It wasn't our original plan.
Some say they are too young, and for a while I thought that may be true.
He is only 8 years old, after all.
However, he and I decided, together, that it is time he joins the adults in mapping out his education.
He is the one who must live this experience. As much as I want to, I can't do it for him.
Last Thursday morning, my son and I made the short trek to his public school for a parent-teacher- student conference. He has been nervous about starting 3rd grade, so we decided to meet the teacher before the first day of school.
With his 1 in 5 shirt proudly on display, he tells me he is happy to be the blue line. For one thing, blue is his favorite color, but he also knows that being that blue line makes him unique. Yes, dyslexia comes with its share of struggles. He has an IEP for reading and spelling. However, dyslexia also means he has an amazingly complex mind. He tells me he thinks in pictures, not words. School is not the place where he best shines, but he does, in fact, shine.
As we walk into the school, I can tell he is nervous. He worries about bigger books and harder papers.
We look up, and there is a familiar face! Ms G, his Wilson Reading teacher, is also joining the meeting! Joy spreads over his face! We are not in this alone.
Before I go on, you need to know something about Ms G. In our school, Wilson Reading is only offered via special education. That means Ms G works with the kids who are in the bottom 10th percentile in reading. Her students know they struggle. She is there to help. However, they learn so much more than how to read when they see Ms G. She knows that when you are in the bottom 10th percentile of anything, your ego takes a hit. So, Ms G likes to build it back up.
Every time my son enters her classroom, she starts the day by saying "tell me something good!"
As my son sees her, his face lights up!
"Want me to tell you something good??" he asks.
"We adopted kittens over the summer, and my Dad taught me how to ride a boogie board!"
The ice is instantly broken. Tension melts away.
That's a good teacher.
Now, here's my bragging moment, and let me brag! We'll never win the spelling bee award, but let me tell you my boy rocks at public speaking! Before this meeting, he and I worked together on a Power Point presentation. It included not only the science of dyslexia, but also images of the Incredible Hulk, alligators, and a few fish. All of this is interwoven to tell a beautiful story.
Ms W, his new regular ed classroom teacher, is there with Ms G as well. The four of us enter the classroom and sit down.
"I am an excellent fisherman. I like science, and I have some fossils that I try to put together. I am good at math. And like Steven Spielberg and Jamie Oliver and Orlando Bloom ....I have dyslexia."
He doesn't miss a beat! He even explains how his brain is different than someone who does not have dyslexia. Yes, he explains the basic neurological processes! Seriously!
Afterwards, his teacher tells him that most of the kids in her class would not be able to put together a presentation like that! She is impressed! She sees, first hand, how talented and capable my little boy really is!
All of this is great, but we don't stop there. All four of us (classroom teacher, Wilson teacher, my son, myself) discuss our hopes, dreams, and concerns for the coming year. We brainstorm. We come up with new ideas.
Ms G asks, "If you practice a reading passage ahead of time, would you be okay reading it aloud in front of the class? Only if you practice first?" My son ....considering ...slowly smiling ...then: "Yes, I think that would be good."
Ms W says, "When you listen to books, do you also like to follow along in print or just listen by itself?" My son: "I like to follow along."
Finally, his big worry surfaces -- "I've heard the books are really BIG in third grade." He looks down at his hands, awaiting her reply.
Ms W gently looks at him, and asks, "Do you mean big, like a lot of words, or big, like hard?"
"A lot of words."
"I have books of all different levels, big and small. Would you like to go look at the bookshelves?"
He cautiously goes over. Slowly ....
Then, "Hey, look! She does have some big books, but also ...look at all of these little books! Hey, Mom, here's one about fish!"
I see my little boy transform, right before my eyes! I watch his teacher connect. I feel my heart swell with pride as he learns to navigate his learning difference on his own.
All four of us left that room feeling empowered. He is in good hands, and the lines of communication are open. His teacher is aware of his accommodations, the struggles he has, and his strengths. He will have full access to Learning Ally and SOLO 6 both at home and at school. He will continue with Wilson Reading, and he feels confident to discuss dyslexia with his teacher on his own now. So, I know that if he has a
concern, and I am not there, he has an ally.
That's what it's all about. Teaching them to navigate this world on their own.
That's a big step at 8 years old. It's going to be okay. It's going to be better than okay!
We're in this, together.
Let's help each other. If you would like personalized advice about helping your child self advocate, schedule a 30 minute consultation with one of our Parent Support Specialists by visiting www.LearningAlly.org/ParentConsult or calling 800-635-1403.
Also, we have resources to help. Click here to download our Learning Ally back to school template.