With my first son, I had lots of time to indulge in providing him a rich learning environment. We read. We drew. We played “Word Bingo.” We even tried those, now discredited,”Your Can Baby To Read” videos. My son learned to identify letters and their sounds just fine. However, he never did any of the “pre-reading” behaviors that I expected. At age 4, he entered preschool. Every day, at pick-up, I’d ask “How was preschool?” and he’d reply “I hated it.” I’d ask about his friends. He’d reply “Those aren’t my friends. Those are just people I go to school with.”
He was a summer baby. When kindergarten came around, we took a pass and waited a year. At age 6, he entered kindergarten. Each week, a small photocopied book would come home with him. Each week, he was expected to read it 10 times. Each week, he threw it across the room in frustration. He started to say “I hate school!” and “I hate reading!” He began to hide from us before school each morning. By the end of the first semester, we told his teacher that the frustration of the books wasn’t worth it. We stopped having him read to us. Instead, we read great books to him. Gradually, we restored his love of reading. At the end of kindergarten year, summer school was suggested because he had failed his “nonsense words” portion of the Dibels test. We declined. We knew that summer school would dash what little love of learning we’d managed to restore in him.
We lucked out in first grade. We managed to get the most lovely, experienced teacher who understood our son. She labeled him a “deep thinker” and lamented that she couldn’t give him more time to do his classroom assignments. His classroom assignments were, mostly, blank sheets of paper. Apparently, he’d stare at the paper for 95% of the time, only beginning to organize his thoughts in the final few minutes allotted. As for reading, we continued to read to him at home, exploring great books like “The Enchanted Forest Chronicles” and “The Secret of Platform 13.” We told ourselves that he just needed a little more time for reading to “click.”
In second grade, his first Dibels of the year brought a disastrously low nonsense words score. Previously, I had viewed his failure at nonsense words as being a byproduct of his introverted and perfectionistic tendencies. After all, the tests involves sitting with a stranger and reading “words” that aren’t words. I imagined him sitting there, like a deer in headlights, thinking “WTF, are these words even words?” But his score was so low this time. Surely personality wouldn’t account for that much of a deficit? Plus, we were wondering about some other aspects of his performance: reversing letters, trouble decoding words, and slow processing. I attended a SIT meeting at my son’s school. He’d made enough progress during the Fall semester that they did not feel they needed to test him. We elected to see an evaluation on our own.
The results revealed that our son was just a few points shy from qualifying from a dyslexia diagnosis. The psychologist suggested that, prior to the school giving him remedial reading in the Fall semester, he would have qualified for a “mild dyslexia” diagnosis. The areas that he was showing a true deficit in were in his processing speed and in working memory. Both scores were 45 IQ points lower than his top score (Verbal Comprehension.) I’d given enough IQ tests during graduate school to know that was a substantial deficit.
Although the testing confirmed for us what we had suspected, it was still really hard to see it on paper. The term “psychologically dissected” kept going through my head. Here was my baby: pulled apart, measured, judged and reported upon. Most of the time, I told myself that these skills were still developing, that they might improve over time. I encouraged myself not to “judge a cake before it’s baked.” But, often enough, especially at night, my fears would creep in. “What if he continues to struggle in school?” or “What if he never finds meaningful work?” My most real fear was “What if he feels like he’s stupid?” or “What if he gets teased for being slow?” The testing had revealed that his self-esteem was lower than would be expected at his age. Were these learning challenges already making him feel bad about himself?
At this point, we’re a few weeks past getting these results. I find myself cruising the internet, looking for resources. Often, I find myself feeling completely overwhelmed by all there is out there. Starting this blog is a way for me to keep track of what we’ve tried.
One of the aspects of this that has been most difficult is the very natural tendency to compare ourselves to others. In this age of social media, we are inundated with selectively curated images from the lives of others. When it comes to parenting, we get to hear all of the success stories from our friends (“Bobby aced his gifted assessment” and “Suzy just read the 6th Harry Potter book!”) No one gets posts a picture to Facebook of homework full of misspellings and reversed letters. And, I’m not going to be the first. I’m all for being honest and vulnerable, but the weakness I’d be revealing isn’t mine to reveal. But, because I don’t widely advertise my son’s difficulties, I have struggled to find others who are in the same boat. That leaves me feeling pretty isolated.
So, if you’re a parent out there whose child gets their 5s mixed with their 2s, or a parent whose child is speed of homework is like molasses in January, I’m here to say: “Me too! Let’s talk.”