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Last month was Dyslexia Awareness Month.

While about one in five people are impacted by dyslexia, my observation points to that number being a bit higher in homeschooling circles. Parents often come to homeschooling when they have a student struggling in a traditional learning environment, which tends to be the case with students with dyslexia.

Dyslexia is often misunderstood; it is more than just letter reversal. It often has comorbid learning disabilities that both mimic and exacerbate dyslexia symptoms, making both diagnosing and finding the best approach challenging. With dyslexia being fairly common, there is already a lot of information on recognizing, remediating, and even how to approach homeschooling a child with dyslexia. Rather than recreate what has already been shared about learning methods, I want to focus on another critical component  — acceptance.

My youngest, now a college senior majoring in Media Production, is a 1in5. I can’t discuss dyslexia without making it personal. We were already homeschooling when I first suspected he might have an undiagnosed issue. He was extremely intelligent but couldn’t recognize individual letters or decode simple words. Yet, he could read well enough that he passed a professional dyslexia screening (classic stealth dyslexia). Before he finally received a dyslexia diagnosis at age 15, he previously had two different full educational evaluations. He had been diagnosed as gifted, ADD, and as dysgraphic, a writing disorder — all also accurate and explaining a lot of what I was observing.

Despite a lack of a formal dyslexia diagnosis in his early years, I had approached my instruction as if he were. I don’t care for labels and don’t make a habit to use them. He knew he struggled in some areas and excelled in others, and we talked about how this applies to everyone. I stressed that he was smart, creative, kind, logical, a desired friend, and an awesome problem solver, things many people struggle with and desire to be. However, once the teen years hit, I saw his self-esteem start to plummet. When younger, his learning challenges didn’t interfere with basic life functions as we were able to accommodate as needed with homeschooling. This was more difficult with high school coursework. Without a name to call his struggles, he came up with his own: stupid.

We sought out a third evaluation in hopes of more answers. It confirmed all the previous diagnoses and added another. Dyslexia. I wasn’t surprised, but my son was. He looked genuinely shocked when the psychologist told him he was extremely intelligent and also dyslexic. The message wasn’t much different than what I had been telling him all along. However, having an official name to the challenges he was experiencing gave him the needed permission to self-advocate in a way I hadn’t seen before. It was a turning point.

Knowing he was dyslexic gave him something on which to focus. He was much more open to using tools, like audiobooks, and allowed himself to use extra time on exams without feeling guilty. And by using these tools, he was able to discover what strategies worked best for him. The thing is, when you feel stupid, you feel hopeless. There isn’t a “fix.” When you recognize your challenges, but have tools, you feel empowered.

His academic growth was enough that he started taking dual enrollment courses as a junior, where he gained practice working with the disabilities office and professors to get appropriate accommodations. At the time, I didn’t realize how valuable this experience was. It built a lot of self-awareness and confidence that became extremely useful when he went away to college a couple of years later.

While he’s very open about it, before writing this blog post, I texted my son to ask if it was okay if I wrote about his dyslexia. He readily agreed. I asked if he had any additional input.

“Learn about what works for you, accept who you are, and how you can accomplish goals you have in life,” he said. “Don’t let dyslexia be a roadblock for your learning. Let it be a tool you use to develop other skills.”

While I had observed these “other skills” since he was very little, he didn’t necessarily recognize nor embrace them when younger. I asked him to expand on that thought.

“Recognizing that I’m a visual learner. When I can’t read, I turn to visual things, which has partly led me to media production. I can pay more close attention to how things appear and the best ways to approach the issue.”

He also said that finding his own solutions helped him the most.

“Figuring out what worked for me and being able to acknowledge my struggles so I could put more energy into it. Slowing down. Read it multiple times. And audiobooks. Lots of audiobooks while reading.”

My favorite answer was the one related to advocacy. I asked what he would tell a student who is too ashamed to ask for help.

“Don’t be an idiot. Nobody cares.”

Right there, folks, is self-acceptance. It is confidence. It is understanding your needs. It is so many things, including words that fill a mom’s heart.

He continued to elaborate, as if that didn’t say it all.

“Legit. People don’t care. And honestly, in today’s day and age, as long as you don’t use it as an excuse and own up to the issue that you have, people are very accepting of it. And a lot of times, people will be willing to give you grace when you are honest to them.”

I am not suggesting that you simply give challenges a name in lieu of Orton-Gillingham instruction and other proven methods very much needed for students with dyslexia. I am suggesting that in addition to proper teaching and tools, you also empower your students.

Empowerment starts with you, the parent.

When parents approach me with questions regarding dyslexia, often it is with a desperate look on their face and a cautious whisper of, “I think he’s dyslexic.”  Worse yet, some don’t want their student — the one impacted — to know. It astounds me. Your dyslexic student is very aware he or she is struggling. On the flip side, some parents are very acknowledging, but then lower aspirations and expectations. “Oh, she’s dyslexic. She struggles too much with writing and isn’t college-bound, so we are focusing on other things.” I believe the latter to be a self-fulfilling prophecy driven by fear and an overwhelming responsibility for your child’s education. I understand it can be overwhelming, but don’t underestimate your student.

Dyslexia isn’t shameful, and it doesn’t mean a person can’t achieve. There are many well-known successful and creative people with dyslexia and other learning differences. Dyslexia isn’t an excuse nor a pass to not work toward a challenge. As a parent, help your student both strive for excellence while teaching them to seek out tools to achieve that excellence. That may mean you don’t require your student to pound out 10-page papers on a regular basis, but you do require a well-written five-paragraph essay on a book or topic that they researched via audio or video options.

As a parent homeschooling a child with dyslexia, it is critically important that you understand the learning disability and approach teaching your student with patience and proven techniques. I have included many links in this post and some resources at the bottom of this post to get you started. While your student can learn to read and write, dyslexia doesn’t go away. Dyslexia isn’t something to be cured and there are many strengths among dyslexics. Helping your student to be comfortable with dyslexia and even embrace it is a gift that will carry him or her into adulthood.

I’m not going to lie; I may have been one of those whispering parents when I first suspected dyslexia. I spent many daysweeks, years worrying about my son’s struggles with reading and writing, even though I knew he was intelligent and skilled in so many other areas. I used to think the key to success was getting him to enough proficiency to write a solid 5-paragraph essay easily before high school graduation. I celebrated with him when he achieved that and beyond. However, while writing proficiency is important, true rewards in life come when you recognize and embrace your strengths while self-advocating and communicating your needs.

Little did I know that success wasn’t an essay, but a text of six words: “Don’t be an idiot. Nobody cares.”


Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shawitz

The Dyslexic Advantage by Brock and Fernette Eide

Barton Reading and Spelling System – remediation program – great informational website

Learning Ally – non-profit audiobook service (documentation needed)

Bookshare – non-profit audiobook service (documentation needed)

Learning Ally Parent Chat FB group

Dyslexia Group: Increase Awareness and Understanding FB Group

Homeschooling Dyslexic Kids FB group