Please join us for the third in a multi-part series celebrating the students and parents whose stories make up our story. Bennett's mom, Rachel, shares their family journey to his dyslexia diagnosis:
Hi I’m Rachel and our son’s name is Bennett. Bennett is a witty kid who enjoys spending time with friends, doing science experiments, playing board games, building is own businesses and loves animals. A lot of his friends describe him as popular and smart although he has never felt smart by school standards due to his struggles with reading and writing and always struggled to not feel different. Here is Bennett’s journey as a student with dyslexia.
We realized in kindergarten that Bennett struggled to learn his letters and reading wasn’t coming natural to him. We took the advice of teachers that all kids will learn to read, he just needs more time. My husband and I both struggled with reading so we were a little cautious and bought a phonics based reading program from when we were kids. Unfortunately, he still wasn’t making progress and it left us all feeling frustrated. At the end of the first semester of 1st grade, we asked for extra help from the school. His teacher graciously volunteered her time to tutor Bennett after school for 30 minutes. After 3 months, there was still no progress. All of Bennett’s reading scores had fallen in the bottom 5% compared to his peers while he was exceling in other areas like math. We worked on the word flash cards they would send home, the books they asked us to have him read over and over. Taking their advice of techniques such as looking at pictures and guessing at words based on the context – Bennett mastered the guessing game for simple first grade books, but it was when we went to his end of the year program at school, he was supposed to read to us the book that he written. He couldn’t read what he written and guessing wasn’t helping because he didn’t have pictures to help.
After discussing Bennett’s struggles with friends, I met other parents whose kids were dyslexic. They insisted on getting him tested. We asked for a special education evaluation, although the school pushed back and were hesitant, they finally agreed. At the end of 1st grade, we finally had the answer – Bennett was dyslexic with many other strengths (which had been hiding his disability- stealth dyslexia) and other weaknesses associated with dyslexia (low working memory, executive functioning skills, attention, etc.). We were surprised when his scores came back gifted, how could such a bright kid struggle so much to read?? It felt good to have something to call what Bennett was struggling with and also realized that we could have known this information going into kindergarten. He was identified at age 2.5 with a speech delay, trouble rhyming, remembering our phone number and address, would substitute words when reading, and couldn’t identify his letters at the end of first grade. There were so many emotions you feel as a parent when you now know that everything you had been doing to “help” your child was only leaving him more frustrated and actually hurting his self-esteem.
With that, my research began on how to help and support him both at home and in school. I learned quickly that Bennett wasn’t alone, nearly 20% of the population is dyslexic. Dyslexia was way more complicated than I could ever imagine. I quickly learned the 5 components of reading and all sorts of new terms such as decoding, phonemic awareness along with an entire new vocabulary of acronyms for special education – ESY, RTI, SLD, FAPE, IDEA, LRE. Wow, was I overwhelmed. The answer on how to help him was fairly straight forward – structured literacy and everything that went along such as multisensory learning! Not only would this help Bennett, but also it would help all struggling readers which was much more of the population than I had imagined. We had spent so much time believing what teachers and friends had told us – he needed more practice reading, more flash cards, we weren’t reading to him enough and he just needed to try harder.
Bennett easily qualified for an IEP with a SLD in reading and written expression. Victory – or so we thought. We heard just qualifying for an IEP was difficult, we didn’t know the challenges associated with goals, service minutes, quality of services/programs provided and training of the special education teachers. Added to an even greater challenge that “he’s too smart to need to be explicitly taught how to read and write.” Was I the only one in the room that was looking at these reading and writing scores??? He had a 3.5 standard deviation between his ability and his achievement (a plus side to being a parent of a student with dyslexia is that you become a statistician). He only needed 1.5 standard deviations to qualify, clearly this boy needed to be explicitly taught how to read and write.
Unfortunately, the school wanted to try their non-research based reading programs and planned to “fix” Bennett (even though we knew he wasn’t “broken”). Bennett had a full schedule of bouncing around from room to room with 5 different teachers. This left Bennett frustrated and physically avoiding school. I researched every law that I could, I joined every group that had anything to with dyslexia, read books, created binders with work examples, reading scores, and school policies. Meeting after meeting, I was told that the school knew what was best for Bennett. Until one day, the many hours of advocating for Bennett had finally paid off - he was given the opportunity to have the Take Flight program (instruction given by a highly trained individual who knew exactly how to teach Bennett). Within in a few short months, we could not only see the areas of reading that he struggled with improve but also he no longer avoided reading and you could see his confidence increase in more than just reading, as a whole person. Bennett finished 3rd grade reading at grade level. His fluency went from 17 correct words per minute to 74 CWPM with 100% accuracy!!!
For the first time in our 4 year journey, I don’t stay awake at night researching laws, programs and resources for Bennett – I can enjoy being his mom. I know that the SCDL can teach him exactly how he learns and he is going to be successful!