Dyslexia and Homeschooling
My Own Experience
What is Dyslexia?
Since I have a child with dyslexia, I know that dyslexia is more complex than just "seeing words backwards," which is still quite a common perception of dyslexia. While the word dyslexia is applied generally these days to children who cannot seem to learn to read, there are many variations of dyslexia and many disorders that lead to the inability to read.
Some Red Flags
If I had known 10 years ago what I know now, we would have foreseen even when my second son was just 3 years old that he was bound to have problems with language. He was very late to speak, and when he finally did (much later than his older sibling), his speech was impossible for us to understand. We sought help early through public day care by way of an evaluation by our local school system. It was determined that he had average hearing, but he was diagnosed with a lateral lisp. We were told he would "outgrow" it and to wait until he reached public school age before pursuing intervention through the schools.
Our Struggle With Public School
By kindergarten we could understand our son enough to know what he was saying, and he was clear most of the time, but he entered speech therapy right away. He said "feef" for "thief," which may seem like a small thing, but imagine how this impacted his ability to spell or to choose the correct beginning sounds of even simple words! I should have started right then working with him at home with an appropriate program, but I really thought things would be okay and my knowledge of dyslexia was zero. Anyway, my son made it through kindergarten with the ability to recognize all 26 letters of the alaphabet.
First grade was so-so, but he began to fall behind in word recognition. He would learn very small words such as "cap," but by even the next day would have forgotten them. It was not uncommon for him to look at a word that he had studied all week, such as "cap," and sound it out as "pan," or another beginning reading word he had studied. At the end of first grade, he was a few levels behind where he should have been with reading, but the teachers felt that if we read all summer he should catch up the following year. I enrolled him in a summer reading program through the library and read to him all summer.
Farther and Farther Behind
Second grade was the year we hit a wall. By Christmas, my son's worksheets became increasingly covered with doodling that he was doing instead of following along with the class. His mood had become sad and withdrawn and he said he did not understand why he was even born. The teachers, frustrated with what appeared to be a "lack of effort" began to talk to me about his attitude and his behavior. Some of his doodling was of ancient-looking swords, which I saw as just an outlet that empowered him (he had always loved being read to about knights and castles). The school, however, seemed worried that it was a sign of aggression, even though he was, and is, my most gentle child and had never once shown any sign of lashing out at a teacher or another student or even an object. Something had to be done. Though the school was doing all they could during the day, and we were doing all we could at home, my son was falling through the cracks.
The Decision to Homeschool
I pulled my son out of public school mid-year in second grade. We did worksheets at home and I worked with him one on one. I would like to say that I solved the problem right away, but I did not! In fact, I became frustrated that he could seemingly learn a simple word like "at," but then the next day look at it with confusion in his eyes and blurt out something like "take." At the end of the school year, in order to comply with state homeschooling laws, as well as for our own need to understand what was going on, we had our son professionally tested by a special education teacher with a reputable testing service. She saw "red flags" all over the place and was the first person I had ever met who said the word "dyslexia" to me in relation to my son. I was relieved, but saddened to think how much we had worried over issues that were not issues at all, such as attitude and work ethic, not to mention "aggression."
Diagnosis of Dyslexia Sinks In
I went home somewhat overwhelmed with the information I was given, which consisted of many informational brochures, book recommendations, contact information for learning centers to help children with dyslexia, most of which were way out of our price range! Even though I read the information, looking back I realize that much of it did not sink in because it was so new and so foreign to me. It was not until the following year, when we had him tested again, that the glaring disparity between where he was in his comprehension and where he should be in his comprehension really slapped me in the face! I had to do something. We had worked all year with standard readers and spelling lists from which information was being no more retained than it had been in public school. The realization was sinking in that the ONLY way he would ever retain information and learn to read was by having it presented to him as something especially designed for a dyslexic individual.
Once again, I wish I could tell you that we "caught up" easily in every subject, but I cannot. You must realize NOW that dyslexia affects every subject taught in school except maybe physical education taught on a playground setting. By third grade, even math is requiring quite a bit of reading and, even though the math words are high frequency, if the words cannot be recognized and stored and the student is unable to read on his own, the work cannot be done independently. There is hope, though, and I have proved that it all works out if you can get the right help for your child and, hopefully, get it in the elementary grades rather than middle school or high school. Lest you despair, however, I will tell you that there are programs even for older children!
Choosing What's Right for Your Child
If you are going to teach your child yourself, don't give up on finding a program that you can understand and teach. If you are going to have someone else do the teaching, cost may be a concern, but that is definitely an option. I cannot tell you which program will best suit your child, but I can share what worked for me, and I can provide you with some resources to get you on your way to understanding dyslexia better.
Our Own Wonderful Progress (2004)
Let's fast-forward to today in my home. My son with dyslexia, who is now 13 years old, is "technically" in 8th grade, and has been homeschooled for 6 years, just began to read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. The pure joy I have at seeing my son be able to read this book can hardly be put into words. I can remember when he could not even read any of "The Bob Books" even though he was at an age to be reading Harry Potter with the rest of the world! I do still sit with him when he reads to remind him how to sound out big words and to remind him not to get overwhelmed! I still have to encourage him to sit down and take the time to read. Reading does not come easy to him. It may never come easy to him, and how many of us enjoy doing things that are very difficult for us to do? I praise my son daily for coming so far with his reading abilities and I am determined to change the label that was put on him at an early age. I want people to know my son and say, "Wow! He is well-read!"
Another Progress Update (2005)
I want to share with my readers our success story. It has been a long and sometimes worrisome road teaching my son to read and wondering if he ever would, in fact, read! I want to report that he just voraciously read Eragon, following which he even more voraciously read its sequel, Eldest. If your child is struggling to read, don't give up!! My child was diagnosed with dyslexia. I am also convinced that he is a "late bloomer." But I am so glad he bloomed! He is 14.
Do Not Give Up (2007)
There won't be many more updates, as we are nearing the lofty goals I had set for my son. However, I just wanted to share a picture and a few thoughts this morning. Last night I walked through the small foyer that surrounds the staircase in our home. I looked up, and there on the little landing lay my 6-feet, 200-pound 16-year-old son, reading. I had to smile. (Then I grabbed my digital camera.) I surmised that all his favorite places to read, the den, the upstairs bedrooms, my big office chair, were being occupied by someone else, so he found just any place he could to read.
You can only know how thrilling this is if you have had a child that you struggled greatly (for years) to teach to read! Joseph has dyslexia. He looks at things differently from the rest of us, on and off the pages of a book, I might add. I never did give up on him and was even determined that he would be a super reader. My heart sings a song of thankfulness every time I see him reading like this. Our school year this year began the end of August. It is now the end of November and he has already read (for pleasure) eleven 500-page (on average) books.
For those of you who are teaching a child with dyslexia: Don't give up!
Ideas for Writing Practice
Narrate His Own Book
Very often, people with learning difficulties such as dyslexia are actually above-average intelligent. The fact that someone has a receptive or expressive impairment with language does not mean they are stupid! As well, many people with dyslexia are very creative people, which is the case with our son. He loves being read to and really enjoys a creative, exciting story. Sometimes he thinks he would like to be a writer, of all things, and I encourage him in that! What we do is have him narrate his book and I type it for him. I believe talking about the words and having him sitting next to me to watch me type and to see the sentence structure is a good language skills exercise for him.
Make His Own Comic Book
Another thing I have had him do is draw and narrate his own comic books. I have him sound the words out as best he can on a separate piece of paper. I then show him the correct spelling and he copies that into the comic book he has put together. If this method is too stressful, you could let him narrate it while you write it, and then have him copy it.
I don't think a small amount of copywork each day in a journal can possibly hurt. If your child likes poetry, for example, let him copy a small poem each day. Also, copying one quotation a day from a book of famous quotations will teach him some things from history as well.
Choosing a Dyslexia Curriculum
What We Chose and Why
After some research, we went with the Stevenson Learning Skills program for several reasons.
You must know that I had to sit down in a quiet place and read, then re-read, the teacher's manual. It takes some effort to get a good handle on what your goals will be and how the teaching must be approached on a daily basis for the program to work, but the time investment for you to learn how to teach any program will be worth every minute when your child begins to read and retain information!
Once reading was well under way, we chose Sequential Spelling for spelling.
Our recommendations for teaching reading:
Our recommendation for teaching spelling: