My oldest son started school happily. In the beginning, everything went well…except when the amount he had to read as homework increased constantly. Soon, it was “read this full page three times.”
My son was lucky to get through it once.
The teachers all gave the same advice. Practice more! Work harder!
By the time third grade came along, my son was really struggling, and I asked his teacher if it could be dyslexia. No, she said, there were no signs of dyslexia. Practice more! Work harder!
He practiced more. He worked harder. He couldn’t keep up. Soon, we were seeing concerning symptoms in his behavior, and checked in with a therapist. She suggested testing for dyslexia. I argued against it—the teacher had already ruled it out—and I will be forever grateful to the therapist for insisting. The test results showed he had dyslexia.
A couple of years later, my younger child began school. Soon he was struggling too. Again, the school noticed nothing. The symptoms weren’t the same as with my older son, or we would have realized what it was ourselves. In this case, someone at his after-school program suggested we get him checked, so we set up a test immediately. Not every person is affected by dyslexia in exactly the same way; he, too, had dyslexia.
The dyslexia diagnosis was so important for both of my kids, but especially for the older one. He had been comparing himself to other friends in school. In his words, he felt like he was “dumb,” and no matter what he did or how hard he worked, he was going to “stay dumb.”
When we had the results of the test, I pointed out famous people who also had dyslexia. The fact that you can be dyslexic and successful was so important for him to hear. And of course, what helped the most was getting special support, like more time during tests and ignoring spelling mistakes while grading schoolwork.
I’m an American, and my husband is German. We live in Germany, and our kids are growing up bilingually. Some (non-expert) people suggested I stop speaking English with them, assuming two languages would be far too difficult for a dyslexic person to learn. Not true, I found after researching. Plenty of dyslexic people are multilingual. And now my kids’ English grades are the best in their classes.
Around the time I was taking my kids to dyslexia therapy, I started writing a new manuscript. It was a YA fantasy novel about a princess named Jiara, who was arranged to be married to a foreign monarch, although neither of them spoke the other’s language. I thought, what if Jiara had dyslexia? What if it had never been diagnosed, and she grew up thinking the same thoughts my oldest had once upon a time—that no matter how hard she worked, her brain just wouldn’t allow her to learn?
Spoiler: just like my kids learned both English and German, Jiara will learn her new language too.
When writing A Dragonbird in the Fern, two things were important to me. First, that it wasn’t an issue book. Jiara’s main problem isn’t dyslexia, but a vengeful ghost, a new husband she can’t understand, and murderer she has to catch if she wants to release her family from the clutches of said ghost. And second, that Jiara’s dyslexia wouldn’t magically go away. Instead, I wanted her to learn better how to deal with it, to figure out which tools helped her and to use them when necessary so she could play to her strengths.
Just like my kids did and are continuing to do today.
Laura Rueckert (she/her) is a card-carrying bookworm who manages projects by day. At night, fueled by European chocolate, she transforms into a writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy novels. Laura grew up in Michigan, USA, but a whirlwind romance after college brought her to Europe. Today, she lives in Germany with her husband, two kids, and one fluffy dog. School Library Journal called her debut novel A Dragonbird in the Fern a “must purchase.” Learn more at laurarueckert.com, and connect with Laura on Twitter and Instagram.