What is dyslexia? That is what I asked myself thirteen years ago when I had not even heard of the word, but I was searching for a reason why my daughter presented so many “quirks.” Here is the definition from the International Dyslexia Association: “Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

I knew very early on that my daughter was going to have trouble in school. You see, she didn’t start talking until she was three years old and even then her vocabulary was limited to about fifteen words. The children at daycare would always tell the teacher what she wanted. Somehow they understood her, and although I found it amazing and very sweet, I was worried. I sent her to daycare just three days a week for socialization because I thought maybe her speech would improve if she was in a school like environment. It was a great place but very expensive, and unfortunately her speech did not improve.

Everyone around me said, “Don’t worry about it, she’s just maturing slower”. I knew in my gut that this was not the case and set out on a discovery solo. I didn’t really have a support system until I enrolled in a Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters. We lived in a rural community, and there was no preschool in our area.  My instructor came every week and noticed my daughter was behind her peers and wasn’t keeping up on the work the instructor assigned, so she tested her. Sure enough, she was behind in almost every subject but scored the highest in the county on building and shapes, so we set about getting her evaluated by a speech and language pathologist. No one told me that language delay was a symptom of dyslexia. According to Decoding Dyslexia Arkansas, The National Health Service, and Dr Sally Shaywitz the following is a comprehensive list of preschool warning signs:

Our artistic daughter could not read and was forced to repeat grade one which did not improve her reading.

  • Delayed speech
  • Mixing up sounds and syllables in long words
  • Constant confusion of left versus right
  • Late establishing dominant hand
  • Difficulty learning to tie shoes
  • Trouble memorizing his/her address, phone number, or alphabet
  • A close relative with dyslexia
  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes, such as “Jack and Jill”
  • Difficulty learning and remembering in the alphabet
  • Seems unable to recognize letters in his/her own name
  • Mispronounces familiar words; persistent “baby talk”
  • Doesn’t recognize rhyming patterns such as cat, bat, rat

Shaywitz, Sally. Overcoming Dyslexia. New York: Knopf, 2003. 122.

However, my daughter was also a mechanical genius. At the age of three, she knew all the tools my husband needed to work on the car. Our neighbour was absolutely astounded when he was working on his car, and she would hand him the right size bolt when there were many choices. She had her photographs published in the local newspaper, and her art was exceptional for someone her age. (She later became a very talented artist.) She had all these deficits but had some amazing talents as well.

 Our daughter is a talented artist.

After a year of delay and incompetence in the “system,” I had her tested, and the diagnosis was expressive and receptive language disorder. I knew something other than speech was wrong, so Iwent to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for a diagnosis. Her IQ was in the normal range for verbal communication, but in the superior range in the nonverbal category. They diagnosed her with expressive language disorder and suggested speech therapy. My Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters instructor helped again and informed me that the State of Arkansas should pay for it. There were programs available. By that time, my daughter was four years old, and I had been searching for answers for a year, but to tell the truth, I already knew she was different when she was 18 months old and not babbling. She was silent. I became her translator, and it created a bond that still holds to this day. I was her voice.

Fortunately I discovered Online Reading Tutor when my daughter was in grade 6. After eight months of tutoring, our daughter was reading at grade level. She is now in grade 10 and on the honour roll in high school.

~ This blog has been written by dyslexia advocate Nancy Colburn, of Arkansas.