TimeHop, 20/20 Hindsight, and Dyslexia

I try to not live with regret. But when it comes to my kids, there are definitely things I wish we’d done better, or sooner, or different. Hindsight is 20/20 and thanks to social media, I am often reminded that sometimes there are warning signs we don’t always recognize as warning signs in real-time.

This bittersweet gem came up on my TimeHop app today…

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Sweet because she was 5 and still young and precocious enough that messing up song lyrics or saying words wrong was pretty adorable.  (Skunk was – and sometimes still is – stunk when she says it).

Bitter because we now know that she’s dyslexic and has a strong deficit in phoneme awareness and phonological processing. That deficit is the root cause behind her notoriously messing up song lyrics and words.

Phonological processing refers specifically to the processing of speech sounds (phonemes). Many poor readers have a specific weakness in phonological processing even when auditory and language processing skills are strong. Readers with phonological processing difficulties often have difficulty decoding words. This is the case with my daughter.

She’d have been in Kindergarten when I wrote the status update in this memory. Another couple of months would pass before we would first pose the possibility of her being dyslexic to her teachers. When we first voiced our concern, we were told she was “fine”, and “at grade level or above”, and “just not her brother” (who was an early and voracious reader). It would take another three years of periodically raising the possibility of dyslexia before the school would begin to listen and finally do some testing. But even then, they firmly believed she dud bot have a reading disability.

Part of that was (is) because she is incredibly bright and incredibly hard-working – she makes up for poor phonological awareness with amazing decoding and inference skills that are supported by intense determination. Simply put, she misreads a significant amount of text, but is still able to infer the content with high accuracy and in doing so “tricks” people into thinking she is not misreading. Over time she naturally found ways to “hide” the fact she isn’t reading every word on a page.  Because of that, she has always been high achieving – so in the world of public school she looks like the opposite of a child with a learning difference.

The other part of the problem, is that until 2017, the state of California did not require school districts to test children for dyslexia. So even we finally persuaded (forced) the school district to test her, they did not look for the specific subsets of learning differences found in dyslexia – including phonological processing – so she did not meet the qualifications of a child with a learning disability and therefore was not qualified to receive district funded support services. Even after we paid to have her privately assessed and could show the school district clear proof that she is dyslexic, the district would not agree to provide intervention and support because she is high achieving. The did legally have to agree to a 504 plan outlining some accommodations for our daughter in the classroom, but accommodations aren’t solutions.

The graphic below specifically addresses recognizing dyslexia in teens and young adults, but I recognize in it the signs of dyslexia in my own daughter.

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Learning differences like dyslexia are often sneaky. They show up in so many ways, and in so many places that aren’t expected. And when they show up in a high achieving and super determined kid, learning differences can often be missed entirely. My daughter has always had incredible teachers, but even incredible teachers can miss things. Especially when they do not have the  training to recognize the subtle signs of dyslexia.

My daughter has now spent significant time outside of school in specialized tutoring programs to help close her phonemic awareness deficit and we can see the results. It’s hard work. It’s exhausting work. It’s expensive. But it’s worth it for her now and for her future. She’s 11 years old and in the 6th grade. The mandate but the state of California that school districts must assess for dyslexia and provide early intervention came too late to help her. But somewhere out there are other precociuos 5 year old girls and boys who notoriously mess up song lyrics because of a deficit in phonemic awareness. Somewhere out there are children who are dyslexic just like my daughter. And for those young children, there is still time for early intervention.

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