We are a reading family. Each one of us, at any given time, is in the middle of two or three books. Over winter break, I read historical fiction and short stories. Cooper polished off three novels, all with some sort of fantasy or science fiction element. Katie immersed herself in realistic fiction with a smattering of fantasy.
We are also a dyslexic family. Cooper was diagnosed three years ago, in the middle of fourth grade, after years of unknowingly compensating. And now Katie has the same learning disability, discovered in the middle of third grade, after years of unknowingly compensating. When Cooper qualified for dyslexia services at our elementary school, I said, “Well, Katie won’t have this problem. She’s already reading well.”
Oh, naïve me.
Katie’s dyslexia is similar to her brother’s, actually. She has trouble with spelling and difficulty with decoding — the process of being able to piece together letter sounds to read words. And, just like her brother, she’s totally comfortable with her new label.
“I don’t care who knows I have dyslexia,” she says. “It’s who I am.”
She’s fortunate to have had an excellent role model in Cooper, who rarely grumbled about the 2-year-long daily dyslexia pullout program and its extra homework. He doesn’t use the learning disability as a crutch, but rather an acknowledgment that some academic tasks are more difficult for him than his peers.
I am working on claiming her carefree attitude. Part of my hesitation is rooted in guilt that I didn’t pick up on her challenges earlier. I’ve always given myself a pass on Cooper’s dyslexia. He’s the first child, and I had nothing to compare his progress to.
I had followed all the advice I’d read that said not to worry if your child starts to read a little later than others. I didn’t understand the connection between his difficulty in memorizing spelling words and a possible learning disability. I’m feeling less generous with myself over the second child. What’s the point of life experience if you don’t learn from it? How could I not see the same struggles?
Life experience is the rest of what worries me.
We are fortunate to have access to excellent intervention, strategies and even classroom accommodations if necessary. But there’s no denying that academic life is a little more difficult when you’re carrying the weight of a learning disability. If a “typical” child can complete a homework assignment in 30 minutes, a child in this house might require an hour or more. Memorizing and recalling multiplication facts might be simple for some children. It’s torturous for mine. Most teachers are patient and understanding of students whose brains work differently than expected. A small minority, though, are less flexible. So, while I’m sincerely thankful for the diagnosis and the resources available, I’m realistic about potential struggles ahead. Fortunately for Katie, I’m already broken in. I know the lingo. I know my way around Section 504 meetings and documents — the federal protection of certain rights to people with disabilities. Cooper and I have learned to navigate the system, adjusting each year to new courses, teachers and expectations. We’re honing our advocacy skills. I may not have caught Katie’s learning disability as early as I should have, but I’m prepared for the rest of the journey. And that’s where I’m finding the strength to turn my attitude around.
We are a reading family.
We are a dyslexic family.
We are a strong, ready-to-battle-the-challenges family.
From an American Journalist