Say Cheese

By Penny Dorpinghaus

 When my son, Andrew, was two years old, no one could understand a word he said. I took him to Heartspring for testing and speech therapy. Even though Andrew had been in speech for a year he still had difficulty understanding that letters stood for sounds. We would work a week on one letter. For instance, if the letter “M” was introduced in speech class, we would have snacks that started with “M”. He would walk over a giant “M” taped to the basement floor saying the letter and sound. After a week with “M”, his therapist would move to the next letter and bring back “M” for review. Andrew would look at the “M” and not even remember it.

The speech therapist recommended testing for learning disabilities. He was diagnosed with a central auditory processing problem before he started kindergarten. We knew he had a learning difference and thought we had everything in place for success. We went to IEP meetings not understanding much of the educational jargon but trusting the school to do what was best for our son.

By the end of third grade, Andrew still could not read. We pulled him from public school and special education to place him in a private Christian school thinking a more structured environment and phonics would help. At the end of that year, he still could not read. We kept him in the private school and also placed him at Sylvan for reading. After almost a year of tutoring, Andrew still was not making significant progress. Sylvan recommended we take our son for testing with a respected local psychologist. At this testing, we learned for the first time Andrew was severely dyslexic. We connected with another mother of a child with dyslexia who told us about the Alphabetic Phonics program. This reading program was developed by the staff at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas, Texas, to address the needs of dyslexic students.

Andrew made real gains for the first time. A few years later, we returned to public school and special education services. Dyslexia is a lifelong disability, and Andrew will always need accommodations.

School was difficult for Andrew. He had his share of being made fun of, teachers not understanding his disability, principals trying to cut services to save money. On the one hand, he had teachers who seemed to not want children who received special education services in their classes. On the other, he had teachers that bent over backwards to help him. One in particular, Mrs. McDuff, took him under her wings and taught him photography while he worked on the yearbook. She let him take hundreds of pictures, training him on what to look for and where to position himself for the best shot. She let him concentrate on photography and didn’t require him to write. She encouraged him to try writing, but never punished him for not writing well. His grades were not the best, but he desperately wanted to be in the regular classes. He failed to pass many classes and made them up during the summer to graduate with his peers in 2004. My husband, Roger, and I were dancing in the aisle during the graduation. We were so proud of him. He didn’t give up.

Andrew is currently attending Butler County Community College on a full scholarship to take pictures for the school newspaper and magazine. BCCC has a great learning center to help students with learning difficulties.


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