RENEE ORDWAY

Graduation follows battle with dyslexia

Posted June 03, 2011, at 3:56 p.m.
Last modified June 03, 2011, at 4:33 p.m.

My daughter graduates from high school on Sunday. Those who know this seem to be curious as to whether I will cry.

Undoubtedly I will, in part because “Pomp and Circumstance” makes me tear up every time, in part because I’m very proud of her, and in part because I’m going to miss her.

When she was in the sixth grade, she was reading at a second-grade level, yet had passed easily from one grade to the next with good marks.

Decent report cards did not stop her from feeling stupid. Decent report cards didn’t honestly reflect the emotionally difficult and frustrating evenings spent with me and her father, finishing the work most of the other kids completed in class.

She couldn’t read, and no one seemed able to say it.

She was a smart girl. She came from a decent family. She was polite and well-behaved in class and well-groomed and absolutely “normal” in every way — except she could not read.

I suppose I’ll always regret that it took me until she was in the sixth grade to realize that I needed to go outside the school system to seek help for her. Finally, without knowing anywhere else to turn, I spoke to her pediatrician.

She set me up with a specialist at Eastern Maine Healthcare, who put her through a well-established, lengthy written test.

When he met with us in a small waiting room outside his office, this soft-spoken doctor said these words: “She’s not just a little dyslexic; she’s very, very dyslexic. I’m quite amazed that she’s been able to keep up as she has.”

She’ll probably never read for enjoyment, he said, and should probably never take a foreign language class.

I’m still not exactly sure how to explain what dyslexia is. It’s a learning disability that about 10 percent of the populace suffers from. It’s a difficulty in the use and processing of linguistic and symbolic codes and letters and numbers and affects not only the written language, but comprehension and spoken language as well. It’s often genetic.

Biologically speaking, while most of us use one side of our brain to decode language, dyslexics seem to use the other side — and apparently it doesn’t work as well.

My daughter was 11 years old when we received that diagnosis, and like many important conversations throughout her childhood, this one took place in the car.

As I did my best to explain it to her, she cut, as children so often do, right to the heart of the matter and let me off the hook.

“Well, at least I finally know I’m not stupid, because I really thought I was just stupid.”

Each year, too many otherwise bright students drop out of school not because they are stupid, but because they are dyslexic, don’t know it, and feel stupid.

The doc, by the way, was right about a lot of things that day, but he was wrong about a couple as well. She took three years of high school French. It was difficult, but she passed with B’s and C’s.

Today, she is most unhappy if she does not have a book to read for pleasure.

On Sunday, she will graduate having made the honor roll nearly every quarter of her high school career — minus the ones when she got a C in French.

Beyond the diagnosis, the greatest gift the doc gave us that day was some information about the Masonic Learning Center.

In 1994, the Scottish Rite Masons joined forces with Massachusetts General Hospital to launch a major endeavor to help ease the lifelong burdens of dyslexia.

Bangor is blessed with one of those learning centers, now called the Children’s Dyslexia Center. It provides tutors free of charge to children in K-12 who have been diagnosed with dyslexia. Tutors use the Orton-Gillingham approach to reading, which basically “rewires” the dyslexic brain and helps children learn to read in a way that makes sense to them.

Truthfully, I have no idea what all that means, except for this. My daughter was placed on a waiting list, finally made it to the top and got the tutoring twice a week for three years.

All free. They ask one thing — please show up — because there are too many children waiting for help to spend time on a student not willing to show up for the tutoring.

She showed up. She can read.

This fall she will go the University of Maine at Farmington, majoring in elementary education.

She will teach.

On Sunday she will march past her father and me, and I will cry.

She got herself here, to this place, but like every other graduate, there was some help along the way — parents, teachers, family, friends and, in our case, the Scottish Rite Masons and the Children’s Dyslexia Center.

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