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Dyslexia is defined as a reading problem, but its implications are often broader. It can make life stressful for children and their parents. As Gabrielle Emanuel of the NPR Ed team reports, there are things families can do to cope.
GABRIELLE EMANUEL, BYLINE: Canela Jayne Lordos's bedroom is any artistic 10-year-old's dream. It's cozy with lime green walls, and every surface has an art project on it. She shows me a monkey she sculpted from wax. It's really well-done.
CANELA JAYNE LORDOS: So I use one half to make, like, a body.
EMANUEL: Wait. You just do it with your hands.
CANELA JAYNE: Yeah.
EMANUEL: You don't use a mold.
CANELA JAYNE: No.
CANELA JAYNE: I like doing it.
EMANUEL: She turns around and picks up her sewing project. It's embroidery.
CANELA JAYNE: I like that you can write about things in it, draw basically.
EMANUEL: You can write about things in pictures.
That makes sense. Canela Jayne has dyslexia, so writing and reading with letters is hard for her - so hard she started hating school.
MEGAN LORDOS: There would be days that she could not get on the bus.
EMANUEL: Megan Lordos is Canela Jayne's mom. They live in northern Virginia.
LORDOS: Just the look of fear in her huge eyes - Mommy, I can't do this; I can't do this; don't make me do this.
EMANUEL: While dyslexia is a reading challenge, its reach can be felt far beyond the classroom, often tainting home life. In the Lordos family, homework carries with it a sense of dread and conflict each evening.
LORDOS: Which always made me the bad guy. It would carry over and sort of poison the evening. Dinner would be a struggle. Bedtime would be a struggle.
EMANUEL: And the Lordos family was not alone. Listen to these parents.
LANCE PRESSL: You could feel the cloud hover over the kitchen. It was just - it was a nightmare every night.
MARTHA COTTON: You'd start with - like, OK, we're going to get through this, try to have a positive attitude. And then it would just kind of devolve into stress and tears.
HAL MALCHOW: Will he ever go to college? We just didn't know.
GEVA LESTER: He would get off the bus, and he would say to me, Mom, I'm stupid. It was really scary for us.
DONNA OWENS: It's no longer a reading problem. It's a life crisis.
EMANUEL: For parents like Lance Pressl, Martha Cotton, Hal Malchow, Geva Lester and Donna Owens, it's hard to know what to do. But experts and parents who have been through it say there are three key things that can improve this situation. First, the sooner you intervene, the better. When Canela Jayne was having trouble reading, the school didn't seem worried. Lordos says they told her...
LORDOS: Well, let's wait six more months, and let's see what happens.
EMANUEL: But the research suggests early and intensive reading help is most effective. It's best not to wait. Number two - find something your child is really good at. For Canela Jayne, it isn't just art. She also loves cooking. Today, banana bread is on the menu, and she's practicing reading the recipe.
How many eggs are in it?
CANELA JAYNE: One egg.
EMANUEL: Yeah, you're totally right.
For other kids, it's sports, computers, music, anything that takes skill and is something they can be proud of. Experts say that children with dyslexia are at a higher risk for depression, and having another passion where there's a more direct link between effort and success is helpful.
Finally, make a financial plan. Schools are supposed to help, but many are not prepared to do so. That means parents often turn to outside testing, specialized tutors, reading centers and of course private schools. Families told me this could easily cost tens of thousands of dollars if not more.
LORDOS: I guess we use their college fund to pay for it.
EMANUEL: Megan Lordos and her husband say it was a hard decision.
LORDOS: We invest in the child that we have now. You know, college won't be an option if they continue to hate school and reject everything that has to do with reading.
EMANUEL: But after more than 400 hours of intensive tutoring, Canela Jayne is doing much better.
LORDOS: A much, much happier kid.
EMANUEL: And how about the other parents?
PRESSL: Her self-confidence went from negative 20 to, you know, 110.
COTTON: She's kind of found, like, a series of books that she's really into. It's great, and it's really exciting.
MALCHOW: He's at Denison University. He already has a job after college, and he's getting great grades.
LESTER: He's able to read. I think it's changed his world.
MALCHOW: Gabrielle Emanuel, NPR News.
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