Our Family’s Dyslexia Success Story

by | Nov 20, 2015 | Encouragement | 10 comments

Our Dyslexia Story

I love a good story.  If you’ve ever wondered who I am and how we got to be homeschooling 8 kids (7 with dyslexia) today is the day I will share how we went from complete confusion to success.

Our Dyslexia Success Story

Homeschooling has been a huge part of the past 25 years of my life – literally changing just about every habit and practice that I had developed in the 30+years before I set out on that path.

Becoming a stay-at-home mom was the beginning of this journey. I, like many of you, read every book I could get my hands on about raising, feeding, and nurturing healthy and happy babies and kids. After several years working as a social worker prior to having my own kids, and having seen first hand the sometimes brutal effects of neglect, I happily poured my life out for my children believing that they were a precious gift.

After these years, homeschooling was a natural progression of what had already become a lifestyle of learning together as a family. My {then two} kids were naturally inquisitive and fun to be around. How hard could teaching reading, writing and math be?

Famous last words!

My oldest is certainly one of my brightest and he progressed rapidly through his math and even phonics books. We read lots of ‘living’ books and had many thought-provoking conversations.  We began to see a pattern of deeper understanding of the world, not just who did what and when, but intangible {and untestable} things like ‘Why did they do that?’ and ‘What would you have done if you were in their place?’

Trouble learning to read

Then we arrived at the silent – e rule. We sat on the couch as I introduced the rule. He agreeably repeated back the rule and attempted to apply it as he read. Day after day, we rehearsed that rule and day after day he seemingly forgot. Have you had a conversation like this?   “Why can’t you remember this? We have discussed it at least 20 times!” Exasperation and frustration began to be the norm during reading instruction and my husband and I knew that ‘something’ was not quite right.

Otherwise intelligent

Our son was eloquent, having spoken in full sentences at 15 months of age. He had a huge vocabulary that stunned the casual observer. He was observant and often commented and questioned about things going on around him that we had assumed a 6-year old would not know or care about.

Yet learning those phonics rules was like storing water in a paper bag. We poured the info in and somehow during the following afternoon and evening, the information leaked out.

I began to try to remember how I learned to read. Was it phonics based or whole word? How did the teacher teach that entire classroom to read all at once? I could not remember learning to read. I know I was always considered a good reader and as an adult I had no idea that there were actually people that had difficulty learning to read.

Asking the experts for help

By the time our son was 7, we had reached the end of our own understanding and as there was little improvement, we decided to have him tested by an educational therapist in town. The tests revealed {as we knew} that our son had an incredible vocabulary {equal with that of a 12 year old} and above average intelligence. However, he also had some weaknesses such as visual-spatial grounding and other terms that we had never heard before. The therapist explained a bit about the phenomenon called dyslexia and our world was changed.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is an inherited condition that causes an interference with the processing of language. It is not the result of a lack of intelligence or motivation or even poor teaching methods. Kids do not outgrow dyslexia. A dyslexic child will grow into a dyslexic adult.

We went online and began to research what the ‘experts’ had to say. We tried everything from vitamin supplements to colored glasses to exercises crossing the midline. We nearly spent more than my car was worth to put our son through vision therapy but we were planning an extended overseas trip as a family so were unable to commit.

Who are the experts?

Interestingly, while we were traveling, we rented our house out to a family who put their kids into the local public school. This was the school where our children would have attended had we opted to go that route.

Coincidentally, their daughter, who was our daughter’s age, was dyslexic. I am certainly not saying that this is the case in all public {or even private} schools, BUT due to a lack of understanding {and training} her daughter was teased by students and ridiculed by her teacher.

Later on our dyslexia journey, when I would come to doubt my own ability to teach our dyslexic kids, I learned of this experience. In fact, this young lady’s journey through the public middle and high schools continued to be vastly different {and inferior} to our kids’ experience at home.

Take two…

Meanwhile, our younger daughter was beginning to learn to read. She was rather slow to begin to speak. She could talk, she just didn’t. Maybe because her older brother never stopped long enough to give her a chance! We did notice that she was not as good at remembering what she heard.  In fact, she appeared at times unable to hear us and would often ask us to repeat what we had just said. This was our introduction to auditory processing issues, another root cause of reading struggles.

Walking by faith

We traveled during the years that our oldest two children would be learning to read in school. In between exploring new lands and meeting different kinds of people and languages, we kept chipping away at the reading skills. We gave our kids plenty of practice at whatever level they were reading and focused on lots of practical hands on experiences.

To pass the time while sailing between ports we would read raucous stories of explorers like James Cook, Amerigo Vespucci, Columbus, and since we were in Mexico – the wild and adventurous Hernando Cortes, while up in the cockpit of our boat.  We knew that our kids were not reading where other kids their ages may have been but they were thriving and there was no other alternative at the time.

I have painted a somewhat idyllic picture of our life at sea but there were grave doubts milling through my mind at this time as well.  I prayed for wisdom, desperately wanting my kids to succeed at school. One thing about traveling by boat to remote places is that there are no cell phones, no Internet (except occasionally in port), not many friends and no {english-speaking} church.

Some big truths

It was at this time that I read through the Bible in a year for the first time. I hadn’t gone very far in my reading when I began to border on exasperation. The Bible was supposed to be the Owners Manual, the Handbook for Life, yet what did it say about dyslexia or about what I was to do about that?

That was when I was reading about God telling Moses to go back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out – in the book of Exodus. Then I read it. Moses was appealing to God to rethink His plan to have Moses speak before Pharaoh because he was not good with words. So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth?  Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind?  Have not I, the Lord?”

It is my personal belief that God made my kids’ eyes, and their ears and their mouths and every stitch of their being. God does not make mistakes. The thought revolutionized our thinking process about dyslexia. Whether you homeschool, private school or public school, you can help your dyslexic kids discover their God-given talents and giftings and help them have successful lives in school and out.

Where are they now?

The complete story of homeschooling a houseful of kids with dyslexia is too long for this {already too long} blog post.  Now that my oldest two kids are young adults, I can look back and see how their life experiences have woven together to produce two unique and very talented individuals who have learned to persevere through difficulties.

The flexibility and freedom of homeschooling allowed them to pursue their passions which has led to both of them attaining world records in the sailing world.  Our oldest son, Zac, is the youngest American to sail around the world alone and our daughter, Abby, is the youngest person ever to sail around Cape Horn alone.  She also wrote a book!

I’m updating this post because since first writing it, two more of our dyslexic kids have graduated from homeschool. One, profoundly dyslexic, invested his college find, started a business, and is an amazingly successful entrepreneur today – tapping into his innate people strengths to build a unique and sought-after yacht management business.

The next one did opt for college and is about to graduate with a BS in Kinesiology. College hasn’t been easy for her, but with her motivation, hard work, and some stellar self-advocacy skills, she is graduating with mostly A’s and is planning her graduate studies.

I should note that we had a very relaxed homeschool. The son who now runs his own business, struggled SO much with writing papers and reading to learn, yet today he confidently compiles million-dollar business proposals with no help.

The daughter who successfully completed Trigonometry and Calculus in college, barely passed Algebra in high school, and that after two tries and a math tutor.

What was the difference for them? Finding and pursuing their own path. Once they found the path they wanted to be on, I no longer needed to push and nag.

Be encouraged!!

What I wish I’d known about homeschooling kids with dyslexia

I focused way too much in the early days on keeping up with grade levels. That was just a recipe for disaster! The truth is that, though our kids with dyslexia are not lacking in intelligence, they do learn at a different pace. Most kids with dyslexia will learn to read independently somewhere between 9-12 years old. These days I teach my kids at their level and focus on mastery. They all get to grade levels eventually!

I kept switching curricula instead of using accommodations. I mistakenly believed that dictating a paper to mom or listening to an audio book instead of ‘eye reading’ was cheating. NOT TRUE! We need to help our kids work and learn at their intellectual ability. If our 10-year old is reading at 1st grade level (happens all the time) they need to have access to books with the vocabulary and complex sentence structures that meets their needs. Read this for more ideas for effective accommodations.

I didn’t put enough emphasis on pursuing interests. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that our kids have plenty of time to pursue their interests. This has led to all kinds of amazing learning opportunities for our kids. In my early years, I looked at these pursuits as ‘extra’ or ‘not school’. NOT TRUE. For all of my kids who have graduated from high school, those interests have led to their present career paths. Allowing and encouraging our kids to follow their interests is a BIG part of homeschooling and should happily and confidently be given time.

What is your dyslexia story?  Please share in the comments below!

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  1. Michelle

    This was a very encouraging post! Thank you!

    • liz vella

      thankypu so much Marianne Our son too was very bright spoke at 11 months very switched on .when he got to his lovely christian school he could,nt read the letter a >He was diadnosed with dyslexia in year 1 so after pushing him for 7 years at school could,nt watch him suffer anymore .We started homeschooling in May this year I am getting stressed the lady from dept of Education told me I had to moderfy everything for Joshua Im finding it so hard to find things that he can do He works very slow and gets very distracted and doesnt want to do the work

      • Marianne

        How old is your son now? It’s hard to say with so little information but it is best to start at whatever level they are at regardless of grade level. It may be helpful as well to hire an experienced tutor to help you.

  2. Shelly

    I loved reading this! I’m the mother of five (all born in a 4.5 year span) four of whom are dyslexic. My oldest is not dyslexic, we started homeschooling when she was five and it was easy to teach her how to read. I attributed it mostly to my teaching skills… foolish woman!
    Her little sister is less than a year younger than her, and when I began trying to teach her it didn’t go so well. I discovered that even though she had two years of preschool, she was writing her name in mirror image. It took a while for me to realize as her name is Anna. LOL! I kept trying to teach her to read and write (math was extremely challenging too) but I found that as I got frustrated I would just say the same things over and over, more loudly each time. My baby was crying every day during school. At that time a good friend and mentor suggested I read a book on learning styles, it was very helpful and I at least realized that she had an opposite learning style from her sister. I sincerely apologized to her and promised her that when things weren’t clicking for her I would stop until I could figure out a different way to present the material. She heaved a great big sigh of relief and sweetly forgave me for the approach I’d been using.
    I still didn’t recognize her dyslexia issues, but we slowly plodded along. I also had three little boys. All my kids were late talkers (even my non dyslexic) so I didn’t think much of it when my twin boys didn’t talk until almost age 4… it was only a year later than their siblings had talked and they had their own twin speak language going on anyways that I thought delayed them further. What I didn’t recognize soon enough was that even though their siblings had been late talkers, they had at least been able to follow simple commands easily. Not my twins. It wasn’t that they seemed rebellious or disobedient, they just seemed clueless most of the time. But, I was pretty busy trying to school my two daughters (the younger daughter wasn’t doing well with it) and now my oldest son as well and he was throwing massive tantrums every single day when I announced it was time to do school. He did that for at least two solid years, but I’m a hard headed momma, and if I say it’s time to do school then by golly we are going to do school.
    There I was trying to school my 3 oldest, and I kept having to delay starting my twin boys in their schooling… they were so clueless and I just didn’t know what to do! My 2nd daughter still wasn’t reading and out of desperation I backed off of her for a while; I had my hands full with the tantruming son and the clueless twins, while my oldest daughter just had to become more independent in her school work. Thankfully, she was always a motivated learner.
    After some time my 2nd daughter magically figured out how to read. I just assumed it finally clicked and relaxed a bit. Unknown to me at the time, she had a great desire to read the comic strips from the Highlights magazine so she had her big sister read them aloud to her (after bedtime, when lights were supposed to be put) as she memorized the words, from that basis she figured out how to read. By now I was pulling my hair out with trying to educate my boys. The oldest boy had finally stopped throwing tantrums about school, but he was still miserable during it, but my twins… well, they just weren’t getting anything! It was SO much like you described, trying to fill a paper bag with water. No matter the subject, it wasn’t sticking! I finally began to realize we had so big problems, they weren’t able to follow multi step directions at all and they were over age 7. They weren’t able to remember the names of many things, places, or people… actually, they were 9 before I could say “pick up your dirty clothes and go put them in the laundry room,” and they would actually take their dirty clothes off in the correct direction. (They could never remember what place the laundry room was before then.) I started suspecting dyslexia and auditory processing. Before this point, I’d never heard of auditory processing and I thought dyslexia was a fake diagnosis for lazy people or poor teaching methods. 🙁
    I asked my 2nd daughter “baby, do you remember when I was teaching you how to read and it wasn’t easy for you?” Yes, she replied. “Baby, do you remember WHY it was so hard?” I fully expected her to shrug her shoulders and say I dunno. We had never discussed dyslexia in our home, I was positive my kids had never heard the term before. But to my amazement she said “Yup! I remember! I couldn’t find the spaces between the words you were talking about… and the letters would travel off the page and fall into a pile on the floor!”
    I cried. My baby, the one I thought “she’s lazy,” was far from lazy! My baby has dyslexia! It’s an answer if I ever heard an answer, we can work with this! Soon after I asked my oldest son to describe what he saw when he was trying to read, this was after I finally observed that his eyes were all watery and he was uncomfortably fidgeting during reading time. He had just seen a demo of a 3-D tv system at a store just weeks before and he said “mom, its like that 3-D movie. Some letters are up close, some are far away, and they’re shiny and wavy too.” I said “well, that’s because you’re dyslexic.” His response shocked me, he yelled “I’m not stupid!” We had a long talk about why I knew he wasn’t stupid and what dyslexia really means.
    My twins were not able to describe their issues for much longer. We stayed in 1st grade math with them for 3 full years, we were just not able to progress when every day was a question like “momma, how do I plus again?” Or “momma, how do I minus again?” (They also took a lot of time to remember the different terms in math, and remembering the vowel sounds was so hard for them. Everything was hard for them!)
    My kids are all teens now, and I have graduated our oldest daughter from homeschool; she is trying to get into nursing school, I think she will make it with flying colors. Second dd and oldest dyslexic is in her senior year, is a talented artist and desires to go to cosmetology school after homeschool. Oldest son still finds school time his least favorite time of day, but doesn’t complain about it anymore. He spends the vast majority of his time (over 40 hours per week) training with an Olympic coach in his chosen sport… springboard and platform diving. He desires to go to college but doesn’t know what field yet, I think he has an engineering bent like his dad.
    My twins are doing much better in their schooling, they actually read much easier than their older brother now. They don’t yet know how they’re individually gifted… I think the older twin is also gifted towards engineering, the younger twin is more of a people person. I’m just glad that their school time is not such a struggle anymore, and they are doing better with multi step directions. They’re good boys!

    • Maritza McKinney

      Thank you for sharing this! I am reading this over three years later. My 8.5 year old is showing signs of dyslexia. She LOVES math but says words backwards when reading and doesn’t remember spelling words.

  3. Cherise Schönfeldt

    Thank you so much for sharing this, my son is 11 with severe dyslexia, seems like auditory processing, anxiety and sensory issues. I also feel like I need to change things all the time to keep him interested and motivated. Most the time he dorgets what he has learnt and I alway wonder if ge would be ok later. Currently I am using a british homeschooling curriculum and I do feel both my boys hate it. Then I think, maybe it should be like this, building perseverance and strong character? I never know if what I am doing is right. My younger son is 8, no signs yet. Its difficult to juggle between the 2 that are so completely different. How di dyou do it?

    • Marianne

      Hi Cherise. I focused as much as possible on priorities, taking things day by day or week by week. I tried to focus on the basics while providing a lot of learning toys and quality play options for the other kids’ downtime. I’m not sure which curriculum you’re using but if it’s more of a traditional school curriculum, they often are too much reading and writing for kids with dyslexia.

  4. Matthew

    I am trying to teach an 8 year old boy who has difficulty readying, both maths and English. He is not able to concentrate for long. He would suddenly take off and do something completely different, like cutting leaves and counting them or running around the table. He is beginning to learn the 12x table, but had great difficulty reading.

    • Marianne

      Many kids with dyslexia also have some form of attention deficit. Try breaking your lessons up into smaller time chunks and make it as hands-on as possible. Allow him to move while learning.

  5. Mandy

    Hello Marianne~

    My daughter is 6 years old and is in the 1st grade. I made the decision to homeschool her after we noticed she was really struggling with her phonics and reading. In fact, it got to the point at school, she was purposely finding ways to miss out on Library days. I kept questioning this, but was told “it’s normal”. We all found it hard to believe considering this little girl was speaking in complete sentences at 18 months old, her vocabulary was exstentsive and she was always asking thought provoking questions that turned everyones heads.

    I knew dyslexia ran in our family and asked for her to be tested. I was told that our school district, unless the learning disability is “extremely profound”, they do not test for dyslexia until the third grade. I asked for the testing anyways and they refused, telling me my daughter is normal.

    Well what they didn’t see was my daughter crying because she was telling me the letters “changed places” or the sounds “didn’t sound the same”. Telling she felt stupid. So since the school district didn’t want my input or want to help my child, I decided that was just even more of a confirmation I was supposed to homeschool her.

    But now I am freaking out a little! I know she loves music and dance, but how do I use them to help her learn to read? Any suggestions??

    Oh and Marianne, Thank you for creating this website!


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