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Under the Influence — 3 Comments

  1. It was immediately obvious to teachers – in kindergarten – that my daughter struggled. At first the assumption was just that she was a little delayed and repeating kindergarten would get her on track developmentally. Since she’s an only child, my husband and I had no point of reference to realize something was wrong. I remember visiting my family that following summer and meeting my two nieces, one of whom is 4 months older than my daughter. Hearing her chatter and ability to communicate was like a sucker-punch wake-up in comparison to the baby-talk my daughter was speaking. We transferred to a different school for the second year of kindergarten and had immediate testing done. Probable dyslexia (because public schools can’t officially diagnose).

    We had a fantastic teacher the first two years and we worked together focusing on teaching Alora the alphabet and phonemes. I made laminated cards with the alphabet and we would play go-fish and memory, working on a handful of letters at a time. I read several books on the subject, attended a Susan Barton seminar. Then that teacher transferred at the end of the year and no one else at the school seemed to have a real understanding of dyslexia – an all too common issue at most public schools. Alora languished while we were constantly reassured she was progressing adequately and given vague answers as to just what that meant. The school was in constant upheaval cycling through teachers, principals, etc. and the special education department suffered. (Since moving it has come out that the school is hundreds of thousands of dollars in deficit.) Finally in mid-4th grade, her latest teacher – who wasn’t even fully licensed yet – accidentally let slip some concrete information – our daughter was *finally* reading officially at a first-grade level. To say we hit the roof is putting it mildly – 5 years on an IEP and she had 2 years worth of progress to show for it.

    That was the wake-up call. No more being complacent and trusting the school to know what to do. In addition to rereading those books on dyslexia, I read up on special education law and becoming an advocate for your children. I joined facebook groups and mailing lists. And we sent a certified letter to the school requesting an independent education evaluation at public expense. The gloves came off after that letter, on both sides. They agreed to the evaluation but on plain paper (no letterhead) and on the Meeting Summary stated that should there be a diagnosis of dyslexia, the school would no longer be providing services. We had to involve not just the school principal but the school district superintendent. And make clear we knew what our further recourses would be if necessary.

    The official testing took place over the summer between 4th & 5th grade. The testing was slower than usual and we ended up having to go back multiple times. The results were that Alora was reading at an early second-grade level and she had moderately severe phonological dyslexia, with slow auditory processing speed (a double deficit) and adhd-inattentive type added to the mix. Rather than be upset at a label, Alora was relieved to have a specific diagnosis – to have a name to put to her struggles. She already stood out so significantly from her peers, now at least she could explain to them that her brain was just wired a bit differently than theirs.

    Unfortunately not much changed that year as a result of the testing. In an effort to placate us, the school had purchased the first few Barton System levels over the summer (before we even had the results). We struggled through that year and I made plans to homeschool if there wasn’t significant improvement by the end of the year. But then my husband found out in November that his company was closing in April. And I was offered a job in Florida starting in May. We sold our home, moved mid-April, and spent May touring the two middle-schools in our new district. While they both seemed nice, neither of them had individualized plans for their students and I was not looking forward to the upcoming school battles so we debated between giving one a try or just homeschooling. And then we heard about a state scholarship for students with disabilities. I really didn’t think we’d qualify – the scholarship seems more geared toward severe disabilities – but my husband was convinced we should try. And we were accepted. And Alora got into the local Christian private school where she’s been steadily improving ever since.

    One of the things I’ve heard most often when it comes to children with dyslexia and other learning differences is that it is critically important to find the areas where the child can shine. That’s not always the easiest thing to do however. So we try to help Alora have the chance to experience everything that comes our way. She has always loved rocks – bringing home pockets full since kindergarten. And in the past 2 years she had discovered that she loves math. Neither of these will ever come quickly to her – her processing speed will always slow her down. But if she’s given the time she needs, she’s learned she can shine at the things she loves. Too many use their weaknesses as an excuse not to try instead of as an opportunity. You and Mel are blessed to have discovered her artistic abilities as quickly as you did. And Mel is blessed to have a mother like you looking out for her. ^_^

    • Thank you. What an incredible story. It actually gave me chills. You’ve gone through so much to help Alora. I felt the passion. Talk about a lucky kid! And the most important factor in all of that is learning to love God. In the end, that’s all that matters. So Alora is doubly blessed.

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