What can a child with dyslexia teach us about the way we face the world? About turning lemons into lemonade.
Imagine that every time you pick up a newspaper or turn the page in a book, you face words that resemble a foreign language. You know it is your native language, but you cannot navigate easily through the words. Furthermore, there is tremendous difficulty breaking words down into sounds, which create struggles with correctly pronouncing words and forming meaning. This typifies all the common experiences of a dyslexic child when faced with text. This is my daughter Claire’s story.
Claire has always been full of life. The meaning of Claire’s name is “bright” or “clear,” which has fit her so well even from the very first moment she was born. The life Claire expounds from her heart and soul is something I fall in love with every day. Claire truly amazes me. She should be the poster child for “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” since time and time again, Claire makes the sweetest lemonade despite the lemons she’s been tossed.
From a very early age, Claire loved books. Pictures helped her create the story in her mind before the words. Then, when the words came, she loved cuddling up and listening. Bedtime rituals included bath time and a favorite book. As I read “Goodnight Moon,” “In the great green room, There was a telephone, And a red balloon, And a picture of – ,” Claire would be so content.
Claire absolutely loved stories and I tried to foster that love of books. The imagination of a child is something I yearn for, and Claire’s was so vivid. Perhaps it was her imagination that actually functioned early on to keep her somewhat insulated from the realities she would later confront. One afternoon as Claire was trying to read, with tears running down her cheeks, she screamed out, “My brain feels like it is on fire.” I knew then that something was just not right and suspected that my little Claire-Bear was dyslexic.
Dyslexia is a word I had read about from time to time. But never did I think I would have firsthand experience with it through one of my daughters – experiences that would force me to come to a complete halt and upend my expectations of her life’s path. Those D words – death and dyslexia – are marked with similar stages leading to acceptance. Days and nights filled with denial, anger, bargaining and depression. The journey for us has not been an easy one.
Formal testing confirmed what I already believed would be the diagnosis: dyslexia with ADHD. And the search for finding the best for Claire began. I really didn’t have any idea how I was going to travel down this road or where it would lead, but I did absolutely know I had to start.
After doing lots of research, talking to different tutors and learning about various reading programs, decisions were made for Claire. Midway through the second grade, Claire started working with a tutor named Bonnie who literally started at the beginning with teaching Claire “the code.” Just as a baby starts to make sounds and innately learns that the sounds go in a certain pattern to form the words, Claire had to start there. A dyslexic child must learn how the letters link to sounds that form the words. Nothing is automatic for a dyslexic child. All the reading components were part of Claire’s program, including phonological processing skills, decoding skills, word attack strategies, comprehension strategies, etc. Many of these reading components come rather naturally to a lot of kids, but never to Claire. The success Claire has experienced was possible because of two primary factors: an incredibly patient tutor and an incredibly determined student. Fortunately, Claire possessed the essential ingredient leading to her success.
My little Claire-Bear has been my inspiration. When life gets tough, I look at her and remember one of the books she loved as a young girl and is still one of her favorites today: “The Little Engine That Could.” Claire has shown me that struggles can be turned into challenges if we utter, “I think I can, I think I can.” I adore my daughter for showing me that type of drive.
It is incredible what a dyslexic child can teach us if we are open to it. Claire appreciates everything. Perhaps the appreciation comes from the incredible struggles. I love that about Claire. My Claire-Bear graduated last spring majoring in elementary education. She is so excited to begin her teaching career this year and can’t wait to welcome the little ones entrusted to her care. Years ago, I was not certain about how Claire’s dyslexia journey would unfold. Today I am so proud of all my Claire-Bear has achieved and everything that awaits her in the future!