My name is Kathy Thompson and my son Jeffrey is a great kid and an excellent athlete. You would think that he doesn’t have a care in the world, except to make the first string on his football or wrestling team, but that is far from the case. Since kindergarten, Jeffrey struggled to read.
As school assignments got tougher, homework nights were met with lots of frustration. Words stuck in Jeffrey’s brain and we often talked about why his friends could read well and he could not.
By sixth grade, Jeffrey couldn’t keep up with his studies. I felt helpless and cried a lot. He did too! When he was behind four years in grade-level reading, I quit my job. I was determined to find the right strategies and resources that would minimize his learning disability (LD). I felt obligated to help other families deal with similar issues. Our journey is one that I hope parents will not have to endure.
At one of my son’s schools, his teachers could not find a solution to his reading challenges. They tested, and tried interventions; nothing pointed to dyslexia. They were perplexed as to how this intelligent, soft-spoken boy could comprehend verbal instructions, but failed in reading. I searched for answers and found that persons with dyslexia often go undiagnosed. Many K-12 teachers aren’t trained to address this reading disability and there are still some who label kids, especially boys, as lazy. They overlook a learning disability if a student is an athlete, like my son and this stereotype follows young males who like to play sports. Dropout rates and behavior problems are likely to increase for them.
Last year, we visited our Governor of Connecticut, Mr. Dannel Malloy, who is dyslexic. He and Jeffrey talked about labels and how difficult schoolwork can be when you are dyslexic and hiding your learning challenges from friends, parents, and teachers.
Governor Malloy credits his lifelong journey with dyslexia as a way to develop intense listening skills. My son is a very good listener. The Governor encouraged Jeffrey to embrace his reading challenges and to identify strategies and technologies that would compensate for his disability. “Maximize your strengths and move forward,” he told my son. “Don’t let it get you down!”
Once we learned about — and signed up for — the free membership and the free reading technology offered by Bookshare Jeffrey was reading and comprehending more information almost overnight. He began to make sense of the content he read aloud in a digital book through the text-to-speech feature.
It didn’t take him long to learn how to download e-books to his portable devices either. This assistive technology (AT) accommodation (to hear and see text read aloud) was just what Jeffrey needed — a different way to retain knowledge by listening to the content. His use of other AT tools also helped him to strengthen his vocabulary and to take better study notes. He uses the Read2Go portable app on our family iPad, smart phone, and Mac Book Pro because it fits in with the technologies that other kids use.
Imagine how many more students could achieve higher academic success with the right combination of tools and resources and an earlier diagnosis? Through my research, I attended workshops at the New England Assistive Technology Center (NEAT) where I explored different assistive technology tools. I learned that people with dyslexia comprehend more information with multi-modal learning support. I hoped that if more parents and educators knew about Bookshare and assistive technology tools, children, like Jeffrey would be spared the heartache of long, frustrating homework nights.
What can we do? Start talking about these learning supports in parent-teacher conferences. Ask about curriculum requirements early in the school year so that appropriate accessible textbooks and accommodations can be found and progress monitoring occurs. Through this conversation, more teachers might discover new opportunities for individualized instruction – a win for all.
Yes, we can change the course! It is difficult for parents to accept that their child has a learning disability, but equally hard to stand by and let them be hindered by labels, lack of technology, lack of awareness of quality educational resources, like digital books and assistive technologies.
This year, I went back to work. Jeffrey enrolled in a new school district that has a dedicated Assistive Technology staff member who helps him use Bookshare. He received an academic achievement award and won the state wrestling championship. His confidence grew stronger and he has enrolled in classes to prepare for high school and college. Jeffrey no longer feels different. He keeps up with his reading assignments and his love of sports. Our hope is that Jeffrey’s learning successes will encourage other students with dyslexia to keep moving forward, as our Governor suggested to him not so long ago.