The Dyslexia Initiative
Why The Kids Can't Wait
by Lauren Taylor
I’ve spent the last three weeks attempting to process the loss of someone I mourned fifteen years ago. I have never had the courage to speak on this. Out of shame I felt that I would be judged for my past. In doing that I now realize that I created that shame, I created that judgement. My best friend, like my son and so many of my other friends was Dyslexic. While my advocating for my son afforded him the ability to be seen as a child who could overcome almost anything, my friends were not afforded anything that resembled empathy. I have seen far too many articles regarding the statistics attached to our children, yet no one speaks on the tragedy that is their life until they are no longer here. For far too many of my adult dyslexic friends, this is not something they ever want to willingly place out into the universe. Their trauma is real. They knew nothing other than that fight that almost broke them. Then there are the ones that didn’t make it to tell their story.
I will never be able to tell their story in full. I will only be able to tell you what I witnessed through their eyes. Their pain was palpable and on display our entire lives. They were never afforded normal. They never got to bring home a piece of graded classwork that wasn’t shredded to pieces with a red pen. A teacher knowingly or unknowingly shaming them for
something they had no control over. I grew up in the most affluent school district in the state of Georgia. In the 80’s our school district was the best in the country. And for the normal kids it was. I was one of those kids. I was afforded every single luxury they had to offer. Too many of my friends were not. They excelled in sports and detention. My best friend routinely had the school resource officers show up to his home for off campus behavior. This didn’t just happen to him, it happened to an entire district full of children who could not read. They started their life in juvenile detention at the age of 12 and the cycle never stopped. This was accepted as the status quo, and furthermore we were taught that they were where they needed to be. Their families were shamed by an entire community. When they’d return home longing for that embrace from their parents, they were met with their bags packed and told to go somewhere else. THEY WERE CHILDREN.
My mother opened our home to these children. We don’t speak on this because we protected these kids. They were our adopted siblings. We protected them as if they were our own. My mother took them in and offered them a sense of normalcy they did not receive anywhere else. This open-door policy started when I was only 12 years old. My mother was trying to stop what she knew could happen one day. She knew they were children that just needed to be accepted for who they were. They were not broken. There was nothing to fix. She saw how they solved problems outside of the box. She was able to see past the behavior. We’d been watching this play out with my own sister, so it made sense to us. Unfortunately, this was never explained to their parents. We tried. I remember when I tried to explain to my best friend’s mother he was not broken. He was not worthless. He was perfect just the way he was. I was told repeatedly he was a lost cause by his own mother. I don’t care if she reads this either. If she reads this maybe just maybe, she’ll understand his “why”. Maybe the entire family will understand his why.
This is the reason kids can’t wait to be diagnosed. Children have been thrown away or considered less than my entire life. All because they had an undiagnosed learning disorder. It was extremely hard for me to stomach this as their reality while I was in the thick of it. I didn’t come to terms with their “why” until my own son was diagnosed. The day I realized my son was Dyslexic was the day that my heart jumped to my throat and remained there. I realized in that moment I had a monumental task in front of me and I only got one chance at this. I had until the age of 12 to make sure my son didn’t become one of them.
I want to normalize that. I want to normalize WHY we fight to make sure our kids don’t become one of them. On that note, can we PLEASE stop referring to children as THEM? They were children just like the rest of us. I loved my best friend. For all his flaws and faults, for better or worse, I loved him and there was nothing anyone could say to make me regret ever falling in love with this broken boy I met when I was 12 years old. I spent more than half of my life attempting to fix someone who didn’t need to be fixed. He was beautiful just the way he was. His eyes told a story he’d only share with a few. I knew his secrets. I knew the things he thought about in the dark. I knew his fears, and I knew his dreams. He could have been a professional baseball player. That too was stolen from him when our school district decided he was a behavior problem. He rarely held his head high. He didn’t think he had anything in his life worthy of being proud about. I knew there were SO many reasons for him to be proud, but in the chaos that was his life, he never stepped back to see just how much he was loved. The chaos, my god the chaos. Constantly triaging that chaos drained the life out of me. I kept my door open and my phone on just because I knew he needed somewhere to sleep. He needed a shower. He needed clean clothes. He needed to feel safe.
Trying to explain what these statistics look like in real life breaks my heart. In fact, my heart was so broken by his death that I could not bring myself to attend his “celebration of life” I was a bag of mixed emotions. I had to tell his 21-year-old son something I’d sworn to relay to him in the event his dad wasn’t able to say it himself. Think about that, my best friend KNEW he probably wouldn’t be able to say this himself. He KNEW he’d be gone before he could repair a relationship he longed for. The day that I relayed that message to his estranged son I fell to pieces. It didn’t have to be this way. All my best friend wanted was to be a father. He wanted a life that literally all of us that made it out alive had. It was THAT simple. He just wanted to be a good dad. He wanted to show his children a love he wasn’t shown. Even THAT was stolen from him. I had to explain to his son that his father had never stopped loving him. They had to make a decision when he was a toddler that no mother ever wants to make. We knew his son needed stability and my best friend could not give him that. Not then. His son truly believed his father didn’t want him. I had to explain to him that his father literally gave everything up because he loved him that much. I told him that I was there the day he was born. I told him I had purchased his first pair of VANS. All the things his son never knew about his dad came to light. THIS is our reality. This was MY reality. This IS everyone’s reality who slipped through the cracks. The pain and suffering bestowed upon their families and their loved one’s cuts deeper than their passing. At least we know they aren’t in pain anymore when they pass. Grappling with what happens to him now has haunted me since the day I found out he was gone. I had to call TWO of my friends and ask them if he would be judged or if he would be given grace.
I cried for the first time in probably two years on the day they held his service. I broke down and cried harder than I’ve ever cried. My tears came on so quickly they physically hurt. My husband finally saw it. He finally saw what I’d been attempting to shield him from. I learned years ago there was nothing I could do to prevent what I knew would happen. I had become numb to losing my friends. I cannot even keep count of how many of my friends I’ve lost due to the same underlying theme. They were all kids with parents who were told to wait and see. The absolute cruel irony in ALL of this is they were all intelligent. They were not stupid. When it was my best friends time, there was nothing numb about it. In fact, I longed for that numbness. I didn’t want to have these emotions. I had to remind myself to breathe every single time I came across another photo of him and I as children. I could not let his family see me this way. I had gone through this before six years ago. Sadly, my childhood best friend from kindergarten up until the day she took her life was also Dyslexic. Her son attends the same school my son now attends. I didn’t allow myself to cry until they walked her ashes past me. I saw her children and my heart was shattered. To this day I still have moments where I want to tell her children how amazing their mother was. The emotions towards this broken system are deep and often do not come out in any other way than anger. In the moments I break, I truly do break. It takes months if not years to move on. The unfortunate reality for my children and husband would be that they’ve been robbed of ever seeing their mother and wife show her true emotions. My wall went up and never came down. This doesn’t make me a bad partner or parent. This is how I survive. If I allowed myself to mourn all the ones that I’ve lost I’d never be able to recover. I am probably one of the biggest empaths that you’ll ever meet. My heart is constantly broken. My faith in humanity is always ripped to shreds. I use those emotions that I suppress to fuel my ability to continue this fight.
I remember being taught in school that children and adults that could not read were stupid. We made fun of “them”, and it was considered ACCEPTABLE. WE contributed to their pain because society considered CHILDREN less than. I advocate for CHILDREN because I couldn’t save my friends. I remember thinking out loud while also posting it online, maybe just maybe if I catch the kids BEFORE it happens, I can save them. THAT is why I advocate for children. I do not do this for any other reason. I do this to save children’s lives. I do this to stop the pain. I do this to prevent another family from losing their child. I spent years self-medicating because I could not save my friends. I was a functional alcoholic. They were addicts. We all had a disease. I was able to overcome my disease, they were not. Their demons would prove to be too much. The temptation to repeat the generational curse of dyslexia was too much for them. I know my style of advocating isn’t the same as others and that’s fine. I don’t have time to explain my why. I am literally racing against a clock that only gives me 12 years. I am racing to save children before the statistics kick in. Parents and children cannot continue to wait. My friends should not have learned to read in jail. They were afforded more of an education in jail than they were ever afforded in the traditional brick and mortar walls where it should occur. We need to normalize their pain and acknowledge their why. We need to normalize that it is not okay to consider illiterate adults unintelligent. Their parents were told to wait and see, wait, and see if they get better. Their parents were failed, and because of that they lost their children to statistics that will forever keep me up at night. So many children have lost their parents to the same statistics. Their children will never understand why.
“I'm on the road again
To find some peace
Some old gravel road
God only knows
There's nothing for me
And there ain't nothing left for me in Tennessee
Because I know you're not awake thinking of me
And there's something 'bout just laying down and taking all that pain
I'd rather drive all night if it's all the same”
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.