As a mom of two kids with dyslexia (and other learning differences)—and as a person with dyslexia myself—there’s a lot I’ve learned over the years.
Despite what I now know, however, I still sometimes feel misunderstood as a parent. There are times when I don’t want to have to explain what dyslexia is or what my kids need. But I still do explain, both to school staff and to other parents.
Here are seven things I wish people understood about what it’s like to parent children with dyslexia.
- My kids have to work twice as hard just to stay afloat in school.For kids with dyslexia, reading is exhausting, writing is laborious, and spelling is downright torture.Each of these skills is required in every subject my kids have at school. Homework can take two or three times longer to complete than it does for other kids. Yet they tackle it day in and day out! I wish people understood how hard my kids work every day just to keep up.
- My kids have strengths that don’t show up in school.Our society has a very particular idea of what success is supposed to look like in the classroom. Kids are often graded by how fast they read, or by how many sight words they can spit out. Sadly, these are the areas where kids with dyslexia, like mine, struggle.And while they may read slowly, they have other strengths. For example, my daughter has an awesome ability to see something, describe it, and break it down in her mind. But in school, there’s often no measure of that skill. She doesn’t get the same opportunity as other kids to shine and be recognized for her visual strengths.
- They feel different from their peers every day.Just having an can make a child feel different. But it’s the day-to-day struggles that really remind my kids how having dyslexia sets them apart.Can you imagine watching an entire classroom finish an exam and realizing you’re only halfway through? Or getting only a third of the way through a reading assignment before a group discussion begins in class? These constant reminders of their reading issues weigh on my kids daily.
- It’s frustrating when teachers have little knowledge about dyslexia.Every year before school starts, I meet with my kids’ teachers. We discuss their special education services and learning differences. Between my two children, I’ve had this meeting nearly a dozen times.I’m thankful for the opportunity. But sometimes it’s exasperating. There are teachers who have very little knowledge of learning differences like dyslexia. I wish educators had better training about how to teach children with dyslexia. And I wish they better understood how dyslexia affects kids in every aspect of their school day.
- My biggest job is to be an advocate for my kids.We all have roles in life. I like to tell people that “my kids are my job.” If I seem overly focused on how they’re doing and not paying attention to other things, well, that’s my life’s work.I take my role as a member of the IEP team seriously. I’m an equal, contributing partner to my kids’ educational plan, and I’m there to help make decisions about what’s appropriate for them. I’m eager to share what I have learned and observed about my children with school staff. I don’t just want them to meet their basic needs. I want to help them strive for their highest potential.
- It was heartbreaking to watch my kids struggle at such a young age.As parents, we all want the best for our children. We want to see them be successful. We want them to feel the happiness that comes with achievement.I know life will eventually bring struggles to my kids, as it does for everyone. But I hadn’t expected those life struggles to start in first grade with learning to read. There are days when my heart is sad as I watch my children labor over a life skill like reading that others seem to have mastered with ease.
- My kids are the bravest people I know.Even for adults, it’s tough to speak up and draw attention to yourself when things are challenging. You have to know yourself very well and know how to put your strengths and needs into words others can understand. That’s tough for anyone. Now imagine how hard it is for kids. Self-advocating takes a lot of courage.Nothing makes me prouder than hearing my children speak up for their needs. They understand the impact of dyslexia on their schoolwork and assignments. They want to level the playing field for themselves. They know that with their IEPs, that’s their right. They have the courage to change an environment that may work just fine for other kids, but that needs to be tweaked for them. That’s real bravery.
Find out how to start a conversation with your child’s teacher about dyslexia. Read how six days of dyslexia training made a big impact on a school district. And watch a video on dyslexia and the brain.
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About the author
Kristin Kane is a family resource coordinator for the Virginia Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center.