The Dyslexia Initiative
Behaviors Before Dyslexia
by Lauren Taylor
He doesn’t show any of this behavior at home. Are you sure someone didn’t say something to him or do something that he could have felt threatened by? This isn’t normal for him. He’s always been an extremely social and well-behaved child. What do I need to do at home to make sure this doesn’t continue to happen in the classroom?
I’ve been watching and listening to this same story play out for years now. Not only with my own child, but numerous other little boys and girls that I’ve worked with along the way. Their parents, often desperate for answers, end up being tossed into the deep end of the world of behaviors without even knowing that’s what they’re walking into. They innocently seek the opinions of medical professionals in an effort to figure out where all of this could be coming from. Does their child have something going on beneath the surface? Could it be a diagnosis they’d never heard of? Was it something they’d only heard from teachers as horror stories regarding past students? This is usually done in an effort to appease the teachers, not the parents mind you. We are often sent down rabbit holes in an attempt to make sure that our children fit into that box the other children seem to do such a good job at fitting into.
What we as parents often times are not made aware of is that our children have not yet mastered a way to explain and or give us any insights into what’s driving their everything outside of the home environment. Why would they? They are still extremely young. Most if not all of them are flagged as early as kindergarten and first grade. They aren’t being flagged for the glaringly obvious learning disability mind you. They are being flagged with behaviors.
There was an article I vividly remember reading prior to my own son starting school. The name of the article was titled “The Drugging of the American Boy” (https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/a32858/drugging-of-the-american-boy-0414/) and I had stumbled across the article inside Esquire magazine by chance in 2014. I was naïve to ADHD at the time of the article. I had only known friends who had been diagnosed sometime in middle school. They would end up on several different medications until graduation. That’s if they graduated. There was always something underneath the surface that wasn’t being addressed with my friends. I knew they did not perform well in most subjects. Regardless of the medication, they had no attention span and school was the last thing they cared about. It’s as if they spent more time trying to figure out how to get in trouble vs paying attention so they’d be able to fly under the radar.
I remember reading the article numerous times and being horrified by the studies inside this article. The alarming number of little boys who were still being medicated before they’d even learned to self regulate. How had something like ADHD been able to become a one stop shop to control the classroom. Surely by now they’d figured out not all little boys had ADHD. Surely by now the studies had shown our little boys matured slower than their female counterparts. Did someone forget to teach budding new teachers this before they graduated? Why was this still happening. As I continued to read this article things started to fall in place. Not only were we tossing our children into the realm of behaviors, but we were now starting to diagnose children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD). When I say children, I should clarify that we were starting to diagnose six-year-old children with extremely frightening behaviors that end up labeling children as impossible to work with. They are essentially a lost cause if they were blessed with these acronyms. More disturbing, the rate at which they were throwing children into self contained classrooms because the child not only had an ED qualifier, but they were also unable to read. They were labeled defiant and without medication there was no hope for them. I had come across this before. Only when I came across this it wasn’t through a friend. It was with my sister.
In an effort to have this conversation and do it justice, I’m going to have to attempt to shrink what could be an entire novel into cliff notes on all the ways Dyslexic children and their parents are tossed into the deep end without a life raft. All the ways we as their parents are told it’s our child’s behavior preventing them from learning. All the ways we are not told it’s actually an underlying learning disability. Why is this conversation so important to have? Well just as it’s important to discuss the statistics that come along with our children, this is where those statistics start to manifest. Imagine being told your performance at work had data to support that everything was pointing towards your behavior. The reason you didn’t understand the task at hand, the reason you disrupted everyone around you, the reason you couldn’t get your job done in the time they’d given you; it was all because of your behavior. This is exactly what takes place in classrooms as early as preschool every single day.
Children have data collection start before they even enter the halls of a K-5 environment. This starts at an early age in attempt to keep the eyes on an area that’s not even there. Our children are placed on behavior management plans where they start basing their self-esteem on what color apple they received for the day. By the time they make it to Kindergarten we’ve already seen a drastic change in their once innocent and curious personality. We assume this is due to coming of age. We’re told by pediatricians and educators this is all age appropriate behavior. We are told this is expected and it’s nothing to worry about. We are not told however that something is driving that behavior under the surface. I have seen this very scenario play out with my own child. I as his
mother was told they were going to try something new. He was only three years old. They were going to try to see if he responded to a behavior management plan. I did not know what that was, I was just told that my son needed to be redirected often so they were attempting to see if he’d respond to positive interventions. Again, my son was three years old. Somehow his everything was being studied during a time in his life where he should have been afforded the freedom to be a little boy. I not only allowed this, but we created our own chart at home to show our son just how awesome or bad he was being. We would reward him if he received three stars a week. We would buy him a toy if he achieved a status that was being gauged not by science, but by teachers. There was no control subject. There was nothing to back what we’d done other than being told our son was showing signs for ADHD as a three-year-old little boy.
Do I believe these teachers had any intentions of creating the downward spiral that was his everything? No, I do not. I believe an entire system out there has not only wronged our children, but they’ve also spent years teaching educators to pay attention to the wrong red flags. Instead of paying attention to expressive receptive, phonological processing, written expression, educators are told to pay attention to how a child responds to a program designed to destroy their self-worth. I do want to point out this isn’t a theory by the way. I’ve worked with plenty of former teachers and or currently teachers whom are horrified they had anything to do with creating the trauma they now see in several of their former students. They themselves have trauma attached by proxy of what they feel they induced in children due to the horribly botched guidance they received while in college. Some of these educators have since reached out to their former colleges in an attempt o find out the WHY to this. They are often met with silence. They want to know why they weren’t taught to actually TEACH children to read. They want to know why they spent more time diving into the psyche of a child’s behavior than they did with anything else. Again, they are met with silence. These are not schools that you’d expect silence from either. These are highly accredited colleges. They are highly sought-after colleges. Yet there is nothing there to support educators once they’ve graduated.
I come across photos of my own child from kindergarten and first grade and I literally find myself crying now. I want to tell that little boy in those photos that his mama is so sorry. That his mama wished she would have never believed that her child was being defiant on purpose. That I didn’t believe a teacher when she told me my son was disrupting the classroom on purpose. That I as his mother didn’t believe a teacher had me so convinced my child was actively lying to her that I would do the unthinkable and punish him for something he himself wasn’t even aware of. The guilt I carry with me every single day is almost unfathomable. While eight years later I now know that my child was never any of the things I was told, I spent far too much time arguing with a child that didn’t even understand why his mother didn’t believe him but believed a stranger instead. The reason I spend so much time helping others navigate this world is due to my own guilt. I do not want other parents to go through the same. I do not want parents to find themselves in a place where they don’t recognize that person after they’ve taken the advice of someone, we want to believe has all the answers. If there is any lesson, I’ve learned over the years it’s to trust myself. I have learned to listen to children instead of their teachers. I have learned to read 30-page evaluations to understand what’s actually going on with a child. I have shown so many parents how much trauma was attached to their children it keeps me up at night. This trauma, this everything could have and should have been avoided. These parents had no idea it was even there. I had no idea it was there until it was too late. This is a direct result of a system designed to diagnose behaviors before learning disabilities. You’ll be hard pressed to run this by a pediatric psychologist that understands how learning disabilities drive behaviors and have them disagree with everything I’ve stated.
Five years ago today this photo was taken. I posted it on Facebook. I was so excited that my newly diagnosed Dyslexic child had done so well on his homework and learning his sight words that we made him pancakes for dinner and allowed him to watch Netflix. This is what I see on my timeline as “memories” and like I said earlier, I wish I could hug this little boy and tell him I’m so sorry. Remember this story the next time you’re met with an entire room of “professionals” trying to keep your eye on your child’s behavior instead of what your gut is telling you. I promise after spending 80 hours inside of IEP meetings the subject didn’t change until my son’s pediatrician saw for herself just how much damage had been done. When my son was prescribed medication for his panic attacks that had been induced inside school, the meetings took a turn for the worse. They now had to come to terms with what they’d allowed to take place. They had to come to terms with knowing I had spent YEARS explaining to them it wasn’t behavior. It was his Dyslexia and the lack of support driving his everything. It didn’t matter that I’d had numerous outside psychologists, therapists and allies inside our community explain to them in depth they needed to stop focusing on the behavior, they still did it. Our children deserve better. Our teachers deserve to be blessed with the knowledge of what drives behaviors. They deserve to be taught how to teach children to read. They deserve more than they are afforded when they have the best intentions but find themselves in awkward meetings that make no sense to them. They don’t want to harm our children. They don’t get into teaching to find themselves involved in any of this.
Lauren Taylor is a mother and advocate, fighting for more than just the right to FAPE for her own children, but all children in multiple states. You can follow her on "Our Dyslexic Journey" on Facebook.