When my youngest son, Noah, entered Kindergarten, there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be successful. Noah was a very bright child…he used great vocabulary and in the right context. Imagine my surprise when about a month into the school year, the teacher started sending home notes that he was unable to identify the sounds of the alphabet.
This began a 2 year struggle to find out what was wrong with Noah. We hired lots of tutors, including taking him to some very well known tutoring centers. We paid a lot of money and received very little help. Most of the tutors told us that he needed to be put in Special Education because he just could not grasp reading and spelling. He could remember everything you told him practically verbatim. His intelligence was above average. So why wasn’t he learning English? We were dumbfounded.
He struggled with remembering words like “the”. He might read it fine in one paragraph but did not recognize it in the next. He would transpose letters in words, including his name. For many years, he wrote his name as “Noha”. Now, I realize that letter reversal is common in young children. However, when it continues after age 7, it becomes a concern. For many years, he added, dropped, or mixed up sounds in words. For example, spaghetti was bisgetti, and so on. He had great difficulty with rhyming. He also did a lot of language cluttering. Instead of stuttering, which is when the flow of speech is broken, i.e., (li-li-like this), or prolonged (lllllike this), he would clutter his words. Cluttering is when there are excessive breaks in the normal flow of speech. He might speak like this…”Mom, did you…mom, did you….mom, did you….make me a sandwich?”. Noah did this all the time and for many years. His handwriting was also atrocious. He would write very large letters and then very small letters. He would write above the lines and below the lines. He might spread the words out very far and then on the next line have them all bunched up together. This was all on the same page! It was very unusual.
Many times when Noah was trying to read, he would substitute similar words. If it said “dog”, he would say “puppy”. If it said “stick”, he might say “log”. He would also substitute words that looked the same by shape. If it said “look” or “bake”, he might say “took” or “fake”. He did not read for meaning; he read because he was told to and he spent so much time trying to figure out what the letters meant, that he did not have any clue what the content was. It was not that he did not have good comprehension or understanding; rather, he had no idea what the meaning was because he couldn’t even read the words! If you can’t read it, you can’t comprehend it!
I will share something here that is very sad for me to admit. Because of Noah’s high intelligence, we thought many times that he was goofing off. I would get frustrated with him and tell him to stop goofing off….pay attention….focus. He would start crying and say that he wasn’t goofing off and he was paying attention. I would sit there bewildered. I became very afraid of what the future would hold for my little Noah. Would he ever go to college? Would he be a success in life? How can you get a good career when you can’t even remember the word “the”? Would he work menial jobs all his life?
We tried for several years to find out what was the problem. There was a major disconnect somewhere but we could not find it. I never thought of dyslexia; I was under the impression that dyslexia was when you read backwards. In fact, most people believe that is what dyslexia is. The teachers and school administration were at a loss. They could not figure out how he could be so intelligent yet struggle with reading and spelling. They never said the word “dyslexia” either.
One day my husband was at work and was voicing his frustration about Noah’s situation to a co-worker. His co-worker stopped and told him that his high school daughter was exactly the same way. Her junior year in high school, her English teacher pulled her aside and told her that she believed her to be dyslexic. The English teacher had a dyslexic child and was also a dyslexia tutor. She did some testing on this high school girl and it was confirmed that she was dyslexic. She began a remediation program with her English teacher after school and began making significant progress. That young lady has graduated college and become quite a success in her life. Before her tutoring, her parents worried that she wouldn’t complete high school let alone complete college!
We got in touch with this English teacher/dyslexia tutor. She met with us; reviewed Noah’s academic history; family history (my husband always struggled in school and with reading too); did extensive tests; and, lo and behold, Noah was dyslexic! We couldn’t believe it! Truth be told, we were so relieved; I never thought I would be so happy to have my son “labeled”, but I was. Now we had something to work with.
Stay tuned for Part 2.