You know that second grader who holes up in his room for hours engrossed in a book thicker than an antiquated encyclopedia? The one who, at age four, points from the backseat window of the family wagon reading billboards, bumper stickers, and license plates? The one who sneaks your iPhone from your purse and reads your text messages before you have a chance, stumbling upon the shitload of swear words you exchange on the regular with your closest girlfriend before you’ve even introduced said words to him? Yeah, that is most certainly not my child. But what I wouldn’t do to exchange places with you, mama.
I suppose we should have seen the red flags: late speech development and trouble with articulation, poor phonological awareness skills (rhyming and segmenting and blending sounds in words), his chronically poor attention in class, and an ongoing difficulty with decoding words, not to mention his inability, no matter how many times we repeated it, to learn our phone number.
In the spring of his first grade year, we finally decided to acknowledge these issues. We approached his teachers, who, like many educators, believed in the “wait and see” philosophy. But my gut felt differently, and I can’t begin to express how grateful I am that I listened to those quiet whispers and sought help with Malcolm. “As it turns out, the research suggests that if you catch these delays early, you get better results. With language, you’ve got to hit it early — or kids get left in the dust. For instance, a preschooler and a kindergartener will learn phonemes better than a first and second grader. Once you hit first and second grade, you start going into content reading, and so kids who are still struggling with learning to read have a harder time.” (credit here)
We had our son evaluated that spring, and all of my suspicions were finally validated: our boy, while not dyslexic, was at risk for a language-based learning disability. We were advised to act fast and furiously to catch him up to speed. We knew we had a year before his cohort would be reading to learn vs. learning to read. And here is where I feel lucky: we had the time and resources to support Malcolm, and boy have we ever!
In the space of less than one year, with incredible support from both our family and his tutor Colin, Malcolm has grown from a Kindergarten level reader to a boy reading chapter books at bedtime with me. Chapter books, you guys! His frustration with all things reading has turned to a beaming sense of pride and accomplishment. He bounds down the stairs after his sessions with Colin informing me of his progress. He no longer hits the table with exasperation. And while I am uncertain when the day, if ever, will arrive in which Malcolm might pick up a book on his own and truly love reading, we have come such a long and glorious way along this path.
Yesterday, of his own accord, he read street signs from the car window while we were traveling along at 40mph. When I later peeked in the rearview mirror of the car, his lips were moving, eyes downcast into the pages of a book, which I intentionally planted in his seat pocket hoping he might not be able to resist the temptation. It was a milestone I never anticipated. And I finally feel that we have arrived. All the clandestine pro-literacy things I do have paid off: planting Lego magazines and nature books in the bathroom, surprising him with Pokemon books, encouraging him to read through instruction manuals on new toys, sitting with him every single morning before class while he reads the morning board aloud to me, modeling reading at every turn and engaging him in literacy on an every day basis. My boy has come so very far.
We never thought this would be our fate as parents–supporting the reluctant reader, navigating the world of learning issues. Honestly, I just assumed that our child would be like me: one for whom school came naturally and easily. This journey has been intense, but looking back on the last year, I am incredibly proud of all of us. It is almost unfair how much effort it takes for a child who struggles with reading in comparison to that child who just “picks it up”, but the journey is such a powerful one. I have so much faith in my son now and trust in his ability to be a successful learner. It was an entirely different story just one year ago. Our entire family has had to learn to read this roadmap so unfamiliar, and here we are, veritable masters of our own literacy highway.
(This is a terrible photo, but this day is one I will never forget: Malcolm decided to read to Zoe and Oliver at bedtime, without a push or suggestion from me. I’m pretty sure I snapped this photo with tears in my eyes.)