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It’s OK to be Different

Our son Michael was potty trained at nine months and spoke in sentences at 12 months old. At age two, he would listen to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite over and over. When a friend gave my husband and I tickets to see the Nutcracker one holiday season, I cringed! Mike did stand up comedy at the age of three, and we thought it was necessary to put him into Pre-School to learn to read and write his own first name.

After much research, I found our nursery school. The teachers seemed amazing and the grounds were beautiful. The program was mixed with fun and academics; it seemed just the perfect place for Mike.

After the first few weeks at school, we were all too excited to get his progress report. I happily met with his new teacher. As Miss Robyn pulled out Mike’s file I thought to myself, “so much writing, he’s so smart!” She proceeded to tell me that he was having a hard time using a pencil. He preferred to play alone and would not join circle time. Maybe he was bored? We spoke further that day and agreed to meet again in two weeks.

I spoke with Mike several times after that, and he seemed content with his new surroundings. As we sat on the couch writing our alphabet, I noticed a few backward letters and corrected him. He repeatedly wrote the letter “L” incorrectly. Sometimes on its side, sometimes backward and sometimes he’d get it right. We practiced the letters of his name, but he got bored quickly.

My second visit to school was met with much anticipation. Miss Robyn pulled out Mike’s practice paper, and my heart sank. “??IM” was all over the page! She proceeded to tell me that although it is quite common for toddlers to write backwards letters, she had never seen an entire name written that way. She showed me his letter “L” practice sheet and again they were every which way. When Mike was asked to pick out the correct “L,” he said that they were all correct,” A long line and a short line put together.” Spoken like a true artist.

The next two years at nursery school proved to be a long hard road for him, and we tried to keep it as pleasant as possible. Finally, graduation day came. The children were lined up on stage facing the audience and Mike had his back to everyone. He sang the songs and did the dances, but would not face front. I asked him why he refused to face forward and he said: “Mommy, it’s OK to be different” just like my letter “L’s”!

When Mike reached third grade, he was diagnosed with dyslexia. The time between was used speaking with neurologists, an educational evaluation team and finally a private evaluation was done. The tricky part was that Mike was a wonderful reader and read books well beyond his years. He could talk to you about many subjects, but did not do well in a classroom setting. He always tested high on standardized tests, but did not understand math concepts. His writing skills were poor and he suffered from anxiety about school almost every day. He was extremely disorganized and never on the right page.

Dyslexia is often not recognized until 2nd or 3rd grade, sometimes even later. If you can identify problems early, your toddler’s chances of a happy education will be greatly improved.

Mike is now 21, an artist, a musician, a college graduate with a BFA degree in Film and a minor in Creative Writing. My epiphany, “Why try to so hard to make him fit in, when he was most positively born to stand out.” After all, it’s OK to be different!

Written by Susan J. Englisis

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