Why I Don’t Use an Orton-Gillingham Program (or any other) for My Dyslexic, Homeschooled Teen

Step 1: You either notice that your child is having difficulties learning to read or reading, or a teacher alerts you to the problem.

Step 2: You have your child evaluated for “learning disabilities” (have I mentioned before that I loathe that term?)

Step 3: The results come back conclusive.  Your child does indeed have dyslexia, and the person who did the evaluation tells you that you will need to begin intensive remediation of your child’s reading skills with an Orton Gillingham reading program, which is the only kind that research has shown works to teach a dyslexic child how to read.  It’s going to be a long, rocky road, but the earlier intervention and remediation can begin, the better.

Step 4: You begin asking around for suggestions.  What’s the best Orton Gillingham program to use?  Should you hire a tutor?

Step 5: You buy an Orton Gillingham program, like Barton, or you hire a tutor and let the torture begin… because probably by now, your child thinks he’s stupid.  Your child hates reading because she can’t do it.  The only experience she’s had with reading is chronic frustration.  Your child would rather be outside riding his bike with his friends than having extra tutoring in a subject he already hates.  You square your shoulders and get ready for battle.

I am not a dyslexia expert.  I’m not a professional educator.  I was given the exact same advice by the neuropsychologist who diagnosed Erica, and I have chosen to ignore it.  I’m sure he’d find my decision not to remediate her reading skills right now questionable, and I’m okay with that.

I caved, initially, to the looming fear about what might happen to Erica if we didn’t address her reading skills after the neuropsychologist gravely informed me that yes, my child has dyslexia and she’d need intensive remediation with an Orton Gillingham method if she was to succeed in life.  I bought the first level of Susan Barton’s program, and we did it. Sort of.

We weren’t very consistent about it for two reasons.  One, I’m not convinced that intense focus on a weakness is always a good idea.  Two, Erica didn’t want to do it, and I am never inclined anymore to wage war against my children over anything someone else says they are supposed to learn.

Let me digress just a moment to tell you a different story.  This one is about me.  There was a time in my past where something traumatic happened to me, and in those few months surrounding the trauma, it seemed to consume my life.  I couldn’t escape from it.  I inhaled, and I felt pain.  I exhaled, and I felt pain.  It began to define me.  I never wanted the sum total of who I am as a person to be all about one traumatic event that happened to me.  I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life focusing on that one traumatic event.

Now, Erica’s dyslexia isn’t one single traumatic event.  It’s how her brain is wired.  It also makes doing things like “eye reading”, spelling, and math difficult, especially if they’re taught and evaluated in traditionally accepted ways. She’s 14 now. She can “eye read” (as opposed to “ear read,” which would be using audio books); she’s just not fantastic at it.  She does enjoy it, when it’s a book she’s interested in reading.  I don’t want the few things that are more difficult for her to do because she has dyslexia to define her.  I don’t want her hyper-focused on her weaknesses.  I don’t want her getting the message that the things she is good at are less important and are less deserving of her time until she masters “eye reading.”

I don’t want her spending the next five years focusing on the things she doesn’t do well.  Like I said in one of my earlier posts, I want her spending the next five years diving as deeply and as broadly into her passions as she possibly can.  I want her to be able to become an expert in something she loves, like her art.  I want her to be able to figure out, as the needs approach, how to either learn something that is difficult for her to learn, to do whatever she can to accommodate or mitigate that weakness, or to delegate it completely.  Successful adults do not generally choose to do things that they don’t do well or don’t enjoy.  They delegate those tasks to someone else who is better suited for them, and there is no shame in that.

If Erica’s reading skills ever become a problem for her, she will be the first one to recognize it.  They’ll create a big ol’ boulder right in the middle of her path.  If she can’t accommodate or mitigate (go over or around that boulder), then the only option is to go right through it.  At that point, remediating her reading skills will be back on the table.  

She’ll find the resources she needs in order to accomplish that task.  If she can’t find them on her own, I’ll help her.  She’ll do the work, maybe still not loving it, but without all of the resentment, frustration, and hostility she’d feel toward it (and me) if I make her do it because I think it’s important for her to do.  She’ll probably get through it quicker and do a better job, too, once she’s the force behind that decision.  She’ll work as hard as she needs to, for as long as she needs to, until she’s satisfied with the results.  Then, she’ll move onto something else.  The beautiful thing is that she can always come back for more if she needs it.  

All is not lost if she chooses not to remediate her reading skills as a young teenager.

About the Author Becky

I’m a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.

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