My 10 year old son and I are scouring the internet for dyslexic people who became famous. We come across George Bush, Walt Disney, and Babe Ruth. My son particularly becomes excited about Babe Ruth. The greatest ball player ever. Dyslexic! Just like my son!
“Ma. Soon you can add me to the list. I will be famous one day.” He tells me with hope in his eyes.
“Of course, Eliezer. Of course you will be!” I smile back at him trying to believe every word that I say.
Our journey to this hopeful moment began many years ago when Eliezer was 5. The Rebbe started calling me and telling me that Eliezer’s kriyah wasn’t coming along as fast as the other boys in the class. Maybe I should check his vision, he said. When I took Eliezer to the eye doctor the doctor gave us a clean bill of eye health: 20/20 vision. So Eliezer began to get pulled out every day by the resource room Morah. Of course he hated it because it was always at the fun moments during the class.
The year progressed, all the boys progressed, Eliezer did not. By the beginning of the next year we hired a multi-sensory Kriyah tutor for him. She came three times a week and sat and worked with Eliezer with patience and care. I would thank her every time as I handed her a wad of cash I could not afford to pay. But pay I did. I would do anything to help my child be like everyone else in his classroom.
Eliezer learned his ABC letters, but would constantly confuse the b, d, p, and q. He began to slowly read the English words, but again, not as fast as the other boys. My husband and I were worried throughout the entire year. We spoke to the Rebbe and the teacher on a weekly basis. I grilled the tutor at the end of each session. Slowly, slowly Eliezer began to read in Hebrew and English. He made lots of mistakes as he tried to sound out the words. Each time I would correct him, he would erupt in a rage.
Due to the high cost of hiring a reading tutor, I decided that I would be his teacher. I spoke to a specialist and got some pointers and began to comb through various methods on the internet. I told Eliezer that he had to do extra work at home in order to keep up with the class. This brought upon more tears and many broken pencils.
“I can’t do it, Ma” he would cry. It turned out that being my son’s teacher instead of his mother was a mistake. But how could I afford a tutor? The P-3 that the board of education sent over was no help at all. We went through 2 until I resumed the position. I wrote relatable stories using the phonics rules that we were learning. I had him trace and copy the sight words that he was supposed to know. We read the leveled phonics books that the specialist recommended.
And yet still, even with the kriyah tutor and all the extra help that I was providing him with, Eliezer was still behind. By the start of second grade, the resource room teacher was starting to use the words like dyslexia, neuro-psychologist, and vision therapy. My mind was spinning. I was so overwhelmed. But I had to put my feelings aside and help my son.
First, we went for vision therapy. It didn’t help.
Then, we went to Morah Z. who was a neuro-psychologist. Morah Z began to evaluate Eliezer. She tested for everything. Math, reading, and comprehension. IQ, memory, recall, and even emotional intelligence. She tested him for 10 hours, doing one hour at a time so as not to tire him out.
Finally, my husband and I were sitting in front of her, ready to hear her diagnosis.
“Your son is very bright,” she began. “He scored close to superior on the IQ test.” I smiled hearing the good news. I knew Eliezer was smart and now I had a test to prove it.
“But he showed severe delays in his reading ability. I’m sorry, Eliezer is dyslexic.”
I began to cry when I heard this. Morah Z. explained that children with high IQs should be able to read. Those that can’t, are considered dyslexic. Morah Z. gave us recommendations for tutors and special schools. I listened through a haze.
“Poor Eliezer, “said my husband afterwards. “We were so hard on him. Fighting with him that he should do all his homework. All the reading he was required to do…he couldn’t do it. And it is not his fault.” That made me even sadder. All the fighting and the crying was because he really could not do it. And I had thought that maybe of he reviewed and worked harder, he would be able to catch up. But that’s not what it was at all. It was that my son had to be taught in a different way.
“Ma!” Eliezer exclaimed yesterday. “When a person is dyslexic, it means that there is a block to his path of learning and he has to find a different way.”
And back then—
“Ma, I sit in the back of the classroom, looking at the clock, waiting till it’s recess. Then I wait some more until it’s lunch time. Those are the only things that I can be a part of in school”, he told me.
If my child had no place in a regular classroom, then where was he going to go?
Right from the start, The Winward School and The Shefa School were Morah Z.’s recommendations. In the end we chose The Shefa School. When my husband and I came to observe the school, the first thing we saw, was the children baking pancakes. Then we saw the small classrooms of 12 with 3 teachers per room. We observed how the school split up into even smaller reading groups based according to the child’s reading level. We saw the neatly written reports hanging on the walls, accompanied by child-drawn pictures. We saw a teacher teach social studies. She showed the students pictures and asked them lots of questions. The students were able to learn on their grade level without having to struggle with all the reading that that required. Reading for an hour and half in the morning was the main attraction for us. The day was split up into various subjects some of which included PE (Physical Education) with real coaches, and chug time which included Krav Maga, robotics, cooking. They also had a strong art and music program. All this was designed for the children to explore their Shefa, their bounty. These children were all smart like my son, and they were so much more than their reading score.
We overcame many obstacles to send our son to Shefa. But today he is in 5th grade and he is growing and learning. He is not sitting in the back of the classroom, staring at the clock. He is an active participant in discussions and in engaged the entire day.
The first year was hard as are all beginnings. He was sad about losing his yeshiva friends and going to a school so far from home. He was lonely. He also had to adjust to being academically challenged all day. He was working very hard every day, through tears and frustration, through the challenges that Hashem bestowed upon him. He came out of that year reading and the proud owner of a dog.
Peanut came at a time when Eliezer felt disconnected and was waking up at 6am every morning only to come back at 6pm and to have to start on his homework and go back to sleep. The dog provided our son with a sense of belonging and the responsibility of caring for another being. The puppy put the smile back on my son’s face.
Eliezer is in his second year at Shefa now and he will be going for a third. He knows that this place is important for him so that he doesn’t remain illiterate. He knows the meaning of dyslexia, he is proud to be overcoming his challenges. He is learning important skills in perseverance and endurance. He actually became quite a cook. Those cheese bourekas were amazing. Even I had to break my diet for them!
He is happier now and has a new band of friends who can relate to him and know his struggles. They are a bunch of brilliant kids sharing their lives together. Singing and cooking together. They are in the know of all current events. It was Eliezer who woke us up on November 9th , informing us that Trump won. These children are so lucky to have each other and to have a school that caters to their academic needs.
My son doesn’t think that he will be lost when he goes out into the world. He has dreams and hopes just like his peers at yeshiva. I am starting to see those dreams become a reality. As he walks through life with his head up high, I see my son as someone accomplished, and yes very smart. I always tell him that he can do it. With hard work anything is possible. And that I believe in him. Not only does he have my love, but he also has the belief that he is truly a star and he can get anywhere he sets his mind to.
Goldie Young is a mother of a dyslexic child. For information about dyslexia and any questions about her experience, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information about The Shefa School, visit their website or call 212-873-1300.