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  • Writer's pictureThe Dyslexia Initiative

The Beginning

by Lois Letchford

"Learning and learning problems dwell in activities and cultural practices rather than in the heads of individual students."

-Curt Dudley-Marling

Parents, take the above quote along with you to every IEP meeting and question: "Why is my child not being successful?"

The response must include: "We must explore what else is required to do in teaching."

The teaching must meet the needs of the child if they are to become successful readers.

The Beginning:

I am now a published author! It is quite an achievement for someone who struggled through school and college. So what drove me to write a book?

My life changed dramatically when my second son, Nicholas, entered first grade. Nothing prepared me for his failure.

The year was 1994: our home, Brisbane, Australia.

After one week of school, his first-grade teacher called me in.

"Lois," she began, "Nicholas is so far behind, I don't know how I'm going to teach him." She stopped for a moment, "he stares into space most of the day."

Out of frustration, she threw her hands in the air, stating simply, "he cannot do anything!"

For one whole year, my six-year-old Nicholas sat lost in the classroom, biting his fingernails to the quick and wetting his pants--every day.

I added to his dilemma by dressing him for school - every single day.

At the end of the year, I requested an evaluation. This process, through standardized IQ tests, didn't help our cause.

Testing showed he could read ten words, displayed no strengths, including no spatial awareness, and had a low IQ. The child, obviously lacking in intelligence, was the lowest of the low.

The following year, he continued to second grade despite his lack of progress.

His second-grade classroom teacher was excellent. During the first week, Nicholas came home with his list of spelling words.

"Can you help me learn my spelling words?" he asked, so quietly.

"Of course, Nicholas," I replied. "Let's get some paper to write them out."

"Your first word is cat, Nicholas," I began.

An image remains tattooed on my mind. Nicholas sat at the table like a bronze statue, his arms wrapped over his paper, his pencil hovering. His mind appeared to be working overtime in concentration.

Yet, nothing moved.

I stood and watched before a thought went through my head, "he doesn't even know where to begin."

From somewhere in my mind, I had another thought: he cannot do it - use clay.

And that is what I did. For the next ninety minutes, we rolled and shaped clay into spelling words. The activity was engaging, slowing down his learning to meet his needs. Every day we practiced. We found the pattern on the list, followed by identifying all the rhyming words.

By Friday morning, he spelled his words orally to me and wrote them in class. This level of learning activity happened until I was confident he could write every letter with ease, and write in school. It was a significant breakthrough. Nicholas's long journey to reading and writing began.

In June 1995, our family moved with my husband's work for just six short months to Oxford, England. With Nicholas's struggle, I took this opportunity to work with him at home. I bought a series of books to assist with this reading process titled: Success for All.

This book contained isolated words on the page that stood like islands in the ocean, isolated, immovable, and unforgiving as I, too, repeated the failure of first-grade. Blaming my son for his lack of recall, I was no better than his old teacher. I felt my son had no memory for words, letters, or sounds. He didn't have the necessary skills.

My mother-in-law was with us, and hearing my frustration, gave words of advice:

"Lois," she said, "put away what he cannot do and make learning fun."

With such a thought, Nicholas and I had a ceremony of tearing up useless books and feeding them to worms for a future life as compost, a perfect place for worthless paper.

Now, a blank slate awaits. I had no idea what to do next.

To be continued....


Lois Letchford is a wife, mother and teacher. She is the published author of Reversed: A Memoir which tells the story of her journey with Nicholas through his struggle learning to read.

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