Our second child appeared to be perfectly normal in his development. He was talking at nine months, running at 12 months, and quick to grasp a situation and act upon it. The only unusual thing we noted between birth and age five was his short attention span. It seemed inconsistent with his apparent ability.
First indications of problems in school appeared when a very concerned first-grade teacher called to say that our son was "not working up to potential" and showing signs of dislike for the learning process. She described him as a classroom leader, energetic and bright, thus her concern. He had great difficulty learning to print. He printed his name and other words in mirror image, and confused b with d and p with q, among others. He was frustrated with his attempts and complained to me that everything was backwards to him. Learning to read was equally difficult. At that time 1 suggested to his teacher that he might have a learning disability. She assured me that such problems are common among first-graders. - that it was nothing to worry about.
Martin's problems continued in second grade. Reading and spelling proved difficult again, and he was given special help from a "reading specialist" and a speech therapist because of delayed speech development. I discussed again the possibility of a learning disability with each of his four teachers. All assured me that it was simply a matter of maturity, and his classroom teacher laughed aloud at my suggestion. At this point, Martin was unhappy with school, complained of its being "hard," and had trouble sitting still and concentrating in the classroom.
More serious problems arose in third grade. Early in the school year his reading teacher called to report that Martin was disruptive in the classroom, that he walked around during class, and that he did not complete his assignments. He was labeled a behavior problem - a spoiled child. The school would not test him for learning problems. Their attitude remained that he was bright but lacking in discipline and desire.
At this point, Martin was deeply troubled. He did not eat or sleep well, expressed hatred for his teachers and school in general, claimed to have no friends, and had outbursts of temper and crying at home. He told me that he knew that he was "dumb." His teacher related that he was again having particular problems with reading and spelling, though other problems were now arising in math, science, etc., because he was unable to read the material provided. Reading aloud was a slow and painful process for him and humiliating for the boy who had been a class leader not long ago. He was placed in a "special" spelling group with two other boys who were unmotivated and of low ability. At this point, he was so upset and frustrated that he talked of wanting to die.
Unable to find help at school, we turned to our pediatrician, who referred us to the neurologic center at a nearby university, where Martin was tested. Though we were not completely satisfied with the procedures used, the tests revealed his dyslexia.
Equipped with the test results, we were able to finally get the attention of the school personnel. The school psychologist recommended several classroom approaches to help Martin. His thirdgrade teacher finally consented to give him oral instruction and was shocked when he received an "A" on a science test on which he was allowed to give the answers aloud, rather than writing them down. His strong points - both physical and artistic - were emphasized, and his shattered ego began to be repaired.
At home, we found that frank discussions with Martin were most helpful. He was greatly relieved when given a logical explanation concerning why he had learning difficulty. His realization that he was not "dumb" was instrumental in his change in attitude towards school, which he no longer regards as a hostile environment.
We were fortunate to find a learning-disabilities graduate, who has tutored Martin for the last two summers. With her urging we arranged for him to repeat third grade - in a different school. His progress has been good, but because the school does not consider his problem serious enough for the learning-disabilities program, no special help has been provided, and he is still behind grade level in most areas. He is allowed to work alone in a special room when classroom noise distracts him.
Reading and spelling have continued to be his biggest problem. Fourth-grade spelling tests have been a real challenge for Martin. With a good deal of repetitious study, he can pass his weekly test with a B or an A, but when presented with a list of review words, he finds that he has forgotten most of them. He is not able to even read all of the words on the review list. His classroom teacher seems unconcerned.
We were asked recently at his school not to refer to Martin's problem as dyslexia, because use of that term implied something serious. Our family is not concerned about using this 41SCrIOUs" term. Understanding dyslexia has been of profound importance to us. Martin is, I believe, better informed on his condition than his teachers. He has discussed with us several other children whom he suspects are dyslexic to some degree.
In conclusion, the school experience for Martin has been a frustrating one. Most of his teachers have been concerned and caring but uninformed about dyslexia. Martin's approach to learning is much more positive now, and he is better able to deal with the frustrations he faces when reading, preparing for an exam in spelling, or writing a theme. However, his social adjustment has not solved the problem, merely made its solution more favorable.
After finishing this article, Martin's mother reported that his school agreed to an hour-long tutoring session daily for her son, during which time the Orton-Gillingham method (a special teaching approach for dyslexic students) will be applied. She is hopeful that more progress will be made than has been the case up to the present.