by Maureen Wittmann
When my oldest son began school, I assumed that he would be reading in no time. I could not have been more wrong. He struggled
to remember sounds learned just the day before and would suddenly forget the names of letters he had mastered previously.
I didn't consider at first that my son had a learning disability. I assumed he just wasn't ready and that he would outgrow
his difficulties. When by the age of eight he was still having reading troubles, I began searching for answers. My husband
and I had him tested for learning disabilities. He scored at kindergarten level for reading and almost fifth grade level for
math; it was decided that Christian had dyslexia.
As a home educator, I first realized there was a serious problem when my son and I failed
at our third reading program. In spite of all my work with good programs, his language skills did not match his intellectual
abilities. He could remember amazing facts about wildlife, solve intricate math problems, and understand complex science theories,
yet he could not read something as simple as "See Dick. See Jane. See Dick and Jane run."
A dyslexic child in a traditional school setting will probably be first noticed by his teacher. A child with poor memory
for words in print, trouble blending sounds together, and retrieval problems is a child in need of help. Dyslexics often have
fine creative minds and excel in problem solving, yet they need one-on-one attention when learning to read. If your child
seems ready to read and has no vision problems, consider testing for dyslexia.
Having your child tested
Your school district should provide testing free of charge, even if your child attends
a private school or is homeschooled. Every district is different, but generally they wait until the child is 2 years behind
or in the third grade. Many people believe that early intervention is key to overcoming dyslexia, so you may need to push
your school district for earlier testing. Start with the teacher and principal, but don't be afraid to work your way up to
the superintendent, if necessary, to get the help that you need. If your child attends a private school, your principal may
be willing to work with the district on your behalf.
Dyslexics do not outgrow their problem, so it is important to get your child help as soon as possible. The sooner your
child gets help, the more likely you will avoid failure and frustration in the future. After all, without proper reading skills,
history, science and other subjects are nearly impossible to learn.
After we discovered our son's learning disability, it was recommended that we teach our son intensive
phonics using the multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham methods. Such an approach (seeing, saying, touching, and doing) gives the
dyslexic child multiple ways to "retrieve" the phonics rules from his mental "filing cabinet." It is necessary for dyslexic
children to learn ALL of the rules. They need intensive phonics as well as syllabication skills (hearing and seeing the syllables
in words) in order to get beyond a third-grade reading level. Dyslexic children learn best when learning is structured, sequential,
and proceeds from the simple to the more difficult.
Dyslexia is an educational problem with long-proven educational remedies. Even so, some schools treat dyslexia as a medical
problem. Some label dyslexic children as lazy or unmotivated. Even schools that do treat dyslexia sometimes lack the resources
to do so well. You may need to find outside help or even learn to teach your child yourself. This all takes time and hard
work, but I have learned that patience and perseverance will reap many rewards.
Take time to encourage and build self-esteem
If your child leaves the classroom for individual instruction,
he may experience some teasing from other students. A child who is unable to cope with academic failure can turn to antisocial
behavior and juvenile delinquency. In fact, a disproportionate number of high school dropouts are dyslexics.
Let your child know he is not alone; about one person in ten has some difficulty learning to read. Point out that even
very intelligent people - like Thomas Edison, Hans Christian Anderson, President Woodrow Wilson, General George Patton and
Winston Churchill - sometimes struggle to learn to read and write. Spend time together, letting your child know how special
he is to you.
Help at homework time
Since children with reading difficulties quickly find themselves behind in other subjects,
schedule time to read your child's daily lessons aloud. Ask the teacher how you can help with reading lessons, too. This is
especially important in the summer. Three months of all play and no work can seriously hamper a dyslexic child's progress.
Read aloud together
Reading aloud to your child can awaken a love for literature and will encourage him or her
to work hard at reading lessons. My dyslexic son cherishes our read-aloud time and he looks forward to the day when he can
read Mark Twain, C.S. Lewis, and Laura Ingalls Wilder to his mother. My goal is to teach him to love books and reading.
Adapt to the needs of your child
When Christian fails to grasp concepts that I think should be easy, I no longer
get frustrated. I have learned that I need to work within the boundaries of his abilities. Instead I encourage him to keep
up his hard work.
When I explained dyslexia to him, he was both relieved and excited. Relieved that he was not to blame for his inability
to read, and excited that there was a very real solution to his problem. We both believe that he will someday learn not only
to read, but to love it as well.
Maureen Wittmann, her husband, Rob, and their six children live in Lansing, Michigan. She is co-editor and contributing
author of A Catholic Homeschool Treasury: Nurturing Children's Love for Learning (Ignatius Press).