Kari Bucholz noticed something different about her son, Haley. As a preschooler, he wasn’t interested in picture books and never climbed onto her lap asking his mom to read to him as her daughter had.
In Kindergarten, his teacher said, “Your son is not picking up his ABCs like other children,” but she assured Bucholz that she would work on Haley’s challenges. That year the word dyslexia was quietly broached, but no solutions were offered.
By first grade, more teachers voiced concerns, but most reminded Bucholz to be patient. She knew her son wasn’t recognizing common sight words and that her attempts to read to him were fraught with angst.
As homework kicked in, her son’s personality changed. “He lacked confidence,” she said. “I could sense his feelings of inadequacy and avoidance when dealing with homework. His expectations that he would learn how to read waned as did his teachers’ expectations for academic improvement. This was not the learning path I wanted for my son.”
Determined to find answers, Bucholz began to take the first steps of what turned out to be a long journey. She had Haley’s vision and hearing checked, ordered neuropsychological testing, and hired a private tutor. She researched the definition of dyslexia and learned about Susan Barton, a nationally acclaimed expert on dyslexia and the author of the Barton Reading and Spelling System.™
The Barton Reading and Spelling System is a research-based Orton-Gillingham-influenced methodology—a system that utilizes one-on-one instruction given by Barton-trained instructors.
For six months, Bucholz drove three hours from Fargo, ND to St. Paul, MN to meet with a Certified Testing Specialist and Barton tutor. Haley, then a first grader, was officially diagnosed with severe dyslexia and dysgraphia, the writing disorder that manifests itself in slow, non-automatic handwriting.
It was on those exhausting drives that Bucholz came up with a plan. She would become a Certified Barton Tutor and Dyslexia Consultant also. She would learn to deliver the reading system with precision and tutor her son.
Throughout her training, Bucholz came to know that children with dyslexia see and hear things differently. They require more support to decode words and phrases for meaning.
She saw the first sign of Haley catching on to the Barton reading approach as he identified road signs on their long drives. He began to recognize sight words and picked up books more frequently. He was progressing but lacked reading speed.
Susan Barton suggested that Bucholz try digital books and reading technologies so that Haley could see words written on a computer screen and hear the words read aloud by computer voices. That’s when she learned about Bookshare, an online library for digital accessible books. She signed her son up for an individual membership, which is free for U.S. students with qualified print disabilities through awards from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs..
Currently a sixth-grader, Haley’s aptitude has soared. Each month, he downloads and reads one to two books himself through Bookshare. He is proficient on the reports and testing required. He uses his mom’s iPad or a laptop to read eBooks with a headset. At home, he writes book reports on his computer through free reading software called Read:Outloud offered through Bookshare.
Today, Bucholz has an established dyslexia practice called Haley’s Hope. She and staff members tutor over two dozen children, ages 2 to 17. Through her extraordinary efforts, she broke through the barrier of the reading and writing disorders. Parents, physicians, and teachers go to her for advice and recommendations regarding dyslexia. Bucholz tells them about Bookshare and her deep appreciation for Susan Barton and methods like Orton-Gillingham.
“Research-based tutoring, digital accessible books, and reading technologies are part of the solution for children with dyslexia,” says Bucholz. “With the help of Susan Barton, Jane Conlin, our tutor in Minnesota, and Bookshare, I found the information and courage to help my son. These programs can change lives!”
And not just the lives of children with dyslexia. Bucholz’s life has been changed too. “Seeking answers for my son set my life’s purpose into motion,” she said. “I want to make sure that any child with dyslexia has opportunities to discover how to become a good reader and to know that they can achieve great results!”
Valerie Chernek writes about best practices on digital learning and the use of technologies to improve academic achievement and equality in education. Follow her on Twitter @valeriechernek and on Facebook at Advocate for Education Technology.