This long post is worth reading — especially with school starting in just one month.
My husband and three children have dyslexia.
I also teach at the local public school. Recently, during a lunch break in the staff lounge, a high school teacher shared that when she has to teach reading to her students, she has them read “baby books.” When the students ask why, she tells them, “Because you did not learn to read when you were supposed to.”
At that point I left the room, and cried. I was so hurt by what she said. At the time I could not talk about it without crying. (I still can’t). So I wrote this letter. Please share it in your book.
What an inspiring discussion the teachers were having at lunch today. I enjoyed hearing about, and sharing, how hard our students have been working. I am not sure if you noticed, but there came a point when I stopped talking. Probably not, since there was so much going on in the staff lounge. I would like to share with you the reason that I shut down.
You began talking about one of your students. You shared your frustration that she is not reading at grade level. You said her atrocious writing is filled with spelling errors of simple words, like they and does, which she spells t-h-a-y and d-o-s-e. There are no capitals at the beginning of her sentences, and rarely is there any punctuation. Her handwriting is so sloppy that you can barely make out the words that she somehow managed to spell correctly. On top of that, she does not know her basic math facts and can’t get through a majority of the problems you assign, despite the fact that you just spent an hour teaching that lesson to the class.
You wondered why her parents did not care enough to work with her nightly. Surely her spelling and math would improve if they would just make her practice every night. You mentioned how lazy she is, how she could care less about the quality of her work, and how she puts forth zero effort towards improving.
You claimed you had tried everything and you do not know what to do with her anymore, so you will probably just end up passing her to the next grade level like all the other teachers have done.
Believe me, I understand your frustrations. It is difficult working with students like this. If they would just try harder, they would improve. Right?
I would like to introduce you to my daughter. She is excited to be entering high school this year. She is beautiful, polite, responsible, funny, caring . . . I could go on and on.
She participates in 4-H and showed her pig this year at the fair. She made over seven hundred dollars. She put some of the money into her savings account. Some will be used to purchase her next pig, and she can’t wait to go shopping and buy her own school clothes and school supplies with the remaining money.
She also participates in gymnastics, which she started when she was 18 months old.
When children are around her, they gravitate towards her. She loves to take care of babies and toddlers.
She enjoys preparing delicious food for others. Perhaps you would like to come to our home one evening. She will prepare her Pizza Chicken for dinner and Gelato for desert. She really is a great teenager.
Yet my daughter is scared and anxious about starting high school this year. She has dyslexia, and as a result, she is not reading at grade level. Her creative writing is filled with spelling errors of simple words, like they and does, which she spells t-h-a-y and d-o-s-e. There are no capitals at the beginning of her sentences, and rarely is there any punctuation. Her handwriting on school work is so sloppy because she does not want her teachers and classmates to see that she has trouble spelling.
On top of that, she does not know her basic math facts and can’t get through a majority of the problems assigned to her, even though her teacher just spent an hour teaching the lesson.
You wonder why her parents do not care enough to work with her nightly. Surely her spelling and math would improve if they would just make her practice every night.
I love my daughter more than you can imagine. But I no longer force her to practice math flashcards or to write the weekly spelling words over and over every night. I know it will not help her. She will be able to memorize them temporarily, but believe me, she will not remember them the next day.
I know that she puts her brain to the test every day by concentrating so much that it often makes her feel sick. I know that she has put herself down all day long while in school and that she needs to build herself back up at night, so she can go through the same ordeal the next day.
Those are the reasons I no longer fight the “homework wars” every night. Instead, I enjoy the evening with my daughter as she cares for her pigs and rabbits, and as she does front handsprings across the yard.
Children do not want to, or choose to, have dyslexia. They want to learn. They are very frustrated that they can not learn to read like their classmates, that their spelling never seems to turn out right, that they can not memorize their math facts, and that they get lost in multiple step math problems. They can not try any harder than they already do because their brain will not let them.
As a teacher, I understand your frustrations. It is difficult working with students like this. I regret having made some of the same comments as you in the past. I never imagined that I would be the mother of a child with a learning disability. After all, I am a teacher.
As a mother, I am begging you to hang in there and not give up on your students, because if you do, you will be giving up on my daughter. They need you.
So please, let me be the mother who loves my daughter and encourages her to discover all she is capable of, and you be the teacher that encourages her and allows her to show what she is capable of.
A Mother who is also a School Teacher
A child with dyslexia needs 3 things: to be identified, the right type of tutoring, and accommodations until the skills gap is closed.
I just received this email from a parent whose child got all 3.
Susan, nine years ago you screened our son, David, for dyslexia. As you may recall, when my husband and I heard the results, we were both extremely concerned for his future.
Well, through years of Barton tutoring and some wonderful administrators willing to implement the accommodations you recommended, David will be graduating and is going to attend Emory University.
David has been in all general education classes and will be graduating with a 3.74 GPA. A monumental achievement for a young boy who could not read nor remember his ABC’s in third grade.
Thank you for being committed to helping children such as David. We are forever indebted.
I get emails like this every single day.
I have been trying to get my son’s school to test him for dyslexia or a learning disability. But they refuse. They say my son gets good grades, and I should be proud.
I am proud of my son, but he struggles with reading and spelling. Homework that takes children without dyslexia 30 minutes takes my son over 2 hours – with lots of frustration, yelling, and tears.
I also had dyslexia as a child.
What surprises me is nothing has changed in our schools.
Parents, if you think special education services are the answer, read this.
My son is going in 4th grade but is reading on a 2nd grade level. His spelling is also very low, and he is dysgraphic.
Although he has an IEP, I have seen very little improvement over the past 2 years.
The worst part is he has given up on learning. He claims he just doesn’t care. It’s very hard to engage him in any kind of learning at school. He would rather act up than learn.
Many children would rather be thought of as “the bad kid” . . . than “the stupid kid.”
The worst part of struggling academically for years . . . is what it does to a child emotionally, as this mother shares:
Susan, I just watched your video. It made me cry.
I have known for months now that my youngest daughter probably has dyslexia. She has been devastated by school and her inability to read. This bright child is sinking deeper and deeper into despair … about school … and about herself.
I cried because I realized that my brother probably suffered from this as a young boy, I probably have this to some degree, and so does my oldest daughter. I did not realize there was such a strong genetic link. How could I have missed this?
I know my daughter needs specialized teaching, and I am trying to get this help from her public school. She has an IEP, but they don’t seem to be giving her the right kind of teaching to get her reading on track. They seem satisfied in sending her on to 3rd grade “with support.”
I do not believe support is going to solve the problem. She needs to be taught in a way that she can actually learn.
Parents, stop waiting for the school to change.
If your child’s school does not provide intervention using an Orton-Gillingham based system by someone who is well trained and uses it properly, then hire a private tutor to provide it during the summer – or get the Barton System and tutor your child yourself.
To learn more, go to:
A child’s skills can improve tremendously over the summer – if they get the right type of tutoring.
Schools often tell parents of struggling students to wait, as this parent shared:
I need some help to decide what to do for my eight year old son. He is finishing second grade, but he has never read at grade level.
The principal wanted him to repeat first grade, but my husband and I refused, so he was sent to second grade. He has worked with the reading specialist one-on-one for two years with no improvement.
I asked his teacher last year if he could be dyslexic. She told me that was not possible. She claimed he just had a behavior issue. I disagree and feel that he lost a year because of her poor attitude.
He was diagnosed with visual acuity issues and Irlen Syndrome, but after eight months with no improvement and horrible migraines, we decided to involve our pediatrician. He sent us to a pediatric ophthalmologist at a university who said my son does NOT have a vision problem it all. His said my son has dyslexia, and he felt my son’s headaches were caused by the tension and stress of not being able to do the work.
Yet he recommended we wait until he is 9 to be tested by the school because the gap will be greater.
His school has promised they will test him for Special Ed services next year.
The problem is I don’t want the gap to get any larger. I want to help him now!
What should I do?
If you know or suspect your child has dyslexia, waiting is the worst thing you can do – because it will not go away. Your child will only get further and further behind.
Every parent who has contacted me during the past 20 years wished they had started providing the right type of tutoring sooner.
So do not wait for the school to test him. Start tutoring him now using the Barton Reading & Spelling System or any other good Orton-Gillingham based system. Tutor him every day during the summer – while the pressure of school, homework, and tests is gone. You will be amazed how much his skills can improve with daily tutoring.
And if you think that qualifying for special ed services is the answer, read on.
A school psychologist shared:
From what I see, the biggest hurdle for these students is what happens AFTER the students are placed in special ed.
This parent shared:
I have a 12 year old son who is in 6th grade.
He attended a private Christian school until 4th grade. They noticed his reading struggles in second grade and put him in a reading lab. It was worthless.
We got his eyes checked, and the doctor said he had a tracking problem. We spent more than $ 2,000 on vision therapy and eye exercises that did not help with his reading.
He has gotten private tutoring, speech therapy, and gone to a number of tutoring centers. We have spent countless amounts of money on him. Everyone told us he would either grow out of it, or he would learn to compensate.
In 4th grade, we moved him to a public school, hoping to get more services for him. He did qualify for special education due to his reading. We thought we finally had the answer.
Wrong. He is now in 6th grade, yet he is still reading at a 2nd grade level and is a horrible speller.
They work with him one-on-one in the resource room, and they allow him to listen to books so he can keep up with what his classmates are reading. But he still is not learning how to read, write, or spell. I am soooooo frustrated.
I have cried. I have been angry. I have been humbled. I have prayed and prayed and prayed. God finally gave me peace about not pushing him so much and not being too hard on him. But he is not getting any better. He studies the weekly spelling list for hours and hours, yet he forgets the words by the following week.
Yet he gets A’s and B’s on his report cards, which amazes me. Our public education system has become a joke. He is in 6th grade and can’t read or write anywhere near grade level, yet they are giving him A’s and B’s.
There must be so many other children who are also slipping through the cracks, and so many parents at a loss.
I would like to start tutoring him using the Barton System, but he absolutely refuses to try one more program or tutor – because in the past, they have all done more damage than good.
So, parents, get your child the right type of tutoring yourself – as early as possible. It makes a huge difference, as this parent shared:
Dear Mrs. Barton:
Thank you so much for helping us help our daughter. We learned about Learning Ally through you. We learned about classroom accommodations through you. And we found a great Barton tutor through you.
It has been a joy to watch my daughter grow from being a reluctant 3rd grader to an engaged 4th grader. She still has a lot of work with her tutor, and we will have many other challenges, but knowing there are resources that we can use to help her be successful is an unbelievable comfort.
And this parent shared:
Susan, I have to thank you for all you do. The support and knowledge you have shared has helped me with my daughter in so many ways.
Two years ago (after we gave up on the school) we had her tested privately and discovered she has dyslexia and ADD. That’s why she would never read out loud in class, or even to us.
That was then…..
Yesterday (after two years of Barton tutoring and appropriate accommodations) she stood in front of the entire school …classmates, teachers and parents … and delivered an amazing (and confident) speech about why she should be SCA president.
She WON the election!
I knew she was special and had many gifts, but yesterday she proved it to herself and her school. She said “challenges make you stronger and wiser” (which is what her speech was about).
My husband and I sat back last night thinking of the last two years, and we realized how hard she has worked…but she never gave up.
Kids with dyslexia are tough. I am not sure I could do what she has done, but I am glad I was there to encourage her along the way.
Thank you for all your help and guidance. We couldn’t have done it without your support!
Persistent trouble with spelling is the most obvious warning sign of dyslexia in adults, and it causes stress and embarrassment every day of their life.
Since dyslexia is inherited, some of their children will also struggle with spelling, as this parent shared:
I watched your video because my son is struggling in reading, spelling and writing.
I was in tears as I watched your video. I kept saying, “This is ME. Finally, someone knows why I do the things I do.”
I am 35 years old. I had reading tutors almost every year in school, yet I never understood phonics. I still cannot sound out an unknown word. When I write, I try to think of easy words that I know how to spell. As you can imagine, spell check does not work well for me.
I have a horrible time getting my thoughts onto paper. I get so nervous any time I have to write a note to my children’s teacher. Even writing just this much is hard. I have reread it 5 times – trying to catch and fix any mistakes.
My brother has similar symptoms. He was labeled LD and was in special ed classes. My mom eventually took him out because they were not helping.
I asked my mom the other day if anyone had ever used the word dyslexia to describe me or my brother. She said no.
I do not want my son or daughter to struggle like I did — and still do.
This 47 year old shared:
I really struggle with spelling and depend heavily on spell check. I am too embarrassed to hand write a grocery list due the number of mistakes I will make. I know I am misspelling the words, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how they should be spelled.
Oftentimes, I can’t get it close enough for the spell checker to know what I want.
This woman shared:
In elementary school, I was told I had a learning disability. It was not until high school that my parents had me tested outside of the school system and found out I had dyslexia.
I have had many challenges during my years in retail employment, particularly with cash registers and computers.
Trying to sign customers up for store credit cards, which is mandatory, was just impossible for me and gave me such anxiety. I simply cannot take the answers a customer tells me and get them into the computer.
Customers do not want to have to spell out every word, and to repeat their phone numbers and zip codes over and over again.
So after years of being totally stressed at different jobs, and even taking anxiety medication to try to perform my job adequately, I decided to go to college.
But the junior college will not accommodate me in any way unless I can provide current testing.
I’m a single mother with almost no income. That type of testing is incredibly expensive.
Are there any other options?
This man shared:
I am 56 years old, and I have tried a lot of things throughout my life to overcome dyslexia.
It started when I was in second grade. I can remember my mother crying when she tried to teach me my spelling words.
I attended summer tutoring for 4 years in a row to try to learn to read. Finally, the tutor said he would not work with me anymore because it was a waste of money.
I took phonics in college, but it did not help. In fact, I failed a speech-language class because I could not hear the sounds.
Many years later, I went to a dyslexia center. But they said they could not help me because I was too old.
Your video nailed me to a tee. When you talked about left and right confusion, that’s me.
I always use spell check, and yes, sometimes it does say “no suggestions” or I pick the wrong word from the list because I can’t read them all.
My company is trying to find something to help me. Is it too late? If not, what would you recommend?
And this 56 year old still stresses about spelling:
I have developed ways of hiding my dyslexia.
My spelling is pretty bad, so after I type something and put it through the spell checker, I re-read it five or six more times to make as many corrections as I can.
When I am doing creative writing, my spelling, punctuation, grammar and multiple typos show up much more than if I am writing technical material. Therefore, the more creative my writing is, the longer it takes me to re-read, proof and re-proof my work. You have stated before that dyslexics often work a lot harder than others to produce the same results (even in a simple e-mail) and it is very true.
A couple of months after I was hired as Executive Director of a nonprofit, I sent out a memo to all employees. I had some misspelled words and other minor mistakes in it. I had a couple of “word nerd” employees who immediately pointed out my mistakes (in a friendly and helpful way). But later, I walked into a room and overheard a couple of (not so friendly) employees saying something like, “Where did they get this guy? He can’t even spell right.”
I have been here four years now and have mellowed out a lot. I started sharing with people that I have dyslexia, and even poke fun at myself about it. It has been well received, and I have some great employees who will proofread things like grants and important letters before I send them.
I still obsess about correcting my writing, but not to an unhealthy level. It’s just part of the life of a dyslexic. Compensating takes a lot of extra time, but it’s just become a normal process.
Okay, I have re-read this 5 times. I assume you are rather forgiving of mistakes – so I am not going to read it again.
Children with dyslexia will not improve with the type of help available at most public and private schools, and at most learning centers.
Don’t give up. You will be amazed at how rapidly their skills improve once they get the right type of tutoring, as this parent shared:
I have 5 children, all born within 8 years. I was a very busy, stay-at-home mom with enough kids to have a ‘preschool’ of my own, and we were very active in our church. So there was no social reason to send my kids to preschool.
When my first child entered kindergarten, I always heard how ‘sweet’, ‘beautiful’, ‘cute’, ‘precious’, etc. And then it was ‘but she struggles with…’ I could not understand how she could struggle so much when she seemed to grasp everything I taught her at home.
She struggled with reading, writing, and spelling for years. The school offered time with their reading specialist, and then testing. We tried every avenue of help including Reading Recovery, IEP, private tutors, then homeschool, NILD, and even a private reading clinic. She was given every accommodation in the book just so she could pass her classes. She was given a ‘P’ for pass instead of a letter grade like her peers. Years and tens of thousands of dollars later, she was only at a 4th grade reading level.
By the time my last child turned 5, I knew the signs of a different learner and I knew he was not ready for kindergarten. So I convinced my husband to wait an extra year. He agreed, but only if I found a preschool program for him – which I did. It seemed every boy in his class was also ‘waiting a year’ to go to kindergarten. So we thought John was on track.
The following year, John went to kindergarten. At the end of September parent-teacher conference, his teacher shared all her concerns. The dread came over me. Here we go again. But I was not going to sit back and wait. I asked for an evaluation now. She told me they don’t usually do this until at least 1st or 2nd grade. But I fought back and demanded testing now. It took them until spring to actually follow through.
Fast forward through years of IEP meetings, hearing of ‘progress’ but seeing John fall further behind. Due to his low self-esteem, low confidence and depression, we felt his spiritual and emotional growth was more important than academics, so we decided to switch him to a private Christian school.
But that private school required placement testing. We were shocked at the results - at how low John had tested. I received a personal call from the principal who shared that they did not feel it would be in John’s best interest to enroll in their school. Crushed puts it mildly.
But in discussing other options, that principal told me about a dyslexia specialist, Cheryl Anthony, and put me in contact with her. She is well known in the Northwest and is trained in the Barton Reading & Spelling System.
John is making amazing progress with her private tutoring using the Barton System.
I have been struggling with this, along my children, since 1995. It was only in 2011 that we realized it was dyslexia. How frustrating for us as parents. And how horrifying and belittling it has been for my children all these years.
Letters like this make all of our hard work worthwhile.
Today as I sat at the table with my family to celebrate Thanksgiving, I realized how much things have changed over the last year.
Just a year ago, my daughter cried about school and hid in the chicken coop to try to avoid going. She often returned from school with blisters on her fingers (from gripping the pencil too hard due to her dysgraphia), and she was soooo frustrated by reading assignments and spelling tests.
Needless to say, it was a very hard time for our family.
Fast forward a year. We are now homeschooling using the Barton System, and she is happy.
She draws her chickens and writes poems about them. Her poems don’t always rhyme, but not all poems need to rhyme. :)
She feels successful in her reading assignments and in her ability to spell the words in the lessons. There are no more tears and no more blisters. She is happy and making progress!
I deeply appreciate the program you put together. To me, it is way more than a reading program, and I thank you for creating it.
Parents ask why I often state that private schools (such as Montessori, Waldorf, Christian, Catholic or Jewish schools) can be better places for children with dyslexia than public schools.
Private schools often do not know any more about dyslexia than public schools, but they are much more willing to provide free simple classroom accommodations — which are as critical as the right type of tutoring.
A parent of a child in a public school recently sent me a BCC of this email that she sent to her child’s teacher.
Dear Mrs. Smith:
It is 1:45 a.m. and I am not sleeping . . . again.
I am frustrated and hoping for your help.
I waited a few days since Lynn’s IEP meeting before writing this.
I do not want to come off as unreasonable or angry. But I cannot help but feel like the last 2-3 months of the school’s assessments were a massive exercise in futility. I came into the IEP meeting assuming that we were finally going to get Lynn some help and put some modifications and accommodations in place.
Instead . . . well, you were there. We simply restated what had already been established 2 years ago: Lynn is a bright little girl who does not qualify for special education help. I get that. I got that 2 years ago. My question is: what next?
I have spent countless hours and thousands of dollars getting Lynn officially diagnosed. I am paying to have her tutored after school by a Certified Barton tutor. I just need a 504 Plan put into place so we can get some simple free classroom accommodations.
I have been requesting that since the first day of school. It is now March. March !!!
I am more than willing to do my part. I will redouble my efforts to find support outside of school. But how do we get some classroom accommodations?
Compare that to this email from a parent whose child attends a private Christian school.
My son was formally diagnosed with moderate dyslexia in third grade — after a teacher at his private Christian school suggested dyslexia might be the cause of his struggles.
Timmy has hated school with a passion ever since he started Kindergarten. He would wake up every day crying, banging his pillow, and begging not to go to school, saying the work was “just too hard.”
Daily homework assignments went on with hours, and I mean hours, with temper tantrums, constant tears, anger and frustration beyond the roof as I am sure you can imagine.
Before school, Timmy’s personality had always been quiet, content and a deep thinker. You can imagine my horror to see his wonderful demeanor turn into such anger and frustration as each school season progressed.
He had all the early signs of dyslexia, but of course, we never knew what we were looking at. He went through school as this very angry, frustrated child, until finally, his third grade teacher recognized a very obvious problem, and led us to what he so desperately needed.
I am so thankful that he goes to a private school. Although legally, they do not have to provide accommodations or intervention, his school feels a moral obligation to provide both.
I am starting to see Timmy’s anger and frustration level drop as his reading and spelling is getting better, thanks to his Barton tutoring.
Homework time has become a million times better, thanks to the accommodations he is entitled to when needed.
His creativity is also flourishing. I am blown away by what he understands or creates out of his own observations.
He also has an amazing maturity well beyond his years, and his incredible insight to see and understand things is jaw dropping.
Parents, if your child’s public school refuses to provide accommodations, consider moving your child to a more flexible private school.
Parents often don’t believe me when I tell them that most school psychologists have had no training in dyslexia. But I get emails like this every day:
From a school psychologist in New York:
I would LOVE to attend your Screening for Dyslexia conference.
Our number one question during RTI meetings is if there is a possibility a child might have dyslexia. This topic is vague to me even after years of reading and doing independent research.
Yet as the “expert” at these meetings, I struggle with remediation techniques that may work after I screen a student and determine deficits.
Or from this school psychologist in Colorado:
I am a school psychologist in Colorado. I agree to your notion that we have no specialty in diagnosing dyslexia, however the prevalence of parents’ requests seems to grow and grow. Unfortunately, when parents cannot afford outside assistance, we are the only ones that are left.
I have been to several workshops, symposiums, etc, yet do not feel completely educated on the subject. Do you recommend any books or specific journals on the topic? How about books that may target age groups lower than 8 years old in looking at dyslexia?
That lack of knowledge causes this:
My son just finished second grade and is dyslexic. I am sure of it. His father is dyslexic, and his father’s father is dyslexic. He has almost every single warning sign listed on your website and in many of the books that I have read.
Yet when he qualified for special education services in May, they classified him as having an “Emotional Disorder” — even though his reading scores were really, really low. The school considers “average” anything from the 16th percentile to the 85th percentile, and his reading score was exactly at the 16th percentile.
The school psychologist told me that my son’s anxiety and depression were “off the charts” and that he CAN read — but his anxiety gets in the way and he becomes “too stressed out” to read.
When I tried to explain that he was most likely anxious and depressed because he CANNOT read, the psychologist just flippantly said, “So it’s one of those which came first things — the chicken or the egg.”
They never looked at his spelling (which is horrible, with all of the classic dyslexic spelling mistakes) or asked him to write anything (he HATES to write, even a few sentences).
His IEP only lists services for emotional issues (meet with the counselor once a week). What do I do? Just let him flounder?
He won’t be able to read the board or any of the books used in third grade. Do I just let him founder with no accommodations? That seems so cruel.
He already hates himself for being “stupid and different” — his words, not mine.