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Schooling the Gifted Dyslexic Child

Categories: Authors for Access, Learning Disabilities, Parenting

Cover of Karen Nathan's book, Despite the dyslexia that throttled his reading and early schooling experience, Zach Nathan displayed extraordinary talents in areas like science, computers, and creative writing. A long journey of discovery led his mother, a seasoned professional educator, to home-school Zach and later write an inspriring book about the ins and outs of raising a gifted dyslexic child. A special guest entry by Karen Nathan, Ph.D. My son Zach, who is now 30, was my inspiration for writing Dyslexia with Gifts and Talents. When Zach was in middle school, I was an instructor in the college of education at our branch campus of a state university. We emphasized to our teacher-interns the value of using multiple methods to reach students with diverse strengths and weaknesses, the importance of providing appropriate accommodations including a variety of ways for student evaluations; and above all, the need to be respectful and encouraging to every student in their classrooms. The irony was that many of my son’s teachers seldom met these teaching standards. In eighth grade, Zach was so miserable that I began to home school him.  Through RFB&D, Zach was no longer dependent upon us to read his assignments to him. He could also experience the joy of reading for pleasure." It was then that we discovered Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic! My husband and I always knew Zach was a strong auditory learner. We had begun reading his texts to him in fifth grade. (While he then struggled with reading, spelling, and handwriting; he was a wiz in science, vocabulary, technology, and dictating his creative writing stories to us.) Through Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Zach was no longer dependent upon us to read his assignments to him. He could also experience the joy of reading for pleasure. Zach continued to use RFB&D through college - often happily surprised to find rather obscure and high level texts in anthropology and psychology available. An added bonus was that he could keep the tapes as long as he needed them. This was ten years ago, and I know RFB&D has come a long way,  adding thousands of recordings to the library, providing access through the iPad, iPhone, and iPad touch and most recently, changing its name to Learning Ally. My personal experiences motivated me to focus my research for a Ph.D. on people who are gifted or talented and also have dyslexia. At the conclusion of the final defense of my dissertation, my committee encouraged me to turn my research into a book that would be helpful for parents, teachers, and the individuals themselves. Many years later, Dyslexia with Gifts and Talents is the result. Although I am a trained educator, much of the book is written with a mother’s perspective, through the eyes and ears that lived the journey with my son. Dyslexia with Gifts and Talents is divided into four main parts. The introductory material serves to inform the reader about dyslexia in general and in combination with gifts and talents. Life in school can be a daily act of courage. . ." “Zach’s Journey: The Search for a Magic Pencil” offers a first-hand account of what it is like to grow up with the combination of dyslexia (poor reading, handwriting, and spelling skills) and gifted abilities (science, computers, creative writing, vocabulary). It is written from Zach’s perspective, as well as Karen’s. The story unfolds in the voices of mother and son through personal narratives and conversations. Zach shares in his own words and from his unique outlook his educational experiences from pre-kindergarten through college. Karen shares her personal reflections on each stage of the often emotional roller coaster of the journey. At times, Zach’s father and brother add their memories. Copies of writing samples, achievement tests, letters, awards, and photographs are included. “Many Stories, Voices of Others” is an eye-opening reminder that gifted and talented individuals with dyslexia are far more common in our society than we often realize. These voices are a mix of heartrending, forceful, weary, and triumphant. Some voices are well-known; others are not. Bright individuals with learning differences, their parents, teachers, and researchers have their say on numerous topics from “Identification: A Puzzling Discovery” to “Higher Education and the Work Force.” The final section, “HELP,” provides information and advice for parents, teachers, and students. It includes the importance of focusing on strengths, tips for reading comprehension, lists of possible accommodations, types of assistive technology, tactics for choosing a college, and much more. The book concludes with specifics on identification, laws, and resources. From the book's dedication page: As a child, my son Zach loved to go camping in the wilderness. He had no fear of the dark, or creepy noises, or wading through deep creeks where he could not see the bottom. But in school he was intimidated by spelling bees and fearful of being called on to read aloud. He had imaginative ideas for creative writing stories, but until he learned to use a computer he struggled to get his thoughts on paper.  Childhood drawing by Zach Nathan:  Picture of a rainbow, with inscription: Above, a picture drawn by Zach when he was in elementary school While he won science awards and debates and taught himself to play the flute, it took him twice as long as his classmates to complete a worksheet, and he could not read the music he played. He was diagnosed as gifted and dyslexic, but at the time little help was available.
When Zach was in the sixth grade, I told him he was my hero. It happened after a depressing conference with his teachers. He looked at me with bewilderment. Perhaps most heroes rise to the occasion for a moment in time. However, Zach showed courage every day he went to school. Zach knew what faced him—the frustration of often being the last to finish an assignment and the inevitability of dragging home mountains of schoolwork each night. Yet he went to school faithfully determined to do his best. Years later, Zach graduated from college summa cum laude and was tapped for Phi Beta Kappa. Through sheer grit and a determination to learn, he fought throughout his school years to overcome challenges. Many of those challenges could have been lessened or avoided altogether if more of his teachers had been knowledgeable about the learning needs of very bright individuals with dyslexia. Zach said he succeeded through “fortitude, patience, and hope.” I could not have endured as well. I could not have accomplished what he did. This book is dedicated to my son—and to all the other heroes out there with learning differences for whom life in school may be a daily act of courage. Editor's note: Karen Nathan has worked at the elementary, middle, high school, and college levels. As a consultant to a public school system, she aided an inner-city pre-K through 8 school in the application process for International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. She received her Ph.D. from the University of South Florida where she was the recipient of a graduate fellowship. Her dissertation research focused on individuals with dyslexia who are also gifted.

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