Parents always want what is best for their children. For me, this was discovering what exactly was preventing my son from performing at his best.

I knew he was very smart in his brain, creative with his hands, and kind, affectionate, and gentle in his heart.

One of the reasons my son went under the radar for so long was because he was not struggling in any of his other classes besides reading and writing related activities. He was doing just fine in math, science, art and PE and his teachers never complained about his behavior. In fact, they always told us that he was cooperative, respectful and well-behaved in class.

Eventually, going to the principal and having our doctor become involved with this matter sparked an interest in the teachers and the school, an interest that I had been seeking for so long. When I went to the principal the next time, she knew that she couldn’t dismiss me as easily and could no longer ignore the problem.

In the third grade, the principal finally provided me with an examination of my son’s performance thus far. The school called in an educational psychologist, a therapist and a pathologist to evaluate my son. They observed him during class, they observed his behaviors, they did educational, intellectual and speech/language evaluations which took a couple of months before they were able to come to a conclusion. Although he performed poorly on the reading and writing portion of the exam and his overall score was at the lowest threshold, he was still within the “average” academic range of functioning. For this reason, they refused to admit him to the “Individualized Education Program” (IEP), which made me feel like it had all been for nothing.

By the end of the first semester of the fourth grade, my son was still struggling with school and I was still unsatisfied with the school’s participation and effort in helping my child. I had to ask for a re-evaluation and when the school re-tested him after a year, I was upset to find out that my son had fallen below the average range. By the time the re-evaluation was completed, the analysis and paperwork was done, and the conclusion was made, the end of the school year was upon us. Sadly, another unproductive and unsuccessful year had passed us by.

The school decided that my son would be admitted to IEP the following year. Now he was officially under the DOE’s umbrella of children with learning disabilities. Even though I felt that the term “learning disabilities” was not an accurate description of my son’s condition, fifth grade was the first time that my son excelled in school. Even his teachers noticed his confidence, his performance, and his more positive outlook on school. 

The good thing about being accepted into IEP is that once a student is in the program under the supervision of the DOE, the student remains in the program until they are able to qualify out of the IEP standards. The program continues until the end of high school and applies to any school in the DOE system. The parents do not have to re-apply to IEP if the student changes schools. Even later if you decide to send your child to a private school, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) your child is still eligible for services under the PSPP (Private School Participation Project) and the FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) which includes special education and related services through IEP.

When my son began middle school, his new IEP teacher was surprised to see a student like him who really only struggled with reading and writing in her class. She told me that all of her other students required one-on-one attention and that my son was far above all of her other students. She felt that it was demoralizing to keep him behind. Even with the teacher’s observations, we had to leave him there because we didn’t have any other alternatives.

Knowing how his IEP teacher felt while trying to find a way to escape from all of this DOE drama kept pushing me to continue my research. He was in a unique position where he neither fit in with his grade level nor with students with learning or behavioral disabilities. Years of unsolved problems created a big gap that now needed to be addressed before he could move forward in his education.

I recalled that the same woman who had first mentioned dyslexia to me about three years ago had also mentioned a school called Assets School that supposedly catered to students like my son. Being unhappy with our son’s new school due to a multitude of different issues and continuing to be unsatisfied with the DOE’s system regarding special students, my husband and I began considering sending our son to a private school. We began researching Assets School. This school seemed like it was going to be a perfect match for our son, and after much deliberation, we decided to apply.

During the application process, unlike other private schools, Assets School required our son to be evaluated by a private psychologist which we paid about nine hundred dollars out of pocket for. According to this particular evaluation, my son met the DSM-IV criteria for a Disorder of Reading, which means he was officially diagnosed with dyslexia. We realized that Assets School was going to be an excellent fit for his needs because they were the first school that recognized the problem and were willing and prepared to address it.

After the admission process was finally done, I felt the relief that I had been looking for during the last seven years knowing that we had finally found the learning environment that was practically designed for our son and his needs. We have been lucky enough to see a whole new side of our son at his new school. He was happier, encouraged and motivated in school for once, and was actually eager to learn for the first time. Assets was able to regain my trust and at last I could let my guard down.

The school respected and received its students as unique, gifted, talented and exceptional students rather than problematic ones. From the students to the teachers, the staff to the principal, everyone was tolerant and understanding almost like they were trying to heal each others’ past scars and wounds. That was the moment of a sad realization for me as I understood how much my son had endured since the first day of Kindergarten from the teachers and educators, who were ill equipped and incapable of dealing with students like my son, and from “friends” who mocked, teased and ridiculed him. His reasons for not liking school and not wanting to go to school since Kindergarten became very obvious to me.

All my effort in trying to help and find a suitable after-school learning environment for my son, hiring private tutors, putting my son into after school enrichment classes, sending him to Kumon and to the Sylvan Learning Center where he was given extra practice to supplement his current learning were no use. Actually, he hated every single one of those experiences and was frustrated that he was being given more work when he couldn’t even keep up with the work from school. I understand now that he despised these resources so much because they were not right for him. Unknowingly, with unfair expectations, I too was damaging his confidence and increasing his confusion and embarrassment.

Even though we were very fortunate to come upon Assets School, the struggle we went through to get my son to this point was very painful and it disrupted the peace in my family for a long time. If anyone is going through a similar experience, rest assured that I, along with all of the other parents of students from Assets, understand what you are going through. Our children are not disabled; they just learn differently. They need a little more attention and structure than what the DOE can provide. We are entrusted with their education as well as their personal growth. It is our responsibility to help them find the right learning environment to the best of our abilities. And I know that with the right tools, our kids can do anything they set their minds to with dreams and hopes for the future. 

Let us rewrite the famous saying: “Great minds DO NOT think OR LEARN alike” as we say it at Assets School. Dyslexia is not a sickness or a disease. It is a specific trait that our children carry along with Albert Einstein and many more famous dyslexic people who achieved great things in this world.

Filiz Arslan
March 2019

Dyslexia Part 1: A Mother’s Perspective