What Happens When A Writer's Son Can't Read?

As they pulled my son from the fresh slice in my abdomen, he had a bluish tinge.  He was not crying.  Up to that point, I hadn’t spoken his name aloud: it was a secret that only he and I knew.

“Why isn’t Puck crying?” I croaked, touching the nurse’s hand to get her attention as she and I watched a huddle of nurses and doctors surround him on the other side of the room. Within  moments, a sharp peal from Puck dispersed them and he was finally brought to me.  I counted fingers and toes and got lost in his big blue eyes.  I barely noticed as they stitched me back together. His fingers curled around mine as I inhaled his tuft of light-colored hair and let out a long sigh. He was going to be OK.

I watched him grow: he was a normal little boy, hitting each of the toddler milestones in turn. He got a mouthful of teeth. He started talking and walking before he was one.  He was potty trained at two.  He was social at the day care, making friends easily. He enjoyed singing, and my car radio was taken over with the music of Sesame Street and The Wiggles. He loved story time and we read together every night, spending weekend afternoons at the library.  I was thrilled to discover at two and a half he could sing the whole alphabet and count to ten. He was even a little mischievous: I’d often find him after bedtime playing under his blanket.

As he entered school, I expected he would excel, but was dismayed as I had my first meetings with his teachers.  They told me that Puck was acting out in class.  Although he appeared to enjoy science, music and even math, and tested well verbally, he was not interested in writing or reading.

We soon discovered that Puck’s sing-song alphabet was only that – a song.  His mind couldn’t match the sounds to written letters.  His fingers wouldn’t translate the letters to paper. Puck’s writing samples showed letters that were misshapen: too big or too small, often backwards.  He was acting out in frustration.  He couldn’t do the same things that his peers were doing.

[tweetthis]We soon discovered that my son’s sing-song alphabet was only that – a song. #dysgraphia[/tweetthis]

Puck would cry and throw things during homework.  He didn’t want to go to school.  My normally even-tempered,  well-liked boy was telling me that he hated all of his teachers and that he had no friends.  As we read together at bedtime, he stubbornly refused to attempt to identify the letters or try even the smallest words.

At school, with one teacher for over twenty students, Puck was falling behind his peers.  We pushed for testing, but after discovering the snarl of wait lists and issues with funding, decided to test privately.  After several intense weeks, we received a diagnosis.  Dysgraphia – a disorder of writing. It was a relief to have a name for it.  It would take effort, but we were told that with discipline and accommodation, he could read.

The school had an occupational therapist work with Puck once a week.  We engaged a private tutor and started physical therapy to increase his core strength.  As a result of the thorough testing, we had a specific IEP put in place and regular meetings with the school.  His written output was decreased, as they focused on ways to get him not only to learn – but to enjoy school.

At home, we worked hard.  If Puck got frustrated, we’d switch tasks. We struggled to build his confidence. Puck practiced his writing intently – gripping his pencil tight in his fingers to try to perfect the letters.  We started teaching him how to type and the school allowed him to start completing assignments using technology for any written output.

Once he conquered the alphabet, Puck started reading smaller words, while I read the big ones.  With encouragement, he advanced to small books intended for younger readers.  As he gained confidence, the books grew in size and complexity. Yet, reading continued to be a chore for him.  It was always more work than fun. I fretted. What if he didn’t develop a love of reading?  How could he not love books?

Then one morning, a full three years after his diagnosis, he came downstairs with dark circles under his eyes.  I went up to his room, ready to punish him, expecting that I would find Legos under his pillow.  I pulled back his blanket.  No Legos.  Instead, I found a flashlight and a colorful, thick, dog-eared book with a bookmark in the middle. I picked up his pillow and hugged it, sniffing the essence of his now darker blonde hair as I let out a long sigh.  He’s going to be OK.

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  1. My 9-year-old writes very neatly, but took FOREVER to learn his alphabet and still struggles with reading. He has trouble with visual discrimination. He just told me that the B on his hat was upside down when he looked in the mirror rather than backwards. His older siblings are all at the tops of their classes in reading and his little sister is about to catch up to him in reading ability. It is really hard!

  2. OH this was so brilliantly written and your story touched me so deeply. I am sharing this on my page- because I know so many moms who have endured similar journeys and they will be inspired by your hopeful message. You are such a good mom.

    I’m so so glad it’s going to be okay. Bless your little guy’s heart. I LOVED the ending. <3

  3. What a beautiful post, liv!! ❤️ I remember those days of hiding under the covers with my book ☺️. Hugs!!!!

  4. We had those exact same problems with my son, but he was diagnosed with ADHD and put on drugs that made him act like a zombie. My husband and I made the devision to take him off of the pills, changed his diet some, and just worked harder with him. He hated school all of tbe way through and barely graduated. He went into the military and then finally to college, but it was a long hard road. He lo es to read though it didn’t come out until he was about your sons age. The Goosebump books he loved those.

    1. Author

      My son hasn’t tried Goosebumps yet – will have to give it a go. You’re right – it is a long hard road – whether you’re looking forward or back.

  5. Aw, great story, Liv. It’s inspirational and hopeful for so many parents who are experiencing concerns with their children’s learning. I love that Puck is an avid reader now! Yay!!

  6. Aw.. reading under the covers is the BEST!
    I’m such a reader and it seemed for ages like Scarlet wasn’t like me. Now she’s obsessed with reading, but she did it on her own timeline and I had to figure that out first!

    1. Author

      I think that was the hardest part for me. I couldn’t relate because I was reading at a high school level by grade 2. It took me a bit to understand what was happening and why he couldn’t learn the same way.

  7. It’s so difficult when you have a child with learning troubles. Our Bigger Girl was diagnosed with several problems and i was told she’d be lucky to be able to live in a group home someday. Home school and lots of therapies we paid for ourselves and she’s in college, tutoring organic chemistry. It’s worth the fight!

  8. My son was ADHD and struggled through school. I went to weekly meetings there. And even though I read to him from the moment he was in the womb, he hated anything that reeked of school, including reading. But one week, I punished him for something and he had no electronics, no TV, no Computer and no games. He finally started reading and got caught up in the Harry Potter books—how disappointed he was when he finished book three to find out Rowling hadn’t finished writing book four yet. To this day (he’s 29 now) he’s still a reader and even has a favorite author that he only buys in Hardcover.

  9. I love this story – that your hope and perseverance and the careful way you worked with other professionals – all led to that outcome you so wanted for your son. I hope he treasures the gift of delighting in words – it was hard won.

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