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“How Public School Failed My Dyslexic Son”

We rely on teachers to notice and alert us to red flags at school, but my son’s school refused to see or acknowledge his ADHD and dyslexia. It was no match for this mother’s instincts.

First, we heard, “He’s a boy; they’re slower to develop.”

Then we heard, “Why don’t you give him the gift of time and hold him back?”

After that they started to question my parenting skills, “Maybe you aren’t helping him enough at home. Read to him more instead of letting him watch TV.”

This didn’t go over big with me. It’s hard to hear that your child has learning problems. It’s even more difficult to feel dismissed when you express concern over your child’s lack of progress.

“Don’t worry, this skill isn’t necessary,” the teacher said when I became concerned that Joseph couldn’t recite the ABCs at the end of first grade.

[Take This Test: Does My Child Have Dyslexia?]

I’m here to tell you it is an important skill and a huge red flag indicating possible short-term memory loss. Unfortunately, the teachers at my son’s school were ill-informed and not even trying to help him succeed.

Did I mention I was furious?

That’s putting it mildly; I felt like screaming because the people who were supposed to help were looking the other way.

I will never forget the words Mrs. H said to my husband and me at our parent-teacher conference when our son started second grade. “Not everyone is college material. Lots of men are happy with truck driving jobs or being a sanitation worker.”

[Get This Free Download: What Learning Disabilities Look Like In the Classroom]

Can you imagine sitting across from your son’s teacher and hearing that she had written him off from ever succeeding at 8 years old? We felt sick, bullied, and betrayed by the system.

We walked out of the conference and straight to the principal’s office, only to be told that he was too young for testing. We were told to wait, that our sense of urgency was misplaced — to let Mrs. H. work her magic…

We withdrew Joseph from school the very same day.

Joseph was tested at the University of Denver and diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). One day I ran into his old teacher and principal while picking up Joseph’s brother, who still attended the school. I shared the results of the testing and they said, “We don’t recognize dyslexia in our district.”

“It’s a catch-all phrase.”

“I wish you luck teaching Joseph to read.”

Has this ever happened to you?

The road we went down from that point was challenging for my son, his siblings, and myself — now thrust into the role of advocate, as we worked to…

  • find a school that could support his learning needs
  • find a tutor who was skilled in explicit, systematic instruction
  • deflect the criticism of family members who didn’t want to accept the diagnosis
  • endure being called a helicopter parent
  • watch while my son was slowly ostracized by his neighborhood peers.

Everything was incredibly difficult in those early school years.

Do you know what to look for in early literacy development?

I’m fortunate enough to have a degree in special education, so I knew that many of the benchmarks Joseph missed were red flags for a learning disability. But what about the other moms out there who assume their children and developing at a typical pace?

Listen to your gut. Is it telling you one thing while teachers and friends say another? Remember that you know your child best!

If you notice your child exhibits any of the following, it might be a sign of a problem with early literacy development:

  • Slow to speak
  • Struggles with rhymes
  • Can’t seem to follow directions
  • Mismatches letters and their sounds
  • Mixes up the order of letters
  • Can’t organize spoken language
  • Can’t memorize number facts

Early, appropriate interventions are key to helping your child succeed. To learn more about reading instruction click here.

This post originally appeared on A Pocket Full Of Shift.