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Brenda’s Story

Imagine a child so reluctant to write that she lays her pencil down between each word. That child was Brenda on her first day in my fifth-grade small group. We had opened the first day of a new small group by talking about how the students felt about reading, spelling, and writing - the areas which tend to give students with dyslexia the most difficulty. Brenda quietly let us know she liked reading, and could work on spelling, but strongly disliked writing. Brenda arrived at this dislike of writing in what is, unfortunately, the usual way.

Her mom began noticing that Brenda had som

e differences in her reading compared with the older children in the family when Brenda began completing assigned reading homework in first grade. When they read together, Brenda tended to either skip over or greatly struggle with common, high-frequency words which other children her age read with ease. If there were questions to answer about the passage, Brenda would have no idea how to answer - as if she had not listened to herself reading. Spelling in the early years was a complete mystery to Brenda. She simply didn’t make the connection between the letters and the sounds they represented. Brenda and her mom spent a great deal of time studying and working on word lists for upcoming spelling tests only to have Brenda perform very poorly on test day.

Being a proactive mom, Mrs. C researched possible reasons for the language struggles and took Brenda to be tested for dyslexia at the end of Brenda’s second-grade year. The test results found that Brenda was identified with characteristics of a person with dyslexia. Feeling she had found her answer, Mrs. C. pulled Brenda out of XYZ, the private church school she had been attending, and intended to homeschool her. A plan for teaching Brenda to read using phonics was recommended, so Mrs. C. purchased a popular book on how parents can teach their children to read in just over three months’ time. She had successfully homeschooled her older children, so felt prepared for the task of teaching Brenda to read.

Brenda did not share her mom’s enthusiasm for their homeschooling endeavors. Mrs. C. recalls how Brenda would hide the reading manual, causing time to be spent searching the house for the book so lessons could begin. Clever even at a very young age, Brenda would find unique caches for the book every day. Mrs. C. recalls being confused that a child bright enough to search out new hiding places couldn’t simply sit down and learn the lessons the book promised would teach her to read!

Two years invested in homeschooling efforts had yielded a closeness between mother and daughter (as well as an intimate knowledge of all possible hidey-holes in the house!) but had not resulted in Brenda reading and spelling on grade level. Writing had now joined the list of challenges and became Brenda’s nemesis.

Brenda’s folks came to me at the Dyslexia Center at the end of Brenda’s fourth-grade year, looking for a different way to approach Brenda’s language instruction. They enrolled Brenda in small group and tutoring, planning to start at the beginning of fifth grade.

At ABC, Brenda responded positively to the open and frank discussion of dyslexia that was part of the school culture. She seemed relieved to put a name to her struggles with language and was happy to know there was an approach to learning that would be successful for her. One of the specific things Brenda mentioned that encouraged her was the rotating classroom display of accomplished and famous dyslexic people. Brenda applied herself to learning and understanding the Orton-Gillingham approach lessons presented to her. Her tutor recalls Brenda being a very hard worker who seemed relieved to learn the generalizations and logic that are hallmarks of the O-G approach.

After completing her fifth-grade year, Brenda had made a lot of progress. She had learned to make a brainstorm box to write down key ideas she wanted to include in her writing so that creating content was separated from remembering the mechanics and spelling rules that govern writing. Even though she was not finished the program, Brenda felt she had been given the tools she needed to succeed. She longed to return to XYZ, the school she had attended in first and second grade, feeling her closest friends were there. Her parents enrolled her in XYZ and arranged for a private O-G trained tutor to come to the school and give Brenda tutoring lessons multiple times per week. The plan felt sound, but it was not a success.

Brenda was dismayed to realize school XYZ did not have a culture friendly to dyslexic students. She worked extraordinarily hard to earn average grades, but her teacher did not pick up on the fact she was not thriving. She was not allowed accommodations in the classroom, and the girls she was longing to reconnect with mocked and ridiculed her need for tutoring. Realizing the failure of school XYZ to meet Brenda’s needs, her mom chose to move Brenda back to ABC for her seventh-grade year.

Having spent a year away from the support system and understanding culture offered by ABC, Brenda now realized what a gift that support and understanding were. She felt bolstered by the school culture surrounded by students and teachers who understood dyslexia, at least to some degree, and where everyone accepted her. Once again, Brenda had the environment she needed to succeed. Accommodations prevented Brenda from getting bogged down and behind. Class notes that were provided to her by each teacher freed Brenda from the burden of trying to listen to the lecture and write the notes at the same time. She was now able to focus on what the teacher was saying, and her grades and level of understanding soared. Br

enda was able to take advantage of writing tutoring that could be scheduled during her study period, provided by an English teacher who was O-G trained. Brenda’s family was exposed to continuing education about dyslexia for families. This gave the entire family a better understanding of dyslexia and how it was impacting Brenda.

Brenda graduated from ABC as an honors student and a proud member of the school volleyball team. Brenda’s natural willingness to try new things ripened into confidence, even when success in those new endeavors was not guaranteed. Brenda is now at a small private college studying nursing, and her grades put her on the Dean’s List. One day, Brenda’s picture could join that rotating display of accomplished dyslexic individuals.

Brenda’s mom offers some advice to moms of children who exhibit signs of a reading struggle.

•Know the signs of dyslexia.

•Know that frequently a series of small and seem

ingly unrelated struggles cumulatively point to dyslexia.

•Get your child tested and start O-G tutoring as young as possible.

•Listen to your “mom radar” when things don’t seem to add up in a way that explains your child’s school struggles.

•Find a school with a culture of acceptance of children who learn differently.

•Allow your child to participate in extracurricular activities that interest them - it can’t be ALL about studying.

•Know that you can petition for extra time o

n college entrance exams and that it can make a huge difference to have that extra time.

•Encourage your child to ask for and accept help rather than struggle.

•Encourage your college-aged child to register for accommodations at university - even if s/he does not plan to use them.

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