He wanted to read, "EVERYONE could read," and he insisted. That summer my husband took him to a course given by Fordham University for new readers. Dad read a page, then he read the same page. At the end of the class, the kids would struggle to read through the book, missing words but reading. Mine recited the book page by page, triggered by the picture and not always looking at the words. The next week, that same book was completely new to him. Still, no red flags for us. We didn't know what we didn't know.
Fast forward to first grade. We moved houses within our town which had a different grammar school, and we found that he was dramatically behind with reading skills. We thought he'd catch up (maybe it was just a different curriculum between the schools in town). He began to fidget, become a class clown, got pulled out of the general class for extra reading support and we started hearing the word "attend." He was not "attending in class."
Spoiler: "attending" is the code word for ADHD which the school isn't allowed to say. They can only hint at it.
We began to get reports from his reading teacher, "It's odd, one day I will read him the book and then he will read the book. The next day, he says he has no idea what it says. In fact, he didn't recognize that he was trying to read the same book." We were encouraged to see the pediatrician and did so after, while looking at an upside down "F" he "knew it was a word to read but didn't know what it said." All of the sudden, I felt scared.
My pediatricians response was he may not be attending, but ADD kids recognize an upside F. Her son was dyslexic and she recommended that the school do testing. Our schools are very inclusive and serve children with all sorts of challenges, his challenge didn't warrant testing. He was young and wasn't failing enough. Um, what??
I decided to teach him. Hell, I knew how to get his attention. "Throw the ball at the paper plate with the 'B' on it." "Draw a 'C' in the shaving cream spread over the counter."
Flash cards, books, teacher talks, day after day, but nothing stuck. I was frustrated that I couldn't help him and he was frustrated that he was different. He'd tell me that other kids were reading Harry Potter and he was reading the baby books, "the ONLY one reading the baby books, mom." He'd bring them home and he wasn't even able to read them. Then his mood started to change and he vehemently did not want to go to school. My sweet, happy, smart baby was becoming irritable, cranky and "felt stupid."
We had him tested at private learning center. It was EXPENSIVE and worth every penny. I couldn't stop crying when they told me he had dyslexia, the worst skills at decoding they had seen and ADHD. I had no idea what the diagnosis meant. Was he reading backwards? He was not, in fact reading backwards. He saw words as hieroglyphics, words were images to him, not made up of individual letters. Now what?
He started at The Windward School in second grade. Windward is a coed, independent day school providing a proven instructional program for children with dyslexia and language-based learning disabilities. Here's their website if you need it: https://www.thewindwardschool.org/
There, he had a magical transformation. Quickly, he was happy again, he felt like everyone else, he understood the teachers and, it was bussing distance from our house! He worked hard every day at school with homework every night, weekend and summer. Hard work became normal, just what he did. It was a total lifesaver and he thrived academically. The purpose of the school is to give their students strategies, tactics and skills that allow them to learn in a traditional education system. Each year students who are ready, transition out, and new kids needing help replace them. It's a temporary phase of their education. We live in NY, Westchester County (the "worst of the chesters!" according to Joey on Friends, lol). Kids come from all over the tri-state area, some with more than an hour's commute each way.
Fast forward five years. He's now in sixth grade and progressing as a student. He will always be dyslexic, and it's gives him (and us) the outlook that nothing is hard, because everything is hard. At each parent teacher conference over the years, I shared that I wished they would keep through eighth grade. At Windward he was safe, supported and happy, but something shifted this year. He participated in our town's football program and LOVED it. He bonded with kids he had known in kindergarten and first grade and got to experience the best of both his worlds, skill based school tailored to his needs, AND a feeling of belonging to our community.
When the season ended he was lonely. Then sad. Then resenting school and withdrawing. It was like everything was happening in reverse. His dad and I began to rethink what the priority should be - which is what brings us to today and one of the hardest decisions we've made for him - to return to our local school in the fall and allow him to have a community. He can walk to school, participate in middle school sports, and have friends.
We chose education over community, originally. It was scary, though what he needed and, the right decision. Now, we are choosing community and friendships over purely academic needs. You can't underestimate how important it is for kids to have a sense of belonging (for grown ups, too!).
Will school be easy next year? Probably not. Will he immediately feel at home? I hope so. Is there a need for extra help in school and out? Absolutely. Adjusting may be hard, but luckily, we do hard.
Author's note: If you are dealing with any of the above, please reach out. There's a lot to navigate but luckily there's tons of us who've gone through it already. I'm more than happy to chat or listen or help.