Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dyslexia Doesn't Mean You Are Dumb

Connor has dyslexia. 

He's asked me to write about it for the past year. I have tried. Nothing sounded right. Every word that I typed felt forced and either super perky or full of dismay (depending on my mood or the horrors of that day's homework drills). He is the one who suggested that I just start with the basics. Smart kid. 

So, again, Connor has dyslexia.

Dyslexia (and the other language processing disorders like it) isn't terminal (we get that there are kids dealing with all kinds of scary stuff out there, today in our family this is our scary stuff). Dyslexia is chronic. You can't make it go away. It is a beast that Connor and between 10-20% of all people wrestle with daily and always will. I describe dyslexia as a misfire between what the eye sees and the brain processes regarding language. He interprets the letters on the page differently than I do. In order to read and comprehend the written word, Connor has learned skills to decode and rebuild each word so that his brain will recognize its sound and meaning. 

Yeah, I'm exhausted just describing it. Imagine how busy his brain is to process everything that takes place during a typical day at school and keep pace with his peers.

Connor and his Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Lisa Kurlenda
Connor has been working incredibly hard for several years (we discovered this in Kindergarten thanks to his amazing teacher) to catch up to his peers and gain confidence with his reading and comprehension skills. This has involved tutoring and extra lessons to practice decoding skills, in addition to a review of each day's lessons at home in order to gain confidence with the content. He is still nervous about reading out loud in class but his confidence has skyrocketed this year and he is working hard to overcome what he calls "chicken legs."

We are quick to applaud him for his innate creativity, something that continues to astound us. Connor is a three dimensional thinker and doesn't hesitate to create something purposeful from duct tape and fishing line combined with whatever he finds around the house (sometimes to my dismay!). Over the years since his diagnosis we've learned that these traits are often found in people with dyslexia. He loves to learn about people with dyslexia who've done amazing things, like Albert Einstein and Steven Spielberg. 

In spite of dyslexia, Connor is a storyteller. I love the way he infuses facts with humor and goofy side comments. He is most successful when he can share his thoughts verbally. But, teachers can't grade everything on verbal testimony. In his 5th grade reality he needs to master the written word. So he musters through, often reciting the first draft of his reports (while flipping cartwheels and practicing hip hop dance moves) while I type his every word. This process allows his real voice to shine through in his writing, something that is quickly stifled when he gets overwhelmed with the tedium of decoding words in order to commit them to paper. 

Connor and his 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Tanya Kooistra

This weekend we were traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving. On our two-hour-drive Connor was pounding away on his Google Chrome Book in the backseat. When Rick and I asked him what was going on, he shared that he had a great idea for a story that he just had to get out. Holy hotcakes! No words can effectively express our giddiness and pride. Get it out, Connor, get it out!

He typed and typed and read us segments over and over on that trip. His story was funny. It was interesting. It was scary. It involved dialogue. It was a masterpiece when he read it out loud. It also was a hot mess of misspelled words and dangling sentences when he proudly unveiled the written document to his grandma that night...crap, we hadn't looked over the writing before he showed it off! 

Like I said, dyslexia is a chronic condition. And our lives are not a Lifetime movie with a miracle ending. Just because he's excited about the content doesn't mean that he will magically have the ability to transfer ideas from his brain to paper or the computer screen without needing some extra work to polish it up. Like most parents, we are just thrilled to see him showing so much enthusiasm for something that we know is challenging. 

To learn more, click on these fast facts about dyslexia from the Dyslexia Center of Utah. 

And, here are some fast facts from Connor about dyslexia:
  • Dyslexia doesn't mean you are dumb.
  • You can't catch dyslexia from another person.
  • You can still read, it just takes longer and you have to work a little to understand everything.
  • Never tease someone who is struggling to read out loud. That is just mean.
  • Sometimes having dyslexia makes you feel alone. Nobody wants to tell their friends about it.
Thanks, kiddo, for encouraging me to share some of your story. Because of you, other people with dyslexia will know that they are not alone. 

Connor and his 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Melissa Swider
PS -- Giant thanks to the amazing professionals who've walked this road with Connor, Rick, and I over the years. We don't know where we'd be with the fantastic tutors and team at SLD Read. Every day I say a special prayer of thanks for the teachers who've lit the way for him and believed in Connor. What a terrific team at his school, especially Mrs. Melissa Swider, who has always found the perfect way to help leap a previously insurmountable barrier.