Yesterday, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. (She will be grown up soon, so I thought it might be time to start giving the subject a little thought.) Sarah can be anything she wants; she has the intellect to be a brain surgeon and, in my humble opinion, the looks to be a supermodel.
When Sarah was in first grade, she was diagnosed as dyslexic. She does not have the form of dyslexia that results in the reversal of letters, such as when people mistake a "b" for a "d" or a "7" for an "L". Rather, she has a form of dyslexia that makes it difficult for her brain to store words and symbols that she has seen before. To explain this simply, she decodes - or "sounds out" - every individual word she comes across, whether or not she has seen it before. As you can imagine, this makes for some very slow reading, especially at the beginning, when every printed word is new.
This form of dyslexia is not unusual, and it is strongly hereditary. And it can be treated, with intense effort. There are people who suffer from this form of dyslexia who grow up to be great things - Nobel prize-winning scientists, renowned inventors, and respected criminal defense lawyers, just to name a few. The great actor Henry Winkler, for example, who starred as Fonzie in the sitcom Happy Days and who is the co-author of the hysterically funny Hank Zipzer series of children's books, suffers from exactly the same affliction - or "learning difference," as he likes to call it - as Sarah.
Elementary school was a struggle for poor Sarah, who found herself left behind by her peers around the third grade, when their reading speed took off. I read aloud to her as much as I could, and I ordered her audiobooks to listen to as she followed along in the printed text. We bought voice-recognition software to assist her with her written assignments. I assured her that people with dyslexia actually tend to have higher-than-average IQ's, and that she was by no means to doubt her intelligence just because she processed written words more slowly than most people.
Unfortunately, Sarah's grade-school teachers were not so understanding or accommodating. They routinely chided her for her slowness and attributed it to laziness. When she got frustrated, which was often, she tended to tune out, which infuriated her teachers. But it was not until one such teacher called her lazy and stupid, to her face, that I withdrew her from the local public school in a fury and enrolled her at a private school that specialized in helping children with language-based learning disabilities.
Suddenly, Sarah was in an intellectually-stimulating environment filled with children whose concerns were similar to her own. Her teachers not only understood her issues, but they were specially trained to deal with them. Visual art (a common talent among dyslexic children) was encouraged and made a part of the daily curriculum. The language arts teacher had a daughter who was dyslexic; the history teacher was himself dyslexic. He shared stories of his childhood struggles with his students, and they in turn bonded with him and worked hard to please him. I think putting Sarah in that school, rather than the public middle school, might have been one of the smarter decisions I had ever made.
Sarah told me yesterday, in answer to my question, that she might be thinking about becoming a teacher. She is patient with children, and she knows what it is like to need an understanding adult's support when things get difficult. Now that she is excelling in the mainstream public high school, the possibility of teaching, one day, is a completely attainable goal for her.
As is, of course, any goal she sets.
P.S. Sarah has approved every aspect of this post except for the picture, which she absolutely hates.