Finding Brilliance in Learning Differences
This week, I got an up close and personal reminder of why I remain interested in children with dyslexia. One of our grandsons, a quirky third grader, came home with a diagnosis of mild dyslexia in reading and mild dysgraphia in handwriting. I did not feel surprised or dismayed. Through the years, some of the most fascinating children I have met faced similar labels.
His mother sent the school report to me earlier in the week. Sunday evening, walking out of a restaurant, Elliott looked up and said, “Grandma, do you know I have dyslexia?” “Yes, Elliott. Do you know that to even get that label means you have a smart brain?” He nodded. I have great faith in this tall, lanky kid. His brain works in wonderful ways. From the time Elliott was tiny, he amazed me with his interest in most things science. Today, he glibly whizzes through technology, and, with the exception of word problems, he handles numbers well.
Elliott has an older cousin who received a similar diagnosis in grade four. At that time, one of our older grandsons called after school and said, “Grandma, I cried all the way home from school. The teacher said my writing looks like the work of a first grader.” Stories and ideas explode in the brains of both of these grandsons. They have questions exploding and numerous thoughts to express.
Creative, insightful, and funny, both boys struggle to put pen to paper. Elliott also works hard to read orally. As a former educator and a forever grandmother, I relish the thinking patterns of these young men.
What does it mean to have mild dyslexia?
In Elliott’s case, it means that although he knows the rules of the English language, he struggles to apply the language generalizations quickly when reading orally.
His effort to match sounds to symbols slows his reading process. Fluency, the ability to read smoothly at a good speed, does not match expectations for children his age.
However, although oral reading sounds painful, Elliott understands what he reads. In the content areas of science, social studies, and math word problems, he displays marked comprehension. Reading to him or allowing him to listen to recordings help greatly.
What about dysgraphia? What happens when Elliott needs to write an essay?
Because Elliott struggles to actually get letters on paper, he appears to lack ideas. His awkward efforts at handwriting have nothing to do with his creative or critical thinking. The mechanics slow him down.
Likewise, Elliott struggles to spell correctly. Slow, clumsy handwriting coupled with inefficient processing of sounds, makes spelling an effort.
Elliott’s older cousin currently completes his college classes with excellent grades. His work in the military earns early promotions and numerous acknowledgments of achievement. He knows how his brain works and on a daily basis, he realizes his own intelligence. He respects himself.
With teachers who understand, Elliott will follow in his older cousin’s footsteps. He too will succeed. He too will learn and will astonish all of us with his achievements. Never sell an intelligent, curious kid short. Elliott and thousands of children with similar brain differences have much to offer. Expect the best!