Almost every parent I meet has gone through an experience like this:
Susan, I feel stuck, and I need some advice. My son is having a rough year in 5th grade. After reading some of the articles on your website, I am sure he has dyslexia.
He struggled so much in first grade that his teacher thought he had a Learning Disability. But the school said he was too young to test.
Over the years, he has made some improvement because he works hard, is a pleaser, and most of his teachers love him. In fact, he got straight A’s in 4th grade — with TONS of hard work.
But this year, he has had a one-two punch: a teacher who is not so great, plus he is hitting the “read-to-learn” wall.
I am getting nowhere with the school. They claim he tests “on level,” yet he got a D in Reading on his report card – which seems to alarm no one. When I went to his teacher with my suspicions of dyslexia, she said that in her 23 years of teaching, she had only known 1 kid with dyslexia.
The Principal (who has a background in Special Ed) said my son might have some decoding issues. So he set up a Child Study Team meeting. But t he team said he was too bright to need help.
I tried to tell them that my 5th grade son just now, finally, learned to tie his shoes (using his own wacky, two-loop method), he cannot name the months in order, and he cannot play a game like Apples to Apples where he has to sound out a word in isolation. So they had the reading specialist assess him. She indeed found some “decoding” issues. She sent home a first grade chunk-matching game. That’s it. I am dumbfounded.
I feel lost and alone with no way to help my son. I live in a town with TWO teaching universities, yet I cannot find anyone who tests for dyslexia, or any professional tutors who are certified in one of the good Orton-Gillingham based programs.
How do I advocate for my child in a school system that deems him too bright?
Since dyslexia affects 1 in 5 kids, I can’t be the only parent feeling so helpless – and so worried about middle school.
Once teachers or reading specialists learn about dyslexia, they start to realize how many of their struggling students have it. But when they try to share that with their fellow teachers or administrators, they often run into roadblocks – as this teacher shared.
I am a reading specialist at a public school in New York. We spoke briefly by phone a few months ago because I was concerned about my 4th and 5th grade students who are not making much progress.
I watched your videos, visited several websites, and read Sally Shaywitz’s book, Overcoming Dyslexia. I am convinced they have dyslexia.
But after I shared my concern with my principal and the other teachers, things at school have become a nightmare. I have been accused of making the teachers feel inferior when I share that many students need a different type of reading instruction. They claim to have years of teaching experience, and they know what they’re doing. Yet many of these students will be passed on to middle school still reading at a second grade level.
When I talk to the resource room teacher about dyslexia, he looks at me as if I have 3 heads.
I am no longer invited to student support meetings or IEP meetings.
I don’t know how to continue in the uphill battle. I know this is a lot to throw at you, but I really don’t know who else to turn to. I have sent my principal links to your videos, and I have summarized the findings of Overcoming Dyslexia. But everyone seems indifferent, and I am now perceived as a villain.
I know my students need more support. It hurts so much to see them suffer. I am committed to helping them reach their potential. But I feel so deflated and so stuck.
I need a plan for how to continue to advocate for them. I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts.
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!
Many children with dyslexia will not qualify for special education services during their early school years. But these days, they almost always get put into Tier 2 or Tier 3 of RTI.
One problem with RTI is how they measure “improvement,” as this mother shares:
I am the mother of an 9 year old boy. I want him tested for dyslexia. But the school says they don’t do dyslexia testing.
Instead, they gave him a test to determine if he needed special education services. But he passed the assessments and the IQ part, so they dropped it. They concluded he was just immature for his age and recommended retaining him, which we did.
Yet he still reads below grade level. At the beginning of his second time through 2nd grade, he was reading at a beginning first grade level. We are now at the end of the year, and his reading has only improve by 3 months — to a middle of first grade level.
To me, he should have improved more, given that he has had an entire extra year of PALS plus Tier 2 of RTI. Yet the school claims because he improved, he will not continue to get RTI next year.
Parents, never accept “some” improvement as good enough. If your child is not making more than one year of gain in one year of intervention, the gap is not closing. It’s getting bigger.
Another problem with RTI is that the right intervention is stopped too soon — before a student has finished the intervention program, as happened to this student:
I have been concerned about my son since kindergarten, and I have fought every year to have the school test him for a possible learning disability or dyslexia.
The school finally tested him in second grade, and although it showed some struggles, they said his scores were not bad enough to classify him as having a learning disability. Yet he struggled significantly with reading (he could not sound out any real or nonsense words — and messed up the vowels), read very slowly, and had terrible spelling.
His handwriting was so poor that I hired a private OT to work with him during third grade.
In fourth grade, he was put into Tier 2 of their RTI program. He began to get small group instruction using the Wilson Reading System, which is when he finally began to enjoy reading. Yet at the end of the year, because he had improved, he no longer qualified for RTI.
Our son is now 11 and in the middle of 6th grade at a junior high school. Although he will read if we push him hard, he refuses to read out loud any more (and he does have to read a passage several times before he comprehends it), his spelling continues to be horrible (even the simple high frequency words), and he struggles in math because he still does not know his multiplication tables.
Despite that, believe it or not, he has mostly B’s and A’s on his report card.
Yet he now resists all attempts to help him, and he has emotionally shut down.
We fear that as the demands of school increase, he will not be able to survive the challenges.
Parents, if you know or suspect your child has dyslexia but their school is not (or is no longer) providing the right type of intervention, then get it for them after school . . . by either hiring a tutor who uses an Orton-Gillingham based system or by getting the Barton Reading & Spelling System and tutoring your own child.
Can you connect the dots . . . and see the cause and effect this has on our children?
First I received this email from a reading specialist:
In December I will graduate with a Masters of Education in Literacy and a reading specialist endorsement. Despite an otherwise excellent program, guess what I have not learned… how to teach students who struggle to learn to read.
But I have a dyslexic son, so I know the programs exist. Question is, will I be allowed to use them and actually help struggling students?
Then I received this email from a parent:
My son started struggling in reading in kindergarten. He worked with a Reading Specialist at school who used Reading Recovery with little or no lasting success.
He was promoted to first grade but was put in Tier 2 of RTI (Response to Intervention) at the beginning of first grade. We also hired a private tutor to work with him after school.
That is in addition to spending up to 3 hours a night on homework. He is the hardest working kid you will ever meet. He never gives up — despite only passing 2 spelling tests in his entire life.
He was diagnosed with dyslexia during the summer after first grade. I then did a foolish thing. I presented the results to the school and assumed they would take over from there and provide him with the right type of help.
But he is now in third grade, and despite having a 504 Plan in place, he is still reading at a first grade level (even after spending last summer going to a Sylvan center). Yet he is very bright. He gets an A in science and social studies because the tests are read to him.
My son is getting frustrated, and he is tired of reading the “babyish” books.
The teachers in our schools need to be educated on how to teach dyslexic children to read — and so do I.