“For the First Time I Have Teachers Telling Me That Lisa is One Smart Kid”: A Parent’s Struggle with Dyslexia and Traditional Schools

(This is a guest post by Aggie Sung, a certified early education teacher whose passion is in children’s books that teach young learners to express themselves through art, words, and motion. Her books include “Mommy Duck.” She resides in Princeton, N.J.)  

I have done much to hide myself from the outside world, because there seems to be so little compassion out there. As testimony, I chose to live in a house adjoining a forest reserve protected by Mercer County, NJ. Recently, however,  I started to share a little of what has happened. Since my little one was 2 years old, preschool teachers have badgered me that there was something “wrong” with her. Preschool teachers would not allow her to move up to the next grade with her friends, because she was “not talking.”

Her preschool years were focused on her “not talking” but the preschool teachers never saw that she was able to solve puzzles that were geared for 3rd graders. They never saw that she, as a 3 year old, was able to extract rubber balls from test tubes by using a thin butter knife from a drawer. What angered me the most was that they were not able to see what she was thinking and feeling when she, as a 5 year old, drew pictures of a killer whale trapped under the fires of an oil spill.

I spent 3 years of my life arguing with teachers, me storming out of meetings with teachers, me writing editorials about the inadequate educational process. For three years, I was angry, hurt and alone. I went to get a teaching certificate in early education from Rider University in an attempt to understand what was going on with my little one. I hoped a classroom at Rider could unlock a solution for her.

Today, I am grateful for that certificate in a way that no one else could be. Through that educational process under the tutelage of Tamar Jacobson and Don Ambrose, I understand my little one is indeed different. In November 2016, I insisted on getting Lisa tested for dyslexia at The Lewis School in Princeton, because the public schools and private preschools have been misdiagnosing her since she was 3.

She’s dyslexic, and all the wonderful things that come with dyslexia are now apparent. Highly creative, a speed reader, large vocabulary, in the top 4% of the nation for math computation on a Pearson standardized test for private schools, and high energy. On the downside, her ability to verbally express herself is much slower. Giving her verbal instructions doesn’t always work; you have to show her. Most importantly, because she sees the world so much more differently, her sister and I have to work extra hard to see her perspective.

What’s making this process even more difficult is that fact that a child psychologist has given her some cognitive tests that say she’s 2 standard deviations above average, which means she’s in the top 2.2% of the nation. We have to try to see what’s inside the head of a really smart 8 year old whose entire world is rotational.

It was not until today that I can finally sit down with a cup of tea have a good cry, because the Universe has given what’s right for her. She’s at the Cambridge School, a school designed for children with dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and other language based learning challenges. These are challenges, not problems. With these conditions come a plethora of advantages that most people can never have.

For the first time, I have teachers telling me “Lisa is one smart kid.” How is it possible that when she was 5, no teacher could see how smart she is when she drew a picture of an orca trapped under an oil spill? How is possible that when she was 6 no teacher could see that even though she wasn’t talking, she could name 12 species of dolphins (there are 44 species in total, but some would argue there are only 39).

I have come to understand why. The education system of the United States uses a child’s verbal language to assess a child’s “smartness.” The child who expresses himself with a paintbrush, with a piano, in ballet shoes or a football will most likely be dismissed. For a musically inclined child to be recognized as “smart”, he would have to a prodigy like Beethoven. All other children will not get the proper acknowledgement or attention.

I am no longer angry. I am no longer feeling hurt. I found teachers and parents who understand, so I am no longer alone.

Last Friday, I discovered a co-worker’s wife worked at The Lewis School. Even more coincidentally, I ran into a customer who works for Rider University. The ethos has given me the strength to tell my friends, that I am finally at a good place in life. While the Cambridge School is expensive (it costs more than Princeton University), the scholarship Lisa received, my part-time job at Wells Fargo and some creative loans have allowed me to pay my portion of her tuition.

I don’t know what life has in store for me, but I am grateful I now know how to address Lisa’s educational needs. Thank you God, the Universe, Rider University, the Cambridge School, the Lewis School and Wells Fargo

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