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Tackling Dyslexia

Place a football and a book in front of eighth grader Liam L., and there is no doubt which one the student athlete and sports enthusiast will choose. However, since tackling dyslexia, now he truly has a choice.

With dyslexia on both sides of the family tree, Liam’s mother, Devon, knew something was wrong when her young son struggled to learn the alphabet, write his name, and associate sounds with letters. Despite reading intervention and an Individualized Education Program (IEP), Liam continued to struggle.

“He’s just so smart, and it was a burden on him because he couldn’t figure out what was going on,” she said. “He thought he was stupid, different. He would stuff his homework in his cubby at school, under his bed, or throw it out.”

In fourth grade, Liam was formally diagnosed with dyslexia at Massachusetts General Hospital, along with dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

He was paired with reading specialist Erica King, a Wilson Reading System® (WRS) Certified Teacher and Wilson® Dyslexia Practitioner (W.D.P.), and began making significant gains when the program was implemented with fidelity.

“Erica was absolutely amazing,” Devon said. “She didn’t make him feel like he was just treading water. He was making progress and building his self-esteem. She gave him all the tools and tricks a certified instructor would. She worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, including remotely.”

As he progressed through WRS, Liam had one objective.

“During the past year and a half, with a pandemic thrown in for good measure, Liam had a singular goal–to complete all the Steps of Wilson,” Erica said. “He achieved his goal right after February break. His final WADE scores were between 90 and 97 percent across the board. I’m so proud of all the work he did and that he met his goal. During our last session, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.”

The opportunities that exist for Liam and his younger brother, Cooper, who also has dyslexia, are vastly different than the experiences of older relatives with the same neurobiological differences. When their grandfather, Bill D., was a struggling student, little was known about dyslexia, and how to overcome it through explicit, structured literacy instruction.

“At that time, the teachers and students didn’t know what dyslexia was, and because of that, they decided I was unintelligent, and therefore they labeled me as such,” shared Bill. “In more recent years, I learned about the hereditary aspect. I felt a sense of relief that there wasn’t something wrong with me, and that I wasn’t alone.”

Although early intervention is preferred, it’s never too late to succeed academically. Bill left high school during his senior year to assist his family by enlisting in the Navy. He went on to earn his high school equivalency diploma at a local community college and initially made a living as a truck driver to support his young family.

Following an injury, he sought vocational job assistance, and was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 40. Still, with a personal motto, “If you can perceive it, you can achieve it,” he applied his interest and talent for baking into a second-act career as a pastry chef. He graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a degree in pastry arts, making the Dean’s List multiple times.

“The professors worked with me to create a plan to help me learn and test in the way I needed. They would verbally read the test to me and then I would dictate the answer and they would write it down. It was a positive experience for me and made me feel very proud!”

As for his grandchildren, Bill could not be more pleased with the support that is available to them.

“I’m glad they have the additional support that I was not afforded as a child. The Wilson Reading System is an amazing program and I am so thankful that my grandsons and others can benefit from the intensive instruction it provides. Liam kept the faith and WRS has given him confidence to do what he wants to in life. Cooper is just beginning his journey with WRS, but I have no doubt he will succeed and achieve literacy as well.”

Devon is proud of her father and sons for taking the ball from dyslexia and charging toward the goal line. Their experiences, and the knowledge she gained throughout Liam’s journey, are useful in her role as a member of Wilson’s Program Development department, where she helps students, educators, and other families navigate the playing field.

With his WRS Certificate of Completion and a toolkit packed with skills and strategies, Liam is excited to advance to high school this fall.

“I’m now able to read fluently, learn the way I need to, and ask for help if I’m having a hard time,” he said. “I’ve learned that a lot of people have dyslexia, and that there’s nothing wrong with me. I learned I am smart; I just learn differently!”

Pictured: Liam napping after an exhausting first day of kindergarten; Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner Erica King presenting Liam with his WRS Certificate of Completion.