Is My Son Dyslexic?

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Alpha, writing his name

I’m beginning to suspect that Alpha may be dyslexic.

Since my husband is dyslexic, we’ve always been aware of the possibility of having children with dyslexia since it is genetic, but I’ve been wondering more and more since Alpha’s last parent teacher conference in April, when his teacher advised we get him evaluated for weak fine motor skills. The evaluator told us that he was behind, but not so severely that he needed therapy at this point and that the fine motor skills necessary for handwriting don’t develop until 6 or 7, anyway, so not to worry. These tend to develop in boys later than girls as a general rule. His teacher also showed me some of his handwriting books that he’s done, which in all honesty I don’t take too seriously and find it rather amusing they’re dedicating so much time teaching 4 year-olds to write when that is more of an elementary school thing. She showed me some pages, where he did pretty well, and other pages where the writing was very sloppy.

Then she brought out the binomial cube.  “This is is one of the harder works we have in the classroom. We have some Kindergarteners who can’t do it, but Alpha can do it perfectly, everytime.” She explained how they use cube. The teacher takes the cube, which has different colored sizes and dismantles it. She points to each similarly colored side to show the student that the similarly colored sides go together. Then the student is supposed to rebuild the cube. This is the sort of activity that would be easy for someone who can easily rotate objects around in their head would excel in. Rotating images in one’s head is a special talent dyslexics have.

A few other things gave me pause, as well. I’ve been going over the alphabet with Alpha since he was about 2. He knows some letters, but he seems to know them inconsistently. Sometimes he knows them, sometimes he tells me, “I can’t.” (He says this in English, with an English accent, which is hilarious). Other times, he tells me they’re different letters. He’s told me that E is M (which if you turn E on its side, isn’t unreasonable), that N is Z (again, if you turn it on its side, yes it is).

His speech problems, as it turns out are also a sign of dyslexia as dyslexics tend to have problems with blends and differentiating between sounds in the language.

I’ve also noticed he doesn’t understand rhymes. We have a German book called, “Wir Entdecken die Buchstaben” (We discover the letters) and one of the pages has activities involving rhyming. You have to find the words that rhyme together. So it will have have Topf, Zopf, Kopf mixed in with Haus and Maus. You have to know that Topf, Zopf, and Kopf rhyme and so do Haus and Maus but Topf and Haus do not. He doesn’t get it. I explained to him that these are words that have the same sound at the end. tOPF, zOPF, kOPF, but he doesn’t get it. How do you explain rhyming? Don’t people just GET rhyming? My husband told me he didn’t understand how rhyming worked until he finally figured it out when he was 16. His lack of understanding contributed to his long-standing hatred of poetry. We did another worksheet from a German book that involved drawing lines to connect rhyming objects. On the top row were:

MAUS   KNOPF    TISCH   HASE

On the bottom row were:

TOPF   NASE   HAUS  FISCH

Now, if even without knowing German, can you figure out which of those words would rhyme? He pointed to each object and said what they were and then I pointed to mouse. “What rhymes with mouse?” I asked him. “Ummmmmmm….” he looked at the paper and then pointed at nose. “Nope,” I said. He tried again, each time looking at me to see if it was the right answer. He did get ‘Hase’ and ‘Nase’ right, mainly because by the time he got to the rabbit, nose was the only thing on the bottom row that hadn’t been crossed off.

He also mixes up he/she/it a lot when he speaks. I thought this was my fault because I make a lot of gender mistakes in German, but my husband does this all the time, too. He will often tell me things like “My sister got his apartment today.”or “His husband….” He tried blaming this on Finnish, which does not differentiate between he and she, but I pointed out that he learned Swedish at the same time and Swedish does, so that doesn’t explain why he does it all the time in English. Apparently dyslexics do that a lot, too.

Here is a full list of dyslexic symptoms Alpha presents that we’ve noticed so far:

  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Difficulty with before/after, left/right, and so on (he often tells me in German, “Ich gehe auf die Küche” (I’m going on the Kitchen) when he means “Ich gehe in die Küche”)
  • Difficulty learning the alphabet, nursery rhymes or songs
  • Difficulty with word retrieval or naming problems (we notice this when DH reads to him at night and asks him what things are in Finnish, which he knows, but he just can’t find the word  and during the speech evaluations and vocabulary tests he did. There were many words, like finger, I knew he knew but he couldn’t find them during the evaluation)
  • Difficulty identifying or generating rhyming words, or counting syllables in words (phonological awareness)
  • Difficulty hearing and manipulating sounds in words (phonemic awareness)
  • Difficulty in learning the sounds of letters (phonics)–he tells me ah-ah-Musik. What? There’s no a in that word!
  • Difficulty in remembering names and shapes of letters (he’s still very young for this, but he spent all last year in Kindergarten working on writing his name and hasn’t come as far as many of his classmates)
  • Inconsistent schoolwork
  • Relatives may have similar problems
  • Poor or slow handwriting (not too applicable for him since he’s so young, but again, compared to other kids in his preschool, his handwriting is very bad)
  • Poor fine motor skills
  • Difficulty remembering the kinesthetic movements to form letters correctly
  • Difficulty coordinating facial muscles to produce sounds
  • Overwhelmed by too much input

These are only the ones from the list that are relevant now, to a preschooler. My husband and I have discussed this a lot in the last few days and I’m reading a few books on dyslexia, including the one that helped my husband stop feeling like he was an idiot all the time (The Gift of Dyslexia), in order to learn more about it.

Once he starts his speech therapy in August, I will discuss our suspicions with his speech therapist and see what she thinks and then find out where we go to have The Full Battery of Tests done.

In the meantime, we’re changing the way we educate him. We’re not going to be sending him back to preschool in the fall (I still need to call his school and de-enroll him). This is for numerous reasons. First off, he needs to spend a lot of time working on strengthening his fine motor skills and apparently MORE writing practice is not the way to go about this. Instead, we will be doing zero writing whatsoever and concentrating on cutting activities, pinching activities, playing with playdo and coloring with crayons. These build the motor skills necessary to write without frustrating him. Secondly, I don’t want him to start thinking that reading and writing are things that other people can do but he can’t because he’s too stupid, which is a feeling my husband basically internalized from being in school. Finally, no preschool will free up more of our time and funds for intensive speech therapy, which will probably be more helpful for his speech at this point than preschool.

I’m working on putting together a Kindergarten homeschooling plan. Although I’m not required to officially do any schooling as a homeschooler until a child turns 6 where I live, I figure a year of getting into the habit of doing it without any pressure will be good for me.

We’re starting off with doing basic phonics, which will be easier once he can pronounce more letters accurately. But since we’ll be starting with A and working our way through the vowels, we have plenty of time for his speech therapy to take effect before we get to the consonant sounds. We’ll spend as much time as necessary with each letter as it takes for him to be able to automatically say what letter it is and what sound it makes in German, English and Finnish. We will also be doing more hands-on letter making activities. I will hopefully come up with more ideas as I continue to read and learn about it.

I know some of you are probably wondering if we should really continue with the other languages? Aren’t dyslexics supposed to be really bad at learning foreign languages? They are. My husband has always stated that he is really bad at languages and he speaks English, Finnish, and Swedish fluently with good working knowledge of German, Norwegian and Danish. Also, it’s important to note the difference between foreign languages and languages you’re born speaking. Since Alpha has had English, German and Finnish in his life since he was born, none of these languages are foreign to him, they’re all native languages. In some ways, this might help him if he is dyslexic because while English has one of the most opaque orthographies in the world (which means it’s very difficult for dyslexics to learn to read and write English), Finnish is one of the most transparent while German falls somewhere in between. Multilingualism also helps strengthen executive control, something dyslexics may have trouble with, and the ability to zero in on important details.

However, I am concerned that the fact he is trilingual will alternately mask some symptoms while making others appear worse. I’m worried that people will (again) tell us its because he’s trilingual and we should drop a language or two because it’s too much. Or that it’s just because he’s trilingual and we should wait a while until he is stronger in all languages and see if the problems persist. However, we’ve already found out that he’s performing normally in all three languages. So this is irrelevant.

As far as making symptoms appear worse, I found a whole paper about bilinguals and dyslexia online. I’m currently reading it and it does outline some difficulties in evaluating and teaching bilingual children in Britain, but it appears to concentrate mainly on sequential bilingualism.

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12 responses

  1. With my daughter at that age, the first sign we had, was that she was writing everything completely backwards. She wasn’t just writing individual words backward, but was writing everything in a complete mirror image. (If you held her schoolwork up to a mirror it was written beautifully.) We’ve never known if it was due to dyslexia or the fact that she’s a left hander, but with help, today she writes perfectly, and has very neat handwriting.

    • They say that Leonardo di Vinci wrote backwards because of dyslexia. My son, if writing by himself, writes starting at the right going to the left. He’s right handed. But his writing skills are very limited at the moment anyway.

  2. Both my husband and I did this as children. My husband was given a Dx of dyslexia, I was not. Neither of us had any treatment. Neither of us have troubles as adults. But it is fun to see our “mirror words” and it gives our children hope that one day they too will stop their backwards writing and flipping of numbers. I am an advocate of early intervention, but I am not an advocate of stressing ourselves and our children out over differences. We are all beautifully different and it’s a great thing to be cherished! 🙂

    • If it were only writing backwards letters, I wouldn’t worry either because it’s so little. It’s that along with all the other symptoms that have me concerned. Many of the things we’re noticing are very similar to problems my husband had/has, which were also dyslexia related: the difficulty pronouncing various letters (my husband had difficulty with 5 letters and a stutter), poor motor skills and so on. We hope that, if he does have it, getting him help with any difficulties he may have will help prevent the difficulties my husband has had his entire life due to dyslexia. For example, his Swedish teacher told him in 7th grade that he had no future because he was doing so poorly in school. No child should hear that, for any reason. And I don’t look at dyslexia as a learning disability–it only is if you’re required to learn a certain way. But it’s definitely a specific way of learning and gathering information, so being able to know exactly what ways he differs in his thoughts from me would be helpful.

      • Yes, I do believe in being tested and getting help. I may not have made that clear. Sorry. I will be having both of my children tested this year due to some of their issues and their dads Dx as a child. We are also going to be tested for dysgraphia. I meant to just say try not to stress out because our kids pick up on it and it can intensify issues. I am a bit jealous of the mulit-languages your son has! That alone will take him far in life! 🙂

      • how old are your children? I have no idea if my son is even old enough to be tested yet, which is why I will be asking the speech pathologist about it. But I’m currently reading the Gift of Dyslexia and it seems to argue that if they haven’t learned bad ways to cope with their different method of thinking, they don’t have dyslexia, they have the gift of dyslexia so you want to make sure you don’t teach them the way they teach things in school…I don’t know. Something like that.

      • Lol….I just re-read and I was having dyslexia issues haha…while reading your post I confused your husbands stories with your child’s and soooooooo I’m officially lost now haha! Best of luck with dyslexia and the future. 🙂 xo

  3. My children recently graduated two years of speech therapy. They were both extremely early talkers and very advanced in receptive and expressive language, but one had articulation issues and they both have a rare middle of word, middle of sentence prolongation.

    I would correct flipping, but not intensely, so it’s not considered correcting according to the person I’ve spoken with. I was told my eight year old is old enough to test, but my six year old might be too young still. I was advised to do a few exercises and look for certain things, so far those things are not showing as mentioned so the suggestion was to test for dysgraphia as well as dyslexia, because it could be me or the other or both or neither, but something is up and we need to work on a few things regarding this issue this year.

    • interesting. It’s intriguing that they’re also in speech therapy. We’re going to start speech therapy with our son soon and my husband was also in speech therapy, but my son’s enunciation problems seem much more extensive than my husband’s, so we’ll see.
      I’m hoping I can just teach in a way that will keep him from doing too much flipping, I’ll have to read through the whole entire book to see what they recommend and see if I can do it or if they’re just trying to sell me their classes, I will be annoyed if that’s the case :p

      • You know your child best and your child is a big part of the equation, so follow you intuition when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. It will feel right. 🙂

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