A student who is his high school drama productions’ leading man, a frequent soloist in concerts, and the bowling team’s leadoff man must be the kind of guy for whom everything comes easily, right? In Luke’s case, the opposite is true. His is a story filled with inspiring triumphs over seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Luke is a handsome, blond high school boy with a big smile and eyes that spark with a zest for life. But life has not always been kind to Luke. He has the double neurodiversity challenges of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dyslexia.
During Kindergarten and First Grade, therapies to help Luke and his family understand and develop strategies related to his ASD took the main focus. This approach, addressing the most pressing social/academic need first, is a solid strategy that helps families and educators prioritize their limited resources. It allows quicker success in the more critical area than if all challenges were tackled simultaneously.
With progress made in the Autism Spectrum Disorder arena and an approach in place, Luke and his mom were ready to tackle the dyslexia starting in Luke’s second grade year. Poor spelling and writing skills had become critical difficulties for Luke in second grade. His teachers supported him and tried various options including printing on colored backgrounds to try and help Luke, but with limited success because the source of the difficulty was not being addressed.
Luke’s mom, a nurse by profession, is a researcher at heart. She joined forces with her sister-in-law, who reported that Luke’s cousin was struggling in similar ways to Luke. The two moms uncovered many characteristics of dyslexia in the children’s school work. Testing for dyslexia was scheduled between Luke’s second and third grade school years. When the testing identified Luke as dyslexic, his mom remembers feeling validated. Her “mom radar” had detected a secondary neurodiversity difference, and she was proven correct! It should never be overlooked that while educators and specialists are experts in their particular area of study, parents are experts in their children, having known them since day one.
Entering grade three with the dyslexic identification in place allowed Luke’s mom and the team at his public school to move forward with a plan for accommodations and for
tutoring with an Orton-Gillingham trained specialist. Both Luke and his mom give all involved teachers credit for being as nice as they possibly could, and for showing great care and kindness to Luke, however, the hoped-for intervention for his dyslexia was overshadowed by services related to his ASD. In tutoring, the interventionist was O-G trained, but lessons focused on math with the remaining time devoted to reading - although not in the intensive way O-G intervention must be delivered to be effective. When the third graders in the mainstream classroom were required to write paragraphs and then short reports, it was a tipping point for Luke. He was thriving in small group with the interventionist, yet those skills and accommodations didn’t carry over in the main classroom. Luke was drowning, simply unable to produce the caliber of writing output required by his classroom teacher.
Donning her research hat once again, Luke’s mom looked for private tutors in her area who could deliver the Orton-Gillingham tutoring with the intensity required to make a difference for Luke. Enter Mrs. K, a retired teacher who got Orton-Gillingham training after she retired so she could help students whom she had been unable to help in her classrooms. After school tutoring with Mrs. K all through fourth grade helped Luke catch up, and he even began to read for enjoyment. Through Mrs. K, Luke’s family learned more about the dyslexia center program at a local private school. After interviews and discussions about how both of Luke’s learning differences would be addressed, Luke changed schools and became part of the dyslexia program. Relief that so many people at his new school knew about dyslexia, and that the accommodations were honored in both intervention small groups as well as in the mainstream classroom filled Luke and his family with the hope that this was the place where Luke could thrive. Luke’s mom said at the time, and still says that her only regret is that she didn’t move Luke to a specialized program earlier.
Spending three years in small group and 1:1 Orton-Gillingham tutoring put Luke in a position to move from the shelter of a controlled language instruction environment to be completely mainstreamed. Accommodations had been in place for Luke since he entered 5th grade, and those, combined with a language arts classroom teacher who was O-G trained herself gave Luke the support he needed to step out on his own and to thrive in all mainstream classes.
Luke has a couple of years of high school remaining, but already has a post high school plan to take courses at the local community college before making a decision
on the best career college choice for him. College is definitely in his future, he reports with a smile. Seconding the big smile, Luke’s mom reports that she no longer checks up on whether or not he is keeping up with his assignments and studying for tests. Luke has many opportunities to practice the autocorrect features of his email program as he does all the communication with teachers himself via email, no longer needing input from his mom.
Luke’s future is bright, and the spotlight calls him to take his place alongside fellow students with no thought to the obstacles he has overcome, only a solid confidence that he can tackle what the future puts into his path with confidence and assurance.
Words of advice from Luke’s mom:
Be patient with your child.
You don’t have to be an expert in all areas.
Find trusted experts and let them take the lead in their areas of expertise.
Words of advice from Luke:
Everything is going to be okay.
You are going to be successful if you are willing to commit (to the work to make your goals come true.)