I remember taking my bright son, who loved to build with all things Legos, to preschool. Every day, when we got to school, he would have to find a little hand with his name on it and put it in a basket so the teacher knew he wasn’t absent. For the first few months when each day, he couldn’t find it, I wasn’t too concerned. But as the year went on, and he could never recognize his name, I started to worry.
His teacher said, “don’t worry.” My son seemed normal in every way, except he didn’t like writing his name, the letter blocks we had at home were “only toys to him,” and I could never get him to name them or say their sound. He wasn’t interested in letters, and they held no meaning for him.
Is this normal, I kept asking the teachers?
When my son went to kindergarten, he was so excited. We had bought him a desk for his room, and he couldn’t wait to learn how to read, and “do homework.” On the first day of kindergarten, he came home and running into his room, he said, “I have no homework, but I am going to do some anyway!”
Reading did not come easy to him.
He seemed to memorize everything, and he did not look at the words when he read. Sight words, the letters, no matter how much we studied, were always in the wrong order.
His handwriting was atrocious by all standards, but he would write pages of stories, even in kindergarten, that no one could read, but were quite elaborate when he would tell us what he wrote. He wouldn’t sing the alphabet song at the school recital. Still, all the teachers said, “he was fine.”
By first grade, he was never making his fluency goals, he frequently missed more than 50% of his spelling words, and I knew something was wrong.
The Struggle to Diagnose
I started to investigate…could it be dyslexia? I had his eyes tested, I went to the Heartland AEA (we lived across the street from them), and I asked them about dyslexia. They said it was “an old-fashioned diagnosis.” I said I have current books from Harvard researchers stating what it is. “It doesn’t matter,” they said, we don’t treat it.”
I went to his medical doctor and got a similar response. ”Nope, we don’t diagnose it. See a psychologist.”
I went there, and they would only diagnose it as ADHD, inattentive. But, I said, “he can’t read or spell. Are you sure?”
I told everyone, “I’ve tried every program in Des Moines trying to help him with reading and spelling.”
Then finally I found some answers. I was googling “spelling tutor” and found a Speech-Language Pathologist. She taught the Orton-Gillingham method. She told me people misdiagnose these children all the time.
Dyslexia is the most under-diagnosed ailment of childhood, and the most prevalent. One in five children have dyslexia, and neither our schools nor health care professionals treat it.
What is Dyslexia
Dyslexia is trouble with reading, writing and/or spelling despite adequate intelligence, a literacy-rich home, and proper teaching. It is due to the brain trying to read with the facial recognition side of the brain instead of using the sounding out portion of the brain. This is why my son often could not put the letters of the words in the correct sequence. He wasn’t using the area of the brain that would tell him /w/ was the first sound in “was” and so he would write it as “saw.”
The speech-language pathologist became my son’s tutor, and in two years, he was reading and writing much more fluently. In sixth grade, he said, “Mom, I could have never read my science homework without my tutoring.” He was turning the corner.
When my son made it to high school, he promptly said, “I don’t have dyslexia anymore, and I don’t need your help.” So I turned my energy to starting an advocacy group called Decoding Dyslexia Iowa to help families learn about dyslexia, find the right resources to diagnose it, and start to move Iowa schools to recognize it and use the reading programs to help it.
How to Find the Help You Need
If your child is struggling with reading, handwriting, or spelling, I urge you to examine this dyslexia symptom checklist.
The best advice I ever received was from the first psychologist who saw my son. She said, “You spend the most time with your child. You see all of his schoolwork, and you are with him 7 days a week. We see him once, for 8 hours.If you think there is more going on, follow your mother’s instinct.”
I am so glad I did!
My son has now graduated from college with a degree in graphic design. He helps design the graphics for training videos produced by Harvard professors. He is still reliant on spell-check, but his dyslexia is barely noticeable now, and it doesn’t stop him. I credit this to the Orton-Gillingham reading, writing, and spelling program.
If your child is struggling, even in middle school or high school, don’t hesitate to ask for help! Find local places that screen for dyslexia, reach out to Decoding Dyslexia Iowa’s Facebook page, and ask them for a list of diagnosticians. Search out Orton-Gillingham tutors in your area who specialize in dyslexia like Aspire Academy, Apples of Gold, or True Potential Education. They can all help you if you think your child’s reading, writing or spelling struggles are due to dyslexia.
I am Heidi Kroner. I have had a varied career as a marketing professional, stay-at-home mother, adjunct professor, small business owner, and entrepreneur. I worked for 15 years in advertising and marketing in the Des Moines Metro area before deciding to stay home with my kindergarten-aged son. This was the best decision I ever made, as the decreased stress allowed me to get pregnant with my daughter. It also allowed me to figure out my son had dyslexia. I am a founding member of Decoding Dyslexia Iowa, and I have helped make Orton-Gilligham reading programs more prevalent in Iowa.