Health at Home
Name: Jasmin Dean
Family Members: Husband, Jeffrey, and their children Jonah, Jordan, and Joshua
My oldest son, Jonah, has dyslexia. His diagnosis was overlooked and unattended to for many years. After a full day of third-grade mock STAAR testing, and by the teacher’s request another four-hour evening of STAAR practice, I thought my son’s spirit was about to crack. With weary eyes, he looked at me and said, “Thank you, Mom, for sitting with me and doing all this.” That evening, my husband and I reached our breaking point, shed tears together and requested dyslexia testing.
We were always involved parents but avoided being helicopter parents. We trusted the teachers and wanted to give them the space to do their job. At home, we supported by assisting in hours of homework for Jonah and participated in regular activities offered at the school. Perfection was not an expectation. Neglect wasn’t either.
Jonah’s story is not unique; unfortunately, it is all too common. Approximately 1 in 5 children that cross the school’s threshold has dyslexia. Jonah’s dyslexia was undiagnosed for two years of pre-K and grueling kindergarten through third-grade years. I had to request testing because he had screened negative on the Texas Primary Reading Inventory test administered in kindergarten and first grade. Finally assessed at the age of 9, he was positive in every category of testing. It was the most wonderful and heart-breaking news his dad and I received. Wonderful because we finally identified the cause; difcult because we knew nothing about dyslexia and realized the struggle could have been prevented with early identification.
One of the consequences of late identification and intervention is that my son has been called baby reader, baby speller, and even had his papers left on his desk torn in half with notes telling him to go back to kindergarten. When Jonah’s fourth-grade teacher called to report the last incident, she was teary when she told me these weren’t even the bad kids in her class. This is just a glimpse of what he encounters with his peers, and the resilience he demonstrates every day waking up with an amazing attitude and still eager to go to school to learn.
I want to tell you what he has overcome so far: In first grade, he developed extreme test anxiety. He stopped eating for four months, panicked before school and spent hours in the bathroom. By second grade, his teacher noted that he would become apprehensive every time he saw the stopwatch for reading fluency tests. The third-grade teacher told me Jonah was fine, but needed to work harder, and after our 504 meeting, the teacher tried to prove the rest of the year that he really wasn’t dyslexic. The night before he took his first official STAAR test, he started crying. He told us that in second grade, the guidance counselor stated that he would fail third grade if he didn’t pass the STAAR test. He was an A/B student with almost perfect behavior and attendance across the board. We had no idea he was told such things until the fear and anxiety was imbedded. I am including these details to emphasize the gross need for teacher training and true understanding of dyslexia symptoms in the educational system.
Desperate for information after the diagnosis, our reading specialist led us to resources and was able to give us a plan for intervention. Sally Shaywitz, a Yale scholar on dyslexia says, “Dyslexia might be an island of weakness but is surrounded by a sea of strengths.” I wish Jonah’s teachers would have told me that during all those conferences. I wonder, did they know?
When we think of great contributors to the world, names from history immediately come to mind: Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci. As we consider our modern world and the many conveniences that impact our lives, names like Ford, the Wright Brothers and Jobs come to mind. What do they all have in common?
They were all labeled unteachable, struggled in conventional classroom environments, avoided reading and many required scribes. These individuals all had dyslexia. In fact, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the founder of the MIT Media Lab Nicholas Negroponte, a person with dyslexia himself, called it the MIT disease in his autobiography.
These names are not an exhaustive list. It has been discovered that dyslexic thinkers have made these world-changing accomplishments because of their dyslexic tendencies, not in spite of them. In fact, individuals with dyslexia have unique abilities to problem solve in alternate ways and have heightened creative skills. Galileo Galilei, Pablo Picasso, Agatha Christie, Walt Disney, John F. Kennedy, Cher, Octavia Spencer, Whoopie Goldberg, Jennifer Aniston, John Lennon, Andy Warhol, Steven Speilberg, Henry Winkler, Erin Brokovich, Richard Branson and Dav Pilkey all have dyslexic minds.
Twenty percent of students that cross the threshold of school every day have dyslexia, whether identified or not. That means 1 in 5 households with school-aged children recognize their child’s struggles but may or may not know the underlying cause. Educators see dyslexia in their classrooms every day but may not know how to teach those who have it. Dyslexia is labeled a learning disability, but it can also be viewed as a different way of thinking. Dyslexia changes the way millions of people read and process information; an ability of sorts. While not all have the same gifts, there are shared mental functions. In the book The Gif of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How They Can Learn, Ronald Davis and Eldon Braun tell us of eight primary basic abilities that dyslexics share: utilize the brain to alter and create perceptions, a heightened awareness of the environment, more curious than average, mainly think in pictures instead of words, highly intuitive and insightful, think multi-dimensionally, experience thought as reality, and have vivid imaginations. Davis and Braun also include, “These eight basic abilities, if not suppressed, invalidated or destroyed by parents or the educational process, will result in two characteristics: higher than normal intelligence, and extraordinary creative abilities.”
There is a fundamental problem in our society when these learners are labeled as “dumb” by peers and “lazy” by teachers, and this occurs because of a limited understanding of what dyslexia is and how it affects the learner. Although there are museums dedicated to the innovations and artistic creations of dyslexic minds, dyslexia is still misunderstood and a mystery to many.
While many are advocating on the legislative level, there is an urgent need for a space where dyslexic learners and their families can recognize and celebrate their unique learning style. Both parents and teachers need to know what dyslexia is. Individuals with dyslexia need to be aware of others who have changed our world in every discipline, and reassurance that they can learn and succeed as well.