There are many supports and for kids with learning and thinking differences. But I know a lot of parents who don’t ask for help. The reason: They don’t want others to know their child has a learning difference.
I understand these concerns. I might have felt the same way when I learned three years ago that my daughter had . She was 6 at the time. About a year before then, however, we went through something that changed our lives — and how we view differences.
Our daughter was around 5 when we began to notice she was falling down a lot. She’d be walking, and then her legs would just give out from under her suddenly, without warning. After a lot of doctor’s visits and tests, we learned she had a very rare condition that paralyzed large portions of her leg muscles.
One thing became obvious, very quickly: She needed a wheelchair.
It was hard for me to suddenly think of my daughter as a child who needed a wheelchair — someone with a “physical disability.” I felt scared and uncomfortable.
But she didn’t feel that way at all. She was so happy and relieved when she first got the wheelchair. Pretty soon, she was challenging her older brother to races through airports and shopping malls.
She’d leave him in the dust and yell over her shoulder, “Hey, hurry up! What, you can’t keep up with a little GIRL!?!? Hahahaha!!!!”
Just as we were beginning to adjust to the wheelchair, we found out about her dyslexia. One of the first resources I turned to was The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan. It’s a book written by Ben Foss, who has dyslexia.
That’s where I learned about text-to-speech software that allows computers to read books and text out loud. Foss uses it whenever he can, because he can accomplish much more in shorter periods of time.
As I read the book, I thought about our experience with the wheelchair. And I started to understand why Foss was so passionate about the power of technology.
Of course an audiobook would be awesome for a kid with dyslexia, I realized. How amazing would it feel to go from expending every ounce of energy in your being to pull the words off a page, to be able to just listen effortlessly?
All I had to do was picture my daughter flying down one of those long ramps in the airport in her shiny red wheelchair, yelling “WHEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!”
I then made a decision. I put aside my own discomfort about how others might perceive my daughter. I knew that for her, having the option to listen to books or dictate essays could be amazing. It would far outweigh the downside of telling people she had dyslexia.
We’re open about my daughter’s dyslexia. And I’m 100 percent confident this is the right decision for us.
My daughter is still learning how to decode written text. But we’re introducing her to audio technology when she needs it. Maybe more importantly, she has no trouble revealing her dyslexia to other kids, even strangers. To her, it’s just one of many parts of who she is.
The other day I was watching as she played an online video game. She and a couple other kids were typing messages back and forth.
“I have dyslexia,” she typed to a friend. Then she added, “And I am also a Ninja.”
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About the author
Jenifer Kasten is a special education consultant and the parent of two children with learning and thinking differences.