Breaking a myth: Dyslexics can become readers!

A girl relaxes while reading
Photo by Kevin Rohr

A mom writing in the New York Times expresses grief: her first-grade daughter has been diagnosed with dyslexia. The mom is in despair, fearing that her daughter will never share and embrace her love of words. The mom appears ready to embrace her daughter’s other gifts — an already expressed knack for visual-spatial reasoning, the hope of future talents in art, music or design. But already, the mom has translated the “diagnosis” into the belief that her daughter won’t be “able to speak the language of literacy.”

The mother’s fear is understandable. I also worried when my son’s struggles with grasping the basic elements of reading seemed both inexplicable and insurmountable. Dyslexia is a challenge.

But challenges can be faced and overcome. The value of early screening is that it helps to define the challenge. If you can understand the cause of a problem, you can begin to work to solve that problem.

A parent who knows that their child is dyslexic by the end of first grade is fortunate. Parent and child will both be spared years of frustration in the early school years. This child never has to believe  that she is any less intelligent than her peers. She and her mom have a word to assign to her difficulties. They know from the start that the path to literacy will be different, and they can begin the journey before the child has fallen significantly behind in school.

There is a very different, and contrasting story, told in the many comments to the mom’s worried post. A mother from Atlanta writes: “If you love reading with your daughter, she will love it too…. I know so many dyslexic adults who are passionate readers.”

A  young woman from Brooklyn echoes that advice: “As a dyslexic I know that I love to read and for me that love came first from being read to, which enabled me to love the stories even if I couldn’t read them myself.

Another contributor posts a link to an article about dyslexic business leaders, and points out, “Dyslexia doesn’t have to be a deficit, with the right support your daughter and you will Learn your way through it.” (I love the capitalization of “Learn”!)

Some parents share the benefits of hindsight. One shares, “My son was diagnosed very late-did not read till 4th grade… My son is now thinking about law school- a career that demands both reading and writing.” Another mom describes the specific remediation arranged for her son, and reports “He is currently finishing 8th grade reading well above grade level, and is a voracious reader who likes to sneak read in bed after his lights are supposed to be out.

A mom from Wyoming offers, “I have two dyslexic sons. Both of them are writers. Neither became a fluent reader until about age 9; however, both of them love words… My younger son is in a very difficult PhD. program. I read to both these boys well into their teens.”  Still another writes, “My severely dyslexic son is writing a historical novel – he is 12.”

A proud father writes, “My second daughter, diagnosed with dyslexia, didn’t read until 6th grade. Last week, she graduated from college and plows through a couple of books a week. She can’t spell, but she is one of the most literate & insightful people I know.” And an equally proud sibling shares, “My sister is dyslexic and is one of the most amazing writers I know and loves nothing more than to curl up with a good book, even if it does take her a bit longer to read it. … My sister was not diagnosed until 4th grade, but since then, has gone on to graduate top ten in her high school class and attended an Ivy League university.

I didn’t have to work hard to find these comments — at least half of the 78 comments posted to the article include encouraging and often impressive stories of success. Of course it is easier to see the big picture through hindsight than to be a parent faced with a present struggle.

But it’s sad when anyone even hints at giving up a hope or a dream for a child who is only in primary school The dyslexic child follows a different developmental path. Each child is an individual to be cherished and encouraged.

The gift of dyslexia is the gift of mastery.

Here’s a link to the article that prompted this post: