“Mom, can I still play soccer if I’m dyslexic?”
That’s one of the first questions my daughter Jocelyn asked me after she was diagnosed with dyslexia in fourth grade.
I’d expected her to ask about school or reading. But instead she asked about soccer—the thing in life that she loved the most.
Jocelyn started playing soccer around the same time we learned that she has dyslexia. (She also has and .) She was having a lot of difficulty in school, especially with learning how to read. Soccer seemed to help her through those tough times.
If it was a good day at school, she’d come home and ask for a snack with a smile.
But if school went poorly, as it often did, she’d come home in a darker mood and head straight to the backyard. Sometimes, she’d kick the soccer ball against the house. Or she'd try to get the dog to play soccer with her. Either way, it was pretty clear she needed to burn off steam, and soccer was the way she did it.
When she was done, she’d finally come inside and do her homework. It still wasn’t easy, but after she’d kicked the ball around, she was willing to put in the work for school.
As a mom, I think I instinctively understood how important soccer was in her life. I felt like it was my job to make certain she continued to play the game she loved.
The funny thing is, I never planned on soccer being such a big part of her life (or mine). I’ve never played soccer. Truth be told, I don’t even really understand the rules to this day!
But soccer was her passion. It gave her the motivation to keep moving forward.
So I became a soccer mom. I traveled around the state (and later the country) with her to games. When she moved from recreational play to an elite soccer club, I supported her all the way. I watched as she played on an Olympic developmental team.
There were times when I was tempted to say that I would take away soccer if she didn’t do her homework. But I don’t think that would have been a good choice. When I had those thoughts, I reminded myself that when she shined on the soccer field, it made her shine a little more off the field as well.
Soccer was the one place where she was simply Jocelyn the goalkeeper. No other labels applied.
To me, it doesn’t matter what passions children want to pursue as long as it’s healthy and good for them. It can be making cookies or singing in the choir—or even origami.
The son of one of my close friends has learning and thinking differences, and he’s passionate about origami. Every holiday or birthday, I know I’ll get an amazing origami from this boy. My friend once shared with me that her son can handle more at school because he says he’s “the best origami creator in the state.”
The important thing for kids like my friend’s son and Jocelyn is that when they’re doing what they love, their learning and thinking differences don’t matter.
This year, Jocelyn, graduated from high school with a 3.7 GPA. She won the 2016 Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship from Understood founding partner the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). She’s headed to college in Washington state to study sports management. At school, she’ll also intern with the Seattle Reign, a professional women’s soccer team.
Jocelyn has succeeded because she got the right services, supports and in school. But I know soccer also played a big role. Her life is so much more than her dyslexia diagnosis, and soccer is an important reason why.
Want to learn more about April and her daughter Jocelyn? Watch this video about their visit to Washington, DC, to testify about dyslexia.
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About the author
April Hanrath is a small-business owner and the mother of two.