Tag Archives: dyslexia

Cast Away the Norm and Survive Outside the Writing Box

Last night I watched Cast Away with my three boys. This classic movie incited tears and general wailing by Youngest at Wilson’s epic final scene and renewed Middle’s fear of flying. It also sparked an interesting conversation. Who, among us on the couch, would survive a four-year stint on a deserted island?

Hands down, Eldest won.

Surviving with next to nothing means a whole lot of ingenuity. We decided that his dyslexia–which translates into the fact that his whole world is outside the box in how he perceives things–sets him up nicely to excel with a handful of random objects.

In Cast Away, ice skates became knives and dental appliances. A little bit of blood and a ball became a best friend.

These are the kinds of innovations necessary to survive outside the normal conditions we call life. Some of us are more prepared to do so than others.

The same is true in writing. It is easy to get hooked into writing the norm. Some novels are very formulaic. Some very trendy. Some are very every day.

A handful of novels, however, thumb their noses at the norm and jump out of the airplane before it ever crashes. They want to survive in the wilds with a unique character and a few random objects.

There is a fine line, however, between surviving and committing suicide. Publishers may be afraid of taking on outside-the-box books, and readers may not quite be ready for a castaway novel to grace their beloved book shelves.

One of my very astute, successful and prolific writer friends recently said that she loves the freedom to write what she wants. But, she’s noticed a definite connection between her book sales and her willingness to toe the line. The further her books veer from the standard expectations, the less sales they get.

Until–or unless–a novel breaks away from tradition and creates a whole new norm. Hunger Games, anyone?

So, how can we tell the difference between just edgy enough and too edgy? How can we ensure that the twist we give our novels will help it swim rather than sink? What tips do you have for walking the line, toeing it or stepping over it into unchartered lands?

Curious minds want to know.

Giving Back: Researching Donation Options

So, as a writer with a handful of short stories and two books in the publication channels, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my goals as an author.

I want to make a difference in the lives of the kids I write for. I can do that in two ways. I can write compelling stories that help my readers reach their potential, and I can donate a certain amount of my proceeds to the causes I believe in.

The first option seems relatively easy in comparison to the second one. I have spent the last few weeks researching how best to donate to the futures of my potential audience. Trust me, it’s not as easy as it first seems.

In part, I balk at scholarships that have a GPA criteria. There are 1001 of them out there for outstanding students. These kids are already well on their way to success. Instead, I want to make sure the kids who benefit from any money/goods I donate are at risk of not succeeding.

You see, literacy is probably my biggest soap box issue. Poverty, crime and literacy rates are so tightly linked that some states base their need for prison beds on the reading success of elementary students. This is a great American travesty and not the only one out there when it comes to managing literacy.

Eldest Son has severe dyslexia. Completing high school was a struggle. Getting academic scholarships was not in his cards. Yet, according to research, his brain works six times harder to complete educational tasks as a traditional student’s. By rights shouldn’t that entitle him to six times the scholarship money? Alas, however, it is these students who fall through the cracks and end up in jail. The ones we don’t help succeed when it is whithin our ability to do so.

Another part of the equation is that many programs are geographically based. Sure I can donate to the Detroit area where 47% of the population is functionally illiterate. But I don’t live in Chicago. If I’m going to pinpoint a single geographic area, it will be my own.

Yet my neck of the woods doesn’t have a viable charity/scholarship for the individuals I want to help. In fact, my neck of the woods–because it’s small and at the corner of Nowhere and More Nowhere–gets overlooked by nearly all important services. As a whole, we are economically and educationally suppressed and service poor.

Anyway, long story short, I am having a difficult time finding a charity to donate to that hits the demographic I am passionate about: at risk students who could reach their potential if given the chance.

I want to be part of that chance.

Any suggestions?

Dyslexia: Unlocked Potential

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.

Yes, 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.

Thank You, Ted Dekker!

Last week, Eldest was restless and looking for something to do.  I handed him a copy of Chosen, the first in The Lost Books Series.  He read it over the course of a few days.  Then begged for a trip to the book store to buy the second one.

I got home from work today to find him lounging on the couch fully engrossed in the second book–with only four chapters left to go.

Eldest is severely dyslexic and hates reading.  Because it takes him three times longer than the average 11th grader to read a page, he avoids reading at all costs. 

He’s also begging for me to buy the next book and the next and the next. 

In my eyes, there is no greater accomplishment, no greater reward, than touching the life of a child.  When I grow up, I want to be just like Ted.  I want to help kids learn to read for pleasure.  I want children who otherwise shy away from the written word to hang on every word I write. 

Kudos, Mr. Dekker, from the bottom of my heart.  I am your number one fan at this moment in time. 

What do you want to accomplish as a writer?  Is getting published your end goal, or do you have a deeper purpose to your writing journey?

What happened to Genetics?

As many of you know, I am an avid reader and a writer at heart.  I love literature.  If I had a day with no responsibilities and absolute freedom, I would read. 

Unfortunately, my oldest fell far from my tree.  While he loves stories, he doesn’t like to read or write.  He has struggled with both of these since he attended preschool and rhyming was the eighth wonder of his world.  This despite the fact that I read to him for hours every single day of his wee childhood.  This despite my deep, abiding respect for the written word. 

So what happened to genetics?  Why can’t he read as easily or as fluently as I can?  Or his three younger siblings?  Why does punctuation have no meaning to him, and why, oh why, does he break every spelling rule ever created and not notice that his version is unreadable? 

Eldest is now in the 10th grade.  Today we embark on our newest edition of his educational life.  Today he is getting tested for Dyslexia.  While I have felt for a long time that he has Dyslexia, schools do not test for it.  When he attended a private tutoring center, they didn’t test for it either.  In fact, very few facilities do despite the fact that Dyslexia is considered the number one cause for reading disabilities.

To me, it makes sense to identify the problem and treat it specifically, rather than treating all struggling and reluctant readers the same.  Yet I appear to be a minority.  Maybe because my son’s struggles hit so close to home.  Nobody else seems interested in why the written language is elusive to him or why he can’t remember a string of directions or how to get home from the video store.

Instead, teachers seem intent on disciplining him for failing to complete an assignment, writing poorly or forgetting to show up for a band lesson.  Rather than being rewarded for figuring out the math problem in his head, he is docked points for not showing his work.  His brain does things a little differently than the rest of ours.

He is an anomaly.  Intelligent, yet average.  Attentive, yet forgetful.  Articulate, yet functionally illiterate. 

I hope these tests finally give us some answers.  I would like to understand how his brain works, because it obviously does not work like mine.  I would like him to feel, for the first time, as if he is amazing and that he can accomplish anything.  A diagnosis would go a long way in explaining what happened to genetics and how they seemingly missed him. 

I wonder if the Schwan’s man can read…

Just kidding, Eldest is the spittin’ image of my DH. 

Who gave you your love for the written word?  Do your parents read and write, or are you the apple that rolled down the hill and nestled into a storybook land of your own making?