Part 1-Chasing the Dream: When School Choice Seems Like the Only Option

They say the cobbler’s children have no shoes and that’s a little how I felt when it became apparent that our daughter had a reading disability, difference, gift or however you are most comfortable hearing it described. While I’ve personally had to work really hard to simply be adequate at many things, nothing has ever come easier to me than learning to read and write. In second grade, I remember hiding behind the bookcases in the back of the classroom to read and avoid math and other subjects that were less appealing to me at the time. Surely my daughter, whom I had read to incessantly, would also be a good reader. Even though she’s adopted, my constant reading must have marked her in some way- not the case. At least in the context of being the precocious reader I was expecting.

age 4 writing her name for the first time
Isabella writes her name for the first time.
Writing Isabella
At the age of 4, it is not unusual for the letter B to be backwards.

Wondering How to Dream

Our daughter reads emotions better than I could ever hope to. If being dyslexic really is a gift then perhaps one of her talents is that instead of reading words she can read people. She would be great working a room at a convention. She is athletic, artistic and mechanical. She is social and talkative when she wants to be, but she can’t easily read words. She just can’t. Because she can’t read words, it’s hard for her to believe that she is smart. When most of the world does something with minimal effort that’s so hard for you, it’s difficult to believe you can achieve. So, when the headmaster of a private school for reading disabilities/differences asked us why we wanted our daughter to attend his school, my answer was twofold:

1. The neuropsychologist who provided our independent evaluation specifically recommended two private schools for language disabilities, and, naturally, we chose the one closest to our house. OK. Perhaps we put a little more thought into it, but we had heard good things about the school, and it seemed to be well thought of by the dyslexia community in our area.
2. We want her to dream about her future!

Dreaming about what you want to be when you grow up seems little to ask, but how can our daughter dream when she perceives herself as less than her peers in so many academic areas. As parents, the message we are hearing is that a traditional middle school and high school will be challenging to get through, and her diploma options could be limited. She could be like some of the more famous dyslexic people like Richard Branson, Henry Winkler  or even Cher, and break through all of the barriers and overcome the obstacles, but we’re not willing to bank on it. Those beautiful people are really the exceptions.

I don’t think my daughter really knows how to dream anymore. It ended by third or fourth grade when the academic gap became apparent. Right now, the only way we can teach her to dream comes with a cost.

Cher is a great role model as someone who has overcome a learning difference and become a major success.
Cher is one of the most famous celebrities with a reading difference.

The Hornet’s Nest

Our daughter goes to a private Montessori school with services at a public school. We love the Montessori school, but, in fact, we are public school advocates at heart. Yet for many reasons, the public education system just never worked for our daughter. I have not entirely given up on it, but sometimes families like ours need other choices for our children to be properly educated. Our daughter has a severe reading difference, and a neuropsychologist pointed out to us that she cannot easily learn in a traditional school environment. Even so, we are not carte blanche for school choice. It is way too complicated of an issue to present as black or white. Like other families in our situation, we are just singularly focused on getting an education for our daughter that will allow her to dream, and we are unwilling to accept that we have to pay for it.

The Cost of the Dream

So, our family, along with many others, carries the torch of the dream, often resulting in gut-wrenching and wallet-emptying choices. Stay tuned for Part 2 to read more about the cost of the dream.