Dyslexia: Example 4,689 of our broken educational system.


I know, I know.  Our educational system is such a target-rich topic that its hard not to be overwhelmed by the the sheer magnitude of examples.  Whether it’s stupid “zero tolerance”  rules, teachers sleeping with students or kids graduating without a basic ability to read, you can pick up any daily newspaper and find example after example after example.

So I share this post only as a selfish rant–a “Vanagram Vent”– but perhaps there may be some nugget of value for others in this personal story should you wish to indulge me.  So, the set up:

I have two daughters.  My oldest daughter has dyslexia and dyscalculia, both of which were formally tested and diagnosed at a very early age.  We were extremely fortunate to have her in a school that assisted us with this process in 1st grade (our public school system is not required to perform a dyslexia evaluation until 4th grade, and then it is highly subjective).  We took her to U of I to have a formal, clinical test and diagnosis as this is not something a family doctor or pediatrician can accurately diagnose.  It is, in fact, a specific medial testing process.  NOTE: Pediatricians will often say something off-hand like “He/she  might have dyslexia, or maybe ADHD” which will result in a poor diagnosis and the wrong treatment.  I can cite several examples of this happening with others from personal experience.  Advice: Go to an expert.

I was initially shocked at how few dyslexia resources were available to us locally and how little our school knew about it.   None of the teachers at our school had any specific training on teaching kids with dyslexia.  We tried to find special or additional classes for her, only to find they simply did not exist. We looked for tutors with the same result.  Tutors–yes;  tutors who could work specifically with dyslexia–no.  So, Mrs. Vanagram and I dug in and learned everything we could, did endless research, and reached out to whatever support mechanisms we could find.  We found training for the teachers at her school, and helped secure training for them. And, fortunately, we we eventually found a Orton-Gillingham trained tutor, quite by accident,  who could work with our daughter.  Her world changed immediately.  She improved, succeeded, then thrived throughout grade school.

While our daughter worked with her tutor, Mrs. Vanagram became a big dyslexia advocate locally.  I was surprised by the number of calls she received weekly from parents asking “what we did” or “how we did it” or seeking direction on where to go or what to do.  We provided whatever assistance we could, shared what worked for us, provided the resources we could, but always tied it back to this statement: “It takes work.  Hard work. By your child and by you.  You have to put in the effort personally, be an advocate, and make it your priority.”  We still field these calls on a regular basis.

I was equally surprised by how many parents were simply unwilling to do this.  They were looking for a book, “an online program”, a pill — anything that would allow them pass off the responsibility to someone else.  It was disappointing to us, and in my view absolutely tragic for their children.  I hear these same parents continue–year after year–talk about how their children struggle, how their kids hate school,  but then say “there is nothing we can do” when in actuality the truth was closer to “there is nothing we‘re willing to do.”  But I digress.

Part of having a learning disability (my daughter calls it merely a ‘learning difference’!) is developing a plan for success.  Part of this planning process involves the creation of a 504 Plan, a federal program that has students and teachers work together to tailor specific class room strategies that  allow kids with challenges to overcome their specific obstacles and succeed where they would otherwise fail.  For my daughter, this includes an ability to use a calculator in math class on certain assignments, and is given extra time  to take some tests.  Her specific challenge is not an ability to retain or recall information, but to do so on paper quickly and in an organized manner–she has to think about it and process it differently, and that takes  a bit more time than for others.  She has had this 504 plan in place, with these two simple accommodations, for years.

Fast forward: My daughter will start high school next year.  She has made the academic honor role every semester thus far.  Her state scholastic assessment tests put her at the collegiate level in every subject except math (she is grade level in math but also has dyscalculia). She was awarded the top honor her school offers for Excellence in Leadership and Stewardship, and and was a State Champion for the Mock Trial Competition this year.  She has accomplished all of this in spite of her challenges, and through a tremendous amount of hard work and commitment, significantly more work than “normal” learners.  School is hard for her, and always will be, but she loves it.  She hasn’t had a tutor since 4th grade, and has developed several unique learning strategies (i.e. sensory learning) that allow her to succeed.  And she has been given the accommodations (tools) that allow her to continue to succeed.

So what, you ask?  What’s the problem?  Well, there is discussion about changing the 504 program to require bi-annual re-testing for dyslexia.  In short, she would have to be “re-diagnosed” with dyslexia every other year.  At the surface, this is no big deal (other than her original formal testing and diagnosis wasn’t exactly cheap).  It won’t affect my daughter in any way whatsoever.  So again, what’s the problem you ask?  It demonstrates that our educators still don’t get it.  Even after decades of dealing with dyslexia — they still don’t get it.  This can be illustrated by this conversation (true events):

Education Liaison: “Well, there’s discussion about re-testing kids for Dyslexia.”

Vanagram: “That’s an excellent idea.  All kids who may show signs of dyslexia should be tested as early as possible.  We had our daughter tested in 1st grade.”

Liaison: “No, the discussion, I think, is focused on testing kids who have been previously diagnosed.”

Vanagram: “So, its an assessment test?  To check their progress bench marked over time or against the general population?  Well, that probably makes sense, too.”

Liaison: “No, not an assessment; a diagnosis. You know, to make sure they still have dyslexia.”

Vanagram:  “Excuse me?  You’re not serious.  Please tell me you don’t believe that dyslexia can somehow be ‘cured’. Do you plan to re-test kids with Down’s Syndrome?  You know–to make sure they still  ‘have it’ ?.”

Liaison: “What? Of course not.  But with dyslexia, while ‘cured’ may not be accurate, I think they want to see if kids still are challenged by it as the grow.  If they still struggle with it academically, or to the extent they used to.  To see if they have overcome it.”

Vanagram: “I see. So you think people grow out of dyslexia?  Well, that’s great news!  I’ll be sure to share it with all my adult dyslexic friends as they’ll be thrilled to hear it.  Can you tell me at what age they should expect to not ‘have it’ anymore?”

Liaison: “Look, I think you’re missing the point.  If kids are doing really well (apparently in reference to students such as my daughter) perhaps they don’t need their classroom accommodations any more.  That’s all.”

Vanagram:  “Interesting. Do you consider kids who need eye glasses to read or see the chalkboard as having a specific accommodation?”

Liaison: “No.  I don’t think anyone would consider eye glasses as an accommodation.”

Vanagram: “But course it is. What do you think would happen if you took a top performing kid who wears glasses,  and then took those glasses away?  He’s doing well, right, so perhaps he doesn’t really need them anymore. Maybe he’s overcome his sight challenge?  Or, perhaps,  are those  glasses the very item that allows him to be successful where he would otherwise struggle or fail?  If so, then it most certainly is an accommodation.”

Liaison: “Well, when you put it that way, I guess I just don’t know.”

Vanagram: “Funny. And I thought as an Educational Liaison it was your job to know.   You don’t work to find a tool that allows kids to be successful, then take that very tool away from them because they’ve used it…to become  successful!.  That’s the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard.  What’s next — take hearing aids away from deaf kids because they actually using them to hear?

And the discussion sort of dissolved from there…..vanagram was not happy.  I might have suggested that the liaison needed some kind of head-up-the-ass kind of accommodation.  I guess I can’t believe that after all this discussions about dyslexia  and the number of kids who have it, that our educators largely remain absolutely clueless to what it is, how to address it, or how to effectively reach out and help kids learn.  Amazing.  Sad and amazing.


For those of you who have dyslexia, have children with dyslexia or would like to learn more about it, feel free to contact me directly at vanagram@therealrevo.com or visit any of these sites to get you started:





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17 Responses to Dyslexia: Example 4,689 of our broken educational system.

  1. notamobster says:

    Bureaucrats, man. Sad, frustrating, infuriating… bureaucrats. I need a classroom accommodation that allows me to kick my son in the ass when he’s not working to his potential.

  2. fubar says:

    >>>”I was equally surprised by how many parents were simply unwilling to do this. They were looking for a book, “an online program”, a pill — anything that would allow them pass off the responsibility to someone else.”

    I have a friend who used to work in the public school cafeteria, she quit because she was putting her paycheck into kid’s lunch accounts so that they could eat. Their parents were not economically hurting, they just couldn’t be bothered to put $ in their accounts. It amazes me how many parents will spend hours driving their kids to activities, yet don’t speak to their kids about anything of importance, teach them any manners, morals or values.

    @Nota, there is a great book by Dr. Leonard Sax called “Why Gender Matters. Lays out the reasons why males and females don’t learn in the same way, largely due to maturation rates of the brain. Also, males tend to have less acute hearing, leading to more boys being labeled ADHD.

    Speaking of..
    Ever go on an ADHD forum? I was doing some research on that – it was the most horrifying thing I have ever read. People discussing the brain chemistry altering drugs their kids were prescribed — sometimes 4 or 5 that can cause death or heart attacks, all having horrible side effects – drooling, weight gain, sleep apnea. They are drugging their kids to fit some kind of state definition of “normal”, all because some “elite” says so. Some people don’t deserve to have kids.

    Yeah, those ADHD drugs ? Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse are basically speed, they mimic the effects of cocaine on the frontal lobe. You’d think that hyperactivity would be treated with downers. And this explains some of the rise of explosive violence in teenage boys, especially since the progs have taken any avenue of aggressive outlet away from them in sports or activities.

    • notamobster says:

      ADHD – I would never put my son on one of those soul crushing medications. His problem is not learning-related. I saw him reading this http://therealrevo.com/blog/?p=69066 one night, so I had him read it aloud to me. He didn’t miss a beat.

      He consistently scores above grade level on every assessment. One teacher told me that he is “frighteningly intelligent” (I believe those were the words). At the start of this year (2nd grade) his assessment showed him almost meeting the requirement for the end of 3rd grade.

      He gets marked down for things like:

      “still having trouble working with other students, as he prefers to dictate rather than share in the learning” and “his marks wouldn’t be lowered if he’d complete his assignments on time”…

      He does what he wants, when he wants. Believe me when I tell you that there is no shortage of discipline in our home. I’l leave it at that.

      Since he was a baby, he has been the most pig-headed child I have ever seen. He’s not disrespectful. He just can’t be swayed (easily) from doing what he has a mind to do.

      My brothers & sisters think it’s funny because I was the same way. He is more intelligent, at seven, than I ever was. I asked him (when I got his report card today) if he likes it that people think he’s “below grade level” on everything that isn’t a direct metric. He just laughed. I wanted to poke him in the eye!

      The items that directly measure ability, he’s far beyond grade level. He just doesn’t like doing his work. I don’t know what to do with him. I’ve been thinking about home school for some time now. I just don’t want to adversely effect his social skills.

      I’m running out of options. The teachers don’t like dealing with him because he thinks he knows everything. He parses their words, and exploits any room for deviation…

      I love him. He’s a funny, smart, engaged little 7 year old with an incredible sense of humor, but he can also be a mind-boggling pain in the ass.

      • TN-Cat says:

        Just a thought from one Dad to another Nota.
        Your son is bored out of his mind. He’s not being challenged.

        Try this. Give him something old he can use a tool to take apart. A screwdriver for example. Show him how to use the tool safely. Tell him you don’t expect him to put it back together, only you want his best guess to figure out how it works.

        Start with something real simple. Anything you have lying around. We guys love tearing shit apart. Keep his mind challenged while doing something fun. Soon,on his own he will challenge himself to put it back together.

        • notamobster says:

          He used to disassemble my door knobs and take doors off the hinges at 2-1/2 years old. I’ve never even considered giving him something to take apart. Thank you!

          That’s why I posted this info. I was just coming back to delete most of it when I saw your comment. Thank you, again! Great idea.

        • RJ says:

          I agree with TNC sounds like he is bored outta his skull, I was the same way and coasted through school doing just what was needed to get by.
          Home schooling may be the bees knees for him, challenge him with reading good stories that have historical application, Jules Verne, Louis Lamore, get him into mechanical stuff taking crap apart and figuring what is wrong with it.
          Remember today schools have to teach to the lowest common denominator, don’t let him suffer due to some worthless teachers who just do enough to get by.

      • fubar says:

        I wasn’t suggesting that your son had ADHD, because I don’t think it’s a real condition or disease. A lot of teachers who are frustrated with kids that don’t pay attention miss the obvious that children don’t pay attention when they can’t HEAR. My daughter had a dozen ear infections before our stupid previous pediatrician finally got the ball rolling on putting tubes in her ears when she was 2. She now complains she can’t hear and has to be at the front of the class where the teacher is. She’s 14.

        And most kids aren’t living up to their potential, because the class has to follow at the pace of the slowest child, the book I recommended has suggestions for children who do not follow typical patterns of learning. Males and females learn differently because different parts of their brain mature at different rates. That’s why females steer towards dolls and colors and sedentary activities, and males towards trucks, motion and action. This is true in other species such as monkeys. Social engineers who try to make children the same and equal are failing and creating more problems. Like Van said, parents want a magic pill or website to push responsibility onto and big pharma and the progressives obliged by pushing drugs onto our kids who are just being kids. It’s a soapbox of mine, I’ve gotten into arguments with people about these drugs, because they are not even aware what the drugs actually are.

        Your son sounds like a typical Einstein. A genius who doesn’t fit the into the mold of state run education, because they don’t teach critical thinking, they just want compliance – rote memorization and complete boredom. Like TN said, he needs challenges. Einstein didn’t get good grades, either.

        I started my kids in cyberschooling but I don’t have much good to say about that, either. It’s the same curriculum as a public school, unless you have the option of going to a private charter school. Sounds like a school heavier in the science and technology would be a good idea for your son.

        • fubar says:

          >>>“still having trouble working with other students, as he prefers to dictate rather than share in the learning

          HEH! +1 for Nota Jr.

          My two oldest get this all the time. They are at the top of their class in grades and intelligence (they read constantly) and when group work is to be done in class, other kids fight over being paired with them, because they figure they are smart and will do all the work. Slackers. Good for Nota Jr.

  3. fubar says:


    Excellent post, thank you for sharing your info and experiences. Very eye-opening.

  4. John B. says:

    Your daughter was lucky with the early diagnosis. A cousin of mine wasn’t diagnosed until jr. high. It was years after he got out of school before he had enough confidence in himself to try anything other than manual labor.

  5. DJM says:

    Hey Nota, take a look at: “The New Strong-willed child” by James Dobson. It was written for children like your son.

  6. Van-a-gram says:

    The doctor who diagnosed our daughter tested her for multiple things including Dyslexia, Dysnomia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and ADHD. After a battery of tests, she came back and made a very interesting comment: “You daughter suffers from both Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. She does not have other associative disorders, nor have ADHD. I say this because ADHD is often — entirely too often– co-diagnosed with dyslexia. Do not let any pediatrician tell you she has ADHD and do not administer therapies or drug regimens associated with treating ADHD.”

    I have seen this so many times in our work locally with dyslexia. Pediatricians immediately start doling out the drugs (ADHD / Ritalin) becasue a dyslexic kid has been misdiagnosed. The underlying issue (dyslexia) remains untreated, the child is subjected to highly questionable drugs to boot. Much like the parents I referenced in the post, too often doctors are trying to find a fix with a pill.

    • RJ says:

      I also had a nephew that was supposedly ADHD and all that crap, they wanted to put him on pills, turned out he had a severe allergy to cheese, which he loved, it kind of acted like a drug on him, caused all kinds of acting out, no attention span, hyperactive, etc… my mom figured it out when he was about 6, took the cheese away from him and he was a different child, calm mild mannered, smart. Went on to do very well in school.

    • notamobster says:

      Sorry if I hijacked your thread, Van. I didn’t mean to. I even came back last night to delete my long comment, but someone had already responded.

      • RJ says:

        Yea didn’t mean to hijack either but my way of thinking is “expert diagnosis” weather Dyslexia or other issues are not necessarily correct, don’t trust a school diagnosis.
        They just want little robots.

  7. Ray Davies says:

    Folks Here Is A Site That Might Be Of Help
    I have hooked my 8 YO grandson up here and he has ADD/HD etc. He loves it and I do too. Hell, it even works on this old man with out the liberal bullshit they get in public schools. It’s Free, It’s Good,and for us, It works.
    I had a student a long time a go who was Dislexic, He paid attention to the lectures and when it came time for the tests I read the questions and he scored damn near perfect. He just couldn’t make out the letters. Just look at this place and see what you might be able to use. Good Luck.
    Learn almost anything for free – Khan Academy

  8. Gretchen says:

    Wow, we took our son to a behavioral specialist that we were referred to from our pediatrician when I asked for him to be tested for dyslexia. I thought he would be tested for dyslexia but after a 3 hour test they told me they were giving me a preliminary diagnosis of ADHD but the doctor actually told me “I don’t think he has ADHD and I would get him tested for dyslexia. We can’t do that here because the testing is too expensive.” And yet they were ready to write me a prescription for ADHD even though she did not believe he had it. I immediately went searching for a way to get him tested and we did and he has it. I can’t imagine those poor children whose parents aren’t involved enough in their lives to get to the real root of the problem.