Right before Marco started first grade, I decided to take action. I made an appointment with his pediatrician who referred us to a pediatric neurologist. After looking over Marco's records and asking him to perform a few tasks, the neurologist suggested a trial of Ritalin. I felt that drugs weren't the answer, but the doctor did affirm my need for more information. I talked to the principal and shared my concerns about Marco's struggles learning to read. We both agreed that it was time that Marco be evaluated.
Marco's evaluation determined that he needed special education services. I met with the special education team to design an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). With the IEP guiding the delivery of services, Marco got resource room help throughout first grade, but academics continued to be difficult for him, particularly reading and writing. He was frustrated and so was I.
I started graduate school when Marco was in second grade, studying education. I was in one of my classes when it hit me: "Here I am studying education and I can't even help my own son." I fought back the tears, hoping no one would notice. After class, the professor asked to speak with me. Once we were in her office, she asked what was wrong. I told her my story. She said, "Anna, this is your son. Do what you have to. Get a private tutor if you need to. Do whatever it takes."
I asked around about private tutors and I found Barbara—our wonder tutor. For three years, Marco saw Barbara twice a week, 52 weeks a year. They liked each other and had fun together. She recognized his abilities and helped him to deal with his weaknesses. It was never one size fits all: she found lots of ways to tailor her instruction to meet Marco's needs and build on his interests.
At the beginning, progress was slow. But I knew she would provide Marco with the key he needed.
Marco was on his way to becoming a reader in third grade. By the time he was in fourth grade, he was a fluent reader. He had cracked the code, and when he wasn't able to sound out a word, he could draw on his background knowledge about the world to make meaning. New doors opened for him. Finally, he could read books about subjects that interested him.
But Marco still had difficulties. He was disorganized. (The school principal said he didn't know any parent as well as he knew me. I was the one who delivered the school lunch Marco forgot in the refrigerator, the backpack he left at the bus stop, the homework assignment that was due that day.) He had trouble memorizing math facts and historical dates and words to poems. He was a terrible speller. But Marco knew about the world and was eager to learn. He learned to make lists and use other strategies to help him remember things, to be organized. He also knew how to ask for help.
Looking back: What I learned.