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Worrying About Your Kids: It Gets Better

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By the time my eldest son was in fourth grade I was almost resigned to the fact that he would never learn to read. Sounding out words was agony for him. Making him do it daily was hell for everyone in the house.

Trying to read made him so frustrated that soon he became angry and started to doubt himself. It didn't help that he was saddled with a little brother for whom reading came as easily as walking and talking. It didn't help that all the other boys in his class were moving forward with no apparent difficulty.

His father and I read all the time. Our ideal vacation was going to a quiet place to read with occasional forays out to admire scenery.

And there was our son—clearly brilliant, highly imaginative, with visual abilities off the charts. At the age of three, he could assemble a 500 piece puzzle (I kid you not). He loved books and understood words grade levels above his age, but couldn't identify the letters of the alphabet with ease. Our preschool director told us that these were classic learning disabilities.

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His speech had been idiosyncratic early on. He made up words when he couldn't pronounce them correctly, but he also spoke in full sentences with complicated structure and nuance. I took him for tests and therapy which—in spite of all our supportive words to the contrary—took time away from after school relaxing and playing, and worst of all made him feel different and angry.

The battles with the powers that be were nothing compared to bolstering my son's flagging self-confidence.

By fourth grade, teachers and tutors were pessimistic. I was questioned about his early milestones (all on target or early) and asked if he crawled (he crawled for a full half year, beginning at the very early age of four months). I was questioned about home routines. Some found ways to blame me for the problem. I must not be reading to him. I must be reading too much to him. I was too easy on him. I was too hard on him. You get the drift.

I learned a lot. I learned about multiple intelligences, how dyslexics process words in different areas of the brain, and most importantly, how to fight for my son. The battles with the powers that be (teachers, tutors, etc.) were nothing compared to bolstering my son's flagging self-confidence. I told him over and over again that he was smart, that he could "think circles around me," and that this, too, would pass. I meant every word.

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In the end, though, it was down to him. He loved stories, so he had the motivation. He was reading above grade level by 7th grade. We provided support—tutoring where necessary—but he didn't need it past 9th grade. When he moved to a new school in 10th grade—a school that inspired him with great courses in history and film—his academics soared.

His senior year he won a statewide competition for a Shakespeare essay, aced his SATs and got into his first choice college, early decision. He graduated from that college with a double major and honors. He reads more now than I do, which is saying something.

I don't know what I was worried about.

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