It was something I debated for years. Literally. Should I, or should I not seek an official dyslexia evaluation for my struggling learner?
I was aware of some learning challenges with my daughter even early on, but I never wanted to overreact. Children mature and learn at very different rates, after all, but I still had my concerns.
At first I just thought she was ADHD. And maybe she was. Later I wondered if she was just slower to mature, a late bloomer, so to speak. Maybe there was some truth in that, too.
But she started talking later than my other children talked. She had an unusually hard time understanding and following instructions. Many of the things my other kids just picked up on, she struggled to learn and remember even with repeated practice.
As time went on and the educational process continued, I knew there was a deeper problem. My daughter was bright, eager to learn, and artistic, but memorizing letters and letter sounds was nightmarish for her. Stringing those strange little figures into words was even worse! Reading, when she finally began doing some of it, was labored, even exhausting for her. Her spelling was atrocious. The letter reversals that are common up to age 7, hadn’t stopped by age 10.
Instructions involving multiple steps were lost on her, too, unless tackled one-by-one. And though most people would likely never have noticed a language processing issue, I often found myself translating for her — rewording the things people said to her because I knew she wasn’t understanding it the way it was spoken.
And to make it all worse for her, her little brother, two-and-a-half years younger, began reading better than she could. And he was not at all what one might call an early reader.
I ceased believing this was just an attention, discipline, or maturity issue.
But not everyone thinks you should seek a diagnosis for learning struggles, and for different reasons. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of most of the naysayers, I also think it’s interesting to note that many of the people who recommend against evaluation have never been a parent to a struggling learner themselves. But even some who have will toss out questions like these:
- Why would you seek a diagnosis when a diagnosis doesn’t change anything?
- Why would you put a label on your child when they will have to carry that label for the rest of their lives?
- Why seek a diagnosis when maybe all your child needs is a little more time?
- Why would you damage your child’s self-esteem with a diagnosis that tells them they are different from other kids?
The arguments sound reasonable. Sort of. At least they seem well-intentioned. But this past February we made the decision to have our daughter evaluated and, just as we had long suspected, she has fairly severe dyslexia.
Bad news. And yet I couldn’t be happier with our decision to do the evaluation.
In another post I’ll share some info about the clinicians we used. I can highly recommend them. But for today, let me just share the reasons WHY we sought evaluation at all.
- There is comfort just in knowing.
No, a diagnosis in and of itself has done nothing to change my daughter’s learning, but I can’t begin to tell you the kind of peace I felt when we got the final report. All my suspicions, my gut feelings as my little girl’s mom, had been spot-on. Now all the doubts and uncertainties were removed. My daughter was dyslexic: This was what we had to deal with and now we could face it head-on.
Of course, had the diagnosis not been dyslexia, I think there would have been some comfort in that, too. I could then have crossed that disability off the list and started looking at other potential problems or rested in the confidence things might indeed improve with a little more time and some extra tutoring.
- The earlier you positively identify the problem, the easier it is to deal with it.
Prolonged learning difficulties can take a real toll on a child’s self-confidence, making it even more difficult to overcome those issues as time passes. I was seeing this for myself in my own daughter, her challenges becoming more and more overwhelming and inhibiting with time. But then our clinician told us the same; that therapy is usually most effective when it is begun early.
|My artsy, hyper-creative Doodle|
- Knowing helps us better evaluate treatment options.
A definite diagnosis has given us a real sense of direction when it comes to finding help for our daughter. We’ve become more familiar with various therapies, teaching methods, and resources available for dyslexic learners.
And at the same time, knowing what my daughter’s struggles are, I also know there are certain things that will not help her. Being able to eliminate those things is more of a help than you may realize.
- A diagnosis opens the door to accommodations, should they be needed.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, (IDEA,) students having received a comprehensive evaluation report diagnosing them as dyslexic may have access to certain accommodations in their education such as audio versions of their textbooks, help with reading and/or writing, or extended time for test-taking. While none of those accommodations are really necessary for my daughter at the moment, there may come a time in the future when we’ll need to take advantage of them.
Now let me say this before we move on: I know some people take issue with the idea of making accommodations available for students with learning problems. In all truth, there was probably a time when I would have been one of them! Doesn’t accommodating a student with a “learning disability” give them an unfair advantage? Aren’t they getting a free pass to do half the work all the other kids are doing? What if a student is not dyslexic at all, but just plain lazy?
I certainly can’t say that dyslexia is never wrongly diagnosed, but it’s important to note that many experts think it is actually underdiagnosed, particularly where girls are concerned. Also, the pursuit of evaluation and special services is not an easy process, and it usually only comes as the result of substantial, prolonged learning problems. While it’s not impossible that someone might pretend their way to a diagnosis just to get out of some work, it’s highly unlikely. Honestly, of all of my children my dyslexic is my hardest worker and most diligent student. That’s exactly what makes her situation so heartbreaking for me. (And, incidentally, it’s exactly what makes me a little hypersensitive when people start implying that kids with learning disabilities, or their MOMS, are lazy or just looking for a way to get out of work.)
And while I’m on this soapbox, let me ask you a question. If a child who cannot walk asks for a walker, we have no problem giving it to him, do we? We don’t blame him for his handicap or suggest he’s being lazy because he isn’t walking like the other kids. And if a child is deaf, most of us would do anything in our power to provide him with a hearing aid of some sort. None of us would think for a moment that a hearing aid would give that child some sort of unfair advantage. And we certainly wouldn’t accuse him of pretending he can’t hear! So why do we struggle sometimes with the concept of providing helps to a child with a learning disability?
- It gives our child a REASON.
We homeschool, so the first more traumatic reading experience for my daughter may have come some later than it would have in a regular school. But I’ll never forget when she stopped me one night as I was tucking her in bed. With pent-up hurt and confusion she started to cry and then began confessing to her humiliation at not being able to read something in front of her friends the day before.
I hugged her. I smiled. I said lots of upbeat, encouraging words.
And then I closed the door, walked into my family room, and cried my eyes out.
Nobody likes to be different. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody likes to feel like they’re stupid. Or that anybody else thinks they are. My daughter’s diagnosis hasn’t magically removed concerns like these, but at least she now has an answer to the why-can’t-I-read-like-the-other-kids question.
It’s because she’s dyslexic. It’s because her brain works differently. She sees things differently. And while her dyslexia makes it very difficult for her to read, it may be the very thing that makes her such a tremendous artist and such a creative thinker and problem-solver. And while it doesn’t remove the challenges, I think it makes a little more sense of them in her mind.