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  • Jennifer Widemire Smith


Updated: Feb 8, 2019

I took a deep breath. My son’s teacher adored him. It was written on her face. My son adored her. She was not the enemy.

A year ago I sat at my son’s teacher’s table in his classroom. My ears were ringing. My heart was thumping wildly. I couldn’t possibly have heard his teacher right. My son? Dyslexic? How did this happen? But he’s so smart! How can he not be reading yet? No! She must be wrong! He’s not. He can’t be! Could he?

I wanted to fight her. I wanted to scream at her, “There is nothing wrong with my son! You’re wrong! You will not label my son! It will follow him his whole life! How can you be so cruel?”

I didn’t say any of those things. His teacher was wonderful. She was kind. She was loving. I was the one feeling anxious and it had me wanting to lash out. I was the one feeling stressed which had me reacting with aggression—fight mode. It had nothing to do with her and I refused to take it out on her. Teachers are not parent’s whipping boys.

I took a deep breath. My son’s teacher adored him. It was written on her face. My son adored her. She was not the enemy.

When my son graduated kindergarten we knew he needed more time to learn. That he was “developmentally delayed.” In K5 my son had been expected to learn 25+ sight words before entering first grade—he didn’t.

On his first day he asked me, “Does my new teacher know I can’t read like all the other kids yet? Do you think she’ll help me catch up? I’m not sure I’m ready for this. Maybe I should go back to kindergarten.”

Yes she knew. She’d promised to help him. And here she was telling me he needed more help than she could give.

I was in my own head trying to make sense of the sheet of paper she’d given me. It was a list of all the symptoms for dyslexia. There were 27. My son had 25 of them. The paper said if you had 11 symptoms you were probably dyslexic and should seek out expert help.

Dyslexic? Really?

I shook my head and tried to clear the ringing from my ears. His teacher was talking to me. Her lips were moving so I concentrated on them. I felt so out of my depth so suddenly that all I really wanted to do was go cry in a corner somewhere. I was drowning.

“Do you know what my training is in?” His teacher asked again.

Teaching, duh! My subconscious fired back. “Uhm remind me please.” My southern manners coming out from sheer force of upbringing.

“I have specialty training in Orton Gillingham methods from the Barton Academy.”

I really was loosing it. Was I expected to know what that was? “What does that mean? Organ Willingham?”

She smiled. “Orton Gillingham. It means I have specialty training in teaching dyslexic children to read.” She allowed that to sink in before continuing. “My daughter is dyslexic” she reached out and placed her hand on mine—again going slow. My eyes were threatening to leak. “And so am I.” She finished quietly.

“There is nothing wrong with your son. He’s brilliant. He’s amazing. But he needs more help than I am able to give in the classroom. He is severely dyslexic and there is not enough time in my day—with all the requirements I have to meet—for me to successfully remediate your baby.”

Ok. Breathe in and out. Repeat. If she’s dyslexic and teaching maybe this isn’t as bad a thing as it feels.

She gave me a hug, told me it would be alright, and where to go to sign Landon up for dyslexic specific tutoring. It just so happened it was on my way home from school and they were open.

I walked in, to the Read Write Learning Center, feeling numb. I had not been prepared for that meeting. But as I sat and waited for someone to explain the process I stared at my seven year old little boy. I thought about how hard homework time was everyday. How often he begged us to “fix” him. “What’s wrong with me that I can’t learn my letters, Mom? My sight words? Mommy I’m broken.”

I thought about how often he complained of headaches. I didn’t really know what dyslexia was exactly. I knew it was a hard thing to live with. I knew I hated this. And I knew I would do everything in my power to help him succeed. No matter the cost. No matter the hardship.

A week later I sat around a conference table with words I didn’t understand flying around me. It was like stepping into the world of wonderland. Nothing would ever be the same again. This was a go big or go home moment.

But the shock wasn’t going to stop there.

Someone at the table asked, “Who in your family has dyslexia?”

Wait. “What?”

“Dyslexia is genetic. Who in your family has it?”

I shrugged wracking my brain “No one that I know of.”

They smiled kindly but prodded further. They’d maybe done this a time or two... “Who in your family struggles to finish reading a book? Who in your family struggles with constant headaches and tires easily when reading? Does anyone hate to read? Lose their place and has to start paragraphs over again? Does anyone call themselves a slow reader? Lazy? Prone to procrastinating? Suffers from anxiety?”

“Me.” I whispered. My world tipping on its axis. AGAIN!

I typically groaned whenever anyone asked me to read this book or that one. A book as a gift was a kill me now moment.

I suffered social anxiety constantly. Whenever someone would guilt trip me into attending a Bible study that anxiety was always at its peek. Church is harder for dyslexics than school. “Jennifer please turn in your Bible to Colossians 3 verse 1 and read for us.”

Can I hide under a rock instead please?

After I had merged a few words together, received a few laughs, and stuttered a few times I had accomplished the task that I had not been allowed to say no to—phew! Except, this is church we’re talking about: “Now Jennifer what do you suppose that verse means? How does it apply to your life?”

“Shit” is not an appropriate response while sitting in a church Bible Study. They frown on that type of word use. But it was always what ran through my head followed by absolute panic. I had no idea what I’d just read and everyone was about to know it.

My concentration had been on trying to not shake with the sudden adrenaline rush that had spiked when I was “asked” to do something with no way out. Then it had been on decoding and saying the right words—which I often failed at. I had made it through another round of anxiety only to be crushed by another. I had no response but to shrug. Never a good idea at a Baptist Church that prizes itself on teaching everyone the Bible in its entirety. Yes I have childhood wounds on that subject. Yes I am working on them.

Many many issues that plagued my childhood and academic career suddenly shifted into focus. So that’s why I used to have screaming matches with my mother over simple things like math fractions. I might still owe her an spology for that one. That’s why it took me months to memorize the list of prepositions. That’s why I get so excited to read a book only to fall asleep again and again and never finish it. That’s why I lived on Excedrin in college. That’s why.... the list went on and on!

Learning my son has dyslexia. Learning I had dyslexia. Then 9 months later learning my daughter has it as well has been an emotional rollercoaster.

My son’s teacher combined with the Read Write Learning Center very quickly began to help my son. He suddenly began to make progress. I slowly began learning what dyslexia means. How to help. How to parent. How to love. How to advocate. I still feel like I’ve learned about an inch of information when a mile is left but one thing I have learned is we need more voices talking about dyslexia. We need more people sharing what we learn, and what we observe, for ourselves, and for our children.

20% of all people of all nations are dyslexic. 80% go undiagnosed and unnoticed—always wondering what is wrong with their minds that they can’t “get it.”

In my short year of learning I’ve discovered many of my friends have suffered in silence or timidity. Unwilling to call themselves dyslexics. Unwilling to self advocate. Scared of what the world might do to them if they revealed their struggles. I don’t want this for myself. I don’t want this for my children. I don’t want this for the 80% who suffer unknowingly. Or the others who know and still suffer.

Dyslexic minds are some of the most prolific of all time. However, not all of us see the abilities through the struggles. For some it is a constant affliction they wish they could end. Some find their strengths and do great things. Some do not. It all depends on their support system and their ambition.

So I’m starting a blog. A blog about my experience. My children’s experience. And hopefully, along the way, my friends experiences. I’m starting this in hopes to bring attention to the fight. Encouragement to the dyslexic warriors. And insight to those who love, surround, and support dyslexics. There will be typos. There will be grammatical errors. Deal with it. I'm dyslexic.

Welcome to my journey.

“But I won't let them break me down to dust

I know that there's a place for us

For we are glorious...

I am brave, I am bruised

I am who I'm meant to be, this is me”

--This is Me by Keala Settle

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