When is the last time you visited a classroom? Have you walked in the shoes of a teacher? Teachers are welcoming legislators to visit their classrooms, why? One word, frustration. Frustration that they are not given the necessary resources to do their job as they know they can and should.
Several years ago, I visited my son's classroom. Not to check on him, but to check with his teacher about plans for a literature circle I was coordinating for her class. Not to distract my son with my presence I walked into the classroom and went straight to talk with his teacher at her desk. Once we finished our conversation, I turned and noticed my son sitting at his desk holding his head with tears running down his cheeks. I was confused, I had dropped off a happy boy thirty minutes prior. What could have possibly brought on tears for a boy who was not one to shed tears?
I quietly knelt by his desk trying to shield him from his classmates who might notice his tears, and I asked him what was upsetting him? He said: "Mom, I can't do it." I looked down at his paper to see what he was working on. To my surprise it was a spelling crossword puzzle the teacher had passed out on Monday for morning work. Four mornings later he still sat staring at the paper, now with tears streaming down his face in defeat.
I was confused, why had this highly recommended second grade teacher allowed a sweet well behaved boy to sit at his desk and cry over a spelling worksheet? Did she try to help him?
It was that morning I realized the gift of more time was not working for my son nor his teachers. He was not growing out of his struggle as promised by so many of my peers. I was a teacher, I had walked in their shoes, and I could empathize with the look of not understanding why spelling and reading were a struggle for a bright boy. In fact, I understood their look of helplessness all too well as I had taught hundreds of students to become successful readers, but now my own bright son was missing out on learning to read successfully.
I began researching all I could find on struggling readers. I found one word to describe my son's struggle perfectly. Dyslexia. I could not have written a more descriptive list of characteristics to identify the areas of struggle for my son as well as the areas he excelled. This one word brought great relief, we were now able to look for solutions.
First on my list was to go to my Teaching of Reading textbook, I wondered if I had missed something? No, I didn't miss anything. Only one sentence appeared: "Some students will struggle with a reading disability called dyslexia." Dyslexia was not covered in my education classes. I began asking my peers of classroom teachers and special education teachers, and none of them had learned about dyslexia either. My husband working in the medical community, asked his pediatric peers of PTs, OTs, and SLPs, they had not been trained in dyslexia as well.
All the signs were there, in fact they had been present since preschool, why could no one help? As we began using the word dyslexia, we began receiving many suggestions. Several of which we had already tried with no improvement while others seemed ridiculous to educated parents. In fact, several businesses offered a cure all for ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism, etc with their expensive therapies. It was confusing to know how to find effective help. As wise consumers we decided to wait until we found a therapy backed by evidence showing its effectiveness in students with dyslexia.
A frustrating year passed as we struggled to look outside the school for solutions, and my son was begging me to homeschool him. As a public school teacher I was not ready to give up on the public school system just yet. It was then, I received a life changing text from my husband with a name and number to call. I had no idea who I was calling, but the nice lady told me she was a teacher who had been trained in the Texas schools as a reading specialist trained to work with students with dyslexia. A teacher who could help?
We began a new school year, my son begging to be homeschooled, and driving 45 minutes to tutoring after school with an agreement. If no improvement was made by Christmas break, I would make a way to homeschool him. I opened conversation with his teacher explaining dyslexia, how it affected my son, and his need for accommodations. I also explained he was working with a reading specialist trained in dyslexia, and I had one request for her: Please, try to pick up the shattered pieces of frustration and failure in the classroom and help build his self esteem.
Christmas break came and passed without any discussion about homeschooling. We had built a life changing team of support for my son. An educated supportive parent, a reading specialist trained in dyslexia, and a classroom teacher open to learning how to best support a struggling reader in order to close a reading gap.
As my son began to make progress, I began to reflect on our time of struggle and frustration. Why had it been so difficult to find effective help? Why had I not learned about dyslexia as a teacher? If dyslexia affects 1 in 5, where were all the other children and their families?
As I began to search for answers I found a group of parents in New Jersey who joined together to work to find solutions for their children with dyslexia. We needed a group of concerned parents in Oklahoma as well. With the support team of a reading specialist and a classroom teacher seeing a need , I founded Decoding Dyslexia OK. Soon there were like-minded parents forming Decoding Dyslexia state chapters across the nation, and before long we had a movement in all 50 states uniting to bring awareness for dyslexia, advocate for our children with dyslexia, and work with policy makers to create lasting change for our students with dyslexia.
Decoding Dyslexia OK is a grassroots movement of parents and edcuators who are working together to bring awareness of dyslexia to Oklahoma. We work to help parents locate resources for educational assessments and effective reading intervention. We encourage parents to work with their schools to build understanding of dyslexia as well as look for solutions within the school through IDEA. DD-OK works with schools to provide resources for professional development as well as resources for effective intervention. We continue to work with policy makers to raise awareness for dyslexia especially in legislative efforts which will directly affect our students with dyslexia.
October marks a busy month for the Decoding Dyslexia movement, for the second year October has been designated as Dyslexia Awareness month in Oklahoma with a signed proclamation from Governor Fallin. Last week, October was established a National Dyslexia Awareness Month with a unanimous voice in the U.S. Senate with Resolution 275. Today, October 15 marks World Dyslexia day, groups around the world will raise awareness for dyslexia by lighting up landmarks in red. Groups will redeem red, the color of the dreaded red ink drenched assignment of the misunderstood student with dyslexia. DD-OK will gather for a family event to light up the iconic Route 66 pop bottle at Pops in Arcadia. Later this month, parents and edcuators will join together in professional development at the 66th Annual International Dyslexia Association Conference in Texas.
Why I say dyslexia? It is through saying dyslexia I was able to end the frustration for a student, a parent, and a teacher. My son no longer lives in shame and frustration, but rather after much hard work with effective reading intervention and supportive accommodations, he reads effectively while maintaining National Junior Honor Society status taking pre-AP courses in Middle School. It is through saying dyslexia that my son's elementary school is able to identify struggling readers with characteristics of dyslexia, and now offer effective intervention. Through saying dyslexia, we look forward to the same school catching the signs early, and working toward reaching these children before they experience reading failure.
Will you say dyslexia? Will you be open to seek out more information about dyslexia? Dyslexia is well defined and recognizable once you are aware of the characteristics. Dyslexia affects 1 in 5, and can be identified by age 5.5 with 93% accuracy.
Visit our Decoding Dyslexia OK website at www.decodingdyslexiaok.org to find resources for both parents and edcuators.