Confused by Dyslexia

Jolie’s Story

By Diane Hurst

Dyslexia—getting mixed up with lefts and rights and transposing letters in words and having great difficulty with reading and spelling—I knew nothing of it.

When my fifth child, Jolie, was born, she seemed lively and bright. We had homeschooled all of our children, and Jolie eagerly began her formal preschool education when she was 3, with letter and number recognition, stories, and coloring.

By first grade, Jolie learned to write letters and to add and subtract just like other first–graders. She was having a little trouble with learning to read, but I wasn’t too concerned; I knew she could catch up. However, when Jolie took a state–mandated test at the end of first grade, her scores indicated that she was not performing at grade level in reading and spelling. We were concerned, and for second grade I bought a series of phonics–based workbooks, which she enjoyed very much. But at the end of second grade her reading and spelling scores were worse—not better. She found it very hard to tell a right spelling from a wrong spelling on a standardized test. The best she could do was to guess at all the answers. She began to feel that something was wrong. Why was it so hard to take the test? Why couldn’t she read and spell? Other kids her age could.

Third grade brought no improvement. She did love listening to stories and did a lot of that. But she was still reading at a first–grade level when she read aloud, and because her math pages included a lot of written instructions and story problems, she needed help with math constantly. Sometimes that help didn’t come easily from me, her busy mom, and Jolie became frustrated and impatient.

By the time Jolie was in fifth grade, she still struggled with reading, and now with math too. I decided to have her read to her younger siblings every night, which she willingly did. She also read aloud to me for school and read short passages silently in her schoolbooks. She was starting to make some progress in reading but was still very far behind.

The next year, I checked out a library book on dyslexia, and in reading it realized that Jolie was probably dyslexic. She fit all the criteria: bright and intelligent in other subjects but having a lot of difficulty with reading and spelling. She still didn’t ever really know which was her right or left hand. And she was stumped by some very simple words—especially names—and it left me wondering, Why? Why are names so hard? They are made of letters/sounds like all other words.

Jolie went through her middle school years at home and kept reading aloud to her siblings and to me, and she began reading a lot more for her own enjoyment. When she read aloud to me, I still had to point out lots of corrections. We learned that the best way to do this was for me to tell her the word if she hesitated, so that she could continue with the flow of the story. I tried to prevent her from guessing words; I thought it was better for me to tell her the word than to get in a bad habit of guessing. At this point, asking her to “sound out” a word would have been about as appealing as asking her to walk barefoot on burning hot sand. Maybe she could do it—maybe? But it was sure to be painful. (As I learned later, this was because she didn’t know the phonetic sounds. Teaching her the sounds again, at her own pace and until she mastered them, would have made “sounding out” an easier task and would have brought quicker improvements in both reading and spelling.)

Spelling was still a difficult task. She came to rely on her next youngest sister to tell her how to spell words. For her eighth grade year, we concentrated on learning only the most commonly used words using Leonard Porter Ayers’ A Measuring Scale for Ability in Spelling.1 This was partially successful, and we were able to cover about half of the most common words during this year. We made weekly lists based on words she missed in Ayers’ diagnostic spelling book, and she analyzed them in order to identify what parts of the spelling were tripping her up and practiced spelling them.

This year Jolie is a senior, and her educational story isn’t finished yet. She is taking classes in cosmetology, and she is looking forward to graduating from high school. I’m glad to see that she now enjoys reading as a hobby.

I’m sorry I didn’t know how to help her sooner. I hope you will consider the value of learning about the signs of dyslexia, if not for your own child, perhaps to help someone else. In Jolie’s case, I didn’t recognize the warning signs; that is why this story has been told.

Diane and Michael Hurst have been homeschooling their children for more than twenty–five years. Michael teaches technology and art in public school and university. Diane is a stay–at–home mom, home teacher, writer, artist, and songwriter. Diane and Michael have a homeschool curriculum business featuring some unique materials that Diane has designed, www.gentleshepherd.biz. Their blog address is www.gentleshepherdweavings.blogspot.com.


  1. Ayers, Leonard Porter, A Measuring Scale for Ability in Spelling, Mott Media, Milford, MI, 1986. Return to text.

Signs of Dyslexia

Dyslexia can range from mild to moderate to severe to profound. Someone with dyslexia may not have all of these symptoms, but he or she will have many of them:

In preschool and kindergarten:

  • Confusion over direction words (left/right, over/under, before/after)
  • Inability to identify letter sounds in words or to identify simple rhymes
  • Problems with speech articulation and may mix up sounds in some words (for example, saying aminal for animal)

In elementary years, students may:

  • Be unable to sound out words.
  • Have great difficulty in reading single words that are not part of a sentence and have no picture clues.
  • Often mistakenly choose a word with the same first letter and a similar shape (for example, reading sweater for swelter) when misreading words.
  • Pronounce the letters in a different sequence than they are actually found in the word (for example, reading how for who).
  • Demonstrate confusion with the letters b and d, and there may be confusion with n and u or m and w.
  • Misread or leave out small words such as an, a, from, the, to, were, are, and of.
  • Have very poor spelling, and “memorization” of spelling lists doesn’t last beyond a test that is studied for.
  • Misspell words even when copying written words.
  • Have handwriting that is improperly spaced, and margins may be ignored.
  • Start math problems on the wrong side or want to carry a number the wrong way.
  • Have trouble doing tasks that require a sequence of steps, not remembering the order to do them in (for example, tying shoelaces, sequence of pencil strokes in forming letters, doing the steps of long division).
  • Have difficulty with any type of rote memorization (for example, learning multiplication tables, memorizing science facts such as the temperature water freezes and boils, or remembering history facts such as dates and names).

  • It is much easier for a dyslexic person to tell you about something than to write it down.
  • They don’t automatically know right from left.

Note: The signs in the brief lists above were gleaned from information found at Bright Solutions for Dyslexia’s website (www.dys–add.com). This information is published by permission from Bright Solutions for Dyslexia. For a much more detailed list of signs, read the section called “Symptoms of Dyslexia,” found at www.Dys–Add.com/Symptoms.html.

Additional Thoughts

  • With remedial help, your child can make progress in learning to read and spell. You may need to go back to square one with letter sounds and teach phonics and phonemic awareness.
  • Modern scientific research has shown that the brain of a dyslexic is different.1 This is usually the result of a particular dominant gene, which is why dyslexia runs in families. People with dyslexia have a larger right hemisphere in their brains. This may be one reason that they also often have strengths in skills that are artistic, athletic, mechanical, musical, and involve creative problem solving. Their difficulty in processing written language is lifelong, but by taking some extra measures, they can learn to read and spell with proficiency. Dyslexia can also develop as a result of ear infections in early childhood, if impaired hearing prevents the child from hearing and recognizing the sounds in each separate part of a word.2
  • A diagnosis of dyslexia does not have to mean a sentence of failure for your child. Many famous and very successful people were or are dyslexic, including Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Woodrow Wilson.3 Their contributions to our world happened in spite of, and quite possibly because of, their dyslexia.
  • Dyslexic children often have a poor self–image, especially if their condition has not been identified and addressed until they are in their mid–elementary years or older. If they understand what is causing their difficulties, this can help them to have a better attitude and to work more willingly on the subjects that require more effort.
  • Organizations such as Bright Solutions for Dyslexia provide information about dyslexia and offer suggestions for how to help a dyslexic child or teen. Your child can be tested by a specialist, to confirm that he/she is dyslexic, and you can arrange for special tutoring for him/her. But whether you have a confirmed diagnosis or not, there are many things you as a parent (and especially as a homeschooling parent) can do.
  • Research has shown that the most effective tutoring for dyslexia is based on use of an Orton–Gillingham phonics method. This is a multi–sensory, direct instruction approach, and includes teaching phonemic awareness along with phonics. For a list of some well–known Orton–Gillingham based systems, see Bright Solutions for Dyslexia’s web page: www.Dys–Add.com/lrnmore.html#ogsystems.


  1. “What is Dyslexia?” Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, Inc., www.dys–add.com/define.html, accessed May 2010. Return to text.
  2. “Frequently Asked Questions,” Dyslexia Teacher, www.dyslexia–teacher.com/t16.html, accessed May 2010. Return to text.
  3. “Famous Dyslexics,” Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, Inc., www.dys–add.com/symptoms.html#famous, accessed February 2011. Return to text.

Curricula That Can Help Older Dyslexics

  • Barton Reading & Spelling System

This tutoring system trains parents (and others) to help children with reading and spelling difficulties, including dyslexia. The system can be purchased one “level” at a time (there are 10 levels—based on skills to learn, not on grade levels). Each level has a DVD that gives tutor training, a tutor manual, and any special materials needed for that level. Extra practice games for levels 2, 3, and 4 are available to users through the Internet.

  • Quest for Learning

Phonics Solution software, at Quest for Learning, looks like a great program for studying spelling through the computer or as a supplement to another phonics–based program. All the Orton–Gillingham phonograms are presented with sound, and examples of their use in words are given. Spelling rules are taught, and there are different options for customizing how the program runs (you can select only words with certain phonograms or create your own custom word lists).

  • Reading Horizons

Reading Horizons offers free access to their online training workshop, for thirty days. A computer software program is available too—you can see sample lessons from the software on the website.

  • EPS School Specialty

Recipe for Reading is a program that teaches phonics and phonemic awareness sequentially and with cumulative review, using a teacher’s manual and a set of nine progressing skill–set workbooks.

  • Saxon Publishers

Saxon Phonics Intervention (teacher book, classroom materials, and student workbook) is not available in a homeschool version; it is designed for a classroom setting. A scope and sequence can be viewed on Saxon’s website.

  • YesPhonics

YesPhonics offers a program that combines methods used by four educators whose methods have been “revolutionary” in education: Orton (determined seventy phonograms), Ayer (determined one thousand most commonly used words), Spalding (taught spelling rules and word markings) and Zier (created illustrated phrases for the phonograms). This is the only program I have seen that offers a money–back guarantee if you use their program for sixty days and your child doesn’t show improvement. They make a unique set of phonogram flashcards. For each of the seventy–two Orton phonograms, there is a picture and phrase that combines different sounds for the same letter. For example, for the three sounds of a, the phrase is “have a ball,” and there is a picture of a boy holding a ball. These flashcards would be useful to anyone teaching the Orton phonograms, even if not using the YesPhonics program. They are available for separate purchase (seventy–two cards, on high–gloss white card stock). The complete program is purchased as a kit that includes reproducible masters for work pages and games, as well as a Teacher’s Manual.

General Dyslexia Info

  • Basic Facts About Dyslexia and Other Reading Problems, a book by Louisa Cook Moats and Karen E. Dakin, and published by The International Dyslexia Association in 2007, gives up–to–date information about dyslexia with real–life examples. This book is available through the association’s website: www.interdys.org.

  • Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, Inc.

This site has a listing of the signs of dyslexia at different age groups and presents an abundance of other information and resources. There is also a listing of programs that don’t work for dyslexia (go to “Teaching That Works” then “Watch Out for Snake Oil”).

  • Dyslexia Online Magazine

There are many articles written especially for parents of dyslexics. One that is especially helpful is “Hearing Your Child Read” by John Bradford. There is also a free dyslexia advice line (through an online forum).

Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, Summer 2011.

Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at theoldschoolhouse.com to view a full–length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at Publisher@theoldschoolhouse.com.