14 June 2010

The Advantages of Dyslexia...

I wrote a post about four years ago about our family's experience with dyslexia and although my old blog is gone, this is one post I had saved.  I recently asked our daughter Rachel if she would mind me revisiting it.  She had agreed the first time around but it's been about four years since then and as you can imagine, this is a sensitive subject for her.

I'm going to update it with some newer experiences but one of the reasons I wanted to re-post this is because there are so many parents of children with learning differences who need to know that how you approach and handle your child's difficulties, will either inspire confidence, frustration or anxiousness in your child and how they learn to deal with the obstacles he/she faces.  I think this is probably true of any kind of obstacles all children must learn to deal with.  When it comes to learning differences of many kinds in our family, my husband and I have been there, done that, got the t-shirt, mug and bumper sticker. (as I told someone recently)

No.  We were not born knowing this.  In fact, as our daughter, Rachel, can tell you, we pretty much learned this lesson after the fact but it is my hope that perhaps this experience will help others.
As we head into a new school year, Rachel is starting a new school. Middle School can be intimidating but I know that after the first few weeks, everything will be just fine.

I had a brother-in-law who had dyslexia so I wasn't totally clueless about it when Rachel was diagnosed with it in second grade. At first I was very worried. As anyone with a learning difference can tell you, working on something that is extremely difficult for you but seems so easy for the other kids around you,  in the words of Rachel, "Sucks". But isn't it like that with everyone's weaknesses?  Every single person on the planet has both strengths and weaknesses.

So she struggled through second, third, and fourth grades. In grade five, there were several major milestones. First, we all discovered that Rachel, because of her dyslexia, processed information differently from the other students. She thinks 'outside the box'.  This is actually a little hard to explain but her teacher told us about his observation of Rachel throughout the year.  At the beginning of the year, when the class was given a problem to solve, they would all throw out ideas and maybe add to others ideas.  Rachel would listen and when it was her turn she would unconsciously organize their thoughts and then explain why a certain plan would or wouldn't work or contribute an alternative solution.  Her teacher said he noticed right away that she came up with answers that he had never thought of. Or she would arrive at the correct answer but doing so by using a different method of solving a problem than he or the other kids might have come up with.  So he became curious about the situation.
By the end of the year, Rachel's class had started to look to her to organize the thoughts of the other students in a discussion and listen to her make sense of what the class was trying to express.   Often she would suggest an alternative and explain to her classmates the advantages and disadvantages of the possible answers.  This ability was further refined in sixth grade when she participated in a program called Odyssey of the Mind. (More on this later...)

So back to fifth grade. There are many forms of dyslexia and although Rachel's uncle also had dyslexia, it was different from Rachel's obstacle.  His problem was with reading.  His mind would swap around letters so that he couldn't read words because they always looked different each time he would read the same word.   In Rachel's case, she could read but when she tried to write, she couldn't organize the letters into words.  So her weakness essentially was that she could not write down what the problem and solutions were even though she knew the answers. Nobody could read her explanation of a problem or answer due to her spelling. Even she couldn't tell what she had written at times. She was understandably frustrated and depressed.

To get around this we tried to have her type into a word processing program so that she could use the spell checker. This does not work because you have to be able to tell which spelling you wanted for the context of the sentence. (see/sea, there/their, to/two/too) Your spelling also had to be somewhat in the ballpark for the program to know what word you want to spell.

This seemed to be a dead end. Then we discovered that if she used a speech recognition program, most of the time it would choose the correct spelling for the context.

Last year, Rachel's Odyssey of the Mind team won the State challenge in their category and was to advance to the National meet. (For reasons beyond the team's control, this did not happen but it was not because of anything the team did or didn't do. To be honest, they were happy with their win at the state level and I can't tell you how proud we were of all of them!)

The second milestone that happened was that Rachel discovered Harry Potter. When I asked her what advice she would give other people with dyslexia, she said emphatically to me, "Tell them to read Harry Potter!" By the time Rachel struggled through the books in the series that were available back then, she was ready and desired to read other books.  Although she doesn't read as many books as her sisters (we are all voracious readers), the number is still above the average child.  She could probably even surpass them if she didn't like to spend so much time drawing.

So as we head into seventh grade this year, we have finally learned that Rachel can do something that rarely can be taught... to 'think outside the box'... and she has a way to work around her weak spot with software. Wish I could do that with math!

I now get irritated when anyone calls her learning difference a 'disability'!  It's because of dyslexia that she thinks and solves problems the way she does.  That girl can run rings around everyone and although she has to work a little harder to put it down in words, she's already got the hardest part whipped!

So today, I would like to wish her good luck for this new school year, but I know that she will shine even brighter!

So now fast forward.  Rachel is about to become a Sophomore in High School come September.  She has not missed being on the honor roll even once since she started seventh grade and although she rarely uses the speech recognition software (she hates), she has continued to write her assignments and has gotten even better spelling phonetically.  It isn't perfect but that's ok.  She has friends who help her by proof reading her assignments and when necessary, she has accommodations the school has provided to allow her to accomplish the same work as her classmates.  She has also been developing so many more talents.  Her artistic talent has continued to be perfected and has evolved into an amazing accomplishment.

I used to worry about Rachel the most of all our children but it's pretty difficult to worry about a child who works so hard at her classes, can think circles around most people, has a sense of humor that can always make those around her smile and laugh and is talented in so many things.  Rachel is going to be successful in anything she wants to be or do.

I guess what I have been trying to express is that, yes, there IS an obstacle and that must be addressed, but it is NOT what will define a child.  How that child handles the obstacle WILL.  As a parent, keeping this in mind, is probably the best advice I could give you.
QOTD: "Dyslexia means never having to say that you're yrros." Anonymous


  1. Wow! I missed this post the first time around, so I am really glad you reposted it.

    Thanks, especially, for the last paragraph. The Captain has speech therapy today, and you gave me a really good reminder that just because she doesn't do something the same as other kids her age, she's still very smart and by being patient and working with her, we will find a way.

  2. How the child HANDLES the problem...

    That is so exactly right. We all hate the hard stuff in life, but it is the difficulties rather than the things we accomplish with ease that truly shape us.

    You are a seriously awesome mom.

  3. I am beyond proud of Rachel and YOU. What a true triumph.

  4. which voice recognition did you use? I tried dragon but it was too difficult. You had to talk so monotonic and slowly. My son sounds exactly like your daughter... what comes out on paper is always screwed up and nothing like what he can say. I have a digital recorder for him right now. Any more ideas???? I have a 504 for him and the ability to have 50% more time on tests and give answers orally if necessary. which is good since more time in writing isn't really going to help. sigh.

  5. Ann - I think there are obstacles that are put in our way for a reason. Our daughter Danielle did not speak more than a few words at about 3 years of age. We were worried. In our case, it was determined that she had so much fluid behind her eardrum that she literally heard everything as if she were under water. Because she rarely had an ear infection, it was not caught early. She had tubes put in her ears and within about two weeks she started talking... and now you can't get her to stop.

    I can't think of a single person of my acquaintance that does not have SOME weakness that they constantly have to work at. I'm just grateful Rachel is more successful at her obstacles than I have been with some of my own!

    AFW - Thank you. (I'm rarely without words (just ask anyone in my family) but compliments are usually the quickest way to shut me up. I just realized that. Guess I must be odd that way.)

    Meleah Rebeccah - Thank you (and ditto the above note)

    VW Bug - Dragon is really the most advanced speach recognition software I know of but it takes a lot of time and effort to 'train' it. I know it's hard at first because if you speak normally, it pretty much gets every word wrong when it comes to kid's voices so you have to correct them. Don't use monotone even though it seems to work better. Believe me, in the long run, it's better to correct the words in the long run.

    That being said, the principal at the elementary school Rachel went to, pulled me into her office and said, "You've GOT to see this!" She proceeded to whip out her Apple i-touch and showed me a new 'app' called Dragon. It is a free download (or at least it was a couple of months ago)that is far faster and easier than the computer version. I suspect this is because it uses 'cloud networking' to process the speech so you must also have an internet connection. Granted, the apple earphones with microphone is about $80 in addition to the cost of an i-touch, but even combined it's not as expensive as the full blown computer version.

    You speak a your words and it is processed on the internet on a bunch of computers at the same time (hence the speed) and then you can email the results to your email address. I didn't get to play with it for very long but it is definitely worth looking in to! Let me know how any of this works for you.


Contents from normal neural synapsis goes here....
Should unnatural neural synapsis occur? Take one cherry chocolate Hershey Kiss and carry on.
Should NO neural synapsis occur? Take two full strength chocolate Hershey Kisses and
try again in the morning.