I was dyslexic before educators knew what dyslexic was. So, seeking to explain why I couldn’t spell, why I stumbled all over whatever I was told to read aloud, and why I was slow to complete assignments, I was called lazy, stupid, and an assortment of other things. The low-point of my first grade year in school was being made to stand in the corner of the room as punishment for not being able to read a paragraph aloud without errors. Humiliation was part of pedagogy back then. I was an over-sensitive child who felt like I was being put into the public stocks in a 17th century New England town.
I don’t know how I eventually got referred to the school’s reading specialist. That came after I’d gotten to the point that I hated school and I’d even stopped having interest in books (which I’d loved since my parents started reading to me — long before my earliest memories).
Mrs S was a young woman in her mid-20s. Of course, she didn’t seem young to me at the time (mid-20s being on the nearer end of ‘ancient’). She was an openly kind and compassionate person. She was a keen observer and she did not rush to label behaviour. The first few weeks she watched me, sat and talked with me, and encouraged me to read. I couldn’t.
Then, she got an idea: Mrs S had my mother make me a hand puppet and she had me bring it with me to our sessions together. She again asked me to read. I shook my head no. Then she asked if my puppet could read. I shyly asked the puppet to try the sentence. The puppet had similar problems to my own and made a mess of the attempt. Mrs S asked me to hug the puppet and let it know that it was alright to make mistakes. Then she asked me to ask the puppet to read more slowly — one word at a time. Take time to sound out the word. Don’t rush.
It didn’t take long before the puppet was reading slowly. Then faster. Never as fast as the other kids (without mistakes); but fast enough. Mrs S experimented with different books and stories. And the puppet was able to read them all.
After several weeks, Mrs S smiled approvingly at the puppet and at me after reading a whole story together. Then she looked at me with a serious expression (still smiling, though). ‘Glen, you do know that you are the one reading when the puppet reads, right?’ I nodded. ‘You read very well, in fact — a year and a half above your grade level.’ I looked down at the table shyly. She asked me to look at her again. ‘Glen, I don’t understand why words and letters get mixed up with you sometimes. Maybe your brain is wired differently. But it works well. You are a smart boy. Your puppet helped you around an obstacle. In life you will need to get around many obstacles. But, you can do it. You’ve already shown me you can. There is nothing wrong with you. You may need to work harder on some things. But you will make it just fine.’
Mrs S gave me back the love of reading. She gave me back one of the great loves of my entire life. She saw me as a person and not simply as a problem attached to a person. She made me whole again.