So this week I have had a simultaneous "Yay!" and "Oh, sh!t!" moment. My baby girl, my first born child, my brilliant headstrong daughter is...
Am I shocked? Um, no. I have suspected that something was up since pre-school. Difficulty writing. Difficulty rhyming. No interest in independent reading. Was it? Wasn't it? I just wasn't sure. I knew I had arm-chair quarterbacked a dyslexia diagnosis on both her dad and paternal grandmother, but what did I know? My master's degree is in reading not learning disabilities.
In Kinder - at the talented and gifted magnet - her handwriting continued to be atrocious, but otherwise she blossomed. Still not super interested in reading on her own, but if pressed, could do well enough. I was troubled by her letter reversals and seeming inability to conquer certain sight words, but I was assured it was all developmental. Besides, the school district has a policy of not testing kindergartners for dyslexia. First grade is still plenty early for a diagnosis, right?
In first grade I was up front with Z's teacher about my fears/suspicions. She assured me that she had a son with learning difficulties, so she knew where I was coming from. I felt supported! I was confident she was watching for signs that something might be amiss. So come January, when her spelling grades TANKED, I was taken by surprise.
I scheduled the first of a series of teacher conferences wherein her teacher asked me, "Why are you so set on labeling her?" when I inquired about testing. Z was given tutoring in spelling. Her teacher gave her extra kinesthetic spelling activities. I became a spelling flashcard nazi. Our combined focus helped Z pass - barely. But it was enough to satisfy the powers in charge of these things. Tutoring was successful! There is no need for those pesky dyslexia tests! See ya in second grade! I asked if I had her tested at my own expense, if those results would be considered and was told the district wouldn't honor them.
Thank goodness we lucked out with her second grade teacher. She is everything a good teacher should be wrapped with a layer of laughter around a soft gooey center of kindness and compassion. All she needs is gift wrap and a big pink bow! We love her so much! Her concern for my baby has literally brought me to tears on multiple occasions this year.
About a week into the school year, on second grade orientation night, I tried to squeeze in a visit with Z's teacher during a lull. I just wanted to put her on the look out for Z's difficulties and have her call me if she saw any red flags. She immediately linked arms with me and asked me to come chat with her after the meeting was over.
She told me she had started documenting Z on the first day of school. She took ONE LOOK at Z's homework journal (where she copies assignments from the board) and knew something was going on. When I told her my suspicions, she was like, "Of course! That makes sense." She called in her team mates and we discussed things we could do to make Z's life easier and more successful. Whew!
Alas, the wheels of progress turn slooooooooooooowly.
For all her teacher's accommodations, Z was still falling behind in reading. A computer based reading test, (iStation, anyone? Does anyone know anything about this program?) put her reading level at way below second grade. Her teacher knew this couldn't be quite right and moved her up a level or two, but she was still behind every. single. one. of her classmates. A fact made obvious by the Accelerated Reader program - the books are shelved according to reading level, so it was clear to everyone that she was different.
That was the last straw for me. I was volunteering across the library and I could see that Z was the only kid at the first grade cart. It broke my heart. It was time for action.
I called everyone I could think of that afternoon: the head of the dyslexia department for the school district; a local clinic that tests for dyslexia; my friend whose sister is dyslexic. Man, I missed my mom that day! My friend headed off my hysteria (thanks, Bun!). The clinic called back and directed me to some really excellent information about dyslexia. She asked me to review the videos and call back if I was interested in scheduling testing.
The videos were long and painfully dull, but they were an information gold mine. The more I watched, the more convinced I became that Z was the poster child for dyslexia. She couldn't seem more dyslexic if she were trying! Freaky high I.Q.? Check. Slow labored reading? Check. Super high comprehension? Check. Dysgraphia? Check.
I signed her up for testing and mentioned to the school councilor what was going on so she wouldn't be blindsided when I called for a conference the following week. I told her that I understood that the climate in the district was such that I wasn't expecting dyslexia services, but that I would take the information that we gathered and use it to force a 504 plan (required accommodations without the need for a special ed. hearing).
I ended up having her evaluated by two different testers - a second opinion is always good, right? Both of them said she was a clear case of dyslexia. With a probable dose of ADHD thrown in. Interestingly, I got calls back from all over Wester that afternoon.
The head of the district's dyslexia department called me back and questioned why I felt the need for testing on my own. She assured me that my outside testing data would be considered for placement in the dyslexia program and that she would even attend the conference when we discussed it.
As soon as I hung up with her, Z's principal called me. She was also suddenly sure that we could get Z considered for the dyslexia program. Her principal is great and I know we are on the same team here. Everyone is - from her kinder teacher (who I loved so much I requested her for Q) through her second grade teacher.
I am NOT bashing the school district. It is just amazing to me that it takes this much effort to even get my daughter looked at by the district. As much as a formal diagnosis of dyslexia SUCKS for Z, I am relieved that she is finally going to get some appropriate help. Finally.
But what about all the kids who don't have pushy moms like me?