Over the past few days, I’ve had several conversations with parents, grandparents and educators about reading difficulties. Being a mother of a severely dyslexic child myself, I’ve researched, cried, advocated, coaxed, spent money on tutoring, cried some more…well, you get the picture. Dealing with dyslexia is not easy. And I’m only the mom.
I can’t begin to imagine what living with it would be like.
And so, my rant is this: kids are all born with potential. Every day, children are born who will become politicians, mathematicians, engineers, musicians, dancers, actors, teachers, lawyers, farmers, business managers, salesmen, painters, airplane pilots and inmates.
This last one is where my rant comes in. All this potential gets lost in a sea of failure. From one school year to the next, children with reading disabilities get futher and further behind their peers. They may start kindergarten as doctors, but end their educational careers without receiving a high school diploma.
Often, they end up behind bars. Poverty, crime and illiteracy are so intertwined that the statistics are frightening.
Rest assured, however, no fingers will be pointed here. Rather, we are all guilty. Ultimately, it is a combination of political, financial, familial and educational flaws woven together over 18 years that locks certain children into a life of less than.
Laws in most states do not demand at-risk literacy testing. Sure children who are far enough behind their peers receive reading help in elementary school, but this is not the same thing as actively pinpointing children who are at-risk for reading disabilities. It can be done folks. As young as 5-years-old kids can be diagnosed with dyslexia. Over time, an early diagnosis will save money and hearthache.
Yet with budget cuts, who pays for this? Funding creates a huge gap in our assistance programs. Our schools simply cannot afford to provide services for all struggling children. Only the most significantly impaired children receive Title One assistance. Those smart enough to cope with their hidden disability and still pull decent grades are often left unfunded and undiagnosed.
Education is weak at best for many schools and parents. I’ve engaged in many conversations with teachers who have no clue that dyslexia is far more than transposing letters when reading a word. Yet, this easy definition is about as much attention the number one reading disability gets in higher education. In a nutshell, many counselors and teachers have never been taught what dyslexia is and how it affects the children they work with each day. Mind-blowing, isn’t it?
Parents, did you get your dyslexia manual from the hospital when your baby was born? When she attended preschool screening? When he visited the doctor for well-baby checks? Yeah, me neither. I knew what dyslexia was (psychology background, and all) and asked about it when Eldest was in second grade. I was reassured this wasn’t an issue. Eldest received remedial services from kindergarten through third grade. In the fifth grade, he attended Sylvan Learning Center. At the beginning of eleventh grade he was diagnosed as severely dyslexic.
Some great mom I am. I knew something was amiss, and yet I wasn’t informed enough to be more proactive. I worked with Eldest at home, but I wasn’t doing nearly enough. I can’t tell you how much that hurts to admit.
But let me add this. Even if parents are active in their child’s education, they inherently understand something is wrong and know that their school district is not set up to assist them, somebody still has to pay for the help their child will need to succeed. I can tell you from experience, it’s not cheap. We often joke that we paid for Eldest’s first year of college tuition when he attended Sylvan. Not eveyone can swing that–even if they wanted to.
Yet we can’t escape the cost. In the long run, the government sponsors prisons and pays subsidies to low-income families. Kids drop out of school, courts fill with hearings on criminal behavior and the cycle of undereducation continues. We pay much more to maintain a lifestyle of funtional illiteracy than we would to prevent it in the first place. Not only financially, but emotionally and socially.
Every day we fail to provide our future doctors, woodworkers, landscapers, dentists, social workers and chemists with the means to reach their potentials.
The ability to read is a gift every child deserves. Our failure to pass it on is criminal.
If you know a child who struggles to read, I urge you to do something about it. Learn everything you can. Encouraage others to do the same. Understand fully how much of an impact dyslexia has on the child you love.
If you are an educator, talk to your principal. Ask for training on reading disabilities. I promise you will look at some kids very differently. They are not lazy or dumb, apathetic or inherently troublesome. In fact, they may be some of the brightest kids you will ever have the pleasure to teach.
Here’s a list of 37 Common Characteristics of Dyslexia to get you started.