• Jennifer Widemire Smith

The Twenty Minute Rule

Updated: Sep 11, 2020

School starts for us in two weeks. We've gotten all our uniforms and supplies bought early. I’ve washed the backpacks. Wiped clean the lunchboxes. Everything is ready for that new first day of school that’s looming around the corner.


My son, Landon, is 8 going on 40 and entering into 3rd grade this year. The grade where they cease learning to read and begin reading to learn. I'll be honest. I'm nervous at how this year is going to go for him.


My daughter, Lyla, is 7, going on sassy 18 and entering into 2nd grade.


They’re both dyslexic with different strengths and weaknesses. I am a twice exceptional dyslexic, or so the experts tell me. It’s a fancy fun way of saying my intellect supersedes my shortcomings. I didn’t know I was dyslexic until about five seconds after my son was diagnosed and the dyslexic expert who’d assessed him turned to me and said, “Who in your family has dyslexia?”


A series of questions later, a rather long emotional conversation, tears, and I walked away with an explanation as to why I’d struggled in school my whole life. Why I had to find work arounds and felt like a cheat for doing so bc I couldn’t do it the way everyone else did it.


I suddenly had an explanation that also set me free from several things the first being, “I’M NOT LAZY.”


I wanted to call my Mom and say, “Ah HA!”


She’d homeschooled me and I can’t tell you how many times I got caught sleeping on top of my school books 30 minutes after starting.


“Jennifer!!! You better not be asleep again!” She’d say while on her way to my room. She’d open the door and I’d hear through my groggy fog, “Oh you are so grounded young lady!”


I don’t remember my parents ever using the word lazy to describe me but I sure as hell felt lazy most days. In college I even had my blood drawn to check for anemia bc I was soo tired all the freaking time. I lived on excedrin migraine and starbucks. So much so, I sent myself into adrenal fatigue from all the caffeine, stress and anxiety I lived with daily.


When my son was diagnosed one of the first things they taught us was the 20 minute rule. No reading beyond 20 minutes. No homework, no flashcards, no practice. Set a timer and stick to it. What doesn’t get done gets done later. Learn to live by 20 minutes at a time and always, always, always take breaks.


My first day of college they said, “You are adults and you are expected to study for 45 minutes with 15 minute break, every hour. This is what’s required to get through college. If you do this you’ll be successful if not you won’t be.”


I took that to heart, but what a load of horses#%t.


For a dyslexic adult the rule is, “Study for 20 minutes then take a brain break for 10. Then come back. Rest as needed. Give yourself grace. Learn shortcuts that work for you. Study in different ways. Do this and you’ll be successful at anything you decide to learn for yourself. Everything is possible. Think outside the box and you’ll find a solution! Don’t give up!”


You see for dyslexics there’s a pattern. 20 minutes the brain is good. 30 minutes the brain grows tired and a headache begins. 45 minutes migraine/stomach pains. An hour and your kid is bouncing off the walls and physically incapable of sitting still due to the exhaustion and over stimulated brain that is forcing itself to stay awake.


Taking breaks after 20 minutes stops this cycle. It can often prevent it.


So this summer as I began to think through what my kids needed this year. As I started to write letters to their new teachers, “Hi, you have my son Landon in your class, let me tell you a few things to give you a head start on how to teach my severely dyslexic child….” I began to think about the 20 minute rule.


A light bulb went off.


I bought them waterproof, digital clock watches with physical borders to help them see the different features that also has a stopwatch on it.


They needed to learn what 20 minutes feels like. To learn to pace themselves at their desk.

Last year my son struggled with headaches and stomach migraines so much so I had to go to an extreme analogy of comparing his struggles to what Navy SEALs do to give him their motto of the Only Easy Day Was Yesterday and school is going to suck. Embrace the Suck. Do it anyways.


I had to do this in order to stop the complaining and begging the teacher to go to the nurse who couldn’t do anything to help him. I talked with his teacher and explained the 20 minutes and she did her best to break her classroom up as she could but it wasn’t always enough. And you know what? Sometimes you just can’t get it your way no matter how much you should be able too.


You have to learn how to conquer yourself in those times. Yep dyslexia can suck ass. It can also be used to train up bad ass kids who can conquer anything that gets thrown at them. All depends on how we, as parents, choose to handle it. Coddle them or teach them to be warriors? The world won’t coddle them. The education system won’t coddle them. Can you guess what which way my attitude leans?


I’m dyslexic too. So I’m right there with them. Learning to conquer myself to accomplish my rather ambitious reading goals. I’m also an author, if you couldn’t tell already. Hardest career for a dyslexic to choose…I’ve chosen it… Writing.


To prepare my little dyslexic warriors to go and do battle with themselves and with the great and mighty education system of the great state of Alabama, I’m giving my kids a series of brain activity assignments—reading (audio books and books they can eye read), color by numbers, connect the dots etc… I’m also saying, “Set your watches. Work for 20 minutes then take a break. Good! Start again.”


I’m teaching them how to avoid the headaches and how to talk about what they’re feeling so they can express it to their new teacher who may or may not have a clue about dyslexia. Either way is fine bc my 7 and 8 year olds learned last year how to talk about it. How to advocate for themselves. How to say, “You’re not teaching me in a way I can understand. Start again please. Use different words.”


If you’re interested in doing the same as us here’s the link to amazon for the amazing watches I found. If not thanks for reading!


From one dyslexic warrior and bad ass mom to each and everyone of you, good luck this year! Jen



Available on Amazon click here.


#conqueringdyslexia #dyslexicwarriors #thedworddiaryofadyslexic #dyslexicparenting #nevergivingup #theonlyeasydaywasyesterday #twentyminutesatatime

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