When our son, Alejandro, was in first grade, we transferred him to a new school. Prior to entering he was evaluated for reading and math to see if he was at grade level. My wife and I were informed that he was behind in reading, which came as a surprise because his previous school never said anything. We just assumed that this new school was more advanced because that was their reputation. It was recommended that Ale meet with the resource teacher for reading and that we hire a tutor for additional support. It was expected that by doing this he would catch up and everything would be fine.
Everything was far from fine. Ale would come home exhausted. He'd complain that his head hurt. We'd give him a break before diving into homework, but it didn't help. Doing math was okay but when it came to reading, we'd have mini-meltdowns. Ale would start reading but quickly become very defiant and give up. We'd scold him for giving up and not really trying. We'd tell him that he was being lazy because clearly he was smart enough. He'd cry and cry but we wouldn't give in to what we believed to be crocodile tears. Then there were the many, many times he would say that he was stupid or dumb. We told him to stop using those words because they weren't true. All he needed to do was try harder and focus.
At the end of first grade we met with the principal and his teacher and they informed us that Ale hadn't progressed in his reading as they had hoped. They felt that if we held him back a year, then he would surely catch up. We thought about it very carefully before deciding to go with the school’s recommendation.
The second time through first grade was a better experience for us — at least for the first two quarters. Eventually we fell back into the same difficulties as before but at the end of the year everyone felt he had progressed enough to move on.
The first half of second grade was really bad. There was more homework, more reading, more spelling and writing and this led to more anxiety and frustration. Ale's anxiety had even begun to express itself physically. He'd complain of being sick in the mornings before getting ready for school. At school, he'd complain of headaches, fevers, stomach aches and nausea to the point of actually throwing up.
Around Christmas of that year, my mother had been spending some time with Ale and approached us regarding Ale's reading difficulties. She believed that he may have dyslexia and that we should have him tested. We did.
In March 2011, two months after starting the testing process, we were given the diagnosis. Ale had dyslexia. At first we were worried because we didn't know what that meant for his future. Would he be able to go to school like everyone else? Would he be able to go to college? Would he ever learn to read like his peers? I went back to the internet for the answers and I found them. Things were going to be okay. Being diagnosed with dyslexia was not going to be the end. We met with the principal and Ale's teachers to let them know of the diagnosis and to figure out the next steps. During this meeting I brought up the question of how do we help explain to Ale what dyslexia is and what it means for him. The principal quickly stepped in and said that she doesn't like to use the "D" word because it labels the child and labels are not helpful. We ignored her warning and told Ale about his dyslexia and what it meant for him. It was the best thing we could have done.
At the beginning of third grade, Ale's resource teacher informed my wife and I that an expert in the field of dyslexia was going to be giving a free seminar at a nearby facility in two months and that we should consider going. She also said that she had informed the entire school personnel hoping that they would make it. We ended up going and despite repeated reminders, only four teachers from our school went. This included the resource teacher and the kindergarten teacher. None of the first through eighth grade teachers made it. Here was an opportunity to learn about something that affects at least 15% of our school's students and the moment was squandered.
It was after the seminar that I realized that I needed to do something to help educate others about dyslexia — especially the teachers and administrators. And that was the moment that Embracing Dyslexia was born. Schools need to acknowledge that dyslexia is real; they need to understand what it is and not be afraid of the word; and they need to know what can be done to help these children. With this information they can work with parents and together make a tremendous impact on a dyslexic child's life.