Our daughter is adopted from Central America. She came to us when she was 2 years old. Shortly after her arrival, we were working on some legal paperwork. That’s when our attorney, of all people, mentioned to us that kids adopted internationally are more likely to have learning differences like .
I was annoyed by the comment. What gave our attorney the right to judge our daughter and to make such a sweeping statement about adopted kids?
Our daughter has a complicated adoption history, and she’d been misjudged before. Earlier, a social worker recommended play therapy to help her socialize, even though she was happy and got along with other kids. Now, it felt like our lawyer was overstepping her bounds. Surely, she couldn’t predict if our daughter would have a learning difference.
After the adoption papers were complete, we started our daughter at a Montessori school, where kids learn at their own pace. When she was 4 and in preschool, the teachers let her read with the 5-year-olds because they felt that she was “emotionally ready” to read. Of course she is, I thought. And how can someone emotionally ready to read have dyslexia?
But as our daughter read with the 5-year-olds, she made very little progress. Since she was only in preschool, nobody worried too much. When she got to kindergarten, though, and still couldn’t recognize letters, I began to panic.
I started searching on Google for “reading issues” and “dyslexia.” In my heart, I knew something was not quite right. But I tried to soothe my doubts by focusing on signs of dyslexia that she did not have. For example, one sign is that a child is a “late talker.” Not our daughter, I said to myself. She’s been talkative since a young age.
However, by the time our daughter turned 6, I couldn’t deny her struggles with reading and learning. My main concern was her inability to remember or recall language.
For instance, there were numbers and letters taped all over the walls of her classroom. If you said a specific letter or number, she had no trouble pointing to it. However, if you pointed to a letter or number, she could rarely name it. She just couldn’t pull it out of her head and say it. I later learned this was due to weaknesses in working memory and word retrieval, which are signs of executive functioning issues. These issues are common in kids with dyslexia.
I also began to realize that many of our daughter’s “personality quirks” weren’t quirks at all. When people she knew well came to our home, she often asked us what their names were. We laughed, and it even became a game when visitors asked: “Do you know my name? Who am I?” How heartbreaking it was to realize it was not a game.
The summer after first grade, we requested that our daughter receive her first educational evaluation from the school district. The evaluators identified her with dyslexia (they also used the term language disability.) One part of me was relieved to finally hear that diagnosis; another part of me felt sad for her.
I was also angry. As an adoptive parent, it felt like we couldn’t get a break. Our daughter, like so many other adopted kids, had experienced a lot of separation and loss. She had so many transitions on her way to us—the family I believe she was always meant to be with. After all she had been through, her journey had another twist: dyslexia. Life would continue to be hard.
Since our daughter’s diagnosis, I’ve learned a lot about adoption and dyslexia. I found out that kids who are adopted are twice as likely to have learning and thinking differences as kids who aren’t adopted. Over the years, I’ve been astounded by the number of families I’ve met with similar stories.
We all want to be the best parents and advocates we can for our kids. If we had known more about dyslexia when we first adopted, we would have been much better prepared. We would have sought out information at the earliest signs and insisted on an evaluation sooner. We would have searched for an Orton–Gillingham tutor and even would have considered moving to a home in another school district.
Today, our daughter is in sixth grade and still attends the Montessori school. She’s received various research-based reading services throughout the years, which have helped her with decoding issues. Her working memory is still her most significant challenge.
Our daughter is the bravest and most resilient person I know. I have so much hope for her future as we continue this journey—dyslexia and all.
Learn more about what dyslexia can look like in kids. Read how a father went through “stages of grief” when he found out his child has dyslexia. And join our community to connect with other parents like you.
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About the author
Marion Waldman, MBA is the founder of Teach My Kid to Read, a nonprofit inspired by the journey to obtain reading services for her daughter.