demo of one of the leading programs and started to watch it. Five minutes in I cocked my head to the side and thought “this looks a lot like All About Spelling!! And I already have that!!”
Even though All About Spelling didn’t come up anywhere in the searches I did I looked at the website and sure enough, AAS uses the Orton-Gillingham approach. I’ve already told you how much we love AAS, this was an absolute dream come true. Here it was, an inexpensive curriculum that I already had experience with and knew I loved! I emailed them right away to see if AAS would work with Emma or if it would better to do All About Reading to start with. They were quick to respond (within just a few hours) and gave me a lot of information for people in our situation. As I suspected, they suggested that since Emma is still learning how to read (rather than just refining her skills) that she would benefit the most from All About Reading before moving on to All About Spelling, but that once she finishes AAR, she will fly through AAS. By this time next week we should have our new reading curriculum and on our way to learning to love to read!
Matt, as always, is very supportive and is just as happy as I am to know what we are dealing with. After we had had enough time to digest this, I was sitting on the couch cuddling with Emma when I whispered to her that I had been doing some reading and found out that there a lot of kids and grown ups that had a hard time learning how to read like she did. I told her about how I had a hard time learning and how I remembered a time in 1st grade when the teacher would hold up flash cards and the kids were supposed to say the word. It was my turn and I confidently cried out “house”. Nope. She moved on and when it was my turn again I looked at the word carefully and again said “house.” Again and again it happened and eventually I started to cry. Eventually my teacher pointed to the “R” in the word. The next time it was my turn I said “horse”. I had been stuck so long on that one word, that all of the flash cards were done and that was the only word I got to read. That is one of very few elementary school experiences that I remember. All of them negative.
Emma was so surprised when I told her that story. For the first time in months I saw a little bit of hope sparkle in her eyes. “Mom reads a lot. Mom loves to read. If Mom had a hard time but still learned then maybe I can learn too!” I told her that I was going to get a special reading program just for little kids just like her and that she didn’t have to worry about reading lessons until then. I told her about the great things that kids like her can do and that it won’t be long before she can read without any problems. She’s so relieved and so excited.
I also suggested that if she wanted, she and Spencer could start it together. They are attached at the hip anyway. I figure worse case scenario, Emma builds her confidence and can help teach Spencer. Best case scenario, both of them learn to read together. Depending on how well this works out, I will probably be getting the All About Reading Pre-Reading for Jack when the time comes. If Jack is going to have problems reading later on, I want to give him all of the help I can.
Our goal for Emma this year is to get through All About Reading Level 1 and 2. If she gets through them both, we will move on to All About Spelling to reenforce her skills and help her spelling. Once she finishes AAR I will start assigning her books to read on her own. We will start with easier books (Frog and Toad) with each book getting incrementally more difficult. We will reassess her abilities as time goes on. Hopefully by the end of the year she will be read short chapter books (The Courage of Sarah Noble, or Squanto: Friend of the Pilgrims or the abridged Barnes and Noble Classics for kids).
She will continue on with Math-U-See and 1st Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind. Considering she already has her work cut out for her I normally wouldn’t worry about either of those, but she is great at math and I want her to continue to have success in the areas that she already excels in. 1st Language Lessons are great because the lessons are short and repetitive, it won’t be a burden for her but will give her some variety.
She will participate minimally in what we do as a family, nothing much beyond listening to stories and the occasional fun worksheet (this week she decoded a scripture verse written in code and thought that was great fun).
I’m not expecting any science from her at all this year. Lets just say her science this year will be linguistics and she will be able to play Reading Eggs and read whatever she wants to for as long as she wants to until she is confident and fluent.
I pray that this time next year we will have a happy, confident reader. I am sure that the Lord has led us to this path and I am also sure that if Emma and I both work hard and consistently, she will be able to climb what is, for her, an enormous mountain.