To my son who doesn’t give a shit about school

by Janelle Hanchett

A couple of days ago as we drove to school I asked you about your math assignments. You were behind by three. I asked you about Monday’s homework, which you didn’t do. You had told me you’d do it at recess on Tuesday.

In the car that morning, you told me you didn’t do that either because you wanted to hang out with your friends.

My thoughts pummeled me: HERE WE ARE AGAIN. No homework. Behind on assignments. Goofing off in class. Zero initiative. WHY DOESN’T HE CARE AT ALL.

I got mad. I yelled. I knew the torrent of words pouring out of my mouth were useless – because I was being an asshole, and you’re 12. And I was yelling.

You walked away. I called your dad.

“He doesn’t care,” I said. “I don’t know how to make him care. How do we make him care?”

I thought about how I always cared about school, about grades, about being the best in the class.

Why can’t he be like me? He should be like me. That is what I thought until the truth settled in.

When I went to school, I fit. When I went to school, I was lifted. I was told I was smart, capable, one of the “good” kids. I spoke well in front of others and read well and wrote well and I could focus easily. When I did the work, I earned good grades. When I tried a little, I earned awards.

But you, son, are dyslexic, and you try harder every day than I ever tried in the entirety of my grammar school life and what you get is last, lowest, special ed. What you get is confusion, not fast enough, illegible. You get “hurry up” and “focus” and lower grades. Sometimes you nail a math test, but you know your spelling lists are shorter and I do too and you know the other kids do it faster, and we all know what that room is, and why you go, and how most kids don’t.

When you speak, it’s hard for you to find the words. The more impatient people become, the more you freeze. Your brain and its “rapid naming” “disability.” When you write, it takes nine times longer than it “should.”

And reading, oh, fuck reading. Am I right? Just fuck it all the way to Christmas.


When I went to school I got teachers who loved me and I helped the “lower” kids and nobody could have told me school wasn’t made for me.

You have teachers who love you. You’ve also had teachers who can’t stand you – dismissing you like a fly that keeps circling their dinner plate. You had a teacher once who actively sought holes in your accommodations. Any chance he got, it seemed. I had to fight for every single basic, logical extension of your accommodation.

At the conferences, I could see he couldn’t stand you. I felt it. I saw it.

You lived it. You knew it.

We told you he was an asshole, but that you had to “keep trying,” because sometimes in life you have to function alongside people who don’t like you, who don’t want the best for you, who frankly don’t give a shit about you.

But I suppose that day sitting across from that loathsome man who should have retired many years ago, who looked at my son as a bother, a dumb kid, a lazy kid, and wished he were somebody else’s problem—I suppose I knew somewhere that this is how you would always be viewed by some, and someday, you may view yourself that way, too, and give up.

Because nobody at school cares about the way you build or understand engines. There’s no test for building complex Lego designs with working parts and tying crazy ass knots, cooking and baking and loving your family. There’s no assignment to demonstrate the way you never forget directions to a place, even if we only go once, and it’s really far away.

You told me when you were five you were “born with maps in your brain.” Everyone in the family – EVERYONE – asks you first, “Where are we parked? Was this the place? How do we get there again? Is this the exit?”

You tell us how you know. We don’t understand.

But that isn’t the intelligence that races to the top at school. It isn’t tested, viewed, understood, or praised. Nobody even knows you have it.

So what do I do, son?

Do I punish you? Ground you? Force you? Do I use mighty force?

Do I babysit you each and every night? Do I hold your hand every goddamn moment?

Do I yell FUCK THE SYSTEM and just let you fade into the dark, simply accepting you just aren’t a school guy? Some of us aren’t. There isn’t one path to genius, to “success,” to a good life.

Do I talk and talk and talk? We’ve done that so many times. The promises. The tears. We beg. We explain.


But what really kills me, my love, is that I remember the day when you walked into your classroom for the first time with your squared shoulders, carefree hope, and tiny backpack. Just like the other kids, you bounced to school. I remember your confidence and delight, you willingness and engagement – before you knew you were different, before you knew school wasn’t made for you.

I remember when reading didn’t quite matter yet (though those days were numbered). And as it slowly dawned on you, as teachers grew “concerned” (but oddly, strangely, infuriatingly, wouldn’t test for dyslexia until second grade, thereby simply letting you slip slip slip into oblivion right from the start), I remember the way your step slowed, your shoulders fell, your body folded in half on the bathroom floor as you felt the physical manifestation of unbearable anxiety and stress.

But you didn’t give up. And you wouldn’t give up, and something about your spirit kept you fighting, harder than me, than them, than I’ll ever understand.

Back then, by the time we got to the freeway after school, you were asleep, your head resting on your shoulder, or against the window. I’d watch you and think, Wow, how tired he must be after such a day of work.

And now, you’re 12 years old, in sixth grade, and I wonder if that spirit has been beaten out of you, or if you’re just a boy who’s bored. Have you given up? Have you screamed fuck this and fuck these people and fuck feeling stupid but most importantly FUCK THIS LEVEL OF WORK?

I want to tell you to try simply because you’re doing it. Because anything worth doing is worth doing well. Because every day you show up at that school, so do your goddamn best, right?

But when I think about my past, about something that was excruciatingly humiliating and difficult for me with virtually no returns whatsoever, I think about sports. God damn how I loathed PE. I was two left feet. I could never touch my toes. PE teachers glared at me from afar, wondering how I could possibly be that bad at literally everything. My softball coach hated me with a fiery passion. The useless, throw-away, non-player player.

I quit. No, I flipped it off and then quit. I didn’t care about sports and I would not try because the entire process was miserable, embarrassing, uncomfortable, and it was so obvious my talents lived, um, ELSEWHERE, that effort seemed pointless and futile.


Is that what you’re doing?

So here we are, the year before seventh grade, and a few days ago you were three assignments behind and I was an asshole.

Because I am afraid, son. I’m afraid and I cannot see the way. Where is school bullshit and where is it vital? Where do I push you and where do I hold back? Where does your dyslexia end and standard kid laziness begin?

God damnit where do I end and you begin?

How do I help you?


I guess what I’m trying to say is I love you. I’m here to learn. If I could take your hand and lead us, I would.

But what I really want is for you to take mine, though I wonder again if that’s how this sort of thing works. They say it’s on me. They say it’s my job to make you fit. I believe more it’s our job to carve some new way – you and me – into a world not quite ready for you.

After all, you’re the one with maps in your brain. Show us the way.



I wrote a book, and you can buy it now.

Look what Publisher’s Weekly said about it:

“Hanchett offers a startling account of her struggles with alcohol and drug addiction in this raw and riveting memoir….Readers will cheer Hanchett toward her triumphant recovery.”

Raw and riveting! Yay! I promise there aren’t that many exclamation marks in the book. Nobody likes that many exclamation marks. Okay bye.

  • Juanita Hanson

    Man, lady – you have me in tears. I felt every word. It’s all such bullshit, the way they measure and teach now. Has it always been that way? Maybe. I want my kids to be passionate about what they learn, not study to the test and then forget – or just do 100 pre-formatted assignments. Seems so useless. If you are ever so inclined, you should check out another Mommy blogger “Diary of a Mom”. Her daughter is autistic and she teaches me how to help our kids grow up on their own terms and defy all of the “should be” standards – with every post. I think it would be useful for you, if only to help you feel not so alone in the struggle. Sending hugs….Juanita

  • Leigh

    This spoke to me so deeply…my son is five and struggling with Kindergarten. We suspect some issues and are in the process of having him evaluated but in the meantime I’m stuck with the torture of getting him through homework every day despite his resistance. I try and remind myself that it’s harder for him but I still get so frustrated. So I needed this today ❤️

    • Betty T

      Seriously, homework in Kindergarten? WTF?

      • renegademama

        They do this too at our school. On day 1 I told the teacher, “My child won’t be doing that.” They were fine with it, and I’m pretty sure it’s overzealous parents demanding this nonsense. Most teachers I know think it’s also ridiculous. Kindergarteners should be helping with dinner, playing with toys and getting lost in imagination OUTSIDE after school, not filling out worksheets! 🙂

    • Karen C

      What kind of teacher gives homework in KINDERGARTEN???

      • Dana

        The kind of kindergarten teacher who is forced to by their district. All over the country, early primary teachers have been forced to adapt their teaching to standardized testing instead of to the natural development of their students. They hate it. They don’t want to do it. They have no choice.

        That’s why when I parent comes in and says “Yah. My kid’s not doing this.” That teacher had no problem bending. The teachers hate it too.

        Its time to take back primary education, for our children’s sake. It does nothing but damage their developing brains to be trained into skills they are not not naturally mature enough to develop on their own.

    • Ellen Gray

      What you are experiencing is beyond my comprehension. Really??? Homework in kindergarten? A child is not ready for reading until age 7, their hand-eye co-ordination is not developed yet. Kindergarten is supposed to transition a child socially from the home enviorment to a larger unit & teach them tolerance where they are not the focus of attention. 1st grade should introduce them to learning letters & numbers & what they represent but actual reading blended sounds s/n be expected until age 7. We are setting our children up for failure by expecting too much too soon. Have patience. Do not show your child exasperation or impatience or he will feel incompetant & defeated. At age 7 sit w/child. Spend time each day w/o distraction(2 hours) & see the difference. I worked in the ESEA Title 1 program. Reading readiness is hand eye training. Tracing, coloring w/I lines, scissor cutting etc. these are kindergarten skills they s/b developing now. Good luck & enjoy you child’ s development. Do not stress over a timeline or schedule made up by incompetant bureaucrats.

      • April

        My daughter is in second grade now, but she, too, had homework each week, spelling tests every Friday, and oral presentations once a month IN KINDERGARTEN!

  • VinceD

    Richard Lavoie’s “FAT City Workshow” should be required viewing for parents of kids with special needs and their teachers. It’s really good, and worth your time if you haven’t seen it.

    • John Hanley

      Terrific presentation that I imagine would be of value to any classroom teacher. Particularly liked sections on fairness and decoding and reading. Really good stuff— I watched the whole thing, and I’ve been out of the classroom for over three years now!

    • Sherry

      Thanks for sharing this.
      Renegademommas article really spoke volumes.. replace son with daughter and i swear she was following me around the last 10 years… daughter is in grade 12 now righting final exams.. education has been the battle ground.. exhausting and many times just plain sad to watch.. what I do know is that she is one of the strongest and most resiliant teens/ people i have EVER EVER met in my life! For that, i wonder sometimes, if she isn’t the way she is to show me a journey about life. 🙂

    • Suzanne Arena

      I 100% agree with you. I belong to the local special education parent advisory board to the school committee and the show this at the local library helping teachers from our city would come. Sadly the only three people there were the three of us that were putting it on. The immense sadness I felt knowing our children had 8 hours spent with people who knew nothing about their disability and what rips them apart daily. This fat City video I agree should be mandatory along with doing a simulation so they truly feel what it’s like.

  • Heather

    I am that mom, and my son is that boy, and thank you for writing this. For reminding me that it is so heartbreaking to watch our kids struggle, especially at things we were good at. Having a son with ADHD, I know–I KNOW–the biggest challenge he faces is not attention, but self-esteem, and yet how many times have I yelled, “YOU ARE TWELVE, CAN YOU NOT REMEMBER TO HAND IN YOUR HOMEWORK?” But he can do so many things I could never do and which never show up on a report card. Thank you, as always, for the words.

    • Heather

      This. This is my son. Literally standing in front of in tears, because he can’t find it; and he can’t calm the noise in his brain long enough to work through it. So many lost hats/gloves/jackets. So many missing homework assignments that never quite make it home. (And it’s gotta be a kick in the teeth that younger sister does all of this so effortlessly.)

      What they don’t test for is compassion. Kindness. An astounding ability to look at a pile of LEGO, and see the most incredible, complex structures.

  • Lauren

    This is so powerful. I have a 12 year old girl who is driven to do well in school. And I have a 9 year old boy who is so smart, so happy to be here, so in love with his teachers, but so unable to focus. He has ADHD and, I suspect, Tourette Syndrome. He annoys his teachers and classmates and Boy Scout pack. He spins in circles on the basketball court (but loves playing). He hates all the waiting in baseball and refuses to play, in spite of being good at it. And I don’t know what to do either. I don’t want to lose my temper because he can stand holding a toothbrush and forget to brush his teeth. He’s a great kid. But everything is so much harder for him than it is for his sister.

    • Jennifer

      Lauren, also check into Sensory Processing Dysfunction. Your son sounds exactly like my (now 18 y.o.) son!! ????

  • Ash Hanlon

    Home school! Home school ALL THE WAY. Because school is horrendous. And he has all these amazing things going on with him. Or college.
    Or… fuck. ANYTHING ELSE. But not this.

    • Barb

      I am so grateful to hear from ‘normal parents’ about the struggles with our kids. There is no right answer or right way and trying to shove our kids into ‘normal’ little boxes is what is so wrong.
      Your struggles are my struggles & I think those of the mamas that read you. Love your kids, celebrate them and to HELL with the boxes.
      Hugs Barb

    • Kimberly Downey

      Thanks for being real and so raw.

      This was my son, who is almost 12 1/2. Even though it wasn’t in my plans, I pulled him from public school after second grade and started teaching him myself with the Barton Reading & Spelling System. His reading and spelling are vastly improved and his love of learning and more importantly, his spirit, are intact.

      Homeschooling him is challenging, especially now that I teach Barton to other people’s children. He’s not good at remembering to do his assignments either. He can write amazingly well, but I must sit with him. He will dictate and I will type. We edit together. There are other ways. Hang in there and if you can, pull him out of school – for both of your sakes.

    • Alison Horsley

      I AGREE! Homeschool! We educate our 6 kids at home and always have and I do it for a ton of different reasons but I am the most grateful we do for our 11 yt old son. I can’t even imagine how badly he’d be broken by having to do “school”. Having him at home and going by his level and interests have saved him and I. We can go with his strengths and build on ways to work with his dyslexia and Elron Syndrome and god knows what else is happening to prevent him from being able to write a sentence and read well. Good luck to you and him, keep loving him and showing him his strengths and perseverance will be what matters in the end.

    • Lauren C Zulli

      I agree ! My son was having a lot of the same problems, some teachers treated him like crap because he couldn’t focus and could not keep up with the class. I demanded they do a neuroeducational eval, and in addition to hi Tourettes and ADD, he was found to be gifted with a ” highly superior” IQ , but with a processing disorder. By the time I got the results, I had already removed him from school and had begun homeschooling him. We are in our 3rd year ( he is in 8th grade ), and our journey looks different each year. This year he is doing a self-paced online school. The best thing about taking him out of school was watching his anxiety leave, his appetite return, his zest for learning come back,and a decrease in his motor tics. If school is taking your child’s mental and physical health, it is not a place they belong.

  • Sherridan

    Great post. It helps to know there are other mothers out there going through the same issues. My son doesn’t have dyslexia, but ADD. I live your story with him every day. It’s even harder with two older kids to whom everything comes easy. Sometimes it’s just easier for him to give up and pretend he doesn’t care, but I know it’s just an act. Thank you for your words.

  • Tina

    Thank you for these words, they really resonated with me as well. My daughter is 11 and has very similar issues, dyslexia and Asperger’s Syndrome. She also struggles with writing and expressing herself verbally. (Interesting about the thing with directions though, because she really struggles with that and so does my dyslexic husband. I thought dyslexia makes it hard to tell directions and my husband can’t read maps at all)
    And the harder I try to understand her, and find out how she thinks and her brain works, the more confused I get. I ask her a question and she either doesn’t reply at all or she misunderstands and gets really fucking angry at me. Some days are so, so hard – it’s almost impossible to avoid fighting. She’s being home-schooled for the third year now and we’re thinking about letting her go back to school. I feel like she wants to, because there are so many things that I can’t give her and we just need a break from each other too with puberty kicking in. BUT we are also terrified of her being bullied or failing in her school work. This parenting shit is totally over-whelming sometimes and you just remind me that I’m not the only one feeling this way.

    • Christine

      Tina, my son was a challenge as well. He had ADHD, dyslexia and cried every day of first grade in his private school. I homeschooled him from 2nd- 5th grade where we could build his spirit and emotions back up and the found a charter school that focused a lot on expeditionary experiences and really working with the kids on a personal level and meeting them where they were at. They didn’t even have grades per se but had a system of JB -Just Beginning (to grasp concept); ME meeting expectations and EE Exceeding Expectations. He struggled emotionally a lot the first year and we had to be there for him a lot but he did just graduated last year and went from a boy who hated to write and read to just finishing his first fiction book! He has gained amazing friends and is grateful for his experience at the expeditionary school! Stay strong, someday not too long from now you’ll be on the other side of this!

  • John Hanley

    Goddamn, Janelle, that’s a tough one. I don’t know what to say other than Fuck that teacher who wasn’t actively rooting for your kid to succeed. & that I pray that he finds that one teacher with whom he can connect because that’s all it takes sometimes to put a frame around the whole school thing and make it legit. & that even as I say that I realize that it’s probably asking too much of any one teacher, of the universe, for such a miracle to occur. & that I will pray for it anyway, that someday when your boy is about to graduate high school you will look back on this as the bad old days, because Goddamnit if we can’t pray for miracles, then what are we praying for? That’s all.

  • Corinne

    This is the first time I’ve ever commented on any blog, ever. But I was your son, age 12 (all the way till I left school and went to college age18). The best help I ever got was someone to do the work with me – sometimes parents/grandparents sometimes a tutor, sometimes a nice person from school. My mum and I would read a chapter of my English books in the evening, together, in our heads, but I could ask any question I needed to, or if something didn’t make any sense, I would read it aloud, or mum would read it back to me. Maths: if you could explain the ‘why’ of how to solve a problem, I got it. No explanation meant I would never understand.

    • Kelli

      Your mom sounds incredible.

  • Cassie Parker

    Geeze, you hit the nail on the head!! I’m this mom. I’m in tears because this is our daily struggle but also knowing we’re not alone in this battle helps greatly. Thanks for being so “Real” with this issue and being a voice for all of us!

  • Genevieve

    Shit girl, I’m crying my friggen face off here. I remember my little brother going through the same thing after he had a crap bag for a teacher in grade 3 who picked on him and told him he was never going to make anything of himself. He hated school, cried every morning, skipped as much as he could and dropped out at 16. He eventually went back and got his diploma and is now in University. I send my two kids to school every day with baited breath hoping and praying that their teachers will see the good in them. This world is terrifying and I wish that every one of us grown ups would remember how scary it is and be a bit nicer to these little moldable humans.

  • Robin

    Janelle, I’m a special education coordinator. Look into other schooling options. It’s a logistics nightmare, but there might be a tech-focused charter school that would be a better fit and understand your son’s strengths so much better than a traditional school. He needs hand’s on project based learning with a variety of options for how a student gets exposed to the information (direct instruction, online learning, videos) and how a student proves that he has learned the information (written essay, power point, art, video, song, lego structure, etc.). I have seen kids “recover” their sense of self when they get to participate in a program that is appropriate to their needs, and when they are with other students who also needs those alternatives.
    Good luck!

    • Christine

      Amen! This was EXACTLY my son’s experience!

  • Laurie McFarland

    I’m a homeschooler, so I’m definitely biased toward that solution. 🙂 However—I know it’s not the solution for everyone. There’s so many moving parts to a family.

    I’m reading the newest book by Susan Wise Bauer called Rethinking School. So far, it’s amazing. I think you would really find it helpful. Her entire thesis is that schools don’t fit many of us, but since we are all connected to the system (even if we are homeschooling), how can we make it work for our individual kid, how to be the best advocate, etc.

    I’m sorry your sweet boy is having such a rough time. ❤️

  • Suzanne

    Oh am I glad I took a moment to read this. I only wish I would have had the same moment when my daughter was 12 and I was screaming at her daily for not turning in homework. She recently graduated from college in hopes of becoming a teacher. I will share this with her and perhaps it will give her some insight in her dealings with her future students. And maybe she will cut me a little slack for my short-sightedness when she was 12.

  • MMC

    You are me, I am you. Our sons are kindred spirits.
    We’re in survival mode, white knuckling it through 3rd grade with an ‘asshole’ teacher.

  • Caroline Wilson

    I have been an educator for over 20 years in both regular and alternative schools. The school systems can be so woefully inflexible in their approaches to meet the needs of the individual child. Please do not allow your child to hate school or learning. Insist on special education testing and other supports. Insist on the right schools and the right teachers – the ones that give your son a sense of belonging and hope. I promise the problem is not your son, nor is it you.

    • renegademama

      He doesn’t hate school. He’s exhausted and defeated by it. And he’s one of the most engaged and curious kids I’ve ever known. He loves learning. But school doesn’t equal “learning” for some kids, as I’m sure you know.

      • Megan Tracey

        Soooooo, as a special ed teacher my first instinct would be to pull him out, do homeschool/charter school and let him take an f-ing break from all the traditional school bullshit. If he’s stressed he won’t learn or engage – I see this daily! Let him do Lego robotics, science experiments, Seeing Stars curriculum, etc and get him back to a place where it’s about actual learning and not just ANOTHER. DAMN. WORKSHEET. My heart hurts for you as I’ve worked for schools who had teachers who basically hated any kid who wasn’t a shining star, which often included my own kid.

  • Paige

    As a former teacher, this had me in tears. Tears for your son and for you and tears for our broken education system. You may feel lost, but your willingness to fight for your son with not be lost on him!

  • Cherrill

    Why is it hearing other people’s struggles makes us feel better, even though it doesn’t make either of our situations actually improve? I guess because we realize we’re not alone. And loneliness can be so suffocating, and then you that read someone else gets what you’re going through and for a second you can take a big deep breath and keep moving forward.

    School was not made for my first-grader either. But it was made for his twin, and it is so hard seeing them be in the exact situations as each other and have very different outcomes. (Why is it that when one kid chews his shirt collar we get called in to discuss oral fixation issues, but when his twin does it, he’s just a typical fidgety 6-year old? Mysteries of the universe.)

    Anyway. Sending my best to you. I really enjoy your blog.

    • renegademama

      It helps me a ton to read all these comments as well. There’s a lot of power in knowing others are in the same place.

      • Danielle Mcdonough

        Thank you for sharing your story. Your story sounds very similar to my story. My son is also 12 and dealing with the same struggles. He amazes me how he gets up every day with a smile and goes to school as if it’s the greatest place on earth. Only to come home with stories of how he’s not smart enough and got in trouble once again. I admire his ability to reset himself and start the next day completely fresh and new as of the prior day never happen. I do worry that someday this will take a toll on him but pray that it will NOT and it will just make him stronger. Your story had me in tears. You are not alone

  • Ang C

    Thank you, again, for these words! I am that mom too — one with ADHD and another with dyslexia — school is hard, homework sucks. Keep on loving and hugging… sometimes, somedays that is all we can do xoxoxox

  • Debra Leschyn

    Damn. Our school systems need to change. I am a SpEd High School teacher in San Jose and I see how school just doesn’t work for about a third of our kids. We need to build schools that work for everyone. Kids need unconditional support and love especially those with learning challenges.

  • Denise Duppée

    Yes, you nailed it. If schools valued the strengths your child has, he would be a school superstar! But those strengths can’t be measured on a normed standardized test, can they? My day job is as a Montessori preschool teacher. My evening and weekend job is as a dyslexia tutor. My students with dyslexia are amazing in their gifts. Their struggles at school are heartbreaking. We are a family of dyslexics. The contrast between my husband and my daughter’s school experience is huge. One received no help or even acknowledgement of needing help. The other received help, tutoring, accommodations. She still struggled and didn’t like school, but she knew we supported her and saw her strengths. Every bit of your post tells me you do the same for your son. It is scary. We hope, worry, and get angry at teachers who add to the struggle and shame instead of helping. I admire your son for suiting up and showing up!

  • British American

    This makes me cry, as I have a 10 year old dyslexic son who is in 4th grade and this could easily be him in a couple of years. He goes to Barton tutoring outside of school but when I read his homework this morning he had spelt the word “die” like this: “biy” several times, so it’s always a struggle for him. I didn’t correct him. Maybe I should and it’s worse if his teacher then corrects it and he knows that I just let it be.
    I was in the same as you in school with academics and sports.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • KK

    I’m in any incredibly luck position to have found a school that fits my dyslexic kid, and I wish all schools could do the same. So I’m sorry your boy isn’t valued for who he is.

    If you haven’t seen this, please watch it:

    It’s the solution for feeling lost, and not know what the road map is.Our job is to keep our kids sane and help them get through until they find the place that fits, and then watch them soar.

  • Linda

    Amen! I could have written this, minus the maps in your son’s head. My son doesn’t have that skill. My kiddo is 14 and I still don’t know where disabilities end and where laziness begins. Or is it more of a control thing due to anxiety? I don’t know. I STILL don’t know and it sucks! 🙁

  • Lee Laughlin

    Are there other schooling options? Charter schools? Online?
    I’m not cut out for homeschooling, but for high school, my daughter decided to go full time virtual school. She’s thriving (she has a visual impairment, so working on the computer mitigates small print). It really took me a while to get on board. Some areas are wicked fortunate and have schools targeted at kids with dyslexia. Some areas are not (our nearest 1 is 2 hours away).

    Keep fighting for him. Keep letting him know, you have his back.

  • I Finally Know I Am Not Alone

    FINALLY. I just read this, through tears, and I could have written it. Today I finally know – I AM NOT ALONE. Someone else lives my struggle.

    Thank you.

    We are in this together.

  • Kimanne

    This got me really teary. My son doesn’t have dyslexia, but he has other things. Other things that mean he might not fit in at regular school. And she said it exactly right: I am afraid for him. I am afraid this is how he will be in the future, at 12. And how do we fix it? What is the answer? What is the alternative? How do we get them to adulthood and to some measure (any measure) of success? I was the honor roll student to whom things (except PE) came easily. My son is resistant (already at 5) to lots of things. I will always try my best for him, but thank you so much for voicing my fear.

  • KBond

    Your article had me in tears. My daughter is 11, and you’ve just described her situation. We were able to send her to a private dyslexia school for the past four years, and this has helped. We are going back to public school next year, and I am terrified. I’ll never forget the night I told her that she had dyslexia and that we were going to find a teacher who could teach her the way she needed. You could literally see the relief and burden lift from her little 2nd grade shoulders. We had been through so much testing, conferences, etc. Failing grades, yet the school said she had no academic deficiencies.

    If there is one thing I’ve learned through our journey, it is that school is not designed for everyone. Also, these children will be okay. So what, they won’t make all A’s, but they will have perseverance and determination like no other.

    Our daughter is the first person we ask if we lose anything in the house! She has maps in her head also! 🙂

    Thank you for this article!

  • Greg Butler

    I am a 68 year old man who has been interested in education all of my life. My mother was a teacher, I planned on teaching. By the time I got by BA, I started having misgivings about, not only teaching, but about the entire system we call education. I decided against making teaching my career because of those misgivings. Instead of forcing every child through a one-size-fits-all system, why can’t we give a plethora of options, including not having to go to a “school” at all. Almost all children will learn all they need by doing what is interesting to them, simply by exploring their interests, if the opportunity to explore is given to them.

  • Liz Patton

    Our stories are similar. My son was tested in second grade, then repeated second grade. He has dyslexia and struggles in reading and math. But he’s now 18 and a Senior in HS. He has been accepted into college. Here is what helped us get him through. 1) talking a lot about how to survive school, including lots of prepared self-talk when failure happens. We got books and watched videos about dyslexia and he figured out which celebrities and scientists have it. 2) advocating for him to have the Special Ed teacher who is the best in the school. I had to do a lot of asking and advocating. But a good resource teacher makes an enormous difference. In each level of school his resource teacher was an understanding ear, a safe haven, an advocate with the other teachers, and a sounding board. I give every credit for his success to these wonderful women. And most of what they did was encourage and protect. When he had a “bad” day or was having a melt-down, they were there to help calm and to console. If he missed homework they got him on it, if he was dreading the work they broke it down. And he had “resource” everyday starting in middle school and almost always did his homework there. He rarely had to do any at home starting in 7th grade. Yay! And 3) we found his non-academic niche. He sings, he dances, he acts, and we got him lessons and involved both at school and outside of school. It became his strength and a place he could shine. Most of all, don’t give up. He needs hope. And you will be the giver of hope. Blessings to you and your boy with the amazing brain.

  • Sandi

    We all have that story, and if we do not, we know someone who does. You may not be alone, but damn, sure feels alone doesn’t it. You are fighting the good fight. And we all know it’s so very hard. Our hearts are with you.

  • Caris

    hi Janelle yes i’m crying toof, for my son, who didn’t fit
    and who tried so hard
    and for my daughter who doesn’t fit
    but is at a better school, where they care and also try
    and just for me too
    who didn’t fit
    and still knows what that feels like
    your son sounds amazing and i’m sure he is
    the world is so big
    i know you won’t but don’t let him be crushed
    just find a way, his way whatever it takes, don’t give up
    you are such a good parent i know you can do this too
    it won’t be easy
    one day at a time work it out and it will be okay, he will get through it and so will you
    and he will be able to love all! of his life because you believed in him
    i’m glad you got so much feedback about this
    it’s crucial you settle your mind clearly on what is important and that is your son… life, as you know, is precious and short!
    love you
    xxx caris

  • A Starnes

    I get it. Every single word!!! I have an almost 12 year old who is profoundly dyslexic and so so so similar to your son! No one can understand how very painful this is unless you live it! I’m blessed to be able to homeschool my son. School was crushing his spirit. But there are no easy fixes or shortcuts with dyslexia. And no magical curriculum that will allow your child to excel many grade levels in reading. Instead, it’s slow steady progress. And some days it’s excruciatingly slow and I’m impatient and yell and scream! Other days, he doesn’t give two shits and I’m not sure we accomplish anything. I know that God designs everyone with a purpose so my prayer is for him to find his niche. My beautiful boy with an engineers brain. Thank you for sharing!

  •  Jen

    This had me in tears. I lived that life, where I never fit in at school. I fell through the cracks so utterly and completely and now my child has been diagnosed with autism and I am trying to help her not fall through the cracks and omg it is such a fucking challenge because they don’t test for any of the stuff she aces like drawing, or listening to friends who are depressed, who advocates for those who are bullied or picked on. So she doesn’t get math, so what? She is not going to be a rocket scientist. I love this piece so much. I don’t know the answer, but at least we’re asking the questions, right?

    • KK

      Hugs, this stuff is so painful.

      And, She might just be a rocket scientist after all. Watch the dyslexia video. These kids have extraordinary futures (or not fine if they don’t).

      School is for so many just a series of hoops they’ve got to get to their real lives where they can be themselves. Mel Levine says school expects every kid to be a generalist, but very few successful adults are generalists.

  • Kris

    Wow! My life exactly! I buy book after book. Try to find different subjects, fiction, nonfiction, science and fact based, but the 20 minutes of reading each night is torture. He hates it. I don’t know what else to do. I fear I do too much. I fear I don’t do enough. I fear his spirit being beaten down to the point of no return. We arevatva small private school. He will attend through 8th grade. When Ibthonk beyond that, the anxiety is overbearing.

  • Brianne

    I so feel you.
    My 11 year old son has NVLD, which in a lot of ways is dyslexia’s polar opposite. Reading and spelling aren’t the issue. Math and coordination and visual-spatial relationships are the issue. They say about 65% of communication happens non-verbally…which means that my kid has the possibility of only understanding 35% of what’s happening at any given time without having to work REALLY, REALLY hard at deciphering everything else. Faces, body language, tying shoes, geometry, how close to stand to somebody, how to not knock his water bottle off his desk, what that graph means…all of it.
    He’s also a fiercely gifted musician and can teach himself languages and he’s a great actor and he’s learning dialects just by listening to recordings of people. When he’s at Youth Orchestra or he’s in a show he fits. When he’s at school…I dunno. Nobody cares about that stuff and it doesn’t matter when he’s sitting staring at the math test or getting picked last in gym. Sometimes it’s okay. Most of the time I think of him as getting up every day and putting on some kind of armor. And I tell him all the time I’m pretty sure that makes him the bravest person I know, because he has not yet given up.
    He just applied to an arts-based charter for next year. It’ll be hell on our schedule for a million reasons if he gets in, but how can you look at your kid in his suit of armor, begging you for a shot “someplace where somebody might be a little bit like me” and not say okay, let’s try?
    Hugs. We’re all in this together.

  • Sarah

    My mom has dyslexia and it shaped not just her world but our world growing up her kids . She had PTSD from all the “interesting ways” her family and school tried to manage her as well as her experience with her peers in school. As a daughter seeing my mother struggle with worthiness and her “value” in her life..trying to help with our homework, having me sign checks, do grammar/spell checks for teacher notes, etc it was hard….At the age of 8 (before computers/google for help) I knew I had to protect her, not ask for her help as it would hurt her to not know what to do. Her depression was all encompassing. I allowed it to eclipse the ambition and desire I had for school. I felt to succeed at school was to put her down.

    Dyslexia doesn’t define if someone’s “smart”. There are brilliant people who live amazing lives who discover shit that we traditionally wired brain people just can’t even imagine. I wish someone told my mom that when she was little.

    I wanted to share this journal article with you because as a daughter of someone with a dyslexic brain, it doesn’t start and stop with that specific individual. This touches the whole family. I wish my mom had been helped the way she needed it. The article has a small n but it resonated with me big time. My mom did her Herculean best with what she was given and now thankfully there are more resources for kids. It gives me hope as my children are starting their journeys through this educational system.

    Smotheringly crazy big hugs to you and your boy. Call any and everyone who can get him support, your family support. Counselors, pediatricians, the friggen pope, anyone who can help you have the best options for Rocket. Keep asking until someone shows up with a supportive plan you can get behind. The damn school needs to do better! We are here rooting you on. ????

  • Bill

    It’s like the target of Dyslexia and you hit the bullseye. Impressive and heartfelt.

  • Peggy

    Wow… That’s my life with my son..He’s 20 now, we’re still lost. If you find the way please let me know. Some days we feel desperate.

    • Melanie

      We were there too. My son is 20, struggles with ADHD, and actually graduated high school last spring. He was finally sent to the school where they send all the problem kids (drugs, discipline, gangs), but where he could work at his own pace and ask questions as needed, and he ended up graduating two months before his classmates. It’s exhausting as a parent, I know. Hang in there.

  • Lea Burnidge

    I just love you!!! You really know how to bring me to my knees
    Keep fighting and please for the love of God keep writing ????

  • Rachel Romano

    Thank you. I have my almost 12 y.o. 6th grader’s IEP meeting coming up and am dreading it. We have the same struggles with homework, etc…I am just letting him be him for now, and I felt guilty about it, but it’s nice to know that I am not the only one who sees it that way. School success is not some guarantee to the perfect life…I just want him to be happy (as happy as possible). We will figure the rest out…eventually…

  • Jen S

    Reading this made me think of Howard Gardner’s seven intelligences. He describes that there are basically seven kinds of intelligences but only two of them are prized in acedemics. It sounds like your son has tremendous spatial intelligence. Here’s a site where you can read about it some more.

    Your son is so lucky he has a mother like you who will fight for him. Your introspection is a gift as a parent. This is an amazing and important post for him, you and anyone who struggles with their child’s acedemics (which is most of us). Thank you!

  • Robbey

    Wow! I completely understand! I cry more tears over my 13 year old because of school than I think I’ve ever cried over anything else. My heart breaks for him daily! It’s tough being mama sometimes, especially in these situations. We want to protect to them so much, but we know we have to let them grow up at the same time. My heart goes out to you and your wonderful little Rocket!

  • Tina D

    I just saw this video tonight and thought you may find it interesting. I don’t know if it would help with anything, but know my heart is with you on this journey!There is apparently a font that is tailored towards those with dyslexia, and it makes reading less of a struggle.

  • michelle

    thank you for writing this – you moved me to tears. I felt like I wrote it. My son is 12 with dyslexia and the same struggles. we have our meeting to get an IEP this week. good luck to you and your son – you are a great mama!

  • Marisa Aalfs

    Unschool mama, unschool.

    • beverly


  • Chris

    I love this! Your an amazing mother Ana he is an amazing kid!!

  • Jill

    This is why we need school choice. I pulled my so out of public school for a wonderful private school for dyslexica. It was a game changer. Dyslexics learn differently. They need a multi sensory approach. I’m sorry but public schools can’t accommodate them not to mention how they damage these children. If you can afford it try to find a school that can handle his learning issues.

  • ChevsLife

    This post resonates; that fighting for accommodations and that knowledge of others who focus purely on academic success, missing the brilliance that is right in front of them.

  • Diane Dragan

    My dyslexic son took on his school board last month and asked for them to start teaching all kids to read. Thought you might be able to relate.

  • Alina Gardner

    I only have 2 kids and the oldest is only 3, but I want to tell you something I think about sometimes, like WHEN IM TRYING TO RUN THE FUCKING HOUSEHOLD or whatever and I could just scream: I think, what am I after here, shit to go the way it “should,” or for my kid to have a good hold on her identity as an autonomous person who knows and trusts her own mind. Kids aren’t imperfect adults for us to shape and form, they’re perfect little humans, growing and developing and in need of guidance, yes, but fully human.

    I heard you say you’re just trying to say you love your son but I also heard you say you’re lost. I think you have the answer when you asked him to lead the way.

    The image you gave us of him buckling under the stress of school when he was small is so heartbreaking. Especially compared to his earlier carefree ease.

    Find a way to bring that back into his life.

  • Anne-Cathrine Nyberg

    Not completley sure about your school system as I am in Norway, but ehre, when they go to what equals your highschool (or from they are 15 here), they go through 3 years of Videregående. And this is where they can choose more freely what they want to do. My oldest daughter goes to a school where they have lines for athletes, outdoors (they learn to be hiking guides etc), horse care, animal care, pre-vet line (where my daughter goes), gardener line etc… They also have “regular” subjects like math, science, biology, Norwegain, math – so that they can get into college, but they emphasize learning a lot of it through skills and practice with the animals and such.

    I mention this because maybe, if you guys have more “practical” oriented high schools, maybe this could be something for him? A light in the tunnel?

    • Anne-Cathrine Nyberg

      My daughter LOVES it – she never really had trouble at school and got good grades, but she thrives now – in a completely different way then before. My youngest want to attend there as well when she gets older, to not have to “sit behind a desk all day” as she says. She also does good in school, but I understand the need to… be active and enjoy what you do!

  • Jessica Perez

    I am laying in bed sobbing. It’s as if I wrote this. I just had a similar conversation with my 7 year old tonight. He doesn’t ha e any interest in homework and I am having to work extra hard at getting him to finish it so he can do well on his spelling test each week. I 1st grade we are already struggling. He has an IEP, we had him evaluated at 3 years old. His brain worked different than some kids. He doesn’t have autism but he has a learning disability and it was frustrating for me as a mom because I had never never dealt with learning issues myself so I didn’t know what to do. After seeing speech therapists it made life so kuch easier for him but he still struggles with reading and language. He excels in math. We have troubles with homework though. He’s so kind, his teachers enjoy him but he’s always behind in class and he knows it. I need to find the right balance to help him succeed but without making him loathe learning. This blog hit home. He does so well with so many things in life and I want to celebrate those parts of him.

  • Erin

    My God. I am standing in my kitchen in tears reading your piece. You put all my same feelings and fears for my dyslexic sons into your blog. The one frustrates me to no end, but we keep going. Thank you.

  • Heather

    I have uncontrollable emotions as I read this. I think I was meant to stumble upon this blog today. My son is also 12 and in the 6th grade. He was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 6 but the school district refuses to acknowledge the diagnosis given through a private neuropsychological Eval. I have since moved back into this district with an updated Eval, and they recently denied him an IEP. He has 10 diagnoses of learning, neuro and psychiatric. Unlike your son, he has completely given up. He hasn’t been in school for months. I’m just getting the attorneys from the Disability Law group involved, but he’ll still have to go back to the same learning environment; the place that continues to fail him. I don’t want to give up, but truly, what am I fighting for? I’m grateful for finding this website and reading all of your comments.

    • Kathy

      I went through the something with my daughter her issues started in kindergarten and now she’s in 5th grade but I have went through so much with the school system and my daughter .I got with the disability attorney and the school had to get her tested and she has ADHD and she’s dyslexic and I struggle so hard with her and my patience has run out if I’m not crying or praying I’m yelling .O ask God to help me with her cause it’s hard and heartbreaking .Ivfeel the pain and from reading this I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s had these issues.

  • Katherine

    My 18 year old daughter is taking a year off before going to college and most of what she wants to do is lie in bed. She’s not doing drugs. She did pretty well in a very demanding High School, but she has struggled socially in some ways and I think world affairs has got her really questioning EVERYTHING. She could stay in bed, all day, and watch tv, every day, if we didn’t cajole, tempt, get angry occassionally, beg, explain, terrorize and use any and every other means we can think of. My husband and I try and try and try and seem to come up short every time.

    Anger, resentment, and a deeper hole is all we seem to dig.

    This morning I did not want to get out of bed either and really could empathize.

    AND, I just want to add, being an old mother of an 18 year old, what works is love. Find it, cultivate it, pray for it and when you allow it to fill you up as much as possible, it will come through to your son and that is what will carry the day. Love will work… in the long haul. It will carry.

    Since the love is obviously there, it’s amazing how much your son will know that and eventually thrive from it. He will thrive because of it. Really, it IS what matters. And that can help you get through each day. It will help him get through each day too. And it you can sit with that big love inside you, be with it, meditate on it, you’ll find solutions. They’ll show up for both of you.

    It takes A LOT of trust that there isn’t more you need to do, and there is, because getting to love is not easy. It’s obviously THERE, but our daily lives and demands can block it, our minds cloud it til we can’t see or feel it. So that is the work. Get to the love and sit there with it, and let the answers come from there.

  • Cristy

    I’m bawling! This hit me right in the gut! This is exactly everything I am feeling right this very moment. My 13 year old son is dyslexic, we homeschool and he still hates school. It is a fight

    I have the exact same thoughts as you, “I was great at school, why isn’t he?” “Why can’t he be like me?” “Where did I go wrong?”

    He’s a math genius and just like your son, has this unfathomable ability with directions! I, myself, am directionally incompetent, completely and embarrassingly. At 3 years old, in a new city, he gave me directions to the park after being there twice! We have finally gotten to a good place with reading, but writing, oh fuck no! I give in to the fight and tears every day. It is so hard.

    Thank you for sharing and letting me know I’m not alone is this hard world of motherhood. Namaste.

  • Bernadette Suski-Harding

    Hi Janelle,

    This column breaks my heart. Probably you’ve thought of all this already, and looked into it, but I’m mentioning it just in case you’re so immersed in the day to day that the idea has somehow slipped by your radar. I live in NJ, and we have a few schools out this way that are geared especially to dyslexic kids. (The Lewis School in Princeton is one.) I’m told that a lot of these schools offer scholarships and financial aid, and that sometimes, kids need to go there for only a year or two, and then they get mainstreamed again. Are there schools like that near you? My apologies if you’ve already looked into this and written about it; sorry I missed that post.

    My best to you. You’re an amazing writer, and it’s obvious from the way you write that you love your kids beyond belief. We need more moms like you in the world.


  • Paula

    This really spoke to me. My son is a little older than yours, with different struggles, we deal daily with the turmoil that trying to make him ‘fit’ a system that just doesn’t want him brings. We tried home education, but he was lonely and wanted to try school again. So we’re back to almost daily battles over homework, constant phone calls and emails from school and all to get him to fit into a system that will never work for him.

  • Lainey

    On the broader issues, I am no help.
    On the practical side, here is what we do with my son who is mildly on the spectrum.
    1) regularly meet with the resource teacher to ensure he is getting supported in his weakest areas – this can be around organisation of schoolwork/school resources, coordination, social stories, listening skills etc and it is a time in school that he loves and looks forward to.
    2) supervise the homework as much as possible. It’s great to be able to leave kids to it, but this does not work for every kid.
    3) ensure his teacher and resource teacher know that our main priority is that he is not made feel bad about the areas he struggles with, that his self-esteem needs active nourishment and he needs support to manage his anxiety. I told this year’s teacher that I’ll be in every day if I have to, until I feel he’s getting a reasonable level of support. She was initially working against him in many things. She had a miraculous change of heart/direction once she knew I was serious, and his life and happiness have improved dramatically.
    4) notes. lots and lots of notes! If homework is proving too stressful, or he just can’t focus, or he has worked really hard and has done enough, we excuse the rest in a note. He is 10 and I think 25-30 minutes homework is absolutely enough at that age.
    PS I love the sound of the Norwegian system.

  • Leanne

    The school system broke my son too. Took a kid who loves to learn and has a thirst for the depth of knowledge in every subject and made him feel his stupid and will never amount to anything. Never recognized his struggles because his gifts over shadowed them. He was so misunderstood and called lazy and told to try harder. We had him tested privately because school told us he just “needed to get that homework in”, “just use a reminder on your phone”, “he’s a late bloomer” when what he actually was Dysgraphic, ASD, SPD, written expressive language disorder and depressed with attention deficits and all the executive function deficits. School refuses gifted classes for him and tells us extended time and talk to text is all he needs. We placed him privately and in just 1 week at the new school designed to teach for his learning style and mentor and coach him he made more gains emotionally in that 1 week than we could have possibly imagined! He went from too depressed to go to school to WANTING to go to school and wanting to talk about his day. Our children have great gifts and the standard school system refuses to focus on their talents. Since they can’t be measured by their standards they are made to feel worthless. It’s so heartbreaking!

  • KK

    Okay, I don’t want to be obnoxious, but I’m going make one more pitch for the dyslexic advantage video I posted above. Because really I should have explained it the first time I posted it.

    It’s an montage of dyslexics first talking about how horrible their schooling experiences were, how they believed or told they weren’t going to amount to anything, and then flashing forward to their achievements as adults. One of the them is a MacArthur genius grant winner!

    So if you are feeling those totally understandable feelings that you don’t know if there is a path through, and your kids is feeling broken and stupid, please watch it, and then watch if with your kid, and be ready to tell them over and over again that having a different brain can be wonderful and the problem is not them it’s school not being built for different brains.

    It’s been a total lifeline for me, and for my kid. I haul it out when she’s feeling less than, and now she’ll quote it back to me. I showed it to my neighbor who is an adult dyslexic, and it had a huge impact on her.

    Hugs to all of you. Mothering one of these kids can be all consuming and lonely.

  • julie

    I can totally relate. spent years trying to figure out what was wrong and finally got the dx of severe dyslexia and ADD. now medicine was being taken and it helped some but he still struggled so. other kids made fun of him because he couldnt read as well as them. it was a constant struggle, constant argument, constant strife. we found release in swimming on a team and finally located a learning center that dealt with dyslexia. this made finances tight but we had to do something. high school was a struggle- time management was a constant problem. he started out good then would fizzle because things just kept getting harder no matter how hard he tried. friends were made for the first time. teachers were mostly helpful. he swam on a team and felt kind of normal. college- whew he thought he was ready for a 4 yr college – living on campus. disaster both for us ( money spent for no results) and for him ( feeling completely defeated.) he started jr college and is doing quite well. he is a homebody making friends is hard. he doesnt trust people to be kind. but he is surviving. finding his way. its a life path that I didnt have to take but I shared each and every disappointment and success. as he grows older he has more success than failures. yes i still remind him to do his homework, get some tutoring or to go to the disability office for advice. but he is starting to flourish. now we are on the path to getting a job for furthering his confidence that our lovely educational system has systematically destroyed. confidence is low and insecurity is obvious. he will find a job to get that experience and then once that hurdle is over come he is onward and upward. I am constantly amazed at his ability to push forward even though he knows it is a constant challenge. mind you he doesn’t want to go to college he is tired of school, who can blame him eh? but he continues to push, persist and overcome. I learn from him every day. find a niche for him to feel success. my sons is video games he does group monitoring and is on a few teams. he opens up and you hear him speak with out hesitating, he gives directions and explains things over and over to those who are not so good. he found where he is accepted. but we are working on one on one contact to get that same acceptance… he will get there. just help them find an area where they feel success. somewhere they can say they did something without any assistance. it will happpen- might not be the path you thought it was going to be but they will get there.. have faith

  • Shelley A

    I feel you and I hear you!

  • Susan Martyn

    You are awesome. This article is awesome. I have 3 boys. One with ADHD. One with ADD. One so-called “normal”/made-for-school kid.

    So many experiences fighting for what they need at school. And also trying to keep them engaged in school work that sometimes… I wonder if any of it even matters. Maybe it’s more about just getting them through the worst of it with their head barely above water but knowing they are valued and loved… and will NOT (CANNOT!!) be measured by some archaic yardstick thought up by a bunch of old men a century ago, wanting to have solid, compliant factory workers for the future.

    Every part of this article is so relatable. And true. And hard. And loving and real.

    Thank you for putting it out there!!

  • Siobhan

    Oof. I’m not there, as a mother (yet, I see signs that it’s ahead), but I was there as a student. I loved learning, creating, exploring, but I came to hate school. I was never formally diagnosed with anything, though there were attempts made. As an adult, I’ve discovered I am probably autistic, & likely have ADHD. I dropped out of school at 15, & then again, every time I went back, until I was 30. This gives me some insight into the stress & frustration my mom was under, & eases some of the pain & bitterness I have felt over her yelling at me about my struggles, not understanding why I was intelligent, but ‘refusing to perform’.

    I’m sorry he’s struggling. I’m sorry you don’t know what to do. I’m glad you see him, & get him, & are willing to work alongside him to figure out what he needs. It might require a huge life change for you. It might require giving him an academic break, so he can explore his innate abilities & interests, & spend his time & energy developing in those areas. It might require a program designed to assist those with dyslexia. I don’t know. But you’re right. Something needs to change.

    It’s possible I’m projecting, here. But I see so much of my own struggles in your description of Rocket’s. And unless something gives, he may end up with the kind of devastating self-esteem issues, mental blocks around academics, & depression I ended up with. It’s a hell of a lot harder to heal that shit than it is to prevent it, in my opinion.

    That said, it’s also not impossible. I’m 32, now. I finally graduated last year, with awards. I got mid to high 90s in all my classes. Can you believe it? I spent the last decade & a half developing my interpersonal relationships, learning in my own way, writing, writing, writing. And parenting my lovely child. I went back to school ten years after the last time I tried, & left. And this time, it was possible. This time, I was ready. It was hard, but it didn’t kill me. Going to school as an adult is such a different experience; the environment is far more respectful & supportive. It never felt like jumping through hoops.

    So… even if he takes a ‘fuck it’ path, he may still end up there when he’s ready. I do wish, though, that I’d been homeschooled, or sent to a different type of school. Or. Or. Or. Things had been different. Mostly I wish that my mom had understood that I could not be forced to fit, & that I wasn’t simply choosing not to ‘perform’. And that my failing to demonstrate my intelligence in the ways they all wanted was no reflection on her. I think it would have been easier for her to support me if she hadn’t been so preoccupied with what it all meant about her, as a parent.

    Follow your son with the maps in his head. Let him chart a course. Go with him. If there’s one thing I’ve seen in the years I’ve followed your blog, you always expand to embrace your growing children. However their uniqueness challenges the world, & you, you expand your capacity to see them, to understand them, to love them.

    Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

  • Nancy Smith

    Wow! As a mom of a son who has struggled with a learning disability. Who was told he wouldn’t go far your post had me in tears! I feel everything you feel in this beautiful message because its been my journey for 18 years. My son has struggled, worked so hard, shed many tears but this May he finally graduates H.S with his head held high and mine even higher!! He may not be valedictorian but he sure as hell wins fighter in my eyes! Thank you for this! As a parent you feel so alone many times in this journey!

  • Nikki Wallar

    Some of our greatest innovators, authors, billionaires are dyslexic! Tim Ferris, Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, the list is huge! There are lots of resources for this community. Your son is brilliant, of course, you know this, our school system is set up for factory workers, not brilliance and ingenuity. I strongly recommend an alternative to public school. Homeschooling these days has an amazing and growing community and allows you many options. No matter what, I hope he finds a community of supportive friends, teachers and mentors. You as well. You’re doing a great job with your family!

  • April

    This. This is me. This is my daughter. Who was finally diagnosed with ADHD this year in second grade. Who has struggled for three years now to read and do math as well as her peers but was told she just needed more confidence. Who checks out chapter books at the library that she knows she won’t read just so she fits in. Who couldn’t even add 5+1 the other day because her brain couldn’t filter out the “noise.” The same girl who was speaking in full conversation before she was two. Whose intellect will never be measured by a standardized test in school. Why? I’ll never forget what her pediatrician told me after her diagnosis. He said some kids are made for school, the way the system is designed. And some kids, you just have to get them through those 12 years. It’s all in how you define success for your child.

  • Christine

    This spoke to me on so many levels. A daughter who it took 6 years of begging and then finally learning enough about the system to threaten to sue for even an evaluation. An evaluation that resulted in multiple diagnosis including dyslexia. Now as an 8th grader she is getting some of the help she deserved much sooner. A son who builds and creates and all his teachers say is so smart but is often close to failing for failure to do homework. But Mom he says I got 100 on the test. I know school is not made for them but what are my options. What are my options when I have to work and my ex wouldn’t support homeschooling anyway? When private schools aren’t affordable?

  • Kate Forth

    Hey Janelle,

    Wow. This was so painful to read, because I was Rocket… from Kindergarten until I left Ursuline and went to an arts academy (for what would have been our junior year- I actually asked to repeated my sophomore year there because I literally retained NOTHING.)
    Like you, my parents were so baffled… I was “bright” with this freaky good memory (I tested in the 99th percentile for short and long term memory when they were desperately searching for “what was wrong with Katie”)
    My sweet and loving folks put all of us in a Catholic school because they believed they were doing the best possible thing for us. Worked great for my brothers, but the classic lecture/note taking/regurgitate for the test way, simply didn’t work for me or my brain. I was yelled at. Grounded. Restricted. Had to get weekly progress reports, humiliating conferences, was contstantly feeling too “sick” for school. I sunk lower and lower into believing I was stupid, unworthy, and that there was a defect so deep in the core of who I was, I’d never get to be happy or normal, I’d never get to go to college, or have a happy life.
    I finally BEGGED and fought to find a different way. Found my life line out (literally out- went to a arts boarding school at 15) and it reset the entire course of my life, my sense of self worth and most importantly I found out HOW I learned, which ignited, what is now, a lifelong love of learning…
    I did go to college and graduated with honors. I do have a happy life.

    A few years ago my mom told me, when I was in the 2nd grade, she knew I wasn’t in the right school or learning environment for me. It took 9 YEARS for her to be forced to make that change. There was so much damage done in that time…
    So, this is my long winded, oversharing story to tell you to follow your gut. You DO know what to do. Maybe not the exact details of how it all looks yet, but you know something needs to change. Make the change. Get him out of there. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
    Good luck, and thanks for always making me think.

  • Carol Best

    You describe very closely the experience we went thru with my youngest son, now an adult. School was torture for him. He did not fit the mould and sufferrd significant bullying. He didn’t start to read for pleasure til he was 14
    Thankfully a few teachers saw his value and did their best to advocate for him. He eventually left school before graduating. Some years pass and he gets his high school equivalency and joins the CDN Armed Forces and is doing very well. He is near the top of class when on course and is succesful, motivated and happy. I am grateful that he survived an educational system that admitted ‘not every kid will suit school’ but offered no alternative.

  • Nichola mcdonald

    Tear jerking articulate accurate.
    Me and my son 🙁

  • Angie

    There’s no perfect answer out there for you but you’ve already written out your plan for his future in this very post.

    Every day you show up, and you keep showing up for him, and because you’re there anyway you do your goddamned best, right? Keep your chin up, you’re doing a great job!

  • beverly

    one word….”unschooling”. google it. i have 5 grown functioning adult children who were not formally educated. “school” is a lie. 12-14 years of basically 4 subjects, but really 2,english and math, with no guarantee of mastery, and the illusion of a better job, more money, haha. have you noticed on fb that nobody can spell or do grammar? after 12-14 years!!! now, they really promote the piece of paper we earn with the 12-14 years of compliance, its not REALLY about education. you know compulsory education has a history, and it aint pretty? to create obedient employees and consumers! google john taylor gatto, ex new york state teacher of the year, he can tell you a thing or 2 about “school” and its history. i lost my youngest son in an accident 2 years ago,and i thank god i never pulled the punishment over grades crap with him in the short 13 years i had him. like his grown siblings, i gave him the reins to his education and i have no regrets.

  • Anna Goanna

    This is my sister, and at least one of my daughters. We’ve home educated from the start (because we were privileged enough to be able to bake that choice), and it’s still bloody hard work. She can’t read, but she can construct Lego line I never could (or would, cos I hate it). She bakes friends in an instant, but has a tantrum when I ask her to sound out a word. If she were in school she’d be struggling, big time. And in trouble. And thinking all sorts of negative things about herself. Defeated. I know, because I saw it happen to my sister. I was older, and the ‘smart one’. Our youngest sister quietly did well in school too. But she was stuck in the middle, so far behind me, with our youngest sister overtaking her. I honestly don’t know why we can’t find things that work to people’s strengths so they don’t feel broken by life before they’ve even started living it.

    • Anna Goanna

      Make, not bake, and like, not line!

  • Lois Letchford

    I’ve been there-done that! My book Reversed: A Memoir tells the tale of my sons & my educational journeys. It is due out in March. My book challenge s the educational system.

  • Amanda

    Thank you for opening your heart and writing this. I have only a few moments here and wanted to share the following; all three have profoundly affected my views on what school and education can mean. I am wondering if they may resonate with you and your family.

    and not just for homeschoolers but a way of rethinking education:

  • Kevin Dill

    I was this kid, and I’m sure that my mom felt your pain. I’m 47 years old and recently I surprised myself because when asked “if you could change one thing about your childhood, what would it be” I didn’t answer “the bullying,” which was daily psychological torture from about second grade until I went to college. Instead I said something like “the lack of understanding of what it means to be ADHD.” It took me until I was 45 years old to forgive myself for my “failure to pay attention” and “laziness” and the fact that I “never did my homework” and was an “underachiever.” To realize that the problem was not me, but rather that I had ADHD and the things that come naturally to many and that are expected of everyone were legitimately really hard for me – and that I didn’t get *ANY* support in recognizing and overcoming that difficulty. Accommodations? What accommodations. That wasn’t a thing that they *did* back in the 70s and 80s. Hell, I wasn’t even diagnosed until I was in my 30s.

    The really insidious thing about ADHD is that some things are easy.
    Sometimes you hyperfocus. I could read like crazy, for instance… as long as it was fiction with a lot of action and excitement to hold my attention. Give me a text book, though, and I was lost. I literally could not get the words to go in – and trying was sheer misery. It’s a problem I still have – though I’ve learned some tricks to get around it. It helps if I’m “doing something,” which is why I do so much editing work. It also helps if I can get somebody else to read it and then discuss it with them, which is why I’m in the Agile book club at work. And books that have more humor, or more things besides the words to draw your attention can help too. Those sorts of tricks and strategies are much better understood and taught to ADHD kids these days – I had to figure all of that out on my own, the whole time under immense pressure that I was going to grow up to be a failure, a ditch digger, because I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention.

    I will say, to end on a note of hope, that school is the first chance, not the last. The kids who are not conventional learners will have more chances in life to find ways to educate themselves, to learn, and to do crazy things – I have. Despite a slow start, my career has been a roaring success… it just took me until my mid 30s to figure out how to get it going (and, honestly, once I was out of grade school it was a fine life along the way as well). Success and happiness in life is not actually predicated on elementary school success, much as it may seem like it at the time.

    I’ll also say… don’t be too critical of the “new” way of doing things. The way we teach now is incredibly better that it was, at least in my limited experience. My kid is also ADHD… but he has teachers who “get it.” We did have that one teacher who wanted to work around the accommodations – and in my kid’s school we had her for three years in a row – but AT LEAST WE COULD GET ACCOMMODATIONS. And an occupational therapist who understands ADHD and can help him learn the sorts of strategies that I spent 20 years inventing for myself. And medicine that can help him focus some – not a miracle cure, but at least it’s an assist.

  • Kelley

    What you wrote at the end is PERFECT!! Mys on exactly and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love what I call his Dylanisms!! He is an out of the box child. Finding his way in a world that understands him! .
    Well said:

    I believe more it’s our job to carve some new way – you and me – into a world not quite ready for you.

    After all, you’re the one with maps in your brain. Show us the way.

  • A B

    YES! YES! YES!

    I am crying tears of YES! This is so spot on. My son is 12. Just YES!

  • Barbara Smith

    I want to weep. I remember children for whom I was that teacher. And my son who had those teachers. So long ago ….

  • Chelsea

    My 21 year old son, who still struggles with reading and writing and graduated by the skin of his teeth just started a Heavy Duty Mechanics apprenticeship and loves his job and will make twice as much money as every asshole teacher he ever had (not that that matters, but it helps).

  • DiAnn Ervin

    This could have been written by me. My Son is your son, made to feel stupid, lesser than, and unimportant by a school system that pretends to care until they can’t teach them, then they’re expendable so that they don’t have to feel guilty about their garbage education.

    It doesn’t get easier to watch either, but fortunately they start finding their niches and some confidence.

  • Weaselina

    I was that kid. Not the dyslexia, but all the other stuff. I hated school. It depressed me and it caused me to flee into my head to daydream of anything that was not school.

    Suffice it to say I did not thrive.

    But no adults cared until my school councilors took notice and started talking to me a lot. And I was bright, just not good with school. Not everyone is meant to sit in a room memorizing stuff all day. Some of us just operate differently, and there is no allowance made for that for the most part.

    I did not go to college until I was 24 and then went to study horticulture at community college. I now run a successful landscape design business and still march to my own drummer.

    What I am trying to say is that being good at school is not necessarily the only way to succeed in life. I know you know this, right? Like, maybe your kid is not gonna be a great student, and maybe he just gets by, and then does actual life survival activities to figure out where to apply himself, and at some later date finds a path that makes him happy and allows him a living.

    There are trade schools. There are apprenticeships. Maybe your kid is a badass carpenter. If he has maps in his head, maybe he can look at blueprints and understand completely.

    I hated math, sucked at it, because they don’t teach it in a practical application way. When I joined the carpenters union in San Francisco to see if I wanted to do that for a living, they showed me how to apply algebra to square a wall and I was furious that no one ever shoed me this in school, that there is a fucking reason these formulas exist. Some of us can’t memorize things and spit them out, we need to understand what it does, what it is useful for in life. I am very literal and suck at the abstract.

    And I am totally an outsider. Because of how I learn, in a lot of ways. If you show one of those pictures where you either see a picture in white, or a picture in black, most people will see the same thing and i will see the other thing. Some people are like that.

    I liked to build things when i was a kid. I liked to run, and to test myself physically, and to write. I sucked at science, I sucked at math, I sucked at fitting in. But i was engaged. I loved music.

    Maybe try looking at your kid from the perspective of what he does gravitate toward, and know he won’t be the a student, but that does not make him less than anyone else. I know everyone worships education in the academic sense in our country, and that college is everything, in spite of how most kids can’t get jobs afterward and hardly have what i call an education.

    But trades people are in high demand, and they follow the equivalent of maps: plumbers, electricians, carpenters. Most of them are not book smart, necessarily, and guess what? The average age of those dudes is like 56. We NEED people to go into trades, and there are programs for learning those things enough to get your foot in the door. And they end up making more money than most of the kids who went to college for some useless liberal arts degree.

    So, perhaps acceptance and tolerance and remembering that life is not about the systems we constructed, and a lot of those constructs are outdated and suck.

    There is that story of the girl who drove her teachers nuts and was super disruptive in class, and the parents were always getting calls. Then, one principal noticed that when he observed her when she was pulled from class, she could not stop dancing. She just wanted to dance. Which is bad in class, great when that is what you do for a living. And she ended up being a world famous dancer. Here is that story:

  • sharon Strauchs

    I thoroughly appreciate this mother’s courage to tell it like it is. At our school, at least one-half of the students are dyslexic, most not properly diagnosed, and ALL with self-esteem issues by the time they get to us. We tend to “solve” the issue using a specific program we developed, called HTS-3, but the major source of frustration/anxiety seems to be centered around the child’s feelings of being lazy (as is aptly pointed out here) or of being stupid. Here, at Cortona Academy, some of our most brilliant students are those with dyslexia. Like this mom states, her son has hidden gifts, is NOT stupid, and certainly isn’t lazy. Once we find the gifts or talents these out-of-the-box thinkers possess, THAT’S where we begin. It must be pointed out that we are a private school with no more than 4 students per class. In all fairness, the special ed programs simply aren’t able to reach every, single child, compassionately. We do. Parents definitely can, but it takes a LOT of patience and support, and most parents are absolutely exhausted. I feel for this mother, and can only say that as a parent, I’ve been there, am an educator myself, and still, the road was rocky, upsetting, and painful, but never give up. And, when the “chips are down,” make absolutely certain to have some fun, take breaks, and especially, be good to yourself. Parents are the “still point” in their child’s turning world. Stay strong! Never give up, and yes, your child with all these issues may just turn out to be the “feather in your cap.” Hang in there! And most of all, keep reaching out.

  • Alison

    I think this is your most moving post yet, and I have followed you for years. It’s so beautifully written.

  • Chris

    Wow!! This is/was our life! My son is now 20 but is a changed person sheet his experience in public/mainstream school. I too remember him being so excited to start school only to see him wither away after yrs of degredation and low self esteem. He suffers and I mean suffers from Dysgraphia. Nobody but his family truly understands his past struggles and how far he’s come. After 4yrs in private school, I finally started to see “my” son come back! He graduated at 18 and has been working for the last 2yrs. That’s not always easy either but he’s trying. He tried his heart out this Fall @community college but it was just too much and withdrew. Saddest part about it is that when he lost his spark in elementary school, he never really got it back.. ???? I think about his joyful kid self (before school ruined him) and wish for it again. There is light at the end of the tunnel but that light doesn’t shine like it used to.. ????.. I wished I had pulled him out of public school alot sooner than grade 7.. but alas.. good luck everyone..

  • ADDvocacyCOACH

    This blogpost brought back a flood of feelings from my teen years both personally and for my parents. I struggled through every level of school and spent every summer in summer school, Every day was a battle in the house for me to do homework, read text books, do anything academic. I tried, but couldn’t focus to save my life. By the time I hit grade 12, I’d totally checked out from academics and was skipping school daily. At the of the semester, the vice principal called me in to his office to inform me personally that “Based on your performance at this school, it doesn’t matter what you do in life, you’ll always be a failure.” My parents kicked me out of the house a year later for failing college. I spent the next 15 years flailing around living up to everyone’s prediction for my life. It wasn’t until I was 34, that I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety…then 2 months later with ADHD. How no one picked this up to that point was devastating. When my parents found out they were in shock and devastated they didn’t pick it up either 🙁 I turned it into a positive though and started a business with the sole purpose of making sure I could help other youth avoid the pain that I had. In the last 6 years I’ve had the priveledge to support over 500 youth living with ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Autism and co-occurring Mental Health Challenges, giving them proactive practical strADDegies help them get unstuck as fast as possible so as not to endure the pain that I felt over the years. In turn, this has also positively impacted their parents as it lowers their overall stress. We are currently exploring tech options to expand our reach outside on Nova Scotia, Canada where I currently live to a more global market. I feel for you and your frustration! But, know that he is trying and while it looks like he doesn’t care… He actually does but lacks the resources/mentors to change things himself. Stick with him, praise what he does to well and find him a peer of someone who does get it, listens without judgement and with empathy and cheers on what he does well! Look for assistive technology like speech to text and text to speech software to help level the playing field. Most importantly keep in mind that some of the brightest and best entrepreneurs/brilliant minds in the world live with dyslexia. Nurture his passions and fuel big thinking and alternative learning and both you and he will live a very fulfilling life! Thanks again for sharing…this was such a raw and timely post. He’ll figure it out in time 🙂

  • Dorothy

    Oh god Janelle you made me bawl this morning. I’m scared this is my 3 year old, or some variation. My button pushing, fiercely independent little wild child. I know I am already struggling to find a way to row together with him, against the current always.

  • Erica Parton

    This is so relatable. By the time my child was entering third grade his spirit was broken, anxiety high, and he was a different person. 3rd grade! His accommodations and services weren’t enough.
    After seeing this in him while volunteering in the classroom the first month of school I went home and researched homeschooling. Within a week he was out of there.
    Nothing is a higher price to pay than my kid losing his confidence, spirit, curiosity, love of learning and trust in adults intentions with him.
    Thank you for this!

  • Josephine Tucci

    Can I just say if we lived near each other I might hold you at Nerf Gun point until you promised to be my BFF forever. I recently discovered your blog while searching for people who “hate” SouleMama. I don’t hate Soulemama and I know you don’t either, but reading her blog just makes me simultaneously cranky and comforted. Your blog cracks me right up and I find I can relate to it much more then Maine perfection because you sing it sister and I have felt the same way about life and family and kids and politics and EVERYTHING for 17 years now. Mother of 17-year-old triplet boys and a 13-year-old girl. My kids are the greatest loves of my life but man they can suck the life right out of me. Recently I started having real panic attacks thinking about my boys leaving this summer to go off to college. I can barely talk about their college plans without tearing up. It is ridiculous and makes me realize I have got to make a life for myself outside of these kids of mine. I’m a mess. Can’t wait for your book to come out! I’m a librarian and we already ordered a copy for our collection.

  • Ally

    was that kid.
    That was me.
    Although, my parents were fighters, like you, then kind of gave up, because their lives got busy with other things.

    I can tell you it gets better, but the scars from those younger years stay with you (I believe everyone has them in one way or another, like you mentioned with sports). I know this isn’t something everyone can do, but I remember you talking about homeschooling a long time ago. Did you try it and it just didn’t work?

    I will say the standard curriculum will never suit. I will also say that “special education” and “special accommodations” did nothing but make everything worse. A huge component of dealing with dyslexia is confidence and self-esteem. Those are absolutely destroyed by having to go to a special classroom. Your son is smart, I can tell by your blogs, and like many dyslexics, he will find a way to game the system. As he gets older, his poor reading will be compensated by his amazing memory, or some such skill (mine was memory); it will improve, as well. My life got a million times better when I ditched the special needs group (maybe some have a different experience, but none I have met). My reading improved when I was able to read books I loved at home. I ALWAYS faked my way through school book assignments(and this was before the internet made doing that a million times easier) and my parents let me, which I will say was a HUGE benefit. I now love reading, got through university WITHOUT any help or even informing my school/professors about my so-hatefully-called “special needs”. I graduated with honors. I teach at a university and will be releasing my first fiction novel this December. This is after being the worst student in my class all through elementary school, into Jr high, and until mid-high school. I decided I wanted to go to university, prove them ALL wrong, and made it happen.

    I am sorry this is so long, I am just INCREDIBLY passionate about this.
    Please let me know if you want any tips/advice from someone who has been there and made it through.

    • Diane

      This exactly as i try to see any benefit of my 7 year old boy’s IEP and support in an integrated 2nd grade. I’m a firm believer in natural experiences the same across the board for all students. The “team” wants to move him to a self-contained classroom. I’m in the minority it seems but I want my kid to be in with the general population at school and extracurricular like karate, swim, scouts, life just as everyone else. Not separate him because he’s fidgety, quirky, or has an emotional response to something.

  • Renee

    I highly recommend that you try homeschooling, possibly even unschooling or incorporating some unschooling into his schooling. Get him out of that toxic environment! He would probably love being homeschooled in a gentle loving environment that goes at his pace, builds on his strengths, and follows his interests & passions!

  • Yours Truly

    Homeschool him and he WILL thrive.

  • Caroline

    Every great mind that formed the basis of most of what schools teach didn’t finish school. Einstein left early and look what we got from him? They just did what they loved and enjoyed and from that the world has gained so much. Schools try to force you to be a certain way because that’s the convenient box that everyone should be in because it makes the teacher’s lives easier. But they shouldn’t conform.

    My aunt home-schooled her 2 kids and let them learn what interested them, and they flourished. They did need to work on the other subjects but they got to make their own lessons, guided by her. One is doing Actuarial Science and the other is studies Art.

    Not everyone can afford this luxury but if he loves maps, and is good with engines, maybe in the evenings spend time with him on these subjects to help him with his math (because they both require it) and it may re-ignite his interest in a way you never expected and it may help him grasp concepts he didn’t think he could but naturally does, probably much better than the rest of the class but they don’t know it and because they want him in a box they get frustrated.

    It’s just a thought. I don’t know what your schedules are and what time you get together after school but if you don’t have the time perhaps there’s someone in your area willing to do it. Perhaps you will learn as much about maths and engines etc if you offer him the opportunity to do the research in his own time (because it will take longer) and then let him try to explain the concepts he’s learned (that he already knows).

    Just my thought on a way around it. I rate he will be at the top of whatever he decides to do. He seems to have had a lot of fire and spirit so how do we find that again outside of the school (I’m not saying change schools, necessarily).

  • Caroline

    Just a follow up comment on what I was saying

  • Just a thought...

    Have you / your son read “Fish in a Tree”?

  • Yana

    I wonder what he would think or how he would react if you presented to him the possibility of alternative schooling options (homeschooling, unschooling, private, charter etc.)? Would it raise his spirits? Will it ignite that fire he once had?

  • Johnny Donaldson

    This hit me right in the feels.

  • Elayne

    Tears streaming down my face. This is my son you’re talking about. He’s 15 now though and has turned to drugs to get himself through the days of intolerable pain. Prescription drugs for depression, anxiety, ADHD. And street drugs for reasons that I cannot fathom. I wish I had your insight before it had come to this.

  • Lori

    You’ve just described my son and his difficulties to a T. He’s even the same age as your son. As his parents, we are constantly asking the same questions regarding the importance of school. It’s all so difficult. I wish you and your son all the best.

  • Marranda Ganucheau

    As I read this I felt as though someone was writing my story. My son now 19 was falling thru the cracks kinder, 1st and failing in 2nd…they said he wasn’t dyslexic but I had him tested and he had dysphonesia…but by this time starting 3rd grade he went from Mr. Bubbly and popular to not turning in assignments, not caring in 7th grade. In HS they flagged him as Red because he doesn’t socialize in class, he didn’t turn in his work. Teachers treated him different and he knew it. Just made him turn more into this “lazy kid”. He gave up…and it frustrates me because I feel like our school system pushes these kids to this. As a mom it’s so frustrating…i also have a 15 year old with dyslexia and a 7 year old that they refused to test…they refused because she wasn’t a behavioral issue and not failing!! She is behind on reading but not ” that many levels” i knew she was dyslexic and had her tested….not only does she have dysphonesia but also dysnemkinesia…the schools are oblivious!!

  • Rebecca

    Moved me to tears. Thank you so much for writing this and speaking the truth. This is the same battle my 14 year-old with APD and LD has fought for years in public school. I see growing despair and frustration in him – he was once so full of life. Now considering home school. Wishing you strength.

  • Amy

    Would you consider homeschooling him? Then he can show you the way. We’ve pulled my son and are homeschooling because this was us. He’s thriving now.

  • Cara

    Holy shit. I’m sitting here (just as I do night after night) shut away somewhere all by myself while everyone is fast asleep, trying my best to process and clear my mind of whatever B.S. the day has decided to throw at me, when I decided to finally read this and I am now absolutely sobbing. However I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart because I needed to read this. I needed to read this because I needed a sign… ANY SIGN, that I’m not the only one who’s feeling lost, helpless, that I am doing everything opposite of what’s needed for my sweet, intelligent boy.

    My sweet son is also 12. Once upon a time, he also galloped off into his first day of kindergarten with excitement. I’ve also watched him create amazing things and actually working contraptions from whatever legos and ruble that existed in the bottomless pit we call his toy box. I’ve also witnessed the crumpled little body saturated in tears, sobbing “I don’t want to do this anymore!” I’ve also yelled, swore and pushed him to get back up, dust himself off and forge onward. I’ve witnessed the teachers you speak of and I’ve also sat across the IEP table from the others. I’ve encouraged him that he’s doing great, don’t give up and that as long as he tries his best, everything will get better and none of this will matter one day. He’s begged and screamed to not have to take his meds anymore and not to have to go to “that room” at school. I made him do as he was told. He has screamed out “Why can’t I just be like everyone else?!” I’ve promised him he was. I insisted he keep showing how wonderful he is and they’ll see when he proclaimed there was no point when the new teachers, new school, new therapist (or any of the handful of others) have already read his files and would make their judgements regardless. And for what?!?! He’s right… none of it is getting better.

    They teachers judge him. The kids bully him. I worry Day after day… Is this going to be the day that he just can’t do it anymore??? I worry because I just don’t know how much more his little soul can take.

    You see, my son has Autism. When he was diagnosed, the doctor mentioned he was concerned for his future wellbeing. That upon learning of his differences, he would ultimately fall into a great depression (and even possibly suicidal) due to the fact he has incredibly high intelligence and would become so overwhelmed and grief stricken over the fact he couldn’t manage to figure out how to “fix it”.

    I wish he could see just how amazing and perfect he is. That he’s not broken and in need of fixing…..

  • K8e

    I am writing because I also resonate with your experience and I see myself and my son in your experience and in that of the other commenters. What I am going to bring up here, is what was happening with my son. It took me too long to be able to put it into these terms. I have regrets that I didn’t recognize this sooner and I hope I can help another parent.

    Here are some caveats:

    1. You should consider what I am about to say, but I am not saying that this is going on with your son. I do not know him, and I don’t know you. I’m really talking to all the parents on this thread.

    2. Not all negative school experiences rise to this level, but I don’t think it’s unusual. Maybe we should start calling it what it is.

    Put aside what happened/is happening, who is at fault, why they are doing it. When your child has strep throat, you don’t need to be able to thoroughly explain how and why they got it before you can identify and act on it.

    What matters is this: Did this/is this happening to your child? Does your child have these symptoms from the general symptoms and the emotional abuse list? When you examine your feelings, could your child be suffering from abuse and experiencing trauma?

    General symptoms:
    – Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
    – Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
    – Depression, anxiety or unusual fears or a sudden loss of self-confidence
    – An apparent lack of supervision
    – Frequent absences from school or reluctance to ride the school bus
    – Attempts at running away
    – Rebellious or defiant behavior
    – Attempts at suicide

    Emotional abuse signs and symptoms
    – Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
    – Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
    – Social withdrawal or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
    – Depression
    – Headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause
    – Avoidance of certain situations, such as refusing to go to school or ride the bus
    – Desperately seeks affection
    – A decrease in school performance or loss of interest in school
    – Loss of previously acquired developmental skills

    It wouldn’t do any good to accuse the school of abuse. They would probably turn around and accuse you. You won’t get much help with this, but it might help to see the situation more clearly.

    Like other posters on this thread, I am homeschooling and it has been very good for my son. It is not what imagined for myself, but it is much better than the alternative and I am intensely grateful that with a lot of sacrifices we can do it.

    Wishing you and your family all the best.

  • Peggy

    I wrote you you about this piece when I first saw it. It resonates with so many.
    Why is our education system
    so broken? That we are so many?
    I subscribe to Bright Solutions
    for Dyslexia Newsletter
    and there you were again!
    Thank you for your unwavering honesty.

  • SueZ


    Yes…to all of this! I have a 12 year old in 6th grade. He is dyslexic…but not conventional. His reading is about 4/5 grade level. But struggles with comprehension, and his spelling is just awful, but getting better. I have homeschooled him his whole life. It is still hard! I didn’t understand what was going on with him….thought it was my fault…thought he was just being bad, disobedient, lazy…etc.

    But…I have him going to a tutor for the Barton method! These children need an Orton-Gillingham language arts program to succeed. Unfortunately, most public schools do not offer or understand this.

    I could not imagine him in a public school setting. It would be a disaster.

  • Ani

    I didn’t want to read this post for a while because I was afraid of reading about what could be the future for my son. He is four, a wild and active kid who can build anything out of Legos, can ride his bike without training wheels, and who is the sweetest little person I have ever come across. I am so afraid school will steal all of this away from him and so I’ve started looking into alternatives. I have to work full-time to support our little family, so homeschooling isn’t as feasable as I’d like it to be, but I live in Boulder, Colorado, where luckily things like homeschooling and uneducation are more the norm than the rarity. There are groups that come together to co-teach and each parent takes turns teaching the children something unique and different. I am sure most bigger cities have these groups and so it could be an option for Rocket. I refuse to put my child through the torture of school, through the inevitable diagnosis of ADHD, through the trauma, for what? Because someone somewhere along the line said this is the way we have to do things.

    Some books I recommend: “Let Them Play” and “Brave Parenting”

  • Rose

    I had to pause this and not read it all couldn’t hit way too close to home she’s in community college now and working ten times harder just like always and making it work but…..<3

  • Kim

    This post broke my heart. I am lucky enough to work at school for elementary and middle-school aged students with language-based learning disabilities. They are just like your son. They have dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing struggles, issues with rapid naming and so on. I wish that there were more schools like mine to reach kids like yours. The world is changing and with it kids brains are changing. The education system is broken and is failing those kids who don’t fall in line. I wish we had more schools with flexible learning environments.
    The one thing that stood out to me is how well you know your son (and all of your kids). Your knowledge of him, while it can’t fix the struggles, will give him strength. You accept him for who he while encouraging him to persevere.
    Thank you for your openness and your honesty!

  • Tom

    Thank you for sharing. You have a new reader, and probably two once I introduce my wife to your site.

    If your family’s financial situation allows for it, is there any chance there would be an alternative school available to him which could, in fact, recognize his talents and skills? The school system is unfortunately designed to fit all kids into one box of desirable standardized test results….

    Just a thought. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Roger Hobday

    I am now 62, your sons experience at school and life reflects much of my own.If I could relive those days in ways of my own choosing maths would be centred around engines and mechanics, reading would be of engine manuals and science. English would be structured around writing manuals and reports. And social skills would centred around identifying dicks and how to avoid them without them noticing, how to help those who really need it and How to look out for myself with money.
    Late last century I learn I was a gifted healer and started a journey of self healing that is not yet completed but many of the processes I have past through have greatly improved my ADD/Dyslexia. If you are interested email me. Regards Roger Hobday

  • Ann

    What a sad sad essay.

    I homeschooled my kids. The main reason was that I spent a lot of time in school being bored, by being so far ahead of the other kids. But with my four children, I don’t think I helped the two ‘gifted’ ones that much. I think they would have been fine. But my dyslexic daughter? IT WAS A LIFESAVER!

    She was well aware that other kids could read earlier than she could. She was well aware that things took much longer for her to learn. BUT… she never was in the position like the child talked about in the article. Oh, I want to homeschool them all!

    When she was finally tested, for her second year at the Music Conservatory, the psychologist who tested her was amazed that she loved to read. That so rarely happens with people as severely dyslexic as she is.

    She finished her degree, now has her own business teaching music. It was a happy ending. I wish the same for all those “different” kids.

  • Jill

    So many similarities between our boys. If you haven’t already, read up on Visual Spatial Learners, sounds like your boy to a T. We are waiting to find out if my son got into the vo-tech high school for next year, seems like a better fit and we’re hopeful he will find his way.

  • Dinah

    My heart breaks for your son, and all these heartbroken children and mamas/parents that commented your post! I hope there is a chance that someone sees this comment.
    I would most highly and seriously intensely recommend you look into the Davis method! I am sure you feel you already tried it all, and it didn’t work, but unlike other methods that work like training programs, the Davis method actually takes away the confusion while keeping the gift of the superbrain that these dyslexic/add/adhd children actually have.
    Check “The gift of dyslexia” and “the gift of learning” by Ron Davis. There might be facilitators in your region too. I assure you, I have absolutely no stakes in this, it’s not something I profit from in any way, I just have seen it work time and time again.

    All the Best for your sweet hearts! May they find happiness in learning and overcome their confusion with Life!

  • lynn oliver

    The belief boys should be strong allows aggressive treatment from infancy so they will be tough. There is less verbal interaction support for fear of coddling. This creates high, maintained layers of average stress for boys (new thought will send to all). These layers remain in the mind taking away real mental energy from academics so they will have to work harder to receive the same mental reward. This treatment creates emotional distance of others. It creates lags in communication girls are given daily. The high stress creates activity for stress relief not genetics. This creates higher muscle tension which hurts handwriting motivation. The effect with false genetic models creates more failure and hopelessness. To make it tougher boys are given love honor feelings of self-worth only on condition of achievement. This was designed to keep Male esteem low and be willing to give their lives in war for love honor from society. Males not achieving are given ridicule and discipline to make them try harder. Support is not given for fear of coddling. Many boys falling behind turn their attention to sports and video games for small measures of love honor not received in school. The belief boys should be strong and false belief in genetics create denial of the harsh treatment which is creating the low academics low esteem and other problems for boys. This is not about more openness from boys; it is about society allowing aggressive treatment from infancy so boys feel much wariness toward parents teachers who freely use aggressive treatment for any sign of weakness. This is condoned by society. This problem is affecting all male children but the lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in lower areas the much more amplified the treatment given male children by parents/teachers.
    There is a wrinkle to this. There are a “very few boys” given more stable, correct support from some families which will enable those boys to succeed in school. This enables those boys to do well -and receive love and honor from others, which they must continually do to continue to earn that love and honor. This then becomes a drug for those boys which drives them to continually achieve in different ways in school. However the vast majority of boys who do not receive that support will not do well in school and early on, go into other areas to generate love and honor such as sports, military, other.
    As girls we are given much support and care by parents teachers peers. As girls we are treated better and so enjoy support from society. Since we as girls are given by differential treatment much mental social/emotional support verbal interaction and care this creates the opposite outcome for girls when compared with boys. We receive love honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things. We have lower average stress for ease of learning. We enjoy much freedom of expression from much protection by society. We enjoy lower muscle tension for ease in writing motivation to write. We enjoy much positive trust/communication from parents teachers and support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society we enjoy more lavishing of love honor from society while boys and men are now failing more and are given more ridicule and abuse by society. Mind you this is now coming from girls and women using our still protected freedoms of expression and more with false feelings of superiority.
    As for girls there is a wrinkle also. We are given love and honor simply for being girls. This allows us to choose less than top planes of success and still find wonderful planes of innersecurity. We are not as driven. However, as the middle class continues to drop, there will be fewer boys able to receive the bare adequate support to be successful academically. Also more girls will begin “choosing to go into those higher fields by choice. This will slowly allow women to begin taking over those higher fields just as they have already taken over the other fields. Much more from learning theory.

  • Lucretia

    It’s called “twice exceptional” — exception to the norm. On one side there’s dyslexia, and maybe even dysgraphia, encoding/decoding, adhd… on the other, the kind of genius schools don’t look for. In his case? The maps and who knows what else?
    Look hard, find the schools or programs near you that can handle twice exceptional. It’s a lifeline for these kids. It only took a couple of weeks before mine got her love of learningback. Good luck!

  • Melissa

    Thank you so much for this. It spoke directly to me right where I am. We’re all still trying to figure out my special little unicorn. She’s 10 but 2yo and 30yo at the same time. She’s “slow” whatever the hell that means…and She’s just stopped “showing up” for school. She spends most if her time in “La-la land”. When adults reprimand her for this; she says we’re just angry because we’ve forgotten how to get there. I really believe she’s the smartest of all of us.