For a while, my daughter Laura has struggled with reading. This struggle has impacted her behavior in the classroom and at home when it comes to doing class- or homework. Because my husband and her sister also struggled with reading, I suspected dyslexia.
The problem was, getting her tested for it. The school system in which she's in doesn't automatically test for dyslexia based on a parent's observations. After several months of research and going back and forth with her teacher and doctor, this is what I discovered during this process.
Follow the Process -- but Push It
When I was told a diagnosis of dyslexia had to start with the doctor, I made an appointment. Laura and I went to her doctor and I shared what the school said. The doctor understood -- the school wanted to rule out a medical reason for Laura to not be able to read. Her eyes were tested. Her hearing checked. Then, armed with a note from the doctor with the testing results, plus a summary from the doctor that indicated there was no medical reason why she couldn't read, I emailed the school.
Emailing is great because you have a virtual paper trail, and you can CC other people within the school and yourself -- which is important, because then you have a record that you actually did send that email. I started with the chain of command, and emailed her teacher -- and CCd the principal and the exceptional children coordinator at her school. I explained my concerns, what I have seen at home, and reiterated the concerns the teacher had shared with me. I also shared what the doctor had summarized.
Just like when my oldest son was diagnosed with autism, I began to research tools and techniques to help Laura with this possible learning disability diagnosis. Quite by accident, I discovered these reading guides that have a colored strip in the middle. After they arrived in the mail, I showed Laura how to use them. She picked up a book she had previously struggled with and put the colored strip on a line of words.
She read them! She read them! I was thrilled, and so was she! She looked at me and said, "The words don't bounce around anymore!" That confirmed, to me, that we were on the right path. She loves using the strips as bookmarks to always have them in the book she's reading.
I also discovered that she works better while a timer is going to motivate her to work. That added pressure of a timer gives her a structure that helps her focus on doing her homework.
Another thing I discovered is that while she struggles with reading, she is really good at technology. So, to help Laura learn her spelling words, I allow her to type the words in a document on my laptop. This helps her concentrate letter-by-letter while learning the words. I also make word-rectangles for her, drawn-out rectangles indicating letters in words that are either tall, small, or that fall. That gives my visual learner a spatial concept of what the word looks like. I give an example in the graphic below.
Communicate with the school
Communication with the teacher is incredibly important -- and so is backing up the teacher. Now that Laura has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), that lists her diagnosis, goals, and classroom accommodations, it is of utmost importance to enforce what is going on at school, at home. That means, if the goal is that she will be reading independently four out of five opportunities, she needs to be reading at home and at school. The IEP team is only going to be successful in helping a child overcome a learning disability if everyone works on it together -- the regular-ed teacher, the EC teacher, the parents -- and the student.
With Laura, once the email was sent, meetings were held, forms were completed, and evaluations done in the school. All that combined created a picture of what Laura was struggling with -- and that created a diagnosis of dyslexia.
In Laura's IEP meeting recently, it was mentioned that she overly struggles with sitting still, not talking, being distracted... I know enough based on previous experience with my two boys to know when ADHD is being described -- and honestly, I've noticed these issues at home too. The key word in what the teachers told me was "overly." Every child has a hard time with sitting still and not talking -- they are, after all, little humans who like to socialize. But when a child, such as mine, is overly struggling with these issues, they need to be examined further.
Let's talk about something that parents fear about having a child with learning difficulties -- and that is labeling. I hear all the time that so-and-so doesn't want their kid "labeled" as being autistic, or dyslexic, or ADHD. First off, stop labeling the child. My son Sam has autism; he is not "autistic." One is a noun (person, place or thing); the other is an adjective (a describing word). My daughter Laura has dyslexia; she is not "dyslexic." No child is an "ADHD child." There are children who have ADHD. Conversely, I am not an "autism mom." I am a mom who has children who are bright gifts from God who happen to have learning differences that require certain teaching methods.
In order for children who have learning disabilities to gain services in public schools, that they need in order to be successful in their educational journey, they must have a diagnosis. This diagnosis is important in schools, at doctors' offices, in churches, and with employers. The diagnosis must lead to a certain "label" so the child can receive appropriate accommodations, have suitable goals, and be successful in school. Life is hard enough for a child when they face issues, but to have to deal with those issues when people don't know or understand because of a fear of labeling is just not right.
If your child was blind -- would you not want them to learn how to read using Braille? In order for that child to learn Braille, they would have to have a diagnosis, and therefore a label, of "blind" in order to receive services. In order for Laura to receive help such as small group reading assistance, she needed a diagnosis of dyslexia to receive those services and interventions.
I am sad that my daughter has dyslexia, just as I was sad when Sam was diagnosed with autism. But now that I know what it is, formally, I know what we're facing in order so she can be helped.
In His Hope,
(c) 2017 Terrie McKee
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