Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our only disabilty is our own self doubt- Succeeding with Dyslexia

Royal Hartwig- my sweet boy

My son is a huge inspiration to me. He has this wonderful quality of believing he can achieve anything and having unwavering patience in doing the work to reach his goals. At the age of 15 Royal is an apprentice company Ballet dancer and a high honor roll student. His dance schedule is over 55 hours a week of training year around.  Royal also has a learning disability, he has dyslexia. I asked him if he minds me telling people this and he says he does not. He is proud of who he is and all he has done to be that person.  It is not a handicap. I feel it has helped teach him the importance of being prepared and taught him how to work hard.  As a parent at times it hurt watching him struggle to do things that were easy for most. I'm in awe though that he never gave up, got frustrated, or even thought for a one second he could not do anything he set his mind to doing. This quality is in Royal's inner being, it is not something I taught him. I take no credit for it. Royal has been my teacher.

"Researchers think that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. Children with learning disabilities are not "dumb" or "lazy." In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains just process information differently." *

When my son was born I fell completely in love with this beautiful boy. I wondered to myself how I could ever resist kissing his cheeks every second of the day. I wanted his life to be comfortable and for him to grow up to be whatever he dreamed of. My husband and I enjoyed watching him reach all his normal childhood milestones. Everything was right on track until it came to speech. It was difficult to admit to myself he was behind. I wasn't ready to except a learning disability. I was afraid for what this would do to his life. 

When he entered preschool his speech was hard to understand.  We had him tested and he was behind his age milestones so he started working with a speech therapist. He finished preschool and was not fluent in the alphabet and wrote most of his letters and words backwards. The school suggested we consider waiting one more year for him to start kindergarten.  We decided to send him to kindergarten because he wanted to go and his personality was hard working. We understood he was a behind but we wanted to believe he would quickly catch up .

Once in school Royal had a positive attitude but he struggled. It took him an extremely long time to do task that other kids whizzed through.  Nearly every night his short homework assignments that should have taken 20 minutes to finish would take him the entire evening. He was not goofing off, this was the speed he had to work at to finish. It was scary as a parent to watch. I worked  hard not to show him my frustration. He would just sit there quietly thinking and working until he finished his work every night.

Reading with him was very difficult. His school homework required him to read 10-30  minutes a night.  I watched him struggle, his face showed physical pain while he read. I can't imagine what it must be like to be taught to read one way, then when he looks at the letters his brain is seeing them differently. I was so worried he would never learn to read well enough to function in school. I felt scared and helpless. Somehow Royal never got frustrated. He just simply finished each task that was given to him until he learned it. Then he would move on to the next. He never compared himself to his peers. He was confident he was doing his best and happy with where he was at.

In second grade Royal became a ballet dancer.  Here he was a child that was not reading at or even near grade level  and now he was a boy ballet dancer. I was concerned he would get teased in school. Royal handled this with his typical laid back self confidence. He owned his love of dance and was proud of his practices and performances. In school he wrote about his dance in his writing assignments. I treasure those stories. I remember one wonderful story he told about how his stomach felt before his big performance and how once he was on stage he was comfortable and enjoyed entertaining the audience.

As far as other kids making fun of him at school he did not have problems. His inner peace and confidence were what people saw.  I don't think any of the kids realized he struggled to read and do his work.  He carried himself with self confidence and kids tended to be drawn to him.  He was proud of Ballet so kids did not question it as something to be made fun of. One time in middle school a boy quickly teased him about being a ballet dancer, Royal calmly responded, "I went to a pool party with 25 girls this weekend and I was the only boy, what did you do?" Well, that was the end of that.

Royal Hartwig as the miniature prince in the Nutcracker
We are fortunate to live in Crystal Lake. It's a great school district. The teachers recognized his learning disability early on and set him up with an IEP. This involves us having yearly meetings at the school making plans for Royals education. I sit in a room with a group of teachers and counselors and we go over Royals strengths and concerns. They make goals for him and each year he has been able to reach these goals.  I have never made it through one of these meetings without crying. At the grade school meetings I was crying because I was so scared Royal would not learn to read. Now at the meetings I cry because I am so thankful for all the work the school and teachers have put in to his education. I can never express how grateful I am to them.

Royal is in high school now. He takes all regular classes and is even getting moved to honors classes next semester. He is a "A" or A+" student. I have no worries about his education any more. Now I look forward to him coming home to tell me a typical story about how the teacher announces in class, "Only one person in the class got every question right on the test" and the whole class immediately yells, "I bet it was Royal!". Occasionally he gets teased by his friends when they see his report card, they say "Nerd". He laughs. His teachers all describe him as a leader.

 I am so inspired and proud of my son. He has been blessed to be able to study dance at Judith Svalandar School of Ballet. The kids studying dance work very hard and truly love every moment of it. It has taught Royal how to organize his limited time in the day. He has a passion for classical ballet and if you check his Ipod most of the time he listens to classical music.  Royal is a strong yet quiet young man that moves through life patiently achieving all his small goals no matter how hard they are. These small goals have all added up to some huge achievements. When I start to have self doubt in my abilities I think of my son and all that he has overcome. He has taught me how consistent hard work and patience can get you anything you want. 
Royal Hartwig as the Prince in the Nutcracker 2011
photo credit- Dan Swinson