My son Kody completed all ten levels of the Barton Reading & Spelling System. He is now a Junior in high school. He recently wrote this paper for English class. I wanted to share it with you.
Being 17 years old and having dyslexia may not seem like a big deal. But what I’ve had to do to this point in my life may be hard for others to comprehend. For most people, when they hear of someone that has a disability, they feel bad and look down on them.
People do not understand how hardworking, motivated and determined we are.
From the beginning of elementary school to third grade, I was always behind in school and not progressing like other students in my class, no matter how hard I had worked. I was then tested for dyslexia.
Being told I have a disability by my mother was really hard to accept in the beginning; however, it may have actually been one of the best parts of my life.
I finally had an explanation as to why I wasn’t doing as well in school. Teachers finally would stop saying that I “wasn’t trying” or that I just needed to put more effort into school.
I knew that having a disability was not going to cause me to give up. I knew that I would have to work twice as hard as everyone else.
I pushed myself throughout the rest of elementary school and through middle school, trying to get on the same level as my peers. I tried many things — such as doing different reading programs (some that had helped amazingly, the Barton Reading & Spelling System, and others that did not), working with my teachers one-on-one outside of school, and spending every night doing four to five hours of homework when other kids would get their homework done in class.
The one goal I wanted to achieve by high school was to avoid standing out from everyone else. Going into high school, I was finally on the same level as the other kids in my grade.
Having known and experienced just how hard it can be to have a disability, I have insights as to what other kids are most likely dealing with. It may be peers making fun of them, being told they can’t do something just because of their disability, or teachers not understanding how they learn best.
For me, the most stressful part of class was being terrified I was going to be called on to read out loud and then being judged by my peers.
When given a writing assignment, I would sit by myself, away from everyone, so no one would be able to see my writing and laugh at me.
Being someone with a disability, I know that there are always going to be people who will never understand the journey that I, along with many others, have faced; nor what I have done to get to where I am now. I hope that sharing my story will help others understand not only the negatives of having a disability, but also to see the opportunities that are possible.
Through all the struggles I’ve faced and experienced, I have always pushed through and thrived. The biggest advice I can give to someone with a disability is not to be ashamed of it or let it label you as “abnormal” (compared to whatever “normal” may be).
In my case, I would never say, “I’m a dyslexic.” I would say, “I am a person that has dyslexia.”
A disability is one part of who you are; it’s up to you to show the world how you want to be seen.
Koby Koblitz, Barton Graduate
I love getting emails like this:
Five years ago, my son was struggling terribly. He was in third grade and could no longer mask the difficulty he was having with reading fluency.
Homework drove him to tears. It had gotten so bad that he would hit himself in the head and call himself “stupid.” It broke my heart.
Today, Nolan completed the Barton Reading & Spelling System with Janis Garcia, a wonderful Certified Barton Tutor. He proudly received his certificate signed by Susan Barton.
Nolan is excelling in school, but perhaps more importantly, he has regained his self-confidence.
I can’t thank you enough for all you have done to drive awareness, to advocate, and to provide resources for addressing the needs of children with dyslexia. It has made all the difference in the world for our family.
Kim Shinmoto, parent
This is why our bright kids with dyslexia often develop anxiety or depression — and dread going to school.
Jessica Spriggs sent this to me as an email, and gave me permission to share it. She wrote:
I’m very proud of both of my kids, but only Olivia wakes up every day knowing that she will face huge hurdles throughout her school day.
Lately, it has been extremely hard to convince her that going to school is a good idea.
She sits in class feeling defeated because she learns differently than most of her classmates.
She struggles getting through homework.
And even though she studies for tests, she may barely pass a test. She knows the material inside and out, but to apply it in the traditional way seems impossible at times.
Her teachers rave about her huge vocabulary, her poise, her generosity, and her creativity.
But there is always that moment when she feels like giving up.
Maybe it’s when her name is not posted for honor roll because she just could not make A’s and B’s despite hours of studying.
Maybe it’s when she has to think about which hand is her right hand, and she gets confused.
Maybe it’s the overwhelming pressure she feels when she knows she has to take a standardized test soon — and wonders if she can pass on to the next grade.
She has lots of anxiety, but this girl has gained strength, grit, power, endurance, and most of all, a backbone to handle everything thrown her way.
She is the face of dyslexia, but she will not let it define her!
She will concentrate on the things that make her happy: being kind, sewing, artwork, and public speaking.
It should not take this long but sadly, it often does, as this parent shared:
We started our journey in first grade, when our daughter’s teacher shared that she was not grasping reading concepts as fast as she should. I was shocked because I had read to her since she was a baby, and books were a big part of our home.
For the rest of that school year, we spent many long, tearful evenings trying to teach her the sight words. We would go over and over and over them, but she could not retain them.
We also spent at least two hours every night doing homework, and practicing her reading.
Despite that, at the beginning of third grade, she was only reading 27 words per minute – which was at the bottom of her class.
She also struggled with spelling. I got her list several days early, so we would have extra time to learn the words. It did not help.
Over the years, the teachers said, “It will click one of these days,” or “She is young for her grade,” and “You are doing all the right things at home.” Yet year after year, she spent many long, tearful nights doing homework.
When I asked if she might have a learning disability, the answer was always, “No.”
In fifth grade, we hit a wall. That year, she spent four to five hours a week studying her spelling words – just to get a D.
She also got a D in Social Studies, even though I read the textbook out loud to her, because her vocabulary was way behind.
She began to have problems with her peers, partly due to her very low self-esteem.
At the end of some of our homework battles, she began to say she should be dead because she was useless. She stayed up late every night due to anxiety, and she developed depression. We knew we had to do something, but we did not know the cause of her academic struggles.
Then a friend at a party suggested she might have dyslexia. Our life changed that very day.
We decided to homeschool, which our daughter had been begging us to do since first grade, and we began using the Barton System as our language arts curriculum.
I have watched her grow into an amazing person.
I will never forget the day she started reading road signs out loud.
When she finished Level 6, I shared she could now start reading textbooks on her own. For her social studies assignment, there was a five page story to read, then an outline to complete, and comprehension questions to answer. She proudly completed all of it by herself. That was a HUGE self-esteem boost, and it has shown up in all areas of her life.
She now reads books for fun, and she is finally understanding how to spell words.
Homeschool is getting less time consuming as her vocabulary grows because we don’t have to explain as many words before we move forward. She is also better able to recall terms and ideas.
Only a year and a half ago, she was labeled “functionally illiterate.”
I can not thank you enough, Susan Barton, for saving my daughter and bringing my family such peace and happiness!
Please feel free to share our story to bring hope to other families who are still struggling.
Sturgeon Lake, MN
I get emails like this all the time, and they always bring me to tears.
When I heard you speak on Thursday, I cried. I wish I had that information when we began our journey.
My 17 year old son, David, is dyslexic. He was diagnosed when he was 8, and he has had lots of tutoring at Sylvan and from retired Reading Specialists over the years, which has helped a little bit.
David is a really smart, handsome, and well-liked young man. He hides his dyslexia well. Yet it is still there. After your presentation, I asked him, “What letter comes after S?” He quickly responded, “R.” I shared that was “before,” not after. He then said, “I know what you’re doing. Don’t even ask me about the months of the year.”
When he played PeeWee football, he always wore a wristband so he could tell left from right.
David recently gave directions to our house to his new girlfriend. But he frequently told her to turn left instead of right. After 45 frustrating minutes, he finally handed me the phone and begged, “Please get her here.”
He is a gifted athlete and would like to play football in college. But his grade point average is only 2.65 due to his failing French (a D) and algebra (also a D). He must also pass the ACT (college entrance exam). We paid for an ACT prep course, but after the course, he only scored 13. He needs at least a 17.
He needs extra time on the reading portion, and he dreads math. He was so nervous because he knew he was not going to have enough time to finish the test. How do I go about getting him more time on the ACT?
He feels he is not smart enough to make it in college. The many days of sitting in the hall, being put in “the dumb class” (as he called it), and being teased by his peers does not go away.
But I want him to be able to follow his dream. I do not want him to join the military, which is his backup plan.
If you struggled in school, going back to college as an adult is scary. But it is even worse to watch your child or grandchild struggle in school the same way you did – as this grandmother shares.
I am 57 years old with a BSN in nursing. After 30 years of being out of school, I am applying to graduate school for a MSN in nursing. I am terrified.
My early school years were just horrible. No one knew what to do with me, so they just passed me through each year.
I had to attend summer school EVERY summer. I hated it.
I grew up thinking I was just stupid and that I must be lazy because it took so much time to read, study and retain information.
In high school, I worked so hard to get good grades. I would read a chapter (of course, that took forever), then I would go back and outline the chapter and write it down in my notebook (that also took forever), and then I would reread it every night.
I did not know that everyone did not have to do that.
I am embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to learn the alphabet or the multiplication tables.
Spell check is my godsend, but you’re right. It often does not work for me.
You’re also right about having to write a hand-written letter. It makes me sweat!
I am pretty sure my seven year old granddaughter has dyslexia. I see myself in her. She is struggling with reading in school and is starting to say that she hates school.
I will do anything to prevent her from going through the torture that I went through as a child.
Susan replied with:
If your granddaughter gets the right type of tutoring now — every day during the summer, and at least twice a week next school year – her reading will greatly improve. And her spelling and writing will also get better.
I will send you some tricks for learning math facts.
Until her skills reach grade level, her parents should provide 3 accommodations during homework time, and her teacher should provide some in class, as well.
If that happens, your granddaughter will NOT go through the same “torture” in school that you did.
“Buddy Reading” is a common classroom activity, but it can be awful for a child with dyslexia – as this mother shared:
My son has dyslexia. I have given his teacher a lot of information about it, but she has not looked at it.
According to my son’s teacher, the more he reads, the better he will get.
So in her class, all students do “buddy reading,” in which a small group of students take turns reading out loud, page by page, to each other. This has been awful for my son.
In his first group, the kids were reading too quick for him. They had no understanding of his challenges. He could not keep up, so he gave up.
After I talked to the teacher about that, she grouped him with just one other child. Yet he reads so much slower that the other child took over the reading to get it done.
I’ve tried to explain to his teacher that this buddy reading frustrates and embarrasses him. She claims it is necessary in order to build up his fluency.
I agree he needs to improve his fluency, but this buddy reading activity only adds to his frustration because his peers now hear his slow inaccurate reading, and he is embarrassed when they make corrections.
Something isn’t right with this, but I’m not sure how to approach it.
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.