Since I’ve spent so much time honing in on Monkey Boy in my prior blog posts, I thought I’d give Little H her moment in the limelight. Of course, she’d probably prefer to stay in the background, given the subject matter, but I want to delve into her dyslexia. I think it is important because I really wish I had focused on it sooner, and maybe I can save some of you from the troubles my daughter had in school due to my ignorance.
Little H is thirteen years old and was just diagnosed with dyslexia in the spring. Her case isn’t as severe as many (dyslexia has a spectrum just like autism), and she’s managed to adapt her learning over the course of her life to compensate for her weaknesses, which makes it less obvious. And while that’s a good thing, it also prevented her from getting help sooner. After all, who would believe that an honor roll student, who had made it into the National Junior Honor Society, could have a learning disability?
Let’s go back a bit. Little H was definitely the most verbal, at the youngest age, of all three of my kids. She was putting two words together by fifteen months and talking in sentences by her second birthday. She also tended to use vocabulary that was mature for her age. She always loved to be read to, so this probably helped. I should have known something was up when my bright, verbal preschooler had trouble learning her alphabet. Master Yi-Yi had some difficulty at first, too, but eventually got it, so I thought Little H just needed a little more time. I also attributed it to the fact that she hated to be corrected, which made practicing much more difficult. Who can learn anything when they’re in the throes of a breakdown with lots of tears? By the time she finished kindergarten, she knew most of her letters, but phonics was (and continued to be) a weakness.
Little H spent kindergarten and first grade in a private school. By the end of first grade, her teacher told me she was reading just fine. I’m not sure where she got that information because Little H only read with great difficulty and could not sound out words well at all. What she could do, though, was practice enough that it appeared that she could read better than she really could. Why I didn’t seek help at this point, I don’t know. I think part of it was I had no guidance, since no one else really saw a problem. Dissatisfied with the quality of instruction and lack of resources at this school, we pulled her out of private school and sent her to public school. I guess I hoped, consciously or unconsciously, that this would solve her “problem.”
Her second grade teacher noticed that she had some difficulty with reading, and she was put in a remedial group. At this point, all of her comprehension scores were slightly below grade level. Her phonics skills were poor in both reading and spelling, and she was unable to “sound out” unfamiliar words. She did all right on spelling tests, mainly because they were words with patterns and she was motivated to study hard and memorize them. In everyday writing, though, errors were more common. Her ability to use letter sounds for guidance was weak, and she often made mistakes like “firend” instead of “friend.” This continued throughout third grade. Everyone just attributed it to the fact that she needed more practice.
Fourth and fifth grade proceeded much the same way. She no longer saw the reading specialist because they said she had the attitude that she didn’t belong there. Part of me was thinking, so what if she has an attitude, that’s where she should be if she is doing so poorly, but the other part thought that if it really wasn’t helping, it was pointless. She continued to test poorly in comprehension, and her teachers kept telling me that she just needed to read more. Her reading levels did gradually rise throughout elementary school, but she remained barely on grade level each year. She also managed to pass all of her SOL tests. I recently asked her if she actually read the passages for the reading tests, and she told me sometimes. For the most part, she deduces the answers without actually reading everything.
Little H has always hated reading out loud, even to me, so that made it a little harder to know exactly where she stood. I took her to the eye doctor to make sure it wasn’t her vision. She introduced me to a computer program called Dynamic Reader that was supposed to improve fluency and eye tracking. It didn’t seem to be much help. I invested in a reading program called Sound Reading that also worked on fluency. I do think it helped slightly, but not as much as I had hoped. I would recommend this program to students who need to improve fluency, but do not have dyslexia.
Before we knew it, middle school was on the horizon. Next post I’ll share how Little H adapted her way through the more challenging curriculum at this level and how and when she finally got her diagnosis.