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How I Let Go of Guilt Over Missing My Daughter's Dyslexia

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Three years ago, I didn’t feel I deserved the handcrafted gift my 8-year-old daughter made me for Father’s Day. It had been a rough school year for her. Her teachers had noted she wasn’t reading at the level of her classmates. This prompted the school to provide a reading specialist who told us that she would catch up if she worked harder and focused more. Wanting to do the right thing, I pushed her to work harder.

We ran through flash cards in the car, while we set the table for dinner, and before she went to bed. She spent extra time on homework every night. Still she wasn’t making progress. All the added pressure was straining our relationship and I felt like I had let her down. I started dreading the flash card drill sessions.

Working harder on reading became the center of our universe. The bright girl who loved stories and storytelling was arguing with us about doing homework, and finding ways to avoid doing the work we were pressuring her to do. Despite everything I was trying to do, I couldn’t help her, and she wasn’t seeing results. So, when I opened the card that read “To the World’s Greatest Dad,” my heart sank. I hardly felt like a great dad.

By the end of third grade, it was abundantly clear that this “just try harder” approach wasn’t effective for our daughter. We decided to pursue additional testing. As a result, she was diagnosed with dyslexia — and our lives soon began to change for the better. Once we knew our daughter was one of the 1 in 5 children who have learning and attention issues, we were able to start understanding the cause of her struggles and begin crafting the right educational approach.

A multisensory approach to reading instruction called Orton–Gillingham taught my daughter (and me!) that working smarter is more important than working harder. I didn’t know it then, but the brains of people with dyslexia process writing in a unique way. That makes it a challenge for them to decode the letters on the page.

Within three weeks of starting specialized reading instruction, my daughter went from saying “You can’t make me do it anymore!” to “I think I actually might like reading!” She learned strategies for efficiently and effectively making sense of the letters and words on the page. And she was beginning to see the results of her hard work.

I was thrilled that she was making progress and enjoying school again, but I was left with a tremendous sense of guilt. I’m a family doctor. Yet with all my medical training, I had somehow completely missed her dyslexia. Why did it take me so long to figure out that “just working harder” was the wrong approach? Had I made things worse by putting so much pressure on her? Was it too late for her to catch up? These questions weighed on me as I worried about her future. It wasn’t until the middle of fifth grade that I finally let go of my guilt.

My daughter’s love of learning returned — and I met numerous other families who had similar stories. Some call dyslexia an invisible learning disability because it’s hard to see the signs and is often misunderstood. Knowing that I wasn’t alone helped me immensely. Just as important, my daughter became self-sufficient at homework, so I could stop being her unskilled home tutor and could focus on just being her dad. Now I check in with her on how her day went and let her do the work herself. She enlists me in craft projects, confides in me about tiffs with her friends, and sometimes reads graphic novels with me. She has assured me “everything is OK” now that she has the skills to understand her schoolwork.

I have been able to say goodbye to guilt through getting my daughter the right diagnosis, finding her the correct teaching approach, and knowing things will work out for her. Parents in similar situations can ask for more testing, find the right teaching approach for your child, and talk with others. I found my support community at Understood.org, a place I turn to when I have questions about my daughter’s diagnosis.

This Father’s Day I feel like I’m a better dad. I know how to support my daughter when she needs it, and we now have the time to goof around and have fun. Today, I’m getting the best gift I could ever imagine: seeing my bright, eager-to-learn, fun-loving daughter with a bounce in her step, back to herself.

Dr. Travis Harker is a family physician in Concord, NH, and contributor to Understood.org.

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Local Tap Bar and Grill Sign Starts Online Debate With Dyslexia Joke

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When is it OK to joke about a learning disability, chronic illness or other health condition? The answer, unless given expressed permission, may be never, one San Francisco based bar learned on Tuesday.

Local Tap Bar and Grill drew some online attention when a photo of its chalkboard sign was posted to the Facebook page “A Special Community of Love & Acceptance.” The sign read, “I have sexdaily. Wait, I mean dyslexia — Fcuk!” Kerry Magro, a man on the autism spectrum who runs the Facebook page, shared the picture, asking the bar’s owners to take the sign down.

“To the people who run this bar, I’m VERY disappointed in you,” he wrote. “You decided to make a mockery out of people with Dyslexia by your sign right outside your restaurant.”

Magro’s post quickly received a variety of comments, with many of the page’s fans echoing his sentiments. “There’s a difference about being funny and having fun at someone else’s expense. You can be funny and not have to make fun of a disability to do that,” a commenter shared on the post. “My mother is extremely dyslexic and struggles with life and has a hard time figure out what people mean. Not only is this sign about dyslexia, it’s also vulgar and disrespectful.”

“Not funny at all,” another wrote. “Any person should not make fun of anyone with disability seems these guys don’t have heart.”

Not everyone, however, was bothered by the sign. “Sorry, but I think we are too freaking sensitive,” one commenter wrote. “I have both autism and dyslexia in my immediate family and although it’s not an appropriate sign for children to read, for a bar, it’s on par for low brow humor. Lighten up or everyone and everything is going to offend. Just worry about you. Love and light.”

“As a person with dyslexia — I think this is pretty darn funny,” another person shared.

Since posting on Monday, the bar has taken the sign down.

We asked our community if it bothers them when people make jokes about dyslexia? Here’s what they had to say: 

“I’m dyslexic. I make light of it all the time (e.g. “hahaha look how I mangled that sentence I was trying to type”), but I think that’s acceptable as someone who suffers from it. If someone who does not have it makes jokes about it (e.g. “Wow I’m so dyslexic today. I can’t spell right”), they should be educated on why that’s not acceptable.” — Kenkire K.

“My son is dyslexic and dysgraphic. It does bother me. He struggled and fought very hard to learn to read. Dysgraphia is much harder to overcome so even at 20 years old he still fights with that. Both of them are literally fighting your brain to see and write correctly. It’s not cute or funny to use someone’s struggle as a joke or even as a put down on yourself. Especially a put down on yourself or someone who doesn’t have it. Because then you are making fun of a person who does have it. If it’s so bad for you to have it as a joke just think how it feels to actually have it and hear that.” — Carla E.

“Like most of the other respondents, I am dyslexic. Jokes about dyslexia are just that jokes. Not everyone’s sense of humor is the same so even if I don’t find the joke funny, I don’t let it affect me and just go about my business. There are much bigger and more important issues in my life to be concerned with than potentially stupid jokes other people make.” — Josh C.

“‘I wrote that backwards. I must be dyslexic, too, right?’ My daughter works so hard every day on learning to write properly. She’s not lazy, distracted, or “just in a hurry.” It looks right in her head, but not on paper. There is confusion between her brain and her motor skills. I don’t find humor in that.” — Rex A.

“I think it is fine if you have it, however, it really annoys me when someone says that they have cause they spell something wrong. I don’t think the jokes would bother me if it they weren’t just on the stereotype.” — Tasha W.

“I find the most difficult part about having dyslexia is how if I’m flustered or anxious it gets so much worse. Having jokes made at them exact moments it’s like been kicked when you’re already down. My closest friends sometimes make jokes that I’m ok with, but other times if I’m already been so hard on myself that any remark/joke even in jest really re-enforces the feeling of been a failure.” — Stevie H.

“Does it bother me when people make jokes about Dyslexia? Yes sometimes it does and other times it doesn’t. It depends who the joke comes from and what the intention of the joke is. I can joke about my dyslexia most of the time. I can really laugh about it. The mistakes I can make are hilarious. Other times I can cry about it. Really cry. On the days that I want to cry because I am intensely struggling due to an overloaded dyslexic brain I can not take a joke about it. On those days jokes bother me and I am likely to show people it bothers me. I also work as a school counselor with students who have dyslexia. It bothers me when they are the brunt of a joke about dyslexia. Young people (and even adults) might call another person dyslexic as a joke due to a mistake they have made. Funny for them. Not funny for the student listening who really does have dyslexia. Ok, some students with dyslexia may also find that funny. On a good day. On an overloaded day, they probably won’t. It’s the same with anything really. Someone with one leg might find it funny to make a joke about themselves one day and on another day they might just be having a hard time of excepting life is like it is for them.” — Annabelle V.

The Mighty reached out to Local Tap Bar and Grill and has yet to hear back. 

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To the Teacher Who Taught My Son With Dyslexia How to Read

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When we first came to you, we were scared. My son has dyslexia, and he was scared to enter a building filled with words he couldn’t access. I was scared his fellow students and teachers would not understand.

We moved to a new school in third grade, and as I dropped him off that morning I was terrified because his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) from his former school had not yet arrived. And he was functionally illiterate in third grade.

How would this day go? Would they ask him to read aloud in front of everyone? Would he just go through the day as a zombie waiting to get home?

Then, I met you — his resource room teacher.

I saw the sign on your door. I saw the smile in your eye. And I knew you cared.

Poster on wooden door that says [Expect to be accepted for who you are] with an illustration of a school of fish with one fish that appears different from the others

Over the past three years, you have been his refuge and my lamppost. When I was frustrated because something happened, I would reach out for advice — and you were always there, willing to advocate from within the walls of the school. Willing to advocate for my son.

It did not go unnoticed.

Over the years, he went from a non-reader to reading his first chapter book. What a milestone! He can now read restaurant menus and navigate the world. As I broke down and cried at our last IEP meeting to see that my son’s handwriting is “on grade level,” you cried with me.

Complex school texts can still exhaust him, so you helped me navigate the world of Assistive Technology to get him ready for middle school.

In your classroom, he learned more than academics. Children of all abilities gather there. My son has befriended students on the autism spectrum, children with ADHD, and children with other types of learning disabilities. He has learned about forgiveness, friendship and acceptance.

He has learned we are all different, but we all have gifts to offer.

And now, as we prepare to leave you after three years, I find myself scared again. What will the next school hold?

Yet, you are there — already meeting with the middle school resource teacher, and assuring me it will be OK. You’ve got this. We’ve got this, together.

I can never thank you enough. From the bottom of my heart, we will never forget you. And we will save a special place for you as he walks across the graduation line one day in cap and gown.

Follow this journey on Diary of a Deelexia Mom.

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My Dyslexia Is Not Just a Reading Disability

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I have never been one to hide my disabilities. Within 10 minutes of meeting me, you will probably learn I am dyslexic. Dyslexia has given me many, many gifts; however, it’s also something I have struggled with. One of the reasons dyslexia is so hard to deal with is because it has a stereotype that only my reading is affected. This isn’t true at all, though. My language, motor skills, comprehension, and memory are affected just as much as my reading.

Dyslexia is a language disability. I have a hard time deciphering phonemes (hence why I thought three, tree, and free were all pronounced the same until my second grade special education teacher corrected me). My dyslexia is pretty severe, and here’s what it’s really like.

It took me until fourth grade to realize that the “pa-” in Pacific Ocean wasn’t pronounced as “spa-” as in “specific ocean.” I still have a lot of difficulty in differentiating between b and v, and th and f. I may struggle to pronounce your name, especially if it stems from a language other than English and has difficult phonemes. I swear I’m not trying to be culturally insensitive; I honestly just have no idea what phonemes I’m hearing, because they all sound so similar to each other. Like the name “Fatima,” I will probably think you are saying “Vateema” or maybe even something completely different.

Sounding out words is probably one of the hardest things to do, because I can’t connect the phonemes to letters. I usually read words as if they were pictures, which really helps with reading to myself. The second I have to read out loud though, it becomes challenging, because those words have to be translated into sound instead of just associating the word as a picture. I try to avoid public speaking at all costs because of this, and it’s a huge insecurity of mine. Honestly, it’s hard to keep up in conversations with people because words in general are just unnatural.

I describe how dyslexia affects my language abilities like this: You are in a foreign country with a language completely different from your native language. Everyone in that country, however, expects you to be fluent in this foreign language despite the fact you are only conversational in said language. In your native language, your comprehension is above average and you are incredibly intelligent, but since you have a hard time expressing yourself in this foreign language, everyone assumes you are unintelligent and don’t understand how you have such little comprehension in this foreign tongue. This leads you to develop things like social anxiety and depression because you feel as if you’ll never be able to correctly express yourself to these people around you. That’s what written and spoken language is like to me, a foreign language. I think in pictures, even the most abstract ideas. Whenever I have to have a conservation with someone, I think of what I want to say in picture form, and then I translate it to words.

My internal dialogue is very minimal, so it takes a lot to type out these long posts I write. (Honestly, it’s the closest thing I get to being a writer.) Even with abstract and philosophical ideas, I think in pictures. If I want to really have an internal dialogue, I have to talk out loud, which I got made fun of for in elementary school a lot. So now I have learned to go to my room, which honestly kind of sucks because it means I can’t problem solve as efficiently on the spot. Also, since English doesn’t come naturally for me, neither does any other language. I’ve tried for years to learn French, seven years actually. I took six years of Spanish. I can’t pronounce the words, I can’t spell the words, and accents and which way they go confuse me.

My reading is also affected: words disappear, reappear, change, increasing spacing, space incorrectly, and a bunch of other stuff. Like today I saw “Letter Template” on a piece of paper, thought it said my name “Leslie Templeton” and was really confused for a good five minutes. “B,” “d,” “p” and “q” are my least favorite letters in the alphabet because I have no clue why anyone thought, “Hey! Let’s make letters look literally the same but in different directions!” Why? Why do you make reading so hard. “V,” “y” and “u” are not as bad but suck just as much; if I got a nickel every time I saw the word “surveyed” as “survived,” I could pay for my college tuition up front. I have a hard time reading the notes I take in class, especially with professors who rush through material or jump between topics a lot.

My dyslexia makes it difficult to understand sequencing and directionality. I don’t know left/right and up/down take me a second to process; also now/then, here/there, before/after, and so on really confuse me. With the inability to understand directionality and instructions with ease, things like tying my shoes and holding a pencil correctly are extremely hard.

It also affects my ability to do something in a mirror. Due to my issues with directionality, I get really confused which way to move my hands if I’m looking in the mirror, or what side I’m looking at compared to my actual position. Each year I get better at it, but I still have trouble. Reading an analog clock? Yeah no way, doubt I’ll ever be able to do that. It doesn’t make sense, and don’t try to explain it to me, you’ll be wasting your breath.

Dyslexia affects my memory. ADHD has this effect too. If you know me well, you know I lose things a lot, get lost, lose my train of thought mid-sentence, forget about assignments/meetings, and so forth. Memorizing for tests is easy, but remembering my I.D.? For some reason, it just doesn’t click. Names are the worst because I can’t even picture them visually. I usually memorize words as pictures and that’s how I learn them, but often I only hear names. I usually end up calling someone by a name I think fits them for some reason.

And last but not least, I don’t think in words. I’ve learned to completely think in pictures. My internal dialogue is very minimal, so it takes a lot to type out these long posts I write. (Honestly, it’s the closest thing I get to being a writer.) Even with abstract and philosophical ideas, I think in pictures. If I want to have an internal dialogue, I have to talk out loud, which I got made fun of for in elementary school a lot. I have learned to go to my room, which honestly kind of sucks because it means I can’t problem solve as efficiently on the spot. Also, English doesn’t come naturally for me; neither does any other language. I’ve tried for years to learn French, seven years actually. I took six years of Spanish. I can’t pronounce the words, I can’t spell the words, and accents and which way they go confuse me.

This is dyslexia, my dyslexia. Please stop explaining my dyslexia to me when I share it, or immediately ask me to read something, or say “so you see stuff backwards.” Nothing is wrong with my sight or hearing, it’s my auditory processing and issues with my underdeveloped brain areas — my Wernicke’s and Broca’s area, and little connection between the two, amongst other things.

Stereotyping a disability can be harmful to the individuals who have the disability. One may think they know what a disability is, but honestly, unless you have done your research and have the disability yourself, odds are you have no idea. When we reduce disabilities to one element, such as dyslexia and reading, we only help some people and miss addressing challenges others face. Everyone will have different symptoms, so even if you have the disability, it doesn’t make you an expert. We need to listen to our disabled students, peers, and loved ones, instead of assuming we know what they go through. Only then can we truly support them.

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Please Do Not Pity Me Because I Do Not Read for Fun

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I love social media, I especially love following inspirational posts and all of the different self-esteem-boosting videos that accompany them. I enjoy reading the opinions of the people who comment their feedback on the post, and I revel in the different viewpoints that people have on the same subject. It makes me remember how vastly diverse humanity is and how our perceptions are shaped by individual experiences. I think it is beautiful.

I was scrolling through my media posts as I do daily, and I came across one that saddened me. It talked about how people who read books are more intelligent and creative than those who do not. The article I feel was a little narrowed in perspective, but what saddened me the most was the comments of people who were showing great pity to those who do not read for fun, like it was unbelievably uncultured not to enjoy the process of reading.

For the record, I am a strong, intelligent, independent woman who so happens not to enjoy reading for fun. I do not read for fun because my brain processes information in a way that makes it not enjoyable for me to do so. At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with dyslexia with possible dyspraxia. I also have sensory processing difficulties and attention difficulties. The experience of reading a book is not enjoyable for me. The most noticeable thing that happens when I read is that I get very tired. I get tired in a different way than if I was writing. The physical act of reading exhausts me to the point that a chapter of a book would cause me to go and lie down.

The second element of reading a book that hinders my enjoyment of it is following a narrative. My short-term memory is affected, and the nature of reading books is that you read them over a period of time. For me, when I go back to a book I was reading the previous day, I have limited recollection of what I have read. Therefore it makes the story confusing, and it becomes more of a task of looking for clues as to what is going on than actually following a story.

Lastly my ability to focus is also affected. The lighting in the room might cause me to squint, and you can’t exactly read in the dark.  I also need perfect conditions with no additional noises so I can concentrate, which again is not conducive to my household of three children. I do not know if I would enjoy reading if I didn’t have these difficulties. I suspect I might, but who knows!

Reading the comments that people made in relation to reading and intelligence made me question my own intelligence. If it wasn’t for my self-assurance and understanding of where my difficulties lie, it may have affected my confidence a little as well. What this experience has affirmed to me is that people will not understand about different thinkers unless they are educated about these differences. It is not a reflection of my worth but rather an indication of their understanding when people judge a person based on a specific criteria. It has also affirmed to me that although dyslexia is a known condition to many, how it can impact the person with it may be less understood.

I am pretty sure I will always be one of those people who doesn’t read books for fun, and this is OK to me. I hope that in the future there is more understanding within the general public about different thinkers, and that just because someone does or doesn’t do something outside of what is deemed “the norm,” they aren’t ridiculed or made to feel less-than because of it. Until that day comes I suppose all we can do is to continue to raise awareness of the impacts of these differences in hope that one day they will be understood.

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What Parents of Children With Dyslexia Wish Others Understood

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