My daughter has been struggling in school, math, reading, spelling, and retention. She is very smart, great with animals, loves to “write,” and make art. The school has been little help, but we have pushed for assistance with the school and testing. The school will not put a label on it but the words dyslexia and dyscalculia come up. We have hired a tutor who I think is helping, but it is just too soon to tell. It breaks my heart as I know all too well her struggles.

This year while meeting with her tutor, she indicated that dyslexia is often genetic. As the conversation progressed, I realized that I have a lot of signs, however, I have never been diagnosed nor was it ever discussed. I was just the “slow” kid who “worked hard” but never caught on. I’m the overachiever and work double over my peers. Sadly, I just don’t ever seem to be able to keep up and have never completed a degree to further my career. I have learned to use the fear to hide the issue as best as I can. I’m trying to learn what I can about learning disabilities and dyslexia for my daughter, myself, and my future as I do not want her to feel or go through life with this 2000lb weight on her back as I have done. Do you have any programs or advice for me that could help both of us or further my research and learning?

Dr. Pierson's Response: 

First, I am sorry that you have had to struggle lifelong. The tutor is correct in that there can be a genetic basis to dyslexia. I recently evaluated and diagnosed a 6-year-old with dyslexia, who was flagged because of her refusal to want to read and her father was identified in 3rd grade to have dyslexia. He still felt a great burden from that and he didn't want his daughter's self esteem to suffer.

The tutor has probably made this recommendation, but you might find Sally Shaywitz's book Overcoming Dyslexia helpful. A new edition just came out in 2020. Dr. Shaywitz wrote the book for parents, so it is 'user-friendly' and she talks about what dyslexia is, how to assess, and how to intervene. Reading it will be a good first step to understanding the disorder and learning how to help your daughter. Here is a piece that I wrote that talks about the challenge of a student with dyslexia meeting the certification requirements in the public schools. I am assuming the tutor is using a structured literacy approach with your daughter.

For yourself, it can be beneficial to work with a professional who has expertise in working with the older learner, but that can be challenging to find. A professional could help you with strategies and discuss how you might disclose challenges to supervisors and such. I understand the social-emotional burden is huge. Dr. Michael Ryan has many suggestions to help the older individual with dyslexia. The professional could also guide you in the use of technology. There are so many great options to assist with spelling and writing, for example, but I find that it is helpful to work with someone. I have a number of options here. Let me know if I can answer any other questions. I think getting Dr. Shaywitz's book will be a good start.