The Beautiful Impact a Dyslexia Diagnosis Can Have

Today I was part of the beautiful impact a diagnosis of dyslexia can have for a young teenage girl. For her, the information was freeing because it gave her context. It doesn’t always work out this well. But today it did.

This girl’s parents sought my help in pouring through a big pile of school documents, previous language evaluations, IEPs triennial testings and the like. They wanted my help in interpreting the mountain of information and to find a way to talk with their daughter about what it all means. Somehow with all of these tests, no one had put it all together in a way that found the necessary patterns. So there was lots of data and info, but no clarity. She’d been struggling in school most of her life but there was never any definitive diagnosis. As I began to work through the huge amount of data and written discussion contained within the file, I saw the patterns and an image of an actual learning profile emerged.

There were important things to note; like her performance at the 95th percentile (superior) in “understanding spoken paragraphs” and the 85th percentile when it came to “formulating sentences from a visual prompt.” In contrast, I also saw evidence of language processing weaknesses when it came to the mechanics of language processing. In addition, once again in stark contrast to her excellent thinking and concept development, her spelling and reading scores have always been in the single digit percentiles. Looking further, besides real struggle with working memory tasks, I saw things in the IEP that began to make me feel angry. Even though she’d been struggling for years and was on an IEP (a guarantee it turns out of unfortunately, nothing), the box to check off labeled, “Scientifically-based reading approach used as part of Response to Intervention” was left blank, signifying “not needed.”

Subsequently I gave this girl a few more testing protocols (e.g.rapid naming, phonological processing) and verified the obvious; she has dyslexia. Her pattern of phonological, decoding and spelling struggles, completely unexpected considering her strong thinking skills was clearly the result of this dyslexia. In her case, her disability, or difference, was compounded by years of the wrong kind of attention and help at school. The fact that she struggled with attention and anxiety, and has had some real rough spots in early childhood family experiences led all of the educational support staff to kind of shrug away her skill deficits. Not that they weren’t caring, but they were caring in the wrong way.

OK. So, today I had her mom and her in my office in order to go over the testing results. When I began to describe her pattern of strengths and weaknesses and explained to her that educational scientists had a name for this,and the name is “dyslexia,” tears rolled spontaneously out of her eyes. She said, “I’m sorry for all this emotion…it’s just such a relief.” When we began to look at the cost of her slow inefficient reading, in terms of time (spent on homework), anxiety (fear of looking bad), and self-worth (believing her own worst fears about herself), her eyes welled up and leaked again.

Later I described what I thought her school life might be like as a result of having high understanding of oral language (as long as that wasn’t too long and dense), but also having such pronounced working memory deficits (for the same spoken language). I said in effect, “You can listen to the teacher in history class, be engaged in the story, and really get what’s going on. Five minutes later, the teacher asks you the names of the three presidents just mentioned and your mind goes blank, it’s just gone…How frustrating and embarrassing it must feel.”

That’s when she really teared up and her eyes leaked again, shocked someone could understand her secrets so quickly. Again, she apologized and expressed relief and desire to move forward.

I really felt privileged to be at this particular juncture for this particular person, and grateful I do what I do for “work.” There is plenty of reading/language training, technological support, school modifications, and working memory training ahead of us, but for the first time in a while she has some hope and a direction.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
This entry was posted in Education Issues and Ideas, LD Support Professionals, Learning Disabilities and Mental Health, Personal Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Beautiful Impact a Dyslexia Diagnosis Can Have

  1. Richard says:

    “she has dyslexia”

    I read this and it stuck in my brain. “Has” makes it sounds like dyslexia is an illness that can be caught and then gotten rid of. Or it somehow reduces it to the mundane:

    she has brown eyes

    Of course, using “is” is also problematic:

    she is dyslexic

    It works in that it describes something that one is born with, a physical attribute that one learns to work with.

    Both of these tweak the piece of me that says:

    Dyslexia is not who she is.

    It’s one part of her, enlarged because she’s dealing with school but as she grows older it will become a smaller and smaller part of her life (we hope).

    So, while this is a great triumph for you and the young teenage girl and I totally support you in helping people know more about their learning issues, and I commend you for your continued supportive and excellent guidance, that little word “has” somehow stood out as I read this.

    Amazing how a dyslexic brain can get caught up on language, ‘eh?

    Keep up the great work Sandy.

  2. Sanford says:

    I understand your point..but who are you, Bill Clinton (smile)? “It depends on the meaning of what ‘is’ is .”

    To your point: I also get agonized and fixated on words when I’m writing or listening. I do know what you mean. I’m not sure the issue is with the word “has” but more perhaps about you (and others) associations with even the word dyslexia. I mean “I have the winning lottery ticket” sounds good, or “I have love…or, pride…or..you get the idea. It’s getting boxed in and over identified with a label that’s the problem.

    I totally agree with you that defining someone by their condition, whatever that is, helpful condition or unhelpful condition, is limiting. That’s probably why “I am dyslexic” is too limiting. The sages say anything more than “I am,” is limiting. But I won’t wax spiritual here.

    As you are sensitized to this issue from a personal as well as professional point of view, it’s a reminder that over identification with a diagnostic label is not a recipe for mental health. Neither is under representing a condition. In this girl’s case, the shift was towards ignorance of her dyslexia. That’s a first step. Absolutely the goal is towards normalizing the variety of learning styles.

    Thanks for writing in.

  3. Richard says:

    “over identification with a diagnostic label is not a recipe for mental health”

    Brilliant.

  4. Barry Rosenberg says:

    One has ( or does not have) a disorder, a disability. More to the point – does it have you? Sadly, in the case of this girl it seems like it is defining her, but maybe that is changing now. Congratulations, Sanford.

  5. Sanford says:

    Barry
    “Does it have you?” Great question!
    For some people, like this girl, the lack of clarity and information about her strengths and weaknesses, was what was “getting” her down. In the absence of information, she filled in the blanks with “I’m dumb,” or “There’s something wrong with me.” It was the absence of a good description of her learning profile that “had” her.

  6. Rogini says:

    Dyslexia can affect all aseptcs of learning, reading, writing, spelling, maths, memory, sequencing skills, problems pronouncing some words, confusion between left right, difficulty reading maps.The most common letters dyslexics will switch around is b, d, p, q, w, m, letters o, f, e, c, x y are often mixed up too. Transposing words, like was to saw or homophone words, like where, were, poor pour etc. Font size and the type of font used can exacerbate the problems, so I use Comic Sans 14, as it does not have what I call an up side down a’ The writing sequencing problem is quite common, as many dyslexics find it difficult to write their thoughts etc on paper and in order and trouble spelling, this is called dysgraphia. Maths can also be a sign of dyslexia, were a person struggles to do multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, fractions, formulas, confuses math symbols and remembering times tables. Numbers 519 might look like 915 or 17 looks like 71, 9 3 might look like an 8, this is called dyscalculia.Dyslexia does not affect a persons IQ, and many dyslexics have above average IQ’s. Both my daughter and I are dyslexic, my daughter has more issues with writing spelling (dysgraphia).

  7. Sanford says:

    Rogini,
    Dyslexia has some common neurological and genetic roots and while there are some behavioral-learning characteristics that all people with dyslexia would share (inefficient readers and spellers), the rest seem highly variable. Different people seem to had differing degrees of severity and an infinite degree of co-existing difficulties as well as variation in what works for them.

    Funny you mention Comic Sans 14. i’ve never heard a “pro” comic sans comment before.

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