The Rowley family of five shares a unique configuration of hereditary traits that affect all aspects of their lives. Yet the medical and learning challenges they face daily do not stop them from embracing life with fortitude and a can-do attitude, while serving others along the way.
“Our family is really complex. We’re a rare genetic family and we each have our own challenges,” shared mother Michelle. She and her husband Allan Rowley, M.D., are raising sons Aden (15) and Alec (13) and daughter Anna (10), to tackle adversity, including dyslexia and other learning disabilities, with tenacity and perseverance.
Early intervention was key for the children to overcome dyslexia and other neurobiological differences, explained Michelle, who first noticed a pattern of reading difficulty with her oldest son, followed by her two younger children.
“I noticed that Aden would know some words on the page, and when they appeared on the next page, he wouldn’t know them. He didn’t have the recall.”
Diagnosed with dyslexia, a trait the three siblings share with their paternal grandfather, Aden began Wilson Reading System® (WRS) instruction at the Jones-Gordon School in Paradise Valley, AZ, with Wilson® Dyslexia Therapist (W.D.T.) Melissa Wiegand, now a Wilson® Credentialed Trainer (W.C.T.). Aden served as Melissa’s practicum student for her WRS Level II certification, and his journey helped his family and teachers recognize and address similar learning disabilities in his siblings.
“WRS helped me read more fluently. It also helped improve my spelling and expanded my vocabulary. My Wilson teacher, Ms. Melissa, was a great, fun, and creative teacher,” shared Aden, who completed Step 12 last fall while also earning his Eagle Scout award and solo student pilot license. This year, he, Alec, and their dad are training to bike the 800-mile Arizona Trail in spring 2021.
Alec, too, has experienced his share of achievements. Among them, he ended the school year by completing WRS Step 12 remotely with teacher Lauren Nolan, a Wilson® Dyslexia Practitioner (W.D.P.) who also works with Anna.
Typically, the school community celebrates WRS graduation with a classroom party. Given COVID-19 circumstances, Lauren took the festivities to Alec’s home for a socially distanced get together.
“The Wilson program has given me confidence in reading,” Alec shared. “Now when I read books, I can enjoy them. It is easier to read and I understand more vocabulary. The program has also helped with my spelling. My Wilson teacher, Ms. Lauren, was supportive and gave me work that was challenging, but never too difficult for me to do,” said Alec, whose hobbies including adventure hiking, cliff jumping, sailing with the Sea Scouts, and listening to comedy.
Anna began WRS with Lauren to tackle the challenges of dyslexia. She started Step 5 remotely this year and will continue to work toward completing the program, just as her brothers have done. The lessons are challenging and she struggles, but Anna ultimately prevails because she knows the many rules of the English language will one day make sense. She draws upon the school’s rallying cry, “You can do hard things,” for inspiration.
In addition to their numerous academic and extracurricular accomplishments, the family is also committed to helping others who experience similar challenges. Michelle and Aden have testified in support of dyslexia legislation that would benefit the state’s public school children. The family also participates in research studies at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help physicians and scientists better understand rare medical conditions.
“All three of our children have pretty significant challenges, but they don’t let that slow them down,” Michelle said. “We acknowledge our hardships and we can have moments of self-pity, but we also have the mindfulness that it could be a lot worse. Our family motto is ‘Be Kind. Be Grateful. Be You,’ plus, ‘Keep Moving Forward.’ The Scout motto is ‘Do Your Best,’ and the school motto is ‘You can do hard things.’
“Put all that together and you get a kid with grit and resilience. That’s Aden, Alec, and Anna. I call them my heroes because they are so impressive in how they take each challenge in stride.”
(This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of The Decoder).