By Anne Maxwell
Nothing quite prepares a mother to hear those two words come out of her child’s mouth.
I can still remember the moment my daughter Zoe first uttered the ugly phrase that broke my heart. Even though nearly 15 years have passed since that afternoon, it seems just like lasterday.
You see, among the many things my beloved second daughter is -- creative, caring, intelligent, funny, kind-hearted -- she is also dyslexic. You might presume, as I did before traveling this journey with Zoe, this means she sees things backwards.
It does not.
Dyslexia is a specific neurological condition in which the brain processes language differently, therefore reading and writing is extremely challenging. This leads to frustration. Anxiety about school. And -- as Zoe proclaimed that day as a 6-year-old -- feeling ignorant even though you are not.
In addition to difficulty spelling, the inability to read on her own or sound out an unfamiliar word, being dyslexic also meant Zoe frequently mispronounced or jumbled words -- i.e. “lasterday” was supposed to be “yesterday.” It’s been many lasterdays since our Zoe was initially diagnosed, but I wanted to share a bit of her story because October is Dyslexic Awareness Month.
And while elementary and middle school was a tremendous struggle for her, we were blessed with concerned teachers and a caring reading specialist who first told me Zoe was probably dyslexic and recommended she be tested for a formal diagnosis. Immediately, my maternal instinct kicked in and I started learning everything I could. I called the Fundamental Learning Center and tapped into their wealth of expertise and guidance. I spoke to other parents whose children were dyslexic to learn about what they had done to help their child succeed. And, I found a tutor who worked with Zoe on multisensory learning techniques to help her brain process language in a way that worked for her.
I wish it had all been as orderly and as direct as that paragraph makes it sound. But, as any dyslexic or parent of a dyslexic will tell you, that path was paved with plenty of twists, turns and tears.
Dyslexia not only hampered her progress those first few years, it crushed her spirit. I would continually reassure Zoe that dyslexia did not make her “less-than” and did everything I could to increase her self-esteem. It just wasn’t something she was ready to embrace. There were times I was literally on my knees, begging God to help me find a way for my child to not only succeed in school, but to feel better about herself.
On days she would call herself stupid and break down in tears, leaving me feeling completely helpless, I recalled the words spoken by a dyslexia specialist during a presentation I attended shortly after Zoe’s diagnosis.
He said, “If a dyslexic succeeds, many times, it’s because they had a mother who believed in them and never gave up on them.”
I don’t share his words to garner applause for myself. I share them now -- and have shared them multiple times over the years -- with moms who have stood where I’ve been because I want them to have that same hope and hold it tight.
You’re not alone, and there are resources out there that will offer your child a hand up -- not a hand out. You can find learning strategies and accommodations to offer them the same classroom opportunities their peers have to unleash their amazing, glorious, creative and unstoppable brains. That’s important because we all benefit from the outside-the-box thinking and dreaming of many notable dyslexics. Think how different the world would be without Spielberg films, iPhones (Steve Jobs), or Microsoft products (Bill Gates).
That little girl who lasterday walked in from school crying and say, “I’m stupid” is today a college honors student, studying to become a child psychologist. I attribute her hard-earned success to answered prayers, her continuous effort, and a choice she made to accept what was and believe in all that could be.
So to all the mamas out there with a dyslexic child: keep believing in your child and the power of your love. I don’t know what your tomorrows may bring, but I have complete faith that one day, you’ll look back on your lasterdays and know that your child didn’t just find the sun.
They discovered their own way to shine.
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