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Dyslexic Parents of Dyslexic Children

By: Dale S. Brown

Many parents with dyslexia have children with dyslexia. What impact does dyslexia have on the parent-child relationship? Several parents who were dyslexic volunteered to be interviewed at a conference support group at the International Dyslexia Association. All but Rachel De Bellis, Executive Board Member, Parent Empowerment Network, Washington State, wanted to have their names changed.

Blessings of dyslexia

"I am so thankful to be a dyslexic," explained Rachel, "for the understanding it brings in knowing the challenges. Having experienced it first hand gives you the perspective and added knowledge of HOW to utilize the self-taught methods of overcoming many of the characteristics."

Rachel is the parent of 20 year old boy-girl twins and a sixteen year old daughter. The two girls have dyslexia. "Both of my girls know to appreciate the way their brains give them an edge over their common-brained friends and brother. They like the way their brains work, in spite of the difficulties that they face. They consider their brother as being "lazy" because he hasn't had to work hard."

Like many parents, Rachel found out about her own dyslexia when her daughter was identified in the second grade. As she learned about dyslexia, she realized that she was also dyslexic but had not been diagnosed. "I couldn't spell even though I studied my spelling words with my best friend who was a straight A student. She would pass the spelling test, but I wouldn't, even though we studied the same. I had to stay in from recess many times to practice my multiplication tables, which I still don't fully know. I still have to guess some of them."

Parents with dyslexia often become advocates

Rachel became an advocate, "My advocacy started by trying to educate the educators for my daughters sake," she says. She has lobbied at the State House of Representatives and Senate in Washington State to get programs in schools. She is on the Executive Board of the Parent Empowerment Network.

Cynthia Smith (name changed) also became an advocate for her child. She and her husband, Roger, who is a cowboy, live on a small "Dude Ranch."

She has six children. Three have dyslexia. One of their sons, Tom, had no disability but was lazy and undisciplined. Roger told him to get his grades up or quit school and get a job. "Stop wasting the time of your teachers and parents," he said.

Their youngest daughter, Sandy, witnessed this and wrote a letter to her Mom. "I do not think my grades are good. But I do not mean to but I really try. I do. I am sorry. I did not tell you in faith, but I am afraid and I do not want to be punished. Tell Dad if you want. I try, Mom, I really do. Love with all of my heart."

They hired a tutor and requested another IEP meeting. They explained that their daughter was having problems and building walls. She had given up. Before she would always run to win. Now, in a race, she would quit before she started. She had quit trying. She had just given up on herself.

The school tested Sandy and she read at the 2nd grade level in 5th grade. She had dyslexia.

"We pitched fits," Cynthia explained, "and looked for a place to send her for the summer to help with school work. We found a mountain camp. The school paid for her to go. Sandy went there. The camp improved her reading by 1 ½ grades. She learned that she was not stupid and that many people have that problem. They helped with her self esteem. She is going next year. And she is actually excited about going."

Cynthia found that dyslexia helped her be a better parent. "I am more proactive. I am a big believer in education. I learned that a teacher is not always right. You have good teachers and bad teachers, just as you have good (horseback) riders and bad riders. When a problem occurs, I react."

Challenges for parents with dyslexia

"When we discovered that Brittany had dyslexia," Cynthia continued, "I didn't want to go to any of the meetings. It was dragging up memories that I didn't want. That was really hard. I don't want to revisit the past."

Unfortunately, some parents find that their children's experiences bring back disturbing memories of the past. A positive response is to get their own diagnosis and make their coping skills more conscious.

Homework is another issue. Cynthia Smith explained that she doesn't help her daughter with her studies. She asks her husband to help. Most parents with dyslexia have support, such as tutors or a program after school, to help their children.

Parents with dyslexia work hard at keeping their family lives organized. Rachael DeBellis says, "With kids....it's nuts no matter what! Soccer games, basketball, dance lessons, friends coming and going, bills needing to be paid, it's all crazy and it goes by too fast."

Another parent, Gina Collingsworth (name changed), explains, "You need to get into a system, a routine of things that need to get done. We do wash on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning. Get into a routine and stick to it."

Gina also suggested that families set up support people or a support group. "Mine is my husband, friend, and church. You need to find something or someone to help you. You might need someone to back you up with writing a report, for example." She said it helped that her son was active in sports, dance, and theater. "Offer to be a support parent to help that organization," she suggested. "If you become the team coordinator, you get to meet more parents. If I have to write anything, I get my husband to double check it. Be honest with the person who is coordinating. Say 'I'm great on the phone, I'm good on hospitality, but don't put me with anything that involves writing.'"

In closing

Many parents find that their dyslexia is a strength that makes them better parents and advocates. Rachael De Bellis says "I had no idea that hearing the word 'dyslexia' could empower a person. I love what I do. I know I am making a difference in the lives of children who are suffering the same way I did when I was growing up. I love helping them see dyslexia as a gift instead of a disability. I love helping them find ways to overcome the challenges they are facing. I love helping them love themselves, dyslexia and all."

About the author

Dale S. Brown is the former Manager of LD OnLine. She is a nationally recognized expert on learning disabilities who has written four books on learning disabilities. She received the Ten Outstanding Young Americans Award for her work as an advocate for people with learning disabilities.

Brown, D (Fall, 2006). "Dyslexic Parents of Dyslexic Children." Perspectives adapted slightly for LD OnLine.