My journey with my son Elijah and his dyslexia started in kindergarten. His journey with self-advocacy started soon after that.
Near the end of the kindergarten school year, his teacher asked to meet with me. Although Elijah (pictured above with his sister) was quite verbal and talkative, she told me he wasn’t fully grasping the alphabet. Nor was he writing basic words.
I can remember feeling the tears well up in my eyes and not knowing why. This was the first time someone had said my son Elijah was somehow not measuring up. I took it very personally.
The teacher suggested we hold Elijah back in kindergarten for a year to “catch up.” But because Elijah was doing well other than his reading and writing skills, we decided to let him go on to first grade.
Shortly after the start of first grade, however, we again got a note from one of his teachers asking to meet with us.
This time, I decided to bring Elijah with me.
When the teacher saw us, she looked a little concerned that Elijah was there. But I explained to her why I brought him: I felt this was his education, and he needed to be included. She seemed to accept that, and then she showed us a spelling test Elijah had taken.
The test paper was folded lengthwise in half. On one side of the paper, numbered from 1 to 10, there were printed words like “cat,” “rat” and “bat.”
Elijah was supposed to write the numbers 1 to 10 and words again on the other side, which he’d done. But they were written in completely backwards order. So instead of writing “1. Rat,” he’d written “taR .1”. And on top of being in backwards order, each letter and the number “1” was written like a mirror image.
His teacher said most kids reverse letters some of the time. But Elijah’s complete reversal was unusual, and she felt he should be evaluated for learning differences.
I wasn’t completely surprised. Elijah’s father, Chip, has dyslexia. Chip has been very open about his experience with dyslexia. So I couldn’t help but think that maybe Elijah, like his father, had dyslexia.
I told the teacher about Elijah’s dad, and we agreed to have Elijah tested.
After the meeting, I remember walking home with Elijah. I explained to him what dyslexia is. We also spoke about his father. He listened very closely.
I remember feeling like I made the right decision by including our son that day. If Elijah was dyslexic, this was going to be his experience. It was his journey. He’d need to learn how to speak up for himself at an early age to get the help and support he needed.
It was then that I made a promise to myself to include Elijah in every single meeting about his education from that day on.
Elijah’s evaluation showed that he did, in fact, have dyslexia. Elijah was there every step of the way. He even went to the evaluation team meeting.
Together, we began to research more about dyslexia. We checked out children’s books from the library on famous people with dyslexia.
In second grade, Elijah got his first and attended his first IEP meeting with me. The IEP gave him extra instruction in reading and writing, and that really helped him. He also got and other support for his dyslexia.
In the following years, Elijah kept coming with me to IEP meetings. At first, he would just sit there quietly, taking things in. But by middle school, he began to be more vocal about his needs. It wasn’t easy, but he kept getting better and better at talking about what he needed to succeed.
Elijah is now a senior in high school graduating at the top of his class. In the fall, he’ll be attending the University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering.
Recently, of his own accord, Elijah called the University of Cincinnati’s disabilities services office. He wanted to connect with them before starting college to find out how to get support at school. He had a good conversation with their staff, and they asked him to send a copy of his IEP ahead of time so they could learn more about him.
I marveled at how natural it was for Elijah to just pick up the phone and call the disability services office. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. He’s participated in his education as a self-advocate (with our support) through his entire educational career.
Self-advocacy isn’t new for him. He’s just applying it to a new part of his journey.
How can you help your child learn to be a self-advocate? Start by practicing self-advocacy conversation starters together. You can also work together on a 3×3 card to share with your child’s teachers.
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About the author
Carolyn Ditchendorf is a social worker and the mother of three children. One has ADHD and another has dyslexia.