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 Story

Homeschooling has been a huge part of the past 22 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. 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!

As for the other 6 kids, we’re still in the trenches, every day, like you.

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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