dyslexia

Nurturing Your Child's Inner Superpower!

Everyone has an inner superpower! It’s that thing you do so easily and so well that you don’t even think of it as a talent or a skill that someone else can’t do. It is innately part of you and you would have a tough time defining yourself or imagining life without it. 

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For some, their superpower is an obvious talent such as dancing, sports or art, but for others, it may be more subtle. For example, you may be particularly charismatic, or funny or a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about a particular subject. Whatever it is, it is your strength and your gift to the world.

Dyslexic children often find it more challenging to discover their superpower because it gets lost in the struggle of learning to read. They find themselves so overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to read that they forget that they are also blessed with gifts. Ironically, their dyslexic brain is generally the reason that they have this gift. Dyslexics tend to be particularly blessed with creative or athletic abilities and/or big ideas. However, it’s often later in life that they are able to recognize and celebrate their gifts.

As the parent of a struggling student, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the need to support your child’s weaknesses, and there is a tendency to forget to equally support their strengths. Afternoons that would normally be filled with playdates, athletics or singing lessons become consumed by homework and tutoring sessions. It’s no surprise that our children become completely overwhelmed themselves by the struggle of it all. They already have to work ten times harder than the typical learner, but the end of the school day is never the end of the work day for them. Homework that takes a typical learner an hour to complete, takes them at least two, if not three — and even then, it’s filled with frustration and confusion. It’s rare that all that effort put forth is rewarded with a good grade or a even a pat on the back, so it’s no wonder that many get frustrated to the point of giving up.

So what can WE do as parents if we want to help our children recognize their inner superpower before the struggle overwhelms their spirit? First, get your child the support he or she needs as early as possible, but most importantly, make sure their world is not all about supporting their weaknesses — tutoring, summer school and after-school help. Balance is essential if you want them to stay engaged and invested in the process. Make every effort to identify what gets them excited and energized! Everyone has at least one thing that gets them pumped to get out of bed in the morning. Create space for your dyslexic child to not only explore their passion, but also invest in it. Put as much energy into nurturing their superpower as you do their weakness. If you do, you will probably be surprised to find that your child discovers the inner strength needed to conquer their weaknesses as they are able to appreciate that they are capable of doing great things.  

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” Even though your child may have to work twice as hard as the typical learner, the lessons he will learn by virtue of hard work will provide him with essential tools for success in life. However, without support, encouragement and awareness of strength, he may never develop the self-confidence needed to strive towards his potential.

Very few can develop a healthy self-esteem in the absence of accomplishment. So, even though reading support is an essential for these little darlings, losing sight of the big picture and your child’s gift may cause their little light to dim… or worse extinguish. Give them the gift of your support and love while nurturing their inner spirit and discovering their inner superpower. The day they become their own superhero is the day the door to endless possibilities will open.

You Mean, I Actually Need to Read My Child’s IEP Before I Sign It?

A lot of parents feel that once they have their child’s IEP in hand, their work is done. All they have to do is sign and submit. What they don’t realize or even consider is that there are often errors and/or misinformation that require adjustment. The most important reason to review your child’s IEP prior to signing, however, is to fully understand what the Team is proposing with regard to accommodations, goals and services. It’s one thing to walk away from a meeting feeling like the Team understands what your child needs. It’s another thing entirely to agree to the plan in writing.

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When you leave your child’s Team meeting, you will likely have a basic understanding of what will be included in your child’s IEP and, typically, you will receive a copy of the meeting notes so you can confirm that the Team’s understanding of what was stated matches your own. However, I often find that the goals/benchmarks/objectives stated in the IEP are too general or are not measurable. It is important that your child’s goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals, which stands for:

S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Uses Action Words
R – Relevant
T- Time-limited

It is also vitally important that your child’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance are correctly stated. If it’s not abundantly clear where your child’s current strengths and weaknesses are, how can you possibly measure progress? The present levels establish the baseline or foundation from which all progress is measured. If the present levels do not accurately represent your child’s current performance, it will be hard to determine if the services in place are effective and are allowing your child to make progress.

Another important reason to read through your child’s IEP is to make sure that your Parent Concerns accurately reflect your worries and concerns for your child. This is the place for you to establish a history of expressing concern about your child’s areas of weakness to the school. This section of an IEP is often underutilized, but if done well, can establish the foundation for indicating concern well before the issues are even addressed by the school. Should you ever need to file for Due Process, this history will serve you well. I always recommend letting the Team Chairperson know that you would like to send your Parent Concerns via email within 2-3 days of the Team meeting so you have some time to reflect on the outcome of the meeting and any new concerns that may come up. However, make sure that you follow through with what you say you will do. You don't want to be the one responsible for holding up the process.

Above are just a few of the many reasons why you should not only read through, but fully understand your child’s IEP. Once you accept and sign the IEP document, you are stating that you agree with the proposed plan for your child. Never should you just trust that the school has your child’s best interest in mind. You must become well-informed so you can successfully advocate for your child. Remember, you know your child best and you are your child’s best advocate. Trust your instincts and know your child's plan.

5 Reasons Why Audiobooks are a Great Option for Struggling Readers

One of the questions I get asked fairly often is whether audiobooks are a good option for struggling readers. The answer is a resounding “YES” and here are five reasons why.

  1. Listening to Audiobooks Will Support the Process of Teaching Your Child to Read -  Some parents view the use of audiobooks as providing a crutch to struggling readers when in fact, audiobooks can actually support and strengthen the development of decoding skills. Especially when paired with actual written text, audiobooks can make the learning process more fun and effective. Listening while reading offers a multi-sensory experience that supports both reading skill development and overall enjoyment.

  2. Audiobooks Offer Children Who Struggle to Read Much Needed Inspiration to Love Literature – When a child is a struggling reader, decoding can be an unpleasant and undesirable experience.  Most children who struggle to read, avoid reading at all costs. While it is more than understandable that a child who struggles to read would prefer to avoid reading as much as possible, the downside is that they may never develop a love of literature at all. Audiobooks allow struggling readers to access literature that is above their reading level so they can learn to love it and can access books they are unable to do on their own. The hope is that while their decoding skills improve, so will their motivation to attempt more challenging books as they become ready and able to do so.

  3. Audiobooks Offer a Struggling Reader a Feeling of Independence – While you should never replace reading with your child with audiobooks, the use of them does offer your child the opportunity to develop self-confidence and self-reliance skills. Children need to feel like they don’t have to depend on you (or anyone else, for that matter) to function in life. Feeling independent when it comes to reading is no different.

  4. Audiobooks Can Provide a Child with High Verbal Comprehension Skills the Ability to Learn the Way He Learns Best – When children with high verbal comprehension skills are given the opportunity to listen to books while reading along with their eyes, their comprehension is positively impacted. They typically comprehend better and retain more information. Audiobooks also make reading more fun for the learner who learns best by listening!

  5. Time Spent Doing Homework Can be Dramatically Reduced with Audiobooks – Your child may qualify for a LearningAlly.org or BookShare.org account. Both not only provide access to popular reads but also massive textbooks. If incorporating audiobooks allows your child the ability to participate in extracurricular activities simply because the use of them cuts down on the total amount of time spent doing homework, that should be reason enough to take advantage of them. However, they will also benefit from increased comprehension and engagement during homework sessions. Some great audiobook provider is Audible.com... but I might also suggest taking a trip down to your local library for some off-the-shelf selections.

If you have a struggling reader and have been reluctant to incorporate audiobooks, you could be missing out on an opportunity for your child to benefit from increased comprehension, enjoyment and more time for other activities.

My First Grader Can't Read! At What Point Should I be Worried?

If you’re anything like me, you grabbed every opportunity you could to read with your children when they were young. As soon as they were old enough, I started shifting from exclusively reading to them to reading with them. For my daughter, reading came pretty easily, but for my son, there were some early indicators that he would struggle later on. As a mom with zero experience with dyslexia at the time, I had no idea that the struggles he was experiencing were red flags that he had a reading disability.

Even though my son was diagnosed by second grade, getting him the right interventions by kindergarten or first grade could have prevented some of the academic, social and emotional challenges he encountered. Now that I am a dyslexia advocate, I want to share some of those early warning signs with you, so you can start asking yourself the important questions before self-confidence, academic and social issues set in for your child.

  1. Your child struggles significantly to name the letters of the alphabet – When I was two years old, my mom said that I knew all of my letters. By four, I was reading like a champ, so I fully expected that my own children would have a similar experience. While my daughter picked up her letters quite easily, for my son, it was a constant struggle. The letters he knew one day, he seemed to forget the next — and when he attempted to name the letters, it was labored, slow and definitely not automatic.
     
  2. Your child skips/replaces words – When I used to read even the simplest of books with my son, I would find that he would skip entire words or phrases. I would have to redirect him to back to the words he skipped because without them, the sentence held a different meaning. 
     
  3. Your child doesn’t recognize words that he read correctly in the prior sentence – The practice that confounded me the most was my son’s inability to recognize words that he had read correctly in the prior sentence or on the prior page. It was as if he had never seen them before. Words like “for”, “the” and “in” were completely daunting for him. I could tell that he was equally as frustrated by the experience.
     
  4. When reading, your child uses context clues rather than decoding strategies to figure out the words - In other words, your child depends on the pictures to determine what the word is. Typically, my son would be able to get the first letter or groups of letters correct but would guess at the rest. When I knew for certain that he was using this strategy, he tried to read the word “rug”, but after looking at the illustration at the top of the page, he said the word “carpet”. I knew in that moment that he was depending entirely on the pictures rather than decoding strategies to determine the words he was trying to read. While pictures can be helpful tools when children are first learning to read, once they are decoding in kindergarten and first grade, dependence on pictures will likely prevent or delay a child from learning how to break down and decode words.
     
  5. Your child memorizes entire books or pages of books to feign reading – When I realized that my son was doing this, it was a huge aha moment for me. I remember the day distinctly! He brought home several books from school called “Buddy Books”. He was super excited to show me how well he could read each and every one of them. I sat in amazement as he blew through each book with ease! On one hand, I wanted to celebrate this milestone met... and we did. However, on the other, I knew something wasn’t right, so I took my little guy down to the library and we chose some books of the same level as his Buddy Books from the shelf. With trepidation, I opened the first book and asked my son if he could read it to me. I then watched with sadness as my suspicions were confirmed — my son had memorized each and every Buddy Book. He wasn’t reading at all! That moment was both heartbreaking and eye-opening. Memorizing is a common coping strategy for dyslexic children. Dyslexics are typically very smart — average to above-average intelligence — and they are very adept at discovering ways to get around their areas of weakness. My son would use his exceptional memory to help him feign reading. Even his teachers were convinced that he was actually decoding the books in front of him... but he wasn't.

Once we had our son evaluated, we realized that although he had a gifted IQ, he had weak phonological awareness and poor rapid naming skills. His many strengths helped him compensate fairly well, but his weaknesses prevented him from making adequate progress as time went on. Dyslexia is often missed by parents and teachers until middle school because kids can be so good at masking their weaknesses. That is, until their coping strategies fall apart as the content increases in complexity. That is why... time is of the essence! If a child is not identified until middle school or later, it becomes almost impossible for them to close the gap.

I wrote this piece was so you will have the information and the tools you will need to take the appropriate steps to get your child evaluated. Each and every year that goes by without a proper diagnosis can lead to academic stress, progress gaps and self-esteem issues. Had I not had a friend who was an advocate at the time my son was struggling in school, things may have turned out very differently. It was MY advocate who told me not to waste any more time and to have my son evaluated... and I'm so very glad she did. My son's future is forever changed because we took action early.

I am happy to report that because my son received the help he needed by third grade, he is doing amazingly well now. As a rising sixth grader, he is reading above-grade level and loves school. However, if we had taken action even earlier, we could have prevented our son from enduring unnecessary pain and struggle. Although we did what we could with what we knew at the time, acting even earlier could have spared my son feelings of stupidity and failure. As well, he may not have had to make up for lost time. That said, I am grateful that we took the steps we did early enough to make a difference and his future is ever changed because of it.

As a dyslexia advocate, I don’t want to watch one more family go down the road of wait and see. Far too often, my clients tell me that their child’s teacher told them to allow their child time to catch up. Research tells us that dyslexic kids will never “catch up” on their own without the right interventions and explicit instruction, so it is vital that you have your child tested as soon as you suspect that he or she is struggling.

Don't accept the explanation that your child just needs time to mature. You are your child's best advocate! If you feel like something is not right, act now! If you would like to receive my free parent's guide so you can determine if your child requires further testing and take the steps to get your child evaluated, please download my "Is My Child At-Risk for Developing a Reading Disability?" guide below.


Want to take more action to
protect your child's self-esteem and academic future?

If your child is showing signs of at least 2 of the 5 red flags above, please download my free parent's guide "Is My Child At-Risk for Developing a Reading Disability?". In it, you will receive the following:

  1. Dyslexia Checklist - A warning sign checklist for dyslexia.

  2. Teacher Cheat Sheet - A guide to help your child's teacher get to know your child the way you do!

  3. Sample Letter: Request for a Special Education Evaluation - Should you decide to have your child tested by the school, use this sample letter to request that your child be evaluated for special education.

Please don't just wait and see!
Download this guide so you don't miss the chance to help your child before they start to struggle in school.

Three Things To Be Aware of Before Your Child Begins Elementary School

Sending your child off to school is an exciting experience for the whole family. Your child has the opportunity to spread his wings, learn new skills and develop independence. As fabulous as this new opportunity is, there are a few things that every parent should know about before embarking on the journey. Becoming knowledgeable and aware is the best way to ensure that your child will get the best instruction for his or her learning style. Below are three things that every parent should be aware of before their child begins school. 

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  1. Kindergarten is the New First Grade
    The kindergarten class you may remember as a child was probably filled with blocks and baby dolls. Playtime was a not only experienced, but expected. Today, however, the focus of kindergarten has shifted away from play and rather, towards academic achievement. What kids are missing is the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development that occurs as a result of playtime. When children play, they learn how to interact, regulate emotions, practice verbal and non-verbal communication and build self-confidence. This is especially important for children with special needs as many struggle to understand social cues. Therefore, practice at a young age is an important tool for success.

    That said, I do feel that there is some benefit to introducing academics at the kindergarten level and that is simply because it allows teachers the opportunity to "flag" children who may experience language-based learning difficulties down the line. Since kindergarten and first grade are the ideal ages at which to introduce the appropriate interventions for struggling readers, the earlier a child is identified, the better. That said, there are, in fact, some simple and inexpensive screening tools available today that offer teachers an effective way to identify children, as early as kindergarten, who may later develop a learning disability. While screening tools are not widely-used at this time, if utilized, children with learning differences could be identified and given appropriate interventions early on. Since we know that more of the same does not help children with dyslexia learn to read, continued practice without the proper interventions will likely lead to low self-esteem and delays in academic progress. If allowed to use these important screening tools, however, children who may later struggle academically could benefit from early intervention while also gaining the social, emotional and communication skills that come from play. 

    According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The Nation’s Report Card,” as of 2013, only 35% of fourth graders were reading at or above grade level. As well, 64% of eighth graders were reading below grade level and only 36% were reading at or above grade level. What does that tell us with regard to the effectiveness of an academic kindergarten experience? Are we seeing the value from sacrificing vital social practice? Perhaps there is another solution. Well, interestingly enough, Finland, which arguably has the most effective schools in the world, does the opposite of what we are doing in the United States. In Finland, children don’t receive formal instruction until the age of 7. Their school experience through age six includes learning through song, play, games and interaction. Outdoor breaks are not only encouraged in Finland, they are mandatory! They don’t have standardized testing. Instead, they have engaged teachers who challenge the children to learn through experience. If we take a step back and analyze our reading proficiency rates by third grade, we may want to take a page from Finland's playbook and revisit the kindergarten classroom of yesteryear. 
     
  2. More of the Same Is Not Always the Best Approach
    As I mentioned above, more of the same does not help children with dyslexia. So, if you are sensing that your child may be a struggling reader, you may be wondering if he or she will make improvements if provided with more opportunities to practice. When it comes to dyslexic children, more of the same can actually do more harm than good. Dyslexic children need explicit, direct and systematic instruction in both oral and written language in order to be successful. This type of instruction is only offered through special education. What often happens, however, is that a teacher will provide the child with reading difficulties more opportunities to practice reading one-on-one with a general education teacher. However, since this reading practice is not specialized and is rather, more of the same, the child naturally becomes frustrated and experiences even more self-doubt. His typical reading peers are able to read without the additional help he is receiving, while he continues to struggle.

    It is imperative to identify a child with dyslexia as early as possible so self-esteem issues do not set in. Since more of the same will not allow a dyslexic child to make progress, time spent in general ed reading practice will only delay the implementation of the right instruction. As the parent, you have the right to request that your child be evaluated [in writing] at any time. Time is of the essence. If you are concerned about a struggling or reluctant reader, do not wait.
     
  3. When It Comes to Identifying Learning Disabilities, General Education Teachers Don't Always Know What to Look For
    Since Federal law states that children with special needs must be placed in the least restrictive environment, children with learning disabilities are often integrated in classrooms with typical learners. While the idea behind integration is a good one, most general education teachers do not receive any training regarding the needs of children with special needs. In fact, a 2009 study demonstrated that teachers receive little to no instruction as to how to address the needs of different learners. They are instead expected to “pick it up on the job”. That means that children with dyslexia are often identified after academic and emotional issues have set in. Since research tells us that 1 in 5 students is dyslexic, that means that the average classroom includes between 4 and 5 students with a potential learning disability. Many teacher-education programs offer general education teachers a single class to learn about special education. That means that most general education teachers are simply ill-equipped to address the needs of special needs students.

    Fortunately, we know from scientific research that if children receive the right instruction and early intervention, they will be able to master the content and stay on target 85% of the time. The problem is, however, that years often go by before a child is identified, which can result in progress gaps and emotional distress.

    The key is not to segregate kids with learning differences from the rest of the student population. The key is to make sure that if the teachers are not properly trained to recognize learning challenges, that you know what to do so you can get the proper interventions in place for your child.

If you have a family history of learning disabilities or suspect that your child has dyslexia, I encourage you to take advantage of my free training so you can become your child's best advocate. The goal is to get your child the support he or she needs before your child experiences academic and emotional challenges in school. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to advocate for your child's needs


Want to take more action to protect your child's self-esteem and academic future?

Download my free guide to you can determine if you should get your child evaluated further and help your child's teacher get to know your child the way you do.

  1. Dyslexia Checklist - A warning sign checklist for dyslexia.

  2. Teacher Cheat Sheet - A guide to help your child's teacher get to know your child the way you do!

  3. Sample Letter: Request for a Special Education Evaluation - Should you decide to have your child tested by the school, use this sample letter to request that your child be evaluated for special education.

Please don't just wait and see!
Download this guide so you don't miss the chance to help your child before he starts to struggle in school.

How To Balance Summer School and Summer Fun!

It's summertime! For most students, that means backyard play time, popsicles, fun with friends or summer camp, but most of all, it means relaxation and little to no homework. For dyslexic children, however, summertime often includes summer school. So, how can you offer your hard-working child some summer fun without sacrificing all of the hard work and progress he or she made during the school year? The last thing any parent wants to see is regression, but most also know how much their child needs a break. Children with dyslexia often work 10 times harder than the typical student and deserve some well-needed time off too. Here are some tips so your child is able to benefit from both.

Summer School With a Twist

Some schools that cater to dyslexic students offer summer programs that also incorporate exploration and learning that is fun and engaging. For example, the Landmark School in Beverly, MA offers a morning summer school program that begins the day with Language Arts Tutorial, Language Arts Class and Language Structure Class but ends the day with Marine Science/Adventure Ropes, where students enjoy field trips, lab activities, kayaking, snorkeling and exploration as well as ropes course activities that include problem-solving and confidence building. Students can also choose to take advantage of the Visual Arts/3-D Building program in the afternoon, which includes drawing, painting, sculpting, mixed media, crafting and woodworking. They can even learn how to build a model boat and a CO2-powered dragster! How fun is that? I don't know about you, but in my opinion, that's a school day that would feel a lot more like play than work.

Experience Literature in a Whole New Way

Another way to make learning fun over the summer is by adding interaction. For example, for a reluctant reader, I might suggest picking up a few audiobooks that you play in the car (special time with mom or dad) or offer to your child as an option so he or she can enjoy reading independently. The reason I love audiobooks so much is because they offer children with reading difficulties the ability to access complex text that they would normally be unable to do on their own. For the child who dreams of reading higher-level books but is unable to do so independently, audiobooks offer an opportunity for him or her to fall in love with the unique world that books have to offer. Helping your child develop a passion for literature is the ultimate goal. Reading with your eyes is one way to achieve that mission, but by no means is it the only way. There are multiple ways to consume books. However, by no means am I suggesting that audiobooks should replace reading with your child or teaching your child to read on his own. Rather, audiobooks should be offered as an enhancement to reading instruction and practices. Reading to and with your child is essential and should never be substituted by an electronic device or software. A great online resource for audiobooks is http://www.LearningAlly.org

Flash Card Fun!

If your child is overwhelmed with the concept of learning math facts, turn what would normally be a rote memorization exercise into a game... and your home into the gameboard! When my son was learning his math facts, I posted flash cards all over the house — one fact-family at a time. At the bottom of each flash card, I would display the answer to each math fact on a sticky note. Each time my child encountered a card, he would stay the entire math fact, including the answer. At the end of one week (or sooner, if he was ready for the challenge), the sticky notes were removed and my son was challenged to run through the house and rattle off each math fact. As long as he correctly stated all of the math facts within a minute (you may need to increase the time allotment a bit if you have a large house), he would receive an award! Awards ranged from choosing what we ate that evening, to going to the beach or out with the family for ice cream. The point was, however, that he was motivated to learn his math facts and found it to be fun! Each time he conquered a fact family, we would move on to the next. However, every couple of weeks, I spiraled back to a prior fact family to make sure he had retained the information. If not, we just repeated that fact family until he had it! It worked like a charm!

The point is that summer school doesn’t have to mean sitting in a classroom. There are many ways to help your child learn and maintain skills acquired during the school year without missing out on all of the activity summer has to offer. If your child does need in-class services, consider allowing your child a week off to take advantage of a special camp or maybe a day here and there to experience a special excursion. That way, your child will feel rewarded for all the hard work. Dyslexic children work hard so during the school year and summertime offers their brains the chance to take a much-needed break. Carefully balancing work with play is the key to summer school success!

Should I Hold My Kindergartner/First Grader Back in School if He Can’t Read?

You may be in the tough position of deciding whether or not to hold your child back a grade level in order to catch up in reading. For most parents, the challenge is determining whether to advance their child to the next grade even if he or she has not mastered the curriculum of the current grade. This practice is known as “social promotion”. The problem is that retaining a child will often do more harm than good.

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What Does the Research Tell Us?

The 2003 “Position Statement on Student Grade Retention,” from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) states that the majority of studies conducted over the past four decades on the effectiveness of grade retention fail to support its efficacy in remediating academic deficits. When compared to promoted students of the same age, retained students achieve at a slower rate and the achievement gains associated with retention often fade within just a few years after the repeated grade. In fact, many students who experience retention are traumatized and are far more likely to drop out of school as a result.

So if the research shows that students are not better off as a result of retention, why is this practice of retaining students actually gaining in popularity? Some would suggest that high-stakes standardized testing and the introduction of Common Core standards is to blame. There may be increased pressure on teachers to hold back students who have not met grade-level expectations. Behavior problems can also be a reason for retention, but let me play devil’s advocate for a minute. If your child is bright, but is not progressing as quickly as his peers, might he begin to act out to either get more attention or divert attention away from his learning challenges? When behavior is the reason for concern, I often suggest looking at when the behavior problems began and if they are isolated to one subject/teacher/classroom. If you can isolate the behavior problems to certain set of circumstances, it is likely that your child is simply acting out because he is getting frustrated and/or is not getting what he needs to succeed. Retention, in this case, will only exacerbate the problem.

For most children who have received adequate instruction, but are not yet reading at grade-level, repeating the same ineffective teaching methods will only reinforce for your child the idea that he or she is “stupid”. The psychological effects can be quite damaging. In fact, failing a grade was rated the third most stressful event imagined in a student's life; losing a parent and going blind were rated one and two (Shepard & Smith, 1990). For most struggling readers, progress will only be made if they are provided with multi-sensory, evidence-based, small-group instruction.

Andrew’s Story of Success

My very bright son, Andrew, was not reading in first grade, but most of his classmates were. He loved school, but as the year went on, his passion for learning started to diminish. During silent reading time, his teachers would let him “play”, which only caused him to feel more different and isolated. When I began to inquire as to why he was not progressing, his teachers initially dismissed my concerns and told me that he just needed more time. However, as time progressed, they too began to grow concerned. At first, my son was pulled out of the classroom five times per week to read with a general education teacher. Andrew was very well aware that he was one of the only students getting this extra reading support. So, the fact that he was making little to no progress despite getting extra help only reinforced his feelings of frustration and self-doubt.

Before even contemplating retention, we decided to have our son tested, which only confirmed our suspicions that he is dyslexic. In fact, not only is he dyslexic, but he is also considered gifted. Consider for a minute what a child must say to himself if and when he is retained. Since many measure intelligence by one's ability to read, do you think a gifted but struggling reader would see himself as capable of greatness, if held back a year? Probably not. Simply retaining Andrew would also not have provided him with access to the one-on-one specialized instruction he needed to make effective progress. Fortunately, we were able to place him in a specialized school for children with language-based learning differences and provided him with evidence-based instruction. After spending two years at the Landmark School, Andrew transitioned to our local charter school, is reading above grade-level and loves school again!

Possible Alternate Outcome…

Now, let’s take my son Andrew’s story and imagine the outcome if he had been held back a year in school instead of advancing with his peers. In this scenario, Andrew finishes first grade. Most his friends are now reading, but Andrew is told that he will have to repeat the same grade that he just struggled to complete. He begins the new school year and sees his friends advance to the next grade and meet their new teachers. Andrew, however, finds himself in familiar territory, already feeling defeated. As Andrew navigates the year, he watches his new classmates begin to make progress with their reading. Andrew, however, continues to struggle and makes little advancement. Not only is he forced to watch a new group of students sail past him in reading, but he has to accept the fact that he is still struggling himself. Do you think he would continue to feel motivated to try? Do you think holding him back would better prepare him for the following school year or would it just cause him to second guess himself and doubt that academic success is even possible for him?

In the alternate outcome above, retention would likely not have solved the problem. In fact, it probably would have only made it worse. Retention can actually prevent academic success, can further self-doubt and may even cause your child to give up and drop out of school at some point. Therefore, it is vitally important that you determine the cause for the lack of progress and not just assume that a child will benefit from more of the same.

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

1. Is your child spending adequate time on homework?

2. Does your child have a calm, quiet place to work?

3. Is your child getting proper nutrition and sufficient sleep?

4. Are you regularly communicating with your child’s teachers?

5. Is your child struggling in all academic areas or is he/she primarily struggling to read/write/spell?

6. Have you had your child tested for a learning disability/difference?

 

Questions to Ask the School

1. Ask which intervention(s) your child is receiving and in addition, the studies that show its effectiveness.

2. Request a copy of the progress-monitoring graph after each assessment to determine if the intervention is effective.

3. If you have given the current intervention some time to work and you are not seeing progress, ask whether other interventions are available.

4. If your child were to be retained, ask if the instruction/interventions would be different. If your child is not making effective progress and would continue to receive the same instruction or similar interventions, if retained, chances are that “doing it over again” would have little positive impact but could, in fact, negatively affect your child’s self-image and academic future.

5. It is your right to request at any time that your child be evaluated for special education.

 

Each school district has it’s own retention policy so consult with your school district to find out how it is addressed. If you feel you must retain your child in school, remember that it rarely ends up being a positive experience after fourth grade, so the younger, the better. Make sure that you request that your child be evaluated so you can better understand the reasons for your child’s academic, behavioral or emotional difficulties.

Alternatives to Grade Retention

If you are opposed to or conflicted about grade retention, consider the following… school testing and/or an independent evaluation may reveal areas of weakness that will give you and your teacher much needed information. Summer school can offer a boost or may allow your child the opportunity to catch up without the need to stay back a year. As well, your child may benefit from receiving counseling so he can feel comfortable sharing his thoughts or frustrations with a caring adult. Finally, make sure that you open the lines of communication with your child. Get a sense from him as to why the problems exist and make him part of the solution. If your child is feeling out-of-control or powerless, it can cause your child to decline further. However, if you involve your child in the process and let him know that his feelings matter to you, you will give him an opportunity to feel more in control and valued.


If you have a kindergartener, first grader or second grader who is struggling to read and you are trying to decide what you should do to help him or her, please sign up for my FREE training below.

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Amy is a certified dyslexia advocate and also teaches parents how to successfully advocate for their own children's academic success.


The Pride of Ownership

I often find that parents struggle with the idea of "owning" dyslexia and sharing with others that their child is struggling with it. Perhaps it's the stigma... perhaps it's the constant reminder of dark days. Whatever the reason, I think there is so much to be gained by owning the label and allowing your child to call it by name. That is not to say that your child should ever be defined by dyslexia. By no means is dyslexia everything that your child is. But, it is a big part of her and is part of the reason she is who she is. Allowing your child to claim dyslexia gives her permission to tell herself that she is not damaged. She simply learns differently.

The minute you claim dyslexia, you accept the obvious struggle that comes along with the journey, but what you also gain is command over its impact on your spirit, your drive and your willingness to reach for the stars. If you are ashamed of dyslexia and push it down like it’s something to be embarrassed about, then it will never be a badge of honor for you. If, on the other hand, you wear it proudly and accept that the road ahead may be a bit bumpier than it is for others, the journey may also allow you to uncover the beautiful you that would not exist without dyslexia! It may also teach you that you are strong and have what it takes within you to overcome.

I tell my son every day that I am glad he has dyslexia because without it, he wouldn’t be him. Dyslexia is a part of him, a big part of him. With struggle also comes strength. Today, my son owns his dyslexia and the lessons it has taught him. Big or small, dyslexia is helping to shape the fighter, the hard-worker, the determined spirit, the passionate person and the talent I see before me today.

As his mother, I am not afraid to let anyone who asks and even those who don’t, know that my son has dyslexia. His journey is an inspirational story that I am proud to share. Although not every journey has a happy ending, we all have so much to gain from owning each and every part of our story and who we are.

My struggles as a child did not include dyslexia. For me, it was bullying. However, I know in my heart that I wouldn’t be who I am today without experiencing all that I did… as hard as it was at the time. Let me be clear, I am NOT suggesting that you should allow your child to be bullied so he or she can develop “character”. There are other ways to go about developing character. However, what I am saying is that if your journey includes struggle in any form, embrace the lessons the experience can offer you. We all have a great deal to gain from experiencing both mountain climbs and valley crawls, but we have to be open to continuing to move forward, despite the rough terrain.

As my father used to tell me as a child… “if you are in a valley, just keep walking because life is not like Texas. You will eventually encounter another hill.” It’s relevant to mention that I lived in Texas at the time.

Even though it has taken me decades to appreciate the tough years I experienced in middle school, I am starting to own that part of my journey. I still find it hard to reflect back with appreciation for those years, but I am becoming more and more aware of the gifts I also gained. Today, I know that I am a better mother, coach and friend because of the empathy I developed as a result of that experience as a child. The key is to remain open to the gifts that your journey offers you. Maybe it’s dyslexia, maybe it’s bullying, maybe it’s an illness, maybe it's a loss. Whatever it is, if you are open, there is a hill before you and a valley to look down upon… if you just keep walking forward. Own it.

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