He Might Be a Reluctant Reader, Or Maybe He Can’t Read – How I Missed My Son’s Dyslexia

-If you've told a child a thousand times (1)




I just read that Tom Cruise could barely read or write until he was 19. Then he got his first role, and realized that he would need to be able to read to become the actor he wanted to be.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a starring role in a hit film to motivate my son to read.

And I would guess, if given the choice to work his butt off to learn how to read so he could star in the next Mission Impossible film, or to not read at all, right about now, I’m thinking he’d choose – not read.

Being 10 (or wherever your child may be) and lacking such strong external motivation, I have to support him where he is. And right now, he’s a kid who thinks the world thinks he’s dumb because he can’t read, and that Dyslexia is a four letter word. (I know there’s a joke in there somewhere.)

So, when I happened upon this quote, I realized what I had been doing wrong for the last few years.

If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.

I have been calling my son a reluctant reader since he was 5.

When every other kid was sounding out Sandra Boynton’s Moo Baa LaLaLa mine was happily listening to me read it.

It didn’t matter how often I ran my finger under every word, he just sat there happy as a clam as I read.

The years passed and I read.

Make no mistake, he loved books! And as an extension, loved being read to.

So many hours spent at the Library picking out books. Books to read, audio books to listen to in the car. Books, books and more books.

But we had a secret, a secret perpetuated even more so by the fact that he has such a gifted vocabulary. The secret was that he couldn’t read.

In all of my homeschooling books and curriculum, I had often read how when a child is ready to read, he will read. And so I waited.

And waited.

Sometime around 8, I started quietly asking around other homeschool moms and groups, and every where I went I got the same answer. “When he’s ready, he’ll read.”

I heard stories about 11 year olds who finally were motivated to read when they wanted to learn code, or wanted to become the best at a video game, and then the next thing you know they were reading 700 page books.

So I waited. I waited and I watched, but in my heart I knew something was wrong.

Because Isaiah did want to read. Reluctant reader was not really the right term for him. Kid who couldn’t read and was super frustrated whenever he tried and had tantrums and fits would have been more accurate.

But I am nothing if not a Queen of Denial, and I was trying. MAN I WAS TRYING.

I defended his reading reluctance to my family. I felt threatened and hurt and scared. And secretly I worried I was making a mistake by not aggressively intervening.

But. If you’ve told a child a thousand times and he still does not understand, then it is not the child who is the slow learner.

It took me aggressively intervening to realize he was not ever going to learn to read like other kids.

There was not going to be an Aha! moment. He wasn’t going to pick up Harry Potter and devour it in one weekend curled up on the sofa with a do not disturb sign.

And so I sought help from a professional.

As I sat across the desk from a really super nice doctor guy, who doesn’t pull any punches, but at least punches you with a sense of humor. I sincerely believed that he would tell me my son was fine, the problem was I was not teaching him correctly.

Instead I heard. “Your son has severe dyslexia, and how far he has gotten is a testament to how hard you have worked with him.”

*record scratch*

Apparently there is not a diagnosis of reluctant reader. That’s not actually a medical term, or a learning disability. For me that term helped perpetuate the denial I was living in. And I used that term to help other’s perpetuate their’s as well.

It did not help my son.

Time spent looking back on the “what if’s” and the “shouldas” is time wasted. And so I do my best not to go there.

Time spent sharing my story, is like spreading gold. If one mom in one group had said to me, “Your story sounds just like my son, and it turned out my son had dyslexia.” Well then, she would have saved a lot of tears and tantrums, and been a true blessing to this family.

And so I am sharing this story and our journey with you. Because if you share this with just one mom of a “reluctant reader” and she hears you. Then my work here is done.


I wrote a post about how I came to grips with those feelings right after the diagnosis on my other blog, it’s too soon to repost it, so you can go read it here.

Stay tuned by subscribing to my blog, this week I will outline our week one curriculum. And I will be sharing my thoughts on the Gifts of Dyslexia.




10 thoughts on “He Might Be a Reluctant Reader, Or Maybe He Can’t Read – How I Missed My Son’s Dyslexia

  1. This caught my eye because of the struggles we went through with my son when he was younger. And the struggles my husband went through as a child. My husband never really learned to read/comprehend. He’s brilliant and successful and can read in small doses but has never read a book all the way through. They both have Auditory Processing Deficiency. (although we didn’t know this is what my husband was dealing with until my son was diagnosed). We started Orton Gillingham tutoring (multi-sensory approach.) It was a life saver. One of our tutors got involved in the program and certified because her son had dyslexia and she saw how it helped him. Another tutor we saw had dyslexia herself and went through the program and eventually became a tutor. I hope I’m not overstepping and it sounds like I’m selling something, but I know the heartache and frustration as a mom and I just wanted to pass along this info.

    Also, I have read this many places and firmly believe it… kids who struggle with something like this tend to be incredibly intelligent and find ways of compensating. My husband is convinced that his success in his career is because he had to fine tune other skills to compensate for his reading issues. As a mom a find a lot of comfort in that.

    • Hey Gretchen! Thank you for your comment! I hate duplicating a response, but for anyone who may be reading the comments I think it’s helpful. But before I do, Stay Tuned! I am working on a post about why I think Dyslexia is a Super Power! If you knew my son, you’d have no doubt great things are in store. But the actual research does show that people with Dyslexia are more creative thinkers than people without! So I’m not worried! More about the research coming…
      For anyone else…this was my response to Gretchen in another thread: my son has SPD, the auditory thing wasn’t an issue for him. Actually his comprehension when read to is spot on. He love’s being read to, his memory is great, which is why he’s been able to “fake it” and his neuropsych said based on vocabulary he would qualify as gifted. So that (and other things) helped him rule that out right away. I’m not saying all kids who are reluctant readers have Dyslexia, I am just saying that being a reluctant reader is a warning sign, not something to just wait out. You know?

      • Absolutely! I am looking forward to your Super Power post. I think that could be a huge boost to moms who are worried about their kids. The only reason we caught my sons’ issue when we did is because he would tell me he wasn’t as smart as the other kids. He said this enough times that I started to worry, even though his teachers saw no problem with his work. My husband spent decades feeling “dumb” because of it. It breaks my heart that any kid would feel “dumb” or “less than” because they don’t learn like everyone else. Thank you for your patient response to my bumbling comments. 🙂

  2. I have a son who has very similar issues. In fact, his school is informing me that if his reading speed doesn’t increase by the end of the school year that he will fail for the entire year regardless as how well he’s doing in all of his other subjects. That alone is is enough to cause my husband and I to consider other alternatives for how we’re homeschooling our kids.

    • Crystal, thank you for stopping by! I hope you know that your school is LEGALLY responsible to give your son the services he needs to succeed. If they are seeing a problem with his reading, then they are required, by law, to intervene and give him the help he needs.
      If you need more information on how to approach them, please feel free to let me know. But suffice it to say, all you have to tell them is “I know that my son is entitled to services to help him succeed in reading, I am requesting a meeting with his teacher, the principal and the head of Special Education.” That’s all you need to do.
      If you do choose to Homeschool, there are a lot of fabulous resources out there, so don’t worry, just dive in!

  3. Hi, I’m dyslexic and was only diagnosed when I was 19years old having gone through school being told I needed to concentrate more. Being told I had dyslexia was a bit like a lightbulb moment – kind of ‘oh, I knew I wasn’t thick, now I can see was this was all seemed so much harder for me than my peers’
    but for a while there was a lot of being told I ‘suffered; with dyslexia going on. It wasn’t until I read The Gift of Dyslexia that I did finally realise that many of the creative traits that allowed me to excel at certain things and the way my imagination seemed to allow me to come up with different solutions to problems than people around me all stemmed from my dyslexia, now if their was a pill to ‘cure’ me I wouldn’t want it as even with all the frustrations I wouldn’t swap having dyslexia. After many years I think I’ve now got the hang of being dyslexic, my new challenge is that I think my 5yr old daughter may have dyslexia and like you and your son, I want her to see dyslexia as her super power and try to show her that all the incredible things she can do are just as valuable than the academic stuff she finds so difficult, But I also feel a bit like I need to educate the adults around her so that they don’t see her as a ‘remedial’ learner but as a learner that they need different ways to participate to allow her the opportunity to succeed. I wish you both luck on your journey and to say to your son that it does get less frustrating you just learn your own ‘life hacks’ to help you through things!

    • Yeh, it’s hard sometimes to go with your instinct when everybody’s telling you different things – I bet we’ve all had moments wishing we’d done what we thought was best sooner. I just try and think at least I was trying & worrying and just that’s all you can really do.

      On another note – having taken my little’un to a special optician, he’s diagnosed her with having ‘accommodative spasm’ which means (apparently) that as she is anxious about reading/writing her fight or flight syndrome is triggered making it difficult for her to focus her eyes correctly. I had never heard about this. She’s been given corrective lenses to help train her eyes to focus in the right place and hopefully might improve her self confidence.

      We’re only on day 4 of the specs but she is definately more confidently identifying the letters and blending to make words, seems to tire less quickly, is able to concentrate for a lot longer and seems more willing to try. I don.’t think it will cure all her difficulties but at the moment it definately seems to be helping

      I’ve been telling anyone who I think might be interested as I think it’s very new and few people are aware of it. So please pass on the information to anyone it may benefit.

Leave a Reply to Diane Hitzeman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s