How Love Made a Language and Learning Barrier Easier to Overcome

I have a master’s degree in psychology and my sister has a master’s degree in education. But as kids, what we had academically was a lot of difficulty.

We immigrated to the United States from Mexico when I was 8 years old and she was 5. Neither of us spoke English. Because I was stressed-out with the move, I had a very difficult time grasping English and remembering what I was learning. I missed my friends and family back in Mexico so much. And my emotions often got in the way of my learning.

My sister, on the other hand, picked up basic conversational English much more quickly than I did. But she started struggling with learning challenges that had little do with moving to a new country.

My mother says that my sister began having difficulties as soon as she could speak. She would switch her P’s and her C’s when speaking. My mother often had to “translate” for others in order for my sister to be understood. Although my mother didn’t know exactly what was going on, she knew something was different.

When my sister started first grade, she was struggling in language, reading and math. My mother was very worried. Despite her own language barriers, she reached out and met with my sister’s teacher. The teacher agreed to help my sister by spending extra time with her and giving her additional assignments.

At the time, I remember my mother asking me to “tutor” my sister. I took my job very seriously. But I couldn’t figure out why she wasn’t reading the way I had at that age.

Of course, I always knew my sister was very smart. My mother knew this too. How? My sister did well in areas outside traditional academic work. She was a clever, active and creative child.

My mother began reading to my sister every night. She would also encourage my sister to read, even though my sister found this frustrating. My mother would have her read 10 minutes a day and shower her with praise. I think this was really important because my sister didn’t get many positive words at school.

My mother looked beyond school too. She arranged for my sister to have time for fun activities, like playing the violin and ice-skating. My sister loved this—and she was good at these things!

That whole year, the first-grade teacher was very kind and patient. My sister’s language issues improved and her speaking got much better. But school was still tough for her. And the next year (and really throughout school), she continued to struggle. All my mother could do was continue to try to help her read and find ways to feel good about herself.

My sister was never tested for learning differences. My mother never asked about an (IEP). Our family just didn’t know these were options.

To this day, my sister struggles with classic symptoms of dyslexia. She has both reading and writing issues. But she’s never been formally identified with a learning difference.

The fortunate news is that kids are resilient. Sometimes, love and a well-intentioned parent can work wonders. My mother did her best. And luckily that was enough for my sister. Despite her academic struggles, my sister never gave up. Today, she is a third-grade teacher with a master’s degree in education.

Not all students are as fortunate as my sister. Thankfully, now there is much more information out there than when we grew up.

If your child is struggling, use the resources on Understood to find out how to get help. Ask your school about an evaluation for services. Learn about IEPs and other ways to get your child help. Above all, never give up on any child. All children have potential, no matter how hard school is for them. Just ask my sister.

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