Special Report
Special Education Opinion

A Special Education Student Speaks: Dealing With the Ups and Downs

Frustration with lack of consistency
By Ella Griffith-Tager — December 05, 2018 3 min read

I was diagnosed with dyslexia at the end of 1st grade—they called it a reading disorder.

Nothing much changed at first except for some one-on-one time with my teacher. Then in 2nd grade I got an individualized education program and started getting pulled out for special education classes in reading and writing. Things kind of got better because I had a patient teacher.

In 3rd grade I went to a new school, and it was too loud and I didn’t get help in other classes, but my special education teacher was one of the best teachers I ever had. She was helpful, attentive, and open to new ideas. I took breaks and played games, which I think is age-appropriate for 3rd grade. I still left at the end of the year because of the school environment and changed to another school in the district.

This new school’s climate was way calmer, but then I encountered a special education teacher who did not work well with special ed kids. She would constantly say “you can do it,” which actually can be harmful to kids with dyslexia, because instead of changing the way she was teaching something (that didn’t work) she kept encouraging us to try harder, even though I learn differently. I started rejecting going to school because, frankly, the work environment was becoming toxic for me. My parents pulled me out, and I was home-schooled for the second half of the year.

In 5th grade we moved to a new state and another new school. Overall the school was different to me. An assistant teacher kept breaking my IEP and did not listen to my polite suggestions about how I could learn better.

Middle school was another new school, and 6th grade was great. The whole school had a policy that helped out 6th graders more than any other grade, so I got more help in each of my classes, and I was being pulled out constantly for special education. The teacher was very caring and always attended to my emotional needs before my academic needs, which actually helped me academically.

Eighth grader Ella Griffith-Tager, of Northampton, Mass., was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was in 1st grade. She says the level of support she’s received for her needs has varied year to year, and even school to school, in the course of her educational career so far.

But in 7th grade the help was lacking, and I did not want to go to school again. I was struggling in all the subjects, so I was pulled out and home-schooled again for the second part of the year. And now I am in 8th grade in another new school that is an alternative school. That is working wonderfully for me because I get one-on-one tutoring, creative classes such as 3D printing, screenwriting, and Psychology 101. The school only has 45 kids, and I feel I will stay here because of the calm environment, constant attentiveness, and classes that stimulate my brain.

Since I was diagnosed at a young age I always knew I had dyslexia, but it still affects me. I think that dyslexia is more than the definition, because how people react shapes how you react to your own dyslexia.

In the past, my main problem in classes was that I only get accommodations in reading and math. I feel that reading pops up everywhere—in social studies we constantly read history books, and sometimes my school would have an assistant teacher to help me read with a group.

I wish when I told teachers that I was dyslexic they would not change their voice tone—or make a face or seem to pity me—because I learn differently. It is not like it is stopping me from learning anything, and if it does I will find a way. And it is part of their job to help me find those ways and not cast off the ways that seem odd, like doodling or taking breaks, not wanting to read out loud, etc.

The people who tested me would tell me what I needed to learn—methods—but when I translated this to teachers, they made me feel like I was asking something extra of them. It made me feel that my needs were petty in that I was putting too much on the teachers around me. But, I learn how I learn. Don’t compare me to how another dyslexic kid learns because each one of us is different. It is not just black or white, and make sure you ask me, “Will this work for you?” when it is something new.

A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 2018 edition of Education Week as A Student’s Journey Highlights Uneven Nature of Services

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