I apologize for this long post which is not as orderly as I prefer. It was originally a Facebook conversation which I have cobbled together here since this is information I frequently get asked about.
Our Dyslexia story:
We have always homeschooled using Mother of Divine Grace curriculum. When Anthony was in the 8th grade and Bill was deployed and I was breastfeeding Dominic (#8), I finally realized that I was seeing issues in his work that weren’t explained by laziness. The top thing: I suddenly realized he couldn’t spell his name correctly every time.
We did some psychological testing and the results were that he has a 4 year gap between his ability and his output, which means that while he’s very intelligent, his work is at grade level. If he were tested at a school, he would be considered normal. The psychologist told me it wasn’t dyslexia. She didn’t tell me why, just that this wasn’t it. But I didn’t believe her.
I had already found Susan Barton’s Bright Solutions for Dyslexia site and recognized that he had many of the symptoms. So do I. So does Bill. We have never had any reason to suspect we are dyslexic and Anthony was compensating really well and, I realized later, our curriculum naturally helps a dyslexic. This is why it took us so long to understand what was happening.
I spoke with Susan Barton and she told me not to waste time having him tested at a school or spend tons of money on private testing. I spoke with the principal of a school for dyslexics in Southern Pines. Between the 2 of them I had a million practical suggestions–more than I’ve used–and I had prayer. Mother of Divine Grace School has also provided additional support and resources.
Anthony is a senior in high school this year. He has a straight A average and is in the National Honor Society. You might remember his project that was the living history video of Msgr. Frank Hendrick. Anthony runs road races, reads voraciously but cannot read silently, does all course work at grade level without adaptations that require special notations on his report card, and is applying to seminary this year. His vocations director has no concerns about his ability to be successful in seminary.
To us, being dyslexic is a thing like being black or Catholic. Sometimes you need to know that because some situations require you to think differently. Most of the time, you forget about it. But we know it’s an important piece of one’s identity so we don’t whisper about it and we don’t have drama about it. We just…do what we need to do to be successful.
Anthony is probably moderately dyslexic with an excellent memory, high intelligence and ADHD, inattentive, which we do not medicate. Some of our other kids have the super active kind of ADHD, some took years to learn to read, they all are horrible spellers, some also have issues with math and writing and mental organization. And they are all really smart and doing grade level work and excelling.
What do I love about dyslexia? Well, I realized that it forces us to be intellectually creative. For school, the kids have to do a lot of memory work which most normal people accomplish with flash cards. We make pictures, write songs, do puzzles, run around the house, and do jump rope poetry. We do the things that in a classroom look like “fun” and we do it with a very intentional purpose.
Another thing I love about dyslexia is that people don’t really have to be limited by it. I’m constantly meeting people who are very succesful in life, and later I will find out they have dyslexia.
I love that it’s well supported. There are oceans of webpages with help and ideas. There are schools like Longleaf Academy in Southern Pines and The Lab School in DC. There are homeschool supports. There are a lot of wrong ideas about dyslexia, but there is so much good information too. If we had to have something, I’ll take this.
Lastly, I love dyslexia because it’s genetic. My kids are struggling with the same issues I struggled with. I’ve figured out how to deal with a lot of those things already, so I naturally adapt. Usually, there is a parent who has this secret superpower of how to solve the puzzle. It’s something we share as a family. And that is the secret to our success, that we see it as a family challenge, not this kid or that kid’s problem.
The principal of Longleaf Academy gave me hours of her time, a lot of helpful advice and promised to pray for us at Adoration. Here are her suggestions, and I’ll pray for you.
1. Use audio books while reading the written text. This helps the struggling reader, but it still has him practicing reading. Also, when he needs to refer back to the text to complete an assignment, he will be able to find things in the text. He should mark this books with notes and whateve else he needs. We prefer Audible.com for our books because the readers are actors and usually do a great job. For the budget friendly option, you can use LearningAlly. Susan gave me information to be able to use it without a formal diagnosis. I’m sure there are other similar programs. Oh, and I recorded some of our textbooks on the computer.
2. Teach kids to type. Dyspraxia often comes with dyslexia so writing is. so. hard. With MODG, the kids narrate and I do the writing for most of the early years, but now the dyslexics type longer assignments. We work together A. LOT. to make an outline to organize their thoughts, then verbally compose what they want to say as if they were writing, and then I have them type it. They still do writing. I still teach penmanship. But, I don’t worry that their penmanship is garbage if their thoughts are good.
3. The principal I spoke with (Jill) said dyslexics aren’t visual learners, but I have found the opposite. My kids aren’t going to memorize a word or number they see, but they will hear and remember things that are associated with pictures or colors. Our curriculum teaches memory work from a young age and that has helped us a lot. I like to use famous artwork with history dates, poetry picture books, the letter ‘b’ is colored blue for years to discriminate it from ‘d’. Large print books, printing music larger, putting colored lines on the music in the middle of the staff. There are many ways to adapt.
4. Jill really likes the Institute for Excellence in Writing to teach how to compose something in an orderly way. We weren’t successful when I had kids take it as a local class, but other people say it works well. I’m seriously considering buying the teacher DVDs so I can use the principles when I teach my kids. Laura Berquist suggested that too.
5. Dragon Naturally software where the child can dictate his writing himself is a favorite for many families. We tried the free version and realized we didn’t need it.
I can not say enough how the Mother of Divine Grace School and curriculum has supported my kids. It is designed perfectly to support the many things that dyslexics are weak in! My friend says it’s because they are pro-life and want to education be accessible to everyone. Right now my consultant is a mom with 6 kids, several of whom are severely dyslexic. She has given me great resources to substitute and even charted long-range plans through high school so that the kids can benefit from the full curriculum but have texts that are more appropriate. She also has lots of tricks. For $35 year for Special Services 1, that’s a steal.
I’m trying to think if I have anything else helpful to share, and I do have a few things. First, after summer break, my kids are always worse with letter reversals and saying things oddly, but once we are a few weeks into school, those things disappear. That tricked me too because it looked like they were outgrowing it. Just yesterday my 7th grader brought me work with a “b” reversed to a “d”. The struggle is real. Second, dycalculia is a real thing, so if you have a kid who is “not a math person”….
I ***HAVE**** to mention that Suzuki method is the way to go with music. Music is a language that you want to learn through hearing before you try to force a kid to read and decifer it. We don’t make babies read to speak English; don’t make your kids learn music that way. Our piano teacher was awesome for us, and we found her right as we found out about the dyslexia. She had homeschooled her 3 dyslexics, and they are all lovely and successful women. God gave us exactly who we needed to guide and help us when we needed her.
It’s good to know that lots of school testing isn’t dyslexia specific. That’s what Susan Barton has found. So while they will say they are testing for it, they are really giving a general test like the one Anthony took. He took the WISC. In SP, our friend had a non-reading late elementary child tested at the public school. She was told he didn’t have a problem. Years later they found out he is severely dyslexic and brilliant.
Occupational therapists are great assets to have when you may have a dyslexia diagnosis. They look at handwriting and visual perception. A friend tells me she’s biased when it comes to therapy, but sometimes even consultative therapy with an OT can help parents discern whether it’s a perceptual issue or just a handwriting issue.
OK, so that’s dyslexia. But let me rave for a few minutes about the benefits of homeschooling a special needs child.
Before we ever enrolled, I had a child who jokingly referred to as my “Pentecostal” because he spent so much time rolling on the floor. I knew without a doubt that in school I would have been forced to medicate him. I was very conflicted about medication, so we choose not to medicate and instead to adapt the curriculum. If this 8th grader had my full attention all day (I’m schooling 8 kids this year), we could start our school day at 9 and he would be done by 2 with no homework. Instead, he takes breaks as he feels he needs them, he changes subjects after 40 minutes of work, he listens to his books on his iPod, he types all his written work except math, and he spends time helping play or read to the toddlers. He’s such a gem exactly how he is. Instead of adapting his body to school, we’ve been blessed to adapt school to him.
I know I mentioned it above, but I truly believe that the classical curriculum and methodology has supported my kids so they have been able to excel for a long time without adaptations. My 7th grader might be described as “very active”, but she is not even enrolled in Special Services. We just use the same tricks as with the older kids and are waiting to see when she will need more support.
The curriculum is intellectually quite challenging, but the workload is not crippling like it would be if they were doing workbooks. The physical act of writing can be torture to these kids, especially if I were nitpicky about spelling and grammar. Instead, when there is writing involved, we edit and edit again together. I feel like we work side by side so they can fully understand the concepts they are learning. We teach mostly through conversation and I love how it has built my relationship with my kids.
I’m not sure how to end this since it is a subject so dear to my heart. I will simply say that homeschooling all children, but especially those who would not do well in school, can be a joy and an opportunity to build strong, loving relationships and help them feel that they are successful and intelligent…which they are.
If you are looking for a good book to read: Sharon Hensley’s Home Schooling Children with Special Needs and her private consulting practice for homeschoolers and life coaching for adults were both highly recommended by other homeschoolers and the Mother of Divine Grace Support Services Coordinator.