How I got my son back: Breaking the silence on learning and thinking differences

When my son was 5, I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween.

“The king,” he said, beaming.

So we went to the craft store and picked out red velvet and white fur for a cape. I made a scepter out of cardboard and spray-painted it gold. When I put the crown on his head, he looked at me with big eyes, full of confidence and joy.

Sadly, I wouldn’t see that look again for a long time.

There had been hints back in preschool that something was wrong. My son’s speech was slightly off. He had trouble in kindergarten with letters and words.

At the same time, he was very bright and years ahead of his classmates in math.

In first grade, things began to unravel. Every day the class would spend time writing in their journals. And every day my son would try hard but only manage to write one word — and he’d spell it wrong, too.

School became unbearable for him. He began chewing through pencil erasers. He’d come home after school, yelling or crying and feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. In third grade, when his school evaluated him, my son told the staff he was “stupid.” (It didn’t matter to him that the evaluation found he had a very high IQ.)

My little “king” seemed so far away.

What I found out during those years was that my son had dyslexia and ADHD. And I knew I needed to start looking for ways to help him. But I hit a roadblock I never expected: Few parents wanted to talk to me.

Of course, my friends loved to share when their kids earned A’s or made the honor roll. But if a child was struggling in school? Silence. It’s an uncomfortable subject, after all. It’s also invisible — no one can tell by looking at a child that he struggles to read or write.

I turned to the internet. But it was beyond frustrating. Most websites were full of confusing education jargon. And if I found a site I liked, I kept wondering — can I really trust this information?

I spent countless hours tracking down experts. Eventually I found a wonderful reading specialist named Margie Gillis. She helped me understand two very important things: why my son was struggling and how I could help him.

That knowledge marked a turning point for our family. When I learned that 1 in 5 children struggle with reading, math, writing, attention, and organization, I realized I had to expose my son to children like him.

We found a middle school that gave him the chance to meet other kids who learn and think differently. This helped build his confidence and gave him a sense of community. I remember him saying, “I never thought there were so many people like me.”

Once my son had the kind of instruction and support he needed, he started to make progress. By the end of middle school, he told me he wanted to go to college.

But even as my son started to thrive, a sadness came over me. How many other parents are out there looking for answers?

That’s when I embarked on a mission — to help other parents like me. This journey led to my involvement with Understood.

Understood launched a few years ago, and my greatest hope is that it becomes a lifeline to every parent who is looking for answers.

I remember when my son visited me during his spring break as a college freshman. He’s now a junior studying engineering and he’s on the dean’s list. He’s also thinking about what he’ll do after graduation.

“You have plenty of time to explore,” I told him. “Any idea of what you might want to do?”

“I don’t know exactly, Mom,” he said. “But something cutting-edge. Something that can change the world.” He was confident, almost beaming.

My “king” was back.

Want to hear more from this author? Read about the time her son made her prouder than ever. Find out how she and her husband finally got on the same page after one IEP meeting. And learn how she coped when life threw her a curve ball: her son’s second diagnosis.


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