Reading Treasure Map
I knew that Cope might be dyslexic before I was even pregnant. Back when
were dating, Jim and I had a huge fight about how I, an aspiring writer
former spelling bee champ, could not possibly date someone who
spell “weather” on the speed dial of his phone. He grew up in the
slow readers were labeled “dumb” and sent to the football field.
his arm in the first game. Fortunately for us, I realized you only need
good speller in a marriage.
I began reading aloud to Cope when he was just two months old. Green
and Ham. He loved the rhythm of the words and bold line drawings. When
began preschool my son was quickly known as the empathetic child, the
peacemaker, a leader in the classroom—but he did not like to draw on
and was not interested in the alphabet clothesline. Our suspicions were
confirmed the first time Cope proudly spelled his name with magnetic
on the refrigerator—EPOC. When he began kindergarten, he could recite
the planets of the solar system and knew more about the big bang theory
I—but he couldn’t sing the alphabet song. We practiced with flash
the kitchen table many nights.
In kindergarten we were given a reading chart that began with level 1,
he was now, and continued to level 44, where he should be in fifth
appeared to be a simple 10-inch line but for us it seemed as far as
Cope squeaked through until the middle of first grade when we finally
succeeded in getting him tested. He scored Average in most categories
Above Average in vocabulary—all that reading to him paid off!—but he
Below Average in his Sequencing (the ability to put things in
days of the week or letters of the alphabet), Reading Fluency, and Rapid
Automatic Naming (the skill that many of us over 40 are quickly losing).
These and other things are tell-tale signs of dyslexia.
We love Cope’s school, the principal, his teachers, and his
the school system is a cookie cutter and children who learn in different
ways are like lumps in the dough. Fortunately, by now we had heard of
Scottish Rite Learning Center and my husband attended a lecture they
sponsored by the Yale researcher Dr. Sally Shaywitz. We bought her book,
Overcoming Dyslexia. We learned that reading is a fairly recent human
activity, and that some of us have brains that have not fully evolved to
efficiently process the multiple tasks reading requires. We learned that
there were forms of instruction that could effectively re-wire the
dyslexic’s brain so that when they read instead of driving to Waco and
to get to the corner store they took a more direct route.
We couldn’t wait! We found a tutor trained in the methods used at
Rite, which is multi-sensory and introduces each possible letter/sound
combination in the English language as if to a foreigner. But all we
afford was two hours per week—less than the three times per week
minimum—and less than half what Scottish Rite provides. But even this
instruction cost $60 per lesson or about $500 per month. With his tutor,
Cope began to make remarkable progress.
Last year when Cope started at Scottish Rite as a second-grader
DRA—remember that long highway to Waco?—was an awesome 24 (right on
level) but his reading speed of 25 words per minute was half of the
mark. His homework which consisted of writing out spelling words and
math problems took two hours every night!
The good news is that after 9 months of driving across town 5 days a
rain, sun, and traffic Cope raised his DRA to 34 (midyear 3rd grade
and increased his reading speed to 70 words per minute. He also earned a
on his writing; when asked to write about a memory he vividly described
getting locked in a closet at a friend’s house when he was four. His
thought it was so scary she brought it home and read it to her husband!
most importantly, Cope’s self-esteem sky-rocketed. Finally, he
slowest in his class, finally he got to read a chapter book, finally his
hard work was paying off.
Results are different for every child and we are so lucky that Cope has
other issues, besides having the energy of a small tornado, that
his ability to learn.
Studies show that 10% of children may be dyslexic. If kids do not get
help in the younger grades they loose ground at an ever-increasing
The effects of dyslexia in our society are not well documented—but not
surprisingly a large percentage of prison inmates are dyslexic and the
annual income of adult dyslexics is much lower than that of typical
I am writing this at a library which for a life-long bookworm like me is
sort of like worshipping at church. I feel sad that Cope may never share
appetite for books. His Summer Reading Treasure Map gets lost behind his
bed. But he understands things I’ll never get—like how a motor
works, or the
difference between frogs and toads—and he displays other unique
perfectly mimicking the accents of strangers we pass at the grocery
used to joke that I just wanted him to read well enough that he
have to work at 7-11. I have no doubt he’ll have plenty of other
besides bagging late-night six-packs. I am grateful for the privilege,
stubbornness, and creativity we’ve mustered to get him this far. When
complains about how unlucky he is to be dyslexic, I explain that many
don’t discover their life’s challenge until they’re forty, and
they never do.
Note: I delivered a version of this essay at a recent fundraiser for the
Scottish Rite Learning Center which provides free dyslexia tutoring for children
trains teachers. The Center is raising funds for a new building which
be larger, more centrally-located, and part of the kids’ complex by
children’s hospital, currently under construction. When I finished
reading, Cope stood and everyone clapped for him.
Robin Bradford, an award-winning
short story writer and essayist, has published in Brain, Child, Glimmer
Train, and many other places. You can find her in two new
anthologies -- Mother Knows: 24 Tales of Motherhood and Three-Ring-Circus:
How Real Couples Balance Marriage, Work and Family. Bradford works
as a communications and development director for a nonprofit affordable
housing provider in Austin. She lives with her husband and son, three
cats and a dog in a tiny fifties house. Being the mother—of a child
over the age of three!—is the best thing that ever happened to her.
Contact her at motherload @ austinmama.com And visit her site at www.robinbradford.net