I have put off this post for so long for so many reasons including not knowing how to start to talk about this. What I am about to write is not only important for my own little family of four, but also for you all as teachers! I hope someone out there learns from my experiences as a teacher and a parent!
This post is all about my son Braedon and how he has struggled to learn to read. There are kids in your class just like him. Kids with no phonemic awareness, kids who know the letters but can’t blend, kids who can’t remember sight words or follow directions. We have struggles with this, so this post is all about my perspective as a parent on the other end of the table.
Braedon is starting second grade this year, but we knew something was different with him around the age of 2. He did not speak, he did not follow our directions, he had OCD tendencies from an early age, and he just had this general uncomfortableness with new things. Going into second grade now, he is significantly behind in school. It would be easy for me to list things he cannot do, but we try to stay positive so I will refrain. When we finished first grade, we were told if we were to stay in the current district we were enrolled, he would not be in a general education classroom, but rather in a self-contained special education classroom.
My mom began to hint to me around the age of 2 that she thought he could be autistic. He did have some tendencies, but he was able to maintain eye contact, and the doctor would always assure me he was fine. We had him evaluated by our state’s Child Find System and he was denied assistance.
At this time I was starting to feel like my parenting was not to par. People would tell me, “Don’t feed him, until he speaks.” They would also tell me, “Discipline him when he has a fit.” This made me feel like they were judging my parenting. I cannot stress enough how we need to have more understanding and support for each other as parents. That ‘bratty kid’ may have real issues that are outside of his control!
At the age of three, we finally started to get some help when the school district evaluated him. It was identified he had a sensory processing issue. He would start to receive services in speech and language because he was delayed. Below is Ms. Donna, his developmental preschool teacher for two years.
I would ask how he was doing, and I would be told he was fine from his regular teacher. But then I would get texts from my sub saying he was throwing fits in class. I had no clue what to do. How do I maintain this relationship and call her out for not being honest with me about my child? One afternoon the speech teacher called me and said, “We have been working on the 10 parts of the eyeball, and he can’t remember them.” Seriously, do YOU know what the 10 parts of the eyeball are? I did not feel as if they were even in the ballpark with what was important to teach him even, if he did not have a learning difference! Who teaches this concept in kinder?! A little ridiculous if you ask me.I could also see the quality of his work was not what it should be. Check out the picture below. As a matter of fact, going into the second grade we still don’t understand people have bodies. He really struggles with that.
Braedon would not separate from me in the mornings. We got no support from his teacher. She even told my boss that she was concerned about how I was going to teach when he can’t even line up. Now I was embarrassed and lost trust in this situation with every day that went by.
But the final straw for me was during a kindergarten performance. I called his teacher ahead of time and said he would be the star of the show if she could just support us in the transition. He had a speaking part in a preschool play performed for the whole school, so he was fully capable of participating if it was stress free. When my husband walked him over to the rest of the kids when we arrived that evening, he started stressing out. She brushed him off as if it was not worth her time. She said, “He can join us when he is ready.” He did not separate from us until the last moment and pretty much stood on the stage and stared. This broke my heart.
Then one day in the parking lot, his teacher put Braedon in the car. Before I drove away she opened the door and said, “We need to talk because I feel like he needs to be moved to a full-time special education classroom. IN THE PARKING LOT she told me this! Are you kidding me?!
So, we moved schools, and that was such a blessing! He was now in kindergarten with an amazing teacher. She read his IEP and called me at home before he started to see what she could do to help. I told her my story and how we felt something was off but we could not pinpoint it. His teacher went above and beyond, and did exactly what she should have done knowing she was getting a child with some learning differences. He went seven weeks with the teacher at the other school and could barely write the B in his name. On day six at the new school, he could write his whole name!
One morning he showed some anxiety during the morning transition, and she redirected him by having him put her keys on his desk and he was fine. All it took a small amount of thought and effort.
He learned his alphabet names and sounds, but struggled with sight words. He was able to count to ten by the end of the year. I wanted to retain him because he had no phonemic awareness, and that is really important for emergent readers. The school would started giving him resource for reading under his speech and language label. They told me Braedon would not get those services in kinder because there were no other kids in kinder to form a group. So my choice was vto pretty much stay in kinder and continue to get limited services, or move up and finally get tested and services. So we moved up.
First grade was hard for Braedon. He was in a room where it was Friday test day and the offices came out! He would wake up every day and say “Mommy, is it Friday?” He feared those tests because not only could he not read them, but he could not understand them orally at the pace in which they were given. She would give him the whole test, but modify it by only counting a couple questions. Why bother if he has to take the whole test anyway? The emotional turmoil will happen regardless of what goes in the grade book. The tests showed us nothing about where he was academically, so what was the point of the test?
Homework was another huge issue. Braedon had to do the ten Harcourt spelling words, and the rest of the class had 15. How is that a modification? His homework also said “MODIFIED” on it nice and big so it was a bit of a discouragement for him. It pointed out he was different.
As mom, I would go in his room and my heart would break because I would see his desk facing south when everyone else’s desk faced north. I get teary eyed just thinking of it. Why do people do this to children? The kicker for me though was seeing the projects the other kids would do, and he would not get to do because he was in his resource classes. He would also miss assemblies because he has resource at that time.
His teacher was a very nice woman, don’t get me wrong. She does fantastic things and has amazing lessons! She actually helped get the ball rolling with testing and backed me up many times in IEP meetings. She is well respected on the campus and was definitely brought into our lives get things moving for us!
First grade started, and the curriculum got really challenging. My little baby still could not blend 2 letter words and now they are doing digraphs and vowel teams. It started to compound the problem. Granted, he was pulled out for reading instruction, but that was only 30 minutes a day. Our reading block was 90 minutes, so he was getting a world of confusion mixed all together. I called a meeting to get him tested and again was talked out of it. “We need to wait until he is 7.” and “What if we test and he does not qualify?” At the age of 7 they could use the Woodcock Johnson assessment which apparently was more reliable but, a learning disability is a learning disability no matter what assessment you use! I worked with these people and so I trusted them! I still trust them to be honest with you. They know the system in which we work, and have seen it steer so many families in opposite directions. They were doing what they knew was best for Braedon and I just trusted them.
So we focused more this year on identifying what he needs. We needed a label so we knew what to Google. This kid works SO HARD and he needs some breaks! So we focused less on homework and more on things he enjoyed! I really didn’t care if the homework went incomplete or was not handed in at all.
We were approaching his 7th birthday and that was the magic time time to be tested. In passing, I would remind anybody that works my son, “Brae’s birthday is coming! Make sure he gets on the schedule for testing!
I made a lunch visit to his resource classroom with my husband one day and I asked her how he was doing and she said to me “Braedon has not learned anything all year with me.” Are you kidding me? How could a student come to your class every day and not learn anything? It is January! It makes no sense. Not to mention his progress reports and report cards said he was making slow progress which is totally different than NO PROGRESS! I was angry. I am a parent first and foremost, so why does telling me seem so casual all the time.
This ignited a fire and I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. And guess what… it was suggested we wait AGAIN until 2nd grade to test because the Woodcock Johnson was changing over the summer. I was done waiting even if they were testing. I didn’t trust they would do what I needed them to do. We had him tested by a developmental pediatrician, but he refused to participate. He hated to read and he was not about to fail in front of a stranger. It was also a whole situation and that made him uber uncomfortable! He gave us a tentative diagnosis of dyslexia based on what we said so that’s what we ran with!
I live in a very populated part of Phoenix! Schools every mile, about 5 Walmarts within a 15 minute drive, and a major city in our area. I found out there is only one place on our side of town who does tutoring with kids with dyslexia and they had a pretty big waiting list. So, I made friends with them! I started going to parent support meetings and would talk to anyone who would listen! And we started tutoring in March! And guess what?! Three 1 hour tutoring sessions AND WE WERE READING!
It is just crazy to me that I have a masters degree in Early Childhood Education, a Reading Endorsement, and a Structured English Immersion Certificate, and I could not teach this kid! If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would never believe it! So here we are now withdrawing our child for a few hours a week to go to reading tutoring outside of school! Braedon and his Barton Tutor Meriah who has been such a blessing in our lives!
When I told the school psychologist that my son was diagnosed tentatively with dyslexia, her response was “Dyslexia is meh.” That’s pretty much the attitude I got for the duration of getting a proper IEP. We walked out of our school on the last day with a MET (which is all the testing results) including limited short and long term memory, auditory processing, language disorder, occupation therapy, and an emotional label. It was their recommendation that my son be moved to a cross-categorical academic classroom (which means self contained special ed in this district) for the start of his second grade year.
As a teacher I could not help but think, “kinder and first are the two grades where you really learn to read, and we just threw him in a class, ignored requests for testing, and the testing eventually lead to a self contained classroom setting.”
As a parent I lost huge amounts of trust in the system, and began to really see how we are doing some children a huge disservice! If you are a teacher, you know what I mean. Asking parents to wait for testing, and sending kids to intervention with no gains is not acceptable. I don’t care if you only have one psychologist on campus who works two days a week. This is not my problem. But for some reason, as teachers, we bow down and go with the flow and we know what happens is not always best for kids.
We are moving schools next year. Back to our neighborhood school where he went to preschool for 2 years. It is a performing arts public school which means that if he struggles, he will at least get a little more variety and meaning in his instruction.
So for us as teachers what do we take away?
Current research shows that 1 in 5 people (not just children) have some range of dyslexia! It’s out there and has real effects on people. Watch this video to see how Braedon feels while trying to learn..
Now that you know what it feels like. Check out this recent news article. It pretty much sums everything up about school lack of ability to help!