By Kim Murphey
My first daughter Lauren started talking in complete sentences at a young age. She could repeat whole passages from her favorite Disney movies, write her name and many other short words by the time she was four. When she asked me to teach her to read, I thought, how hard could it be?
I started buying books that taught reading, writing, and basic math. We worked through them and had fun. I read tons of books to her. I met people who homeschooled their kids and it intrigued me. I had another daughter who was 2 by then and I was running a small part-time home-based business. I thought I would give a try and see how it all worked together for us. I registered with a local private school and joined their homeschool support group.
The first five years went by quickly. As we started fourth grade Lauren was doing well with all subjects but was still struggling to read by herself despite her verbal and memory skills. Spelling retention was becoming a problem. She learned her words each week but she would forget them the next week or spell the word right in one sentence only to spell it wrong in the next. When she read back to me, she didn’t see anything wrong with her misspelled words. To her, they looked correct. She still turned letters and numbers around, something I was told was normal for kids through the third grade however it’s a sign of by fourth grade. She was starting to really struggle with certain math concepts now as well. But everything I read about dyslexia at the time said most kids hated reading, were slow learners, and had memory problems. That didn’t describe her at all. Her younger sister who was doing first-grade work was reading already without any problems.
I had Lauren tested. She was diagnosed with dyslexia. She apparently saw mostly consonants when she looked at words. She struggled with phonetically sounding out words. It seemed very easy for her to memorize things. I didn’t realize that she was memorizing everything. When she was reading, if she got to a word she didn’t know, she would guess at it based on the first and last letters and what made sense. Most times she guessed right as she had a huge vocabulary. But if you put a word out there without anything to give it a context and asked if it’s spelled right, she had no idea how to decipher it. They all looked the same to her, especially if it was the same word but spelled incorrectly. The advice that came from the specialist that tested her was to accept that she will always struggle but there were “tricks” to help her learn. Also in today’s world of calculators, computers, and Spellcheck, she’d succeed as long as she was encouraged to.
I went on to find examples of successful people who had dyslexia and told her their stories (Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves, Richard Branson, even her own pediatrician, to name just a few). I found in my research that many famous actors are dyslexic. Their skill in memorizing greatly helps them with lines in plays and movies. Armed with these stories, we went forward with our continued journey.
Lauren loved to dress up and make up stories. As she learned to type on the computer (which was way easier than writing by hand for her), she would write a short story or add to a story every day. She was discouraged by the fact that Spellcheck seemed to underline almost every word she wrote but eventually she got better. I had her read her stories out loud. She would catch some mistakes that way. We used cooking, something she was interested in to help teach math concepts she was struggling with. She loved to act, so she started taking classes at a local theater. I found she learned better by listening than reading textbooks. We found courses on CD and DVD’s that came with highlighted notes and assignments which we continued to use all the way through high school.
As I look back at the journey we took together, there were things that worked for her situation that wouldn’t work for someone else. My second daughter is three years younger and didn’t struggle with learning. There is no motivation like that of having a younger sibling who can keep up with everything you can do. It made Lauren try harder. She loved being a big sister and teaching her siblings too. By sixth grade, she was finally reading easily on her own and she started to devour books (she lists reading as one of her hobbies today). When she was in 7th grade, she started taking dance lessons. A few years later, she joined a ballroom dance team who performed locally and taught younger kids how to dance.
When Lauren was 15 she was encouraged by one of her acting teachers to enroll in the local junior college theater classes. She started off with two classes. By the time she graduated high school two years later, she had her certificate in theater from the college, had been in several plays and met a great group of friends. She was tested again for dyslexia by the college so she could have access to textbooks on CD, tutoring and other help if she needed it. Somewhere along the line, she decided she wanted to be a teacher. If she could take her love of learning and theater to children who struggled to learn like she did and help them succeed too, she’d have a career and be doing something she loved at the same time. This journey isn’t finished for her yet as she works towards getting her BA and also teaching part-time at the pre-school level.
Part II “Shayla’s Story“