My 6 stages of grief: The path to understanding my son’s dyslexia

As a parent, one of the hardest moments I have ever faced was finding out my youngest son has dyslexia. I felt completely helpless, out of control, and at times, just plain lost. After all, dyslexia is a brain-based condition, and I had no medical or professional training. I never struggled in school and have always loved reading.

So, watching my son struggle to sound out simple words, I found myself wrestling with all kinds of feelings and emotions. Sometimes, I was angry. Other times, I was sad. Worst of all, I felt powerless to help my son.

Watch as the author describes his path to understanding his son’s dyslexia:

Eventually, I realized that I wasn’t powerless at all, but getting to that mindset took a good amount of time and effort. I remember describing it to a friend as going through something like the “stages of grief” people experience after a great loss or traumatic event in their lives.

No, nobody had died or been seriously injured. Yet the amount of heartache and anxiety I felt was just as intense, and just as real. My own journey from feeling helpless to feeling hopeful about my son’s dyslexia and his future went something like this.

1. Denial

When I first heard the term , I didn’t hear the learning part. All I heard was the word disability, not something any parent is ever prepared to hear about their children. Clearly, somebody had made a mistake. My son was perfectly healthy. Disability? Really?

2. Anger

When we see our children suffer in any way, our basic instincts take over. Anger is often a natural result. We look for someone or something to blame for the hardship they’re experiencing, and I was no different. Mostly, I was angry at a school system that seemed incapable of helping my son.

3. Bargaining

I found it hard to understand and relate to my son’s situation at first because school had always been fairly easy for me. I imagined there had to be some magic bullet — a quick solution to the problem. Maybe all he had to do was work harder, I thought. Or maybe I simply had to invest more time and energy to tutor him myself.

4. Depression

Naturally, I was sad that my son had to face these challenges. But more than that, I often felt guilt. What could I have done to prevent this, or to detect it sooner? If only I had been home more often, instead of spending so much time at work, and commuting back and forth to my busy corporate job.

5. Acceptance

Information and education helped me finally get to this stage. I began reading and finding out more about dyslexia, learning and thinking differences, and my son’s legal rights in school. I also completed dyslexia simulations, which gave me a true appreciation for the challenge my son faced. During this process, I realized how blessed we are to live in an age with so many resources and so much information about dyslexia.

6. Understanding

The main difference between acceptance and understanding is this: Today, my son and I talk about learning differences, not disabilities. He understands he learns differently than most of his peers, and he likes to use technology to help him read and write.

My son also understands his dyslexia will be a lifelong challenge. He embraces it because he knows that some of the brightest and most successful people were also dyslexic.

They say change is hard, but it’s even harder when it touches the life of one of your children. I wish I could say this journey was quick, painless, and a smooth straight line. It wasn’t.

However, I will say this. Today, my son loves to read and is doing well in school. His dyslexia identification opened an entirely new chapter in our lives, and in many ways, brought us closer as a family. It also put us on a path to new adventures we could not have even imagined then, but that’s a story for another time.

Learn what steps to take if your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia. You can also:

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