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A Mother’s Shame

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Like most parents with an unknown family history of dyslexia, and / or those who just have no idea dyslexia exists or anything about it, I spent a small fortune on every Scholastic book event my son’s school held in Kindergarten and throughout most of 1st grade on 1st readers. I was trying to spark his interest by choosing books I thought he would like, and by doing so hoped I would trigger his interest in reading, then everything would be just fine.

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The Avengers, various Lego series like Ninjago, Dr. Seuss, space and planets, animals, Star Wars, The Good Dinosaur, Paddington, Charlie the Ranch Dog, etc. You name it, if my son had shown even an ounce of interest, I bought it.

Well, of course, none of that worked, and as I came to understand the science of reading, it was an endeavor doomed to fail before I ever even entered my credit card info on the Scholastic website.

I call this my shame only because I did not know.  In my ignorance I thought I was doing right by my son.  I honestly thought I was doing my best.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Like me, no parent is at fault for this choice.  This hidden world, this secret language is sadly known to only those who find themselves here, and as educated and as tenacious as I am, the door to this world was surprisingly hard to find and break through.

Why does it have to be so hard?  Why are the first readers for sale in book stores and online not decodable books?  Why is the struggle to read such a struggle?  Why does the educational establishment refuse to raise their hands and enlighten parents when they see the first signs of struggle and guide parents to the right books and resources?

Those are all rhetorical questions by the way.  I, like you, my dear dyslexia friends, know the answers.

As many have been writing lately, the #ScienceOfReading and the manner in which reading is taught in this country are diametrically opposed.  The #ScienceOfReading is not taught in our universities to the next generation of teachers, and certainly not in our schools to our children.

The “how to” for bridging this gap is fought every single day by parents across this country; yet, first we must find this world, then we must educate ourselves, then we must be willing to fight.

But I’ve written about this before.  What I’m dealing with now is what to do with these so-called first readers.  My instincts are to donate them; a friend even suggested this past weekend that I do just that.  The majority of books are untouched, collecting dust on a shelf, and we have so many of them that it does represent a small investment, but only maybe .00000001 in the total financial allotment we’ve invested in dyslexia services over the last 3 years, but I can’t do it.

I have no interest in perpetuating what these books represent.  These books are train wrecks!  They are not decodable.  They will never help to teach a child to read.

In Lois Letchford’s book Reversed: A Memoir, she writes about she and Nicholas ripping apart some horrible books that alleged they could help Lois teach her child to read, in their backyard and letting the paper of the books fly away on the wind.  It’s an absolute beautiful moment of paper butterflies and a true turning point in the book for Nicholas.  You feel, through Lois’ words, how much burden was taken off of his little shoulders in that moment, how she set that little boy free from the pain and stress he was feeling in his inability to read.

I repeatedly envision myself in their backyard while they rip up those books.  I’m dancing and laughing in the paper storm, cheering them on.

Part of me wants to tear up these books; part of me wants to set them on fire and watch them burn; but that’s my desire.  In writing this, trying to determine what to do with these books, I now know the answer is to ask my son.  At 10 1/2 years old, with dyslexia being something that he owns and understands, the choice of what to do with these books needs to be his.

In 3 years and 3 months, he’s come monumentally far and can and does willing read, but unlike Lois, I’ve not once offered him the opportunity to shed the past.

We’ve talked about the past including Kindergarten and 1st grade, his teachers, his struggles, his tutors, and those times before his diagnosis that we really didn’t handle his inability to read well.  I’ve asked for forgiveness and he’s given it, but I’ve not offered the opportunity to destroy the symbol of his struggle, and maybe that’s what I need to do.  Maybe this is the key for both of us for very different reasons?  On some level at least, maybe it will be how we purge ourselves of our shame, if he even still has any, but for me, maybe it will finally set me free.

I’m so inspired by this idea and I cannot wait to talk to him about it, to see what he says.  Maybe he won’t be as motivated as I am, maybe he won’t care, but that will tell me a lot about how far he’s come too, how much he’s healed.

Some way or other, these books will not perpetuate their misguided approach to reading to anyone else, not my copies at least.

4 comments on “A Mother’s Shame

  1. Heather Erickson says:

    Hi! As a lower elementary teacher, I have a question. Have you found any early reader books written that actually are easier to decode for dyslexic children? I know wach individual publishing house sets their own “levels” and are usually not accurate to a specific test such as DRA, Lexile, Guided Reading level and things that classroom teachers use to measure. What suggestions do you have for books that are best for dyslexic readers?? Especially those on the young end…5-8 yr olds?

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    1. amomsjourneymydyslexiclife says:

      Hi Heather! I’m so sorry for the delayed response. Summer is always a crazy time. FlyLeafPublishing.com has some and you can also follow the nonprofit Teach My Kid to Read which is dedicated to putting decodable books in every library in the country. If a book is decodable it should say it. I encourage you to do all you are able to learn about Structured Literacy. You’ll see the why and how of decodable books and as you progress through the program you’ll be able to recognize what is decodable and what isn’t. On our other page (www.TheDyslexiaInitiative.org) we’re building content specifically to address your question because I love it so much! I wish there was an easy answer because the answer needs to be easy. I wish I could give you a more robust response. Thank you so much for being here!

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  2. Oh my! I gave tears in my eyes! I lived through so many similar experiences. I’d say don’t burn those books. Give them a second chance. They will help another kid who cannot afford them. That’s what we have done with ours:)
    What I ask is collaborate with me to solve this problem. I began writing for my son and now writing for all those kids out there! My son is 11 and we have been on this journey for 4+years and it has taken us to unbelievable places. Check out our website: simplewordsbooks.com
    Cigdem Knebel

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    1. amomsjourneymydyslexiclife says:

      Hi Cigdem! I’m seriously behind in replying to anyone. Thank you for what you wrote. I will definitely check out your website! Please check out our non-profit, The Dyslexia Initiative which you can find on Facebook and on our web page http://www.TheDyslexiaInitiative.org.

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