Could It Be Dyslexia? - Cynthia Dapello

"No one ever thought I would graduate. Not only did I graduate - but I also made the Honor Roll!"
     ~Gabe, 18 - High School Graduate - Rancho Cucamonga, CA


Nichole, my oldest daughter is dyslexic. Not only is she dyslexic, she is ADD, dysgraphic, and has aspergers syndrome. She is what is called a complex child.

Her pre-school teacher told me that something was different about her. She couldn't memorize her ABC's, had a lot of trouble spelling and writing her first name, struggled with remembering the names of colors, and did not understand rhyming. I put her in tutoring - yes, tutoring in preschool.

In Kindergarten, she was taught to read, but she didn't learn. She could not sound out the words, she did not understand how the sounds could be broken apart and put back together. As a teacher myself, I worked with her on this all year. I assumed she was a slow learner - so she started tutoring again. She would catch up next year, we all thought.

In first grade the teacher mentioned that she had a hard time focusing. I called the public school (she went to a private school) and asked for testing (note about schools and testing) but was told that she was not old enough. I should just wait and most likely she would outgrow it. I didn't want to wait, so I took her to a private tutor and had her tested for learning differences. The testing showed that she was at a beginning Kindergarten level in reading and had ADD so the pediatrician put her on medication. That helped her attention, but at the end of first grade she still couldn't read, write or spell even though she went to that reading center all year.

So, on to second grade she went. Her teacher said that she was having great difficulty learning and was discouraged. He suggested that we get tutoring for her so she could catch up. When he heard that she was already in tutoring, he was at a loss as much as I was. Nichole switched tutors and began to go 3 times a week. In addition to tutoring, we had to finish her class work at home and then her homework. She did not have time to play, but education is important, right?

I also went back to the public school and asked for her to be tested. They did the testing this time and said that she was fine. They told me she had an IQ that was below low average (mild mental retardation) and she was doing better than they expected her to do. She was actually working above her level. She did not have a discrepancy and thus did not qualify for any special education help. I was dumb-founded! That just was not true! (Later, when she was tested before high school, her IQ was found to be normal)

OK, third grade. Nichole is still not reading, writing or spelling, and still having trouble memorizing (the multiplication facts were a disaster!), but at least she can now spell her first name without stopping to think about it. I was really getting worried so I took her to one of those "train your brain to work better" places. She walked on balance beams, tracked a ball with her eyes, placed blocks in specific order, etc. It was craziness I thought, but if that is what we needed to do to help her to read, than I am all for it! (link to what does and doesn't work for dyslexics) In addition to that, Nichole still tutored every day after school and spent countless hours completing class work and homework.

During this time I went to a seminar about dyslexia that was presented by Susan Barton. I cried during the whole thing. Ms. Barton totally described my daughter! Nichole was dyslexic. I finally had an answer to why she struggled so much. I immediately called the school district and told them that my daughter was dyslexic. They told me that they did not service dyslexics. (note about schools and dyslexia) So I found a place that tested specifically for dyslexia. I read everything I could about the subject, I attended seminars and conferences with renowned specialists in the field, and I taught myself the Barton system. The testing showed that Nichole had profound dyslexia and dysgraphia. They recommended that we start with the Lindamood-Bell LiPS program then begin an Orton-Gillingham system to teach her to read, write and spell.

After completing the LiPS program and completing levels 1 & 3 of the Barton System (an Orton-Gillingham system), Nichole transferred to the Prentice School in Santa Ana for part of 4th and 5th grade. This is a private school for dyslexics that teaches using the Slingerland (an Orton-Gillingham) method. She was now learning to read, write, spell and type!!! She tested in reading at a high 3rd grade level. Amazing, in 1.5 years, she had gone from a mid Kindergarten level to a high 3rd grade level in reading! However, the cost of the school and the drive to and from Santa Ana each day was just too much.

I remember vividly when she first started to sound words out and read. We were on vacation and she began to read the billboards on the side of the freeway. It was music to my ears. I was so proud. It was about this time that she began to carry a book around with her everywhere she went. She read whenever and wherever she could. A whole new world opened up to her.

She came back, in 6th grade, to the private school where she had been. She continued to tutor every day after school, improve her typing and work with the Barton system. By the end of 8th grade, she tested at grade level with her reading!

She is now in high school, in the SDC program. She is reading the text books on her own and completing assignments using her word processing skills. Nichole passed the reading/writing portion of the CAHSEE (California high school exit exam) the first time she took it in 10th grade! She still reads all the time. She is doing so well that she has made the honor roll each semester! Nichole has always been outspoken about her dyslexia. She was relieved, as we all were, to finally have a reason to why she struggled so much. However, it wasn't until high school that I realized how much damage was done to her self-esteem because it took us so long to know how to help her learn.

She was in English class and two students were choosing teams to play a game. The first captain said, "I choose the smart girl," and pointed straight at Nichole. She was the first one picked! She told me that the captain didn't know her name; he just called her "the smart girl." Nichole continued, "You have to say that you think I am smart because you're my mom, but now I know that I really am smart. My classmates call me the smart girl."

This is why I have retired from teaching and have begun a career in the field of dyslexia. I want every child to succeed. My hope is to help as many children open the door to reading as I can. I tried everything to help Nichole learn. So much money was spent on tutors unnecessarily. They all meant well, but it wasn't the type of help Nichole needed. Now that I understand dyslexia and have been personally trained by one of the best in the field, my goal is to spread this knowledge so others can get the help they need without struggling like Nichole did.

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