my child can't read
Learning Disabilities, Parenting

My Child Can’t Read – Dear Worried Mama

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My child couldn’t read either.  I hear you. And I see you. I know the worry and I know, the concern.  And I cannot tell you the magic formula to help your child read. But I have a few things I want to tell you, some encouragement, and maybe a little hope.  

My son, who is now a Marine, is married and has a cat, could not read well beyond the “normal” time frame for which a child “should” read.  I am a Marine mom.

But for many years I was the mom of a delayed learner.  

Furthermore, I myself am dyslexic.  So is my husband, and my dad, and my brother.  And maybe this is where I earned a voice for the “disabled.”  Seriously, who better to talk you off the ledge than a dyslexic wordsmith?  

My Grandma Mickey used to tell the story of reading Dick and Jane to my dad every single day until he was 12.  No matter how she tried, it just would not click.  Still, she read. And maybe, this is why when our son, John, was first diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder, an umbrella diagnosis for dyslexia and other learning disorders,  I didn’t completely panic.  

I didn’t want John to struggle as I or other loved ones had, however, life has its struggles.  And prior to this diagnosis, we were fully convinced that John was deaf. Dyslexia seemed a lot less dire.  

But, I also knew from intimate experience, John could be successful even with the delay.  

Although I barely graduated from high school, I went on to be tested and diagnosed with several learning disabilities.  Empowered with the facts of why I couldn’t solve for X or read anything written in Old English, I was able to thrive in my collegiate pursuits.  I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Sciences. And 18 months later I graduated with honors with a Master’s in Education, Counseling, and Human Development.  Also, I took my master’s orals on a Wednesday and gave birth, to John the next morning.  

Armed with the truth of what it meant to succeed and witness success, in spite of being different, I knew that John faced a hard road, but I also believed he was capable of coming out on the other side, successful. 

I will tell you, I was right.  

sacred grief
But I also want to tell you, it is easy for me to say this now, but I also confess,  I don’t know your child. And no, I don’t know how bad it is. I remember that people used to give me advice and encouragement and all I could think was, “you don’t understand… it is really, very bad.”  

And, it was.  

What I could not handle, what was so hard for me as his mother, was to see and hear the results of every single assessment that somehow defined my baby as… lacking.  

This boy, with my daddy’s face and the sweetest, kindest, spirit I had ever encountered was barely out of the gate, before someone was quick to say, “yeah, this kid is not right.”  

It was devastating.  And this is what I hope to offer you, I don’t know how bad it is, but I know it breaks your heart.  I propose that you, like me, just don’t want your baby defined by what they lack but, instead be defined by how amazing they are.  

So, no, I don’t know the exact struggle you face, but I believe your child is as amazing as you do.  

That being said, this is one thing I clung to early in the journey with a child that couldn’t read.  

There is this space in time where your child is defined by grades and achievement scores, but those metrics are relatively new.  In fact, the written modern English language can best be dated in the 17th century. Greater, public education has only been around for about 200 years.  

So, with hundreds of years between the development and implementation of this thing that is evading your child, I propose, it is not a fair or accurate measure of who they are, or who they will become.  

Stolen Jesus by Jami Amerine Christian
At the ripe old age of 12, John was 6 feet tall.  He could run a tractor and worked diligently on our ranch. He was known for his sharp aim and the ability to kill a rabbit, with his bow and arrow, and cook it with fresh vegetables and wild rice.  150 years ago, this son of a Christian landowner – who was not too hard to look at, would have been among the elite. Three years later he would have been a fine catch for some young maiden two farms over.  

Granted, this is no longer how we measure smarts.  

However, stop for a moment and assess, what is your child great at?  What is their passion? And what would that passion look like if reading was not the measuring stick by which they were being defined?

So, your child can’t read. 

And we cannot go back in time and define them by the days of old.  But, we can encourage them to focus on what they can do. 

I propose that being able to read is flat out magic.  But I also believe that magic is not always going to happen to every single human at the exact same moment in their development.  And just like you can’t expect a 5-month-old to use the toilet, you may not be able to force a 9-year-old to read, just because his or her demographic can. 

Truly, we didn’t give birth to robots.   

Furthermore, on the other side of 1820, we have so many ways to implement a love of words even if they simply look like a mess of symbols right now.  If you were to ask my dad about his mom, he would tell you she loved books. She shared that love with him by reading to him. And this is what you have to offer your child too.  

I love audiobooks. 

And John, my child who could not read, listens to several books every month. He adores the written word. I believe that when we associate reading with failure it taints the practice.  In our house, our children teethed on being read to and audiobooks.  

If I could give you only one piece of advice about a child that cannot read it would be, remain calm.  It is stressful enough when you cannot master something. And I fully believe that our babies can tell when we are panic-stricken.  No, I wasn’t always calm, especially when I knew that John was facing being held back or that he was hurting and embarrassed by the delay.  But I was always honest with him and when I lost it, I did it in the bathtub, neck-deep in tears and lavender bubbles. 

Mom life is not for wimps.

We cannot foresee the struggles, but we can nurture these humans and that is the greatest magic.  A love without contingency and patient help when they are in need is the best kind of educational enrichment.  

That being said, I do have one tidbit of “help,” that was the turning point for my child that couldn’t read. 

Word Building for a Child Who Can’t Read  

At one point in our journey with John, I attended a conference.  The speaker explained that as a child he remembered that when the teacher would put a word upon the board he imagined himself being pummeled with 100 tennis balls.  

He used the example of the word “the.”  

I will interject, prior to this conference, the word “the” was the bane of the Amerine family existence.  John would sound out “the” backward. EEEE HHHHH T! 

Oh, my stars.  

But as this speaker went on to explain, it became very clear to me, “the” doesn’t mean one thing.  In John’s mind when he saw “the” he also saw… the car, the dog, the house, the sandwich, and so on.  

So we built “the.”  We used playdough. And we built the word “the.” 

Next, we built “it.”

And then we built “was.”

The more we built that more John identified the sight words as individual and concrete. 

This expanded into dozens of other memory tasks for John. Later, when he was in high school, I found him studying for a history test, with all of the study guide on my dining room table mapped out in playdough.  

As a dyslexic, I can tell you, that making something concrete out of the abstract, has been a huge benefit for me. And, it was only after John started this practice, I found myself writing and landing a two-book deal.  What I learned in the process is that I too needed concrete methodologies to unscramble my thoughts and implement them in my life.  

Who’ da thunk it?  

Again, I don’t know the mountain you face as summer winds to a close and it is time to buy school supplies.  But I hope and pray you to know, you are not alone. Greater, your baby will be okay. If nothing else, they have you, their biggest fan.  

Take deep breaths.  For every pencil, you buy, grab a gallon of lavender bubble bath and two boxes of tissues.  Remember, some of the greatest minds marched to the beat of their own drummer. In this life, there will be struggles, and there is One who conquered them all.  

Makes me wonder… what grade did Jesus learn to read?  

Rage on mama.  I have more helpful tips coming for moms of struggling learners.  

May your floors be sticky and your calling ordained.  Love, Jami

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10


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1 Comment

  1. Sara says:

    Thank you for this…

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