The question I’m always asked about my son’s dyslexia

As a parent of a child with , I’ve struggled for years to come up with an answer to one question.

It’s a question I’m often asked by other parents of children with dyslexia. It usually comes after we talk about shared experiences — when we saw the warning signs, where we looked for help, how school has been, and so on.

That’s when I’m asked the question:

“How severe is your son’s dyslexia?”

Hmm, I wonder, how are we gauging this? Because I know “severe” isn’t a formal medical term.

Are we talking about how many years of instruction and tutoring he’s had for his dyslexia? How much (or how little) progress he’s made? Or perhaps how big an effect it has on his academics?

Maybe we’re talking his use of in school? Or the impact of dyslexia on his emotions and self-esteem?

Some might say, Kristin, if you aren’t sure how severe his dyslexia is, it must not be too bad.

Well, I like to think I’m a glass-half-full kind of mom. But it’s not easy to define and boil down my son’s lifelong learning difference into a concise answer.

Yes, some days it feels severe.

It felt severe last year, when my son was in seventh grade, when I asked the school for a report on his writing skills. The evaluation showed that his spelling was in the bottom 2nd percentile. His grammar and capitalization were in the bottom 10th percentile. This was after two years of intensive instruction.

It also felt severe when I saw his signature on the sign-in clipboard for the swimming pool. I had to hold back tears when I saw that it was totally illegible.

But other times, it doesn’t feel “severe.”

My son is an honors student. He takes honors classes. He’s happy and has great friends. He sings beautifully and plays ukulele (yes, ukulele!) like you wouldn’t believe.

He speaks up for himself with school staff, and even to politicians! (He’s actually talked with a congressperson about dyslexia.)

And just recently, we had a meeting about his transition to high school. The school transition coordinator asked him, “I see you like math. What do you think you want to do with it in the future?”

My son met the eyes of each of six adults in the meeting, and then said:

“Well, you see what I really want to do is become a theoretical astrophysicist. In order to do that, I will need to obtain the highest level of math courses your school offers. So yes, I like math.”

Inside I was beaming — what a cool kid!

So when people ask how “severe” his dyslexia is, I guess I don’t have just one answer. Dyslexia is just too big and too broad — I can’t assign a label to the label.

But I also don’t mind the question.

I feel blessed, after many years of feeling alone, to now have scores of friends, fellow parents, and what I like to think of as teammates in this journey. We share a common bond of parenting a child with dyslexia. And whether or not I have an answer to it, the question is one more way of bringing us together.


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