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Dyslexia Across Generations

The signs were subtle at first, beginning in preschool and into kindergarten. Roxanna P. noticed her son, Matteo, was having trouble reciting the alphabet, spelling his name correctly, and learning the days of the week. Despite being assured he was “doing fine,” Roxanna’s concern grew.

When her good-natured first-grader started coming home from school angry and frustrated, Roxanna recognized what she was seeing. Glimpses of her own childhood.

“I knew deep down inside he was not fine,” she recalled. “He was struggling like I had, and I said ‘I’m not going to let this happen.’ ”

Research shows that if a parent, grandparent, or sibling is dyslexic, a struggling reader carries the same genetic trait as well.

“Due to the hereditary nature of dyslexia, family history is one of the strongest risk factors for developing dyslexia,” write Massachusetts researchers Ola Ozernov-Palchik of Tufts University and Dr. Nadine Gaab of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in their 2016 publication, Tackling the ‘Dyslexia Paradox’: Reading Brain and Behavior for Early Markers of Developmental Dyslexia.

Fortunately, advances in medical and academic research are changing how children with dyslexia learn from one generation to the next.

Shy as a child, Roxanna was doubly challenged when her formal education began. She was an English language learner and was identified as having a language-based reading disorder. She repeated second grade and was placed on an education plan.

As she grew older, Roxanna kept her reading challenges hidden from her parents and friends. She explains that she managed to push her way through middle and high school largely through memorization and work-arounds. After graduating from high school, she earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education, and then continued on for a bachelor’s degree in ECE and Spanish.

Her professors picked up on her innate ability in the classroom as well as her literacy challenges. After earning her bachelor’s degree but repeatedly failing the teachers’ licensing test, she stole away to a neuropsychologist’s office to have her suspicions confirmed: she is dyslexic.

With her reading challenge finally identified, Roxanna had a better understanding of how to manage it. She went on to earn a master’s degree in elementary education curriculum and instruction, and has been a Spanish teacher at public and charter schools for 18 years.

Roxanna’s journey helped her help her son, who is enrolled in the same parochial school she attended as a child and also was held back in second grade due to his learning difficulties. However, early recognition of Matteo’s disability through the school’s use of Fundations®, coupled with prompt remediation with the Wilson Reading System® (WRS) after he was diagnosed with dyslexia, has been a major difference between their childhood experiences.

“With WRS, he began making improvements,” Roxanna said. “He was getting all of his words. Spelling lists became easier, orally and written, and sentence structures were getting so much better. You could see him blossom. He was more confident and wasn’t as shy.”

After one year of WRS instruction, Matteo jumped to reading at grade level. This spring, he completed third grade, as well as Step 6 of WRS. He supplements his reading with the Learning Ally audiobook program, and has become a voracious reader.

“It makes me feel so relieved that he receives support and that there are programs like Wilson to help these kids succeed,” Roxanna said.

For 10-year-old Matteo, WRS has provided a solid understanding of the rules and quirks of the English language, while also demystifying what it means to have dyslexia.

“I learn differently. But, everyone learns differently.”

(This article was originally published in the spring/summer 2018 issue of The Decoder).