This was how we defined our days, our moods, our family’s time together.
The color dictated how we felt about ourselves - if we were successes or failures.
Am I good or bad? Is it worth trying again tomorrow?
Green. Yellow. Red. These were the colors of the stop light chart my son’s kindergarten class used every day to judge how his day had been. Most days were yellow and often red. Green was seldom used no matter how many incentives we offered, what instructions his teacher gave and how many times we offered praises and corrections. It doesn’t seem very powerful, just three primary colors. But to a six year old trying to navigate a new environment and new challenges it became everything — how he saw himself and how others saw him. “The kid on red”; “I had a yellow day”. And it went further than that. Because we are a family and our lives are all connected, it dictated if we had a good evening together, if I felt like a good mother that day, if I thought things would ever get better.
Austin started out as a bright happy kindergarten student with a shiny new back pack and unbridled excitement for learning new things. It was finally time for school and he couldn’t wait to learn. After all, his family and friends had been telling him how SMART he was for years. The child who watched documentaries for fun, memorized engineering specifications about the Titanic, and relished conversations about ancient Egyptian geography.
Within the first two weeks of school the green days went away — soon to be replaced by yellow and red. Shortly after that came the emails and calls about his “behavior”. He wasn’t paying attention, didn’t want to participate, refused to focus. We all hoped it was an adjustment period and with more guidelines and incentives he would come around and change his behavior. By fall parent-teacher conferences Austin’s behavior was becoming a “problem” and a “distraction” to other students. He was frequently made to miss recess time to finish work or, in many cases, asked to sit in the hall or at the back of another teacher’s classroom. He had become in their minds and his own, “a bad kid”. Red. Red. Red.
The entire spring semester was a spiral of frustration and anger for him and us (and likely his teachers as well) as his “behavior” got worse and worse and he became angry. We started going through testing for ADD, autism-spectrum, neurological issues — all in hopes of solving what the educational experts at his school told us was his “behavior problem”. We were told it was his behavior that was preventing him from learning. Because he certainly wasn’t learning. He had made no progress with his letters, writing, or sight words in seven months. Our lives at home were heartbreaking and we all felt helpless to solve the problem. I can say it is, to date, one of the most difficult years of my life. Red. Red. Red.
Finally, in May of his kindergarten year, in a fit of frustration, Austin pushed another student and found himself in in-school suspension for a day. Alone in a room with his school work. He was six. He could not read or complete any of the work left with him that day. This was the point that I began to see RED. How was this helping him? Who is this child? Is there any hope? Surely this is not the sweet, loving, open boy who walked in the school doors in August. This behavior was NOT my Austin. I began to fight. Fight FOR him. Fight the system that had not served him. Fight the people who were supposed to be helping. I began to realize his was not a “behavior” problem as I had been told for months. I didn’t know what it was, but I was going to find out.
Thankfully for Austin, he had an after school art teacher who had been educated at the Fundamental Learning Center and saw his “behavior” for what is truly was: a learning difference. In a desperate grasp for hope, I scheduled an assessment at Fundamental Learning Center and it was the single most important decision I could have made for him and for our family.
Through our assessment we learned that Austin is dyslexic. Dyslexia is a very common, brain-based issue that causes an individual to have significant difficulty with language processing. We learned that Austin has trouble sounding out words, writing, recognizing common words, and following multi-step directions. We also learned that Austin is extremely gifted in visual-spatial skills and operates on an adult level verbally. No wonder he was lost and frustrated in a traditional kindergarten class room!
His problem was NOT behavior. It was that he learns and operates in a unique way and his school was failing to provide him what he needed to be successful. I soon realized that if Austin had any hope of succeeding academically and regaining his confidence, his learning environment needed to drastically change.
Research confirms that kids with dyslexia need multi-sensory literacy instruction that engages them through sight, hearing, movement and touch. Students with language process issues also require accommodations that enable them to show what they know through means other than writing, like an oral or video report. Assistive technology tools, like audio books and text-to-speech apps, also help level the playing field for students with dyslexia and other reading issues.
While we were unable to find a solution at the school where he started kindergarten, we were fortunate enough to find Rolph Literacy Academy at the Fundamental Learning Center. RLA is a private full-day school for children with reading difficulties, including dyslexia, where both the environment and curriculum are tailored to meet the unique needs of kids like Austin. Since moving to RLA four years ago, I have seen my child grow in ways I never would have thought possible. His challenges with reading are still there, but have in no way held him back. He is currently reading on grade-level as well as working two grades ahead in math. His confidence has returned ten-fold and he has learned to see the way he thinks as a “super-power” rather than a disability. Moving forward I know that he will be successful, that he has learned what he needs, and how to advocate for himself. This is everything I could want for him and for our family.
Green. All day every day.