It Was A Long Road, But A Dyslexia Diagnosis Empowered My Daughter To Pursue Her Talents

by Melanie Gangolf
Melanie Gangolf

What a night.

My daughter was in the Arbor Park Talent Show. She prepared after school every Tuesday and Thursday for months. After the show, many people complimented me on my beautiful daughter and her Broadway voice. I love it. I accept this praise easily, smiling and chitchatting about my daughter and her talent.

The thing I must admit is that her singing voice has nothing to do with me. I cannot carry a tune in a basket. This genetic win is not from me.

Melanie Gangolf

But I will take partial credit for her being on that stage and the confident young woman she is. I got her diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in second grade. I know what you are thinking: What does dyslexia have to do with a wonderful performance at a talent show? I will tell you — it has everything to do with it.

At a young age, Annais was struggling with dyslexia. Of course, I did not know that. She could not read and began to fall behind in kindergarten. By first grade, she was not able to keep up with the classwork that other kids did with ease. She began to hate school. We would fight every night about homework — many nights ending with tears, both hers and mine. I tried everything to get my seemingly defiant daughter to comply with the rules of the house. You do your homework, period. But she persistently avoided it by every means she could think of.

As a parent, I was perplexed to say the least. Why was my smart and able girl suddenly so obstinate, and especially about school and reading? She grew up with books. We read books every night. We would make our weekly trip to the library and come home with an arm full of books. She had her favorites that we would read over and over. She memorized some of them and would read along with me.

In kindergarten, she wanted a journal. I obliged although she could not write yet. My 5-year-old would “write” in her journal every night. She would make unrecognizable letters and words as she remembered her day before bed and transcribed them in her journal. I loved it. She was already expressing herself through the written word before she even knew how to write words.

So you see, my daughter’s behavior did not make sense. I knew something was wrong. I started with the school. I contacted her teacher who assured me that Annais was right where she was supposed to be. She was doing fine. “Not all students excel in first grade,” she told me. “But she will catch up.” She gave me some tips for getting Annais to do her homework and chalked up Annais’s failure to do well on a bad schedule at home. “You need to sit down at the same time every day. Consistency is the key,” she said at the end of our meeting with a bit of condescension.

I contacted Annais’s Title 1 teacher. (She had been placed in Title 1 because she was failing reading.) She, too, assured me that she was right where she was supposed to be. That some kids don’t learn to sound out words, and she would be fine. That the Title 1 program would help bring her up to pace with her classmates. She also stressed that I had to get strict when it came to homework, which included imposing punishments for not completing her work along with rewards for following through.

Then I talked with her principal, and you guessed it, she assured me she was right where she was supposed to be. Again she attributed the success or failure of my daughter to her home life. That’s when I asked for testing. I wondered out loud to these three education professionals if she had a learning disability. They all said she did not have a learning disability, and that testing was not necessary.

This information did not assure me as intended. This information did not pacify me. This information did not change my schedule or my reward/punishment system. This information infuriated me. After these meetings, I knew for sure something was wrong with my intelligent daughter. And this is the point where my inner mama bear kicked in. This is the point where I started to listen to my “I know my daughter better than anyone, and I will do whatever I have to in order to help her” voice. I knew they were wrong because I knew my daughter.

I decided to have her evaluated by professionals. I contacted her pediatrician who gave me a referral. I didn’t care how much it cost or whether my insurance would cover it. We went for testing on a snowy Saturday in December 2008.

When Annais’s results came back, I was elated. She had dyslexia. Elated might not be the right emotion to feel when your daughter is diagnosed with a reading disorder, but that is how I felt. We finally knew what was holding her back. We could research. We could get resources. We could get advice from professionals who understand dyslexia.

When I told my daughter that she had dyslexia, she was sitting in the bathtub making herself a bubble beard. I walked in with the results I had received in the mail. I sat on the toilet and read them to her. An amazing thing happened as I read her the diagnoses. A look of relief came across her face. I will never forget that look. She cried. I cried.

We were not crying because of sadness; we were crying because we knew why she was struggling in school. It wasn’t for lack of trying. It wasn’t because she couldn’t learn. It wasn’t because she was a defiant child. It was because she had dyslexia. I told her that she would have to work harder than a lot of her classmates if she really wanted to write in her journal someday. I told her that it would not be easy. She would have to do homework every day, and sometimes more homework than the other kids. She would have to study longer than her friends if she wanted to get A’s on her report card. And that was the moment that my sweet, beautiful 8-year-old daughter, surrounded by bubbles and with the remnants of a bubble beard on her chin, became a fighter.

I researched dyslexia. I consumed every morsel of information. I spoke with doctors, teachers, psychologists. I soaked up everything I could to ensure my daughter had the opportunity to achieve her dreams and goals. I spoke with the school, and with my diagnoses in hand, I got her a 504 plan which allowed her extra time on tests and to have a letter chart on her desk. She started to excel.

I also learned that music and art is very important to a dyslexic brain. So I encouraged her to pursue any music or art that interested her. She started to paint. She started to sing. She started to play the recorder, which lead to the saxophone, which lead to the cello. She continued to excel. And then something amazing happened: Annais found her confidence. Her wonderful, shining, big, bright confidence. She was unstoppable.

Melanie Gangolf

She no longer cried when something was difficult. She would dig in. It became a challenge to overcome. Nothing is too big of a challenge, and she never turns away from hard work. She gets straight A’s and works hard for them. Long after her siblings are done with their homework and are playing games on their screens, Annais still has her nose in her books.

Her love for music has carried her along her way. She plays in the school band, is in a youth symphony outside of school, and even started her own band with a few classmates. She not only got into the National Junior Honor Society, she is also the president. She is not only on the yearbook staff, she is also the editor. She not only was in the talent show for Arbor Park, she was also part of the creative team who organized a theme for the show.

So as I watched my daughter belt out the song “Mr. Sandman,” I gushed with pride and tears. It was not because she can sing. It was because she was right where she was supposed to be. Center stage, full of confidence, excelling, and having the time of her life. And I will take some credit for that.