More Stories About Students With Learning Challenges: Learning Challenges (Part 6)
I love telling stories! I especially like telling real stories about real people that have happy endings or provide opportunity for learning lessons. As part of the education “industry” for over forty years, I have a lot of them to tell, but this time I am going to focus on a few stories that are very special to me because I was able to help parents of dyslexic children from my inside knowledge as a dyslexic.
I would like to start with a couple stories that involve reading, but before I do, let me share the common advice that I would give parents who were truly concerned about their child’s inability to read when “of age”!
Ready for this? Here goes! I would say “leave them alone!” Or “back off” or “stop telling them there is something wrong with them by your actions and by your words”! I felt for those students, because I am one of them.
I knew they would learn to read WHEN THEY WERE READY and not before. Parents are usually concerned if their child is not reading by 6. The level of nervousness usually increases exponentially as the child gets older. Our school experience has done this to us.
Few believed when I said they would learn when ready, but thank God most listened to me, backed off and let it happen, naturally.
Now understand that I was not telling parents to do nothing. I simply encouraged them to take a different, more “friendly” approach, providing opportunity, encouragement and gentle persuasion to read, using some of the many available tools to help make it happen. Yet still, some parents took my advice too literally and did nothing… and yet… every child learned to read.
I have worked with innumerable dyslexics and I do not personally know of a single one that did not learn to read.
Now let me tell you a few of my stories. Names may have been changed or not! How would you know?
Shyler was six and his adoptive mother was very concerned because he was just not interested in “learning.” It was clear to me that the child was not ready and it was later made obvious that he was dyslexic. I told the mother to leave him be until he was ready, that he would let her know when he was, and to her credit, she did.
When I returned to conduct my facilitator visit in the spring, Shyler was not reading, nor interested in reading. The same scene repeated itself for the next three years! By now mom was getting a bit concerned.
One spring, I arrive for my facilitator visit and I saw Shyler lying on the couch reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I was surprised for two reasons. What was Shyler doing with THAT book and why was mom not excited? She was the one who was worried!
When I asked how this came about, mom informed me that one day Shyler asked her to read some heading for him. When she asked if he wanted to read it for himself, he had said yes. He then learned to read, seemingly overnight.
When I asked how long ago that had happened, mom said “I don’t know, six, seven weeks ago.” It was only then that she realized that Shyler had gone from zero to hero, from not being able to read to reading Tolkien in less than two months! She was amazed that it had happened without her noticing! Shyler was ten years old… and was reading above his age appropriate level.
Sally’s mom got mad at her and told her to put that book down and come and help her in the kitchen as she prepared supper for her facilitators (my wife and I).
I burst out laughing! The reason? For many years, Sally’s mother had believed that Sally would never read. After all, she had turned thirteen just before we had last seen her in the fall. Now, mom had to scold her for reading all the time. I loved it!
We will call the next fellow Mark. Mark was the second boy in a family of five. His older brother was one of those whiz bang kids, quick to learn, precocious, typical first born. Mark was dyslexic.
What really made this case interesting was that Mark’s mother was a professional speech therapist with a very high level of education. Bad combination under most circumstances, but I had known the mother for a long time and she respected me.
In fact, the mother had been one of my students many years earlier. She valued my input and followed my advice when I asked her to leave Mark be and not force him to read when he was not ready.
Well, she almost let Mark be, but her training was just a bit too much to leave things alone so she very delicately tried this and that and experimented with a lot of other things. All she got was very little progress, BUT she never allowed it to frustrate Mark or herself.
This is very important to understand. Most children are only frustrated because their teacher or parents are.
In any case, the family eventually moved away and as usually happens in such circumstances, distance caused the slow dissolution of our relationship.
And then, a few years later, out of the blue, I got a most encouraging email from the mother. Mark had “suddenly” learned to read at age fourteen and within a very short time, I seem to recall something like two years, he had not only caught up to but surpassed his older brother in nearly everything.
However outstanding this may be, you should be made aware of the fact that what Mark experienced was the normal educational expectation when “school” first began. From illiteracy to post-secondary studies in three years!
Another time and in another place, I had a girl who was severely dyslexic. This time even I got a little worried as this young lady was seventeen years old before she learned to read and when she did, it was nearly an overnight conversion to voraciously reading advanced material.
The parents of another dyslexic boy were completely baffled by what their son was doing. He was reading, although not well at age eight, but what really confused the parents was his nonsense way of writing.
My being a dyslexic clearly gave me an advantage here. I took the parents to a mirror in their living room, put up what the child had written and there it was in plain English!
This guy was a Leonardo Da Vinci dyslexic! Nothing wrong with what he was writing except one needed a mirror to read it. He eventually did tame this “disability” and learned to write so one could read it without the need of a mirror.
I could go on with many more such stories, most of which have a happy ending, depending entirely on the attitude, not that of the student, but of the parents. If parents work with dyslexic children to help them cope with their challenges and provide them with opportunities to better themselves, while constantly reminding them of how special they really are, the story usually ends well.
I must admit that I have had a lot of fun watching dyslexic children confound their parents with their incredible gifts and intelligence. It may take a while for them to get going, but when they do…wow!
Next time, I would like to tell you my all-time favourite story about a student who, by any school’s measure didn’t have a hope of ever doing anything. In fact, I believe it was the school that suggested he be taught at home. You’ll just have to wait until next time for the rest!
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