has had both struggles and success with the educational system over the past few years in seeking academic support for her 8-year-old son, Josh
, who has dyslexia. Now in the second grade, Josh is doing much better, but their journey began with a rocky start. Debbie and her husband caught the signs early, noticing in kindergarten that they had to repeat instructions to Josh and that he would often seem confused.
“I approached the school but they discounted my concerns,” Debbie explains. They told me, ‘He’s just being a boy, he’ll catch up.’ When he entered first grade I was really worried, so we started him with regular tutoring. It helped, but just enough to keep him from failing.”
While many schools across the country are accommodating to students who learn differently, too many still fail to recognize dyslexia as a learning issue that is legally required to be supported.
“I requested that Josh be tested for dyslexia, but they replied, ‘We don’t test for dyslexia.’” Debbie, aware of her parental rights, persisted and eventually the school agreed to administer the test. At the same time, the demands of school were increasing for Josh, particularly when it came to reading.
“One day I was helping in the classroom and there was a test that went horribly wrong. Up until that point, the kids could be read to, but for this test they couldn’t get any help and it was timed. Josh was looking up at me with panic and despair in his eyes. Finally, I approached the teacher and said, ‘I’m not going to subject him to this. We’re not going to do it.’”
The stress brought on by the timed reading tests and other scenarios at school began to take an emotional toll on Josh.
“He’s usually a very happy, glass-half-full child,” Debbie says.
[caption id="attachment_24759" align="alignleft" width="281"] Josh, frustrated and exhausted during his emotional ordeal.
“But one day we went to a trampoline center and Josh just seemed miserable. He literally crawled into the furthest, darkest corner of the play gym and cried the entire time. I thought, ‘This is not Josh.’ Later that evening at dinner we found out that he was distraught over his in-class reading tests.”
Josh’s school grew increasingly adversarial in its responses to Debbie’s requests for dyslexia testing and accommodations.
“At one point the school sent a police officer to our house because I had snapped a picture of Josh, as I often did, while volunteering in his classroom. It had never been an issue before. I thought, ‘This is insane. If they’ll send the police to our door, where does it end?’”
Deciding it would be best to try to de-escalate the situation, Debbie and her husband went to the principal’s office to explain that they did not want a contentious relationship with the school. Their efforts had little effect.
“Throughout the whole experience I had been consumed with fear and worry. I started to question myself: ‘Is nothing wrong? Am I doing all this to my family for no reason?’”
[caption id="attachment_24821" align="alignright" width="269"] Josh listening to an audiobook.
Soon after, Debbie discovered the parent-led advocacy group Decoding Dyslexia, which she later became highly involved with in her home state of California, and finally found hope. Unfortunately, once the results for Josh’s dyslexia test came back, the response was not what Debbie had hoped for.
“The school found significant discrepancies but wouldn’t call it dyslexia and wouldn’t qualify him for any accommodations. At that point we knew we didn’t want to return to that school.”
The Salazars decided to send Josh to a private school, which turned out to be an exceptional fit.
“They use multisensory teaching and a lot of the staff are trained in dyslexia-appropriate reading programs. Josh has completely rebounded emotionally and has a really positive attitude now. In a way, he’s proud of his dyslexia!”
Josh also started using assistive technology, including audiobooks from Learning Ally.
[caption id="attachment_24826" align="alignleft" width="235"] Josh is once again a happy, carefree child.
“A good story can take you to another world, but the books that suit Josh’s interest level, like Percy Jackson
, are well beyond his sight-reading skill level. If he were forced to read books that were at his skill level, he would be bored. So to give him access to audiobooks is indescribable.”
Debbie’s advice to other parents who are in the process of getting their child identified or accommodated: “Consult an advocate, whether a local volunteer, private advocate, or one of Learning Ally’s parent support specialists
. Be persistent, but respectful. Keep records of everything. Remember that knowledge empowers you. You just have to think of your child, pull up your sleeves and face it.”