A Dyslexia Diagnosis: Now What?
When Karen Huppertz’s son Cameron was diagnosed with dyslexia, she felt fear and sadness.“I didn’t know how I was going to get him through high school and then college,” she says.
The psychologist that tested second grader Cameron recommended sending him to a special school for students with dyslexia, the Schenck School of Atlanta, but there were no openings.
Huppertz decided to bring Cameron to one of the School’s summer camps, and something wonderful happened. “He hopped in the car and said ‘I get it mom. They taught me the way I need to learn.’’’
The next year there was an opening, and Cameron attended the Schenck School, then transitioned into a regular classroom in fifth grade. He graduated from high school with honors, and went to Florida State University for college. He is currently a social media marketing manager.
Huppertz says the reason she volunteers (and is now president) of the International Dyslexia Association Georgia Branch is to let parents know their child will be okay.
If your child has been diagnosed with dyslexia, it may seem scary, but there is hope and advice available to help support those who struggle with dyslexia.
Embrace Your Child’s Strengths
When the parents of potential students at Atlanta Speech School’s Wardlaw School come to the admissions office, they are asked to write down three adjectives that describe their child.
“They name all the wonderful things their children are,” says Brandi Kenner, Director of Research and Innovation at the Atlanta Speech School, and the parent of two children with dyslexia. “We say look at all of the things you’ve named. Your child is so much more than the dyslexia that seems so big right now.”
Ellen Hill, Director of Community Engagement at the Schenck School, says she tells parents at the initial meeting, “It may seem a little scary, but a dyslexia diagnosis means your child has a great, creative brain. However, because their brain is wired differently, it is going to be difficult for them to learn to read.”
Hill says the goal is to help children with dyslexia close the gap between what they are achieving and their potential.
Arm Yourself with Research
Huppertz says strong, factual, research-based information is a must for any parent of a child who has been diagnosed with dyslexia. She encourages parents to visit the IDA’s website for a provider list of schools, psychologists and tutors.
“The IDA’s focus is on making sure the individuals who are working with children are doing things that are research-based. We want parents to have a place where they can get answers. We make sure we are providing accurate, research-based information to parents and professionals,” she says.
Plug into Support
There are many places in Atlanta for parents of children with dyslexia to find support. Most of the schools with instruction geared specifically to students with dyslexia provide informational meetings. Huppertz says the IDA does multiple outreach meetings such as “Dyslexia 101” or “Experience Dyslexia,” which address dyslexia and dysgraphia and are open to the public. The Wardlaw School also holds informational meetings for parents.
“We provide a lot of meetings with parents and opportunities for education for families so they have a better understanding of what it is their child is struggling with and what they need to know to proceed,” says Debbie Dreas, Upper School Director of the Wardlaw School.
At Swift School of Atlanta, faculty and staff encourage parents to seek out a support group. “There is comfort and community in people going through the same thing,” says Roni Battoglia, Lower Division Director at Swift.
Advocacy is Key
After a child receives a dyslexia diagnosis, it is important for parents to understand their child’s educational rights, the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process and the accommodations their child should receive to help him or her succeed.
“We want to teach parents to be the best advocates that they can be for their children,” says Sondra Mims, Lower School Director of the Wardlaw School.
It is also important to teach students to do the same for themselves.
“We also teach our students how to advocate for themselves,” says Angela Robertson, Director of Admission and Enrollment Management at Swift. “We call that filling up their tool boxes.”
Get the instruction your child needs
It’s important for parents of children with dyslexia to find the right instruction for their children’s needs.
“We have found that a systematic, sequential approach is a prescription that works,” Hill says. Often times this is the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is characterized by multi-sensory, structured and systematic teaching that is based in language and direct instruction.
The Swift School hosts free workshops led by faculty and staff and visiting experts, which are open to the public.
“We offer a couple of different courses that give parents a taste of what their children are learning in the classroom,” says Natalie Felix, Orton-Gillingham Fellow-in-Training at Swift. Felix whose 25-year-old dyslexic son struggled in public school, says it is so important for parents of children with dyslexia to find the right instruction for their kids. “We want to be in partnership with parents so we can support them as much as possible,” Felix says.
The earlier the intervention, the less time it should take. When a child moves from a mainstream classroom setting into a private setting with more intense phonics instruction, they usually make gains faster.
“The goal is to remediate and then get the student back to the regular classroom,” Huppertz says.
Work smarter, not harder
One of the myths about children with dyslexia is that they “just need to work harder.” If a child is having trouble reading, but is not yet diagnosed, teachers may encourage reading drills to learn sight words. But without specific language instruction, Huppertz says, more reading doesn’t help the dyslexic.
“Getting a dyslexic student the proper instruction reduces the assistance they need at home. Once you know the things you can do to help, make it fun. It shouldn’t be more work,” she says.
Since children with dyslexia need to learn language with a multi-sensory approach, Huppertz suggests fun ways to learn letters and words such as writing in shaving cream and sand or using Wonder Stixs to write on the car windows while parents are running errands.
Watch Your Child Thrive
When a parent tells Hill that his or her child has been diagnosed with dyslexia she says, “That’s fantastic! You have brought another child with dyslexia into the world. They think outside the box, and in our world that is what we need. If they learn a really good phonetic approach, they will succeed at reading. Then, when they are older, sit back, wait, and see what they become.”
When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia, it can be overwhelming. Parents can follow the advice of educators and other parents to help open doors to a lifetime of educational success.
– Janeen Lewis
Myths versus Facts
Myth: Dyslexics are not intelligent.
Fact: Dyslexics are usually of average to gifted intelligence.
Myth: Dyslexia is a visual problem – dyslexics see letters backwards.
Fact: Dyslexia is a neurobiological language-based learning disability. Dyslexics have problems identifying the separate speech sounds within a word and/or learning the letters that represent those sounds.
Myth: Dyslexia can be cured.
Fact: Dyslexia is a life-long challenge, but with the proper remediation, dyslexics can have academic success.
Myth: More boys than girls have dyslexia.
Fact: According to Understood.org, dyslexia affects both genders in equal numbers.
Myth: Dyslexics just need to try harder.
Fact: Practicing more the wrong way can frustrate dyslexics. They usually need intensive, highly structured instruction.
Before the Diagnosis: Reading Red Flags
Observe your child for these red flags:
- Difficulty rhyming
- Difficulty learning and remembering letters of the alphabet
- Mispronounces familiar words
- Complains about reading being hard
- A family history of reading problems (dyslexia is hereditary)
- Avoids reading out loud
- Doesn’t associate letters with sounds