Tag Archives: dyslexia

[OPINION] Navigating Dyslexia, Changing Worlds

Jennifer Bernheim knows the challenges of navigating special education in a public school district. She’s the mother of a dyslexic learner, and founder of Right to Read Advocacy, which educates and empowers parents.

Jennifer lives in Weston with her husband and 3 children. She writes:

Like many, I had a front row seat to my child’s education during COVID. My son was in kindergarten, and we slogged through the dreaded daily Zoom calls.

I watched him struggle with his “homework,” labor over writing a sentence, and turn away from reading books aloud on EPIC.

Already unable to memorize sight words like his 2 older siblings, I had a strong suspicion that my son was dyslexic. While my husband and I didn’t know anyone in our families with a dyslexia diagnosis, I knew that my kindergartener wasn’t learning to read with the same ease as others.

I trusted my gut and went with my intuition, exploring this possible diagnosis.

Jennifer Bernheim and her son.

During 1st grade we enrolled him in a private school, knowing that more time on Zoom during COVID would not be conducive to his learning style. We were also hopeful that smaller class sizes and a different reading curriculum would help him develop as a reader.

When his progress was still lacking, I reached out to our district. Evaluations determined the possibility of a specific learning disability – yet no diagnosis of dyslexia yet. During early spring of 1st grade, we moved him back into the district where he could receive reading intervention immediately.

What unfolded from March of 2021 to now has changed me personally, and altered my career trajectory.

I waited for my “welcome to special education” packet, but no one delivered it. I learned first hand how broken the US public school system is when it comes to identification and early intervention for dyslexic learners.

I learned that crying at PPT meetings doesn’t move the needle, and that often even the best-intentioned teachers and administrators are unable to provide the support these students need.

And with the timely release of Sold a Story: How Teaching Kids to Read Went So Wrong, I learned that dyslexic students and struggling readers across the country are unsupported through the typical whole literacy approach. I also learned why my child always studied the pictures before he attempted to read: Thank you three-cueing.

While this “pulling back of the curtain” on American education left me disheartened, frustrated and often sleepless, it also ignited a passion in me. It is a passion so strong that I left my successful career as a PR practitioner to start an advocacy education consultancy.

I dove deep into educating myself about special education law and advocacy, so that I could best advocate for my son and ready myself to advocate for others.

I’ve spent endless hours learning all I can from courses including the Council of Parent Attorneys & Advocates’ esteemed Special Education and Advocacy Training, WrightsLaw Special Ed Law & Advocacy Training, and Overcoming Dyslexia (free on Coursera) by Dr. Sally Shaywitz – all of which I highly recommend.

Now, through my advocacy, I lessen the learning curve for parents with dyslexic learners. I help shoulder some of the burden navigating the special education system. I listen to parents empathetically, while assuring them that there is a community of other like-minded parents also willing to provide support and share resources. I’ve met some of the most amazing moms on this journey.

During the days of Zoom PPT meetings, reviewing evaluations that at the time made no sense to the layperson, and advocating endlessly, I certainly didn’t know that what felt like a burden at the time, would become my greatest gift.

My son who became anxious, continually melted down upon returning home from school, and started to experience school reluctance, is now thriving at The Southport School. His self-esteem has been restored, and he’s on his way to reading with a renewed confidence.

He’s a different kid and I’m a different mom. I attribute his dyslexic diagnosis for changing my world, for the better.

(“06880” is your hyper-local blog. We welcome “Opinion” pieces — and we appreciate support from readers. Please click here to contribute. Thank you!)

Jake Sussman Fights For “The Forgotten Child”

Imagine yourself as the child that always smiled
You were wild, you were beguiled —
Until the day you were profiled.
This is the story of the forgotten child.

Jake Sussman delivers those words clearly, directly and powerfully. Like many guys in their early 20s, he’s got scruff and exudes confidence.

But he is “The Forgotten Child.”

Now, he’s making sure that educators around the world do not forget any other Jake Sussmans out there.

There are many.

Growing up in Westport — and diagnosed with a learning difference — Jake had a “great experience” at Coleytown Elementary School.

Middle school was different, though.

“It wasn’t working for me,” Jake says. He transferred to The Southport School, then the Forman School in Litchfield for high school. After graduating in 2014, he headed to Roger Williams University.

It was the only college he applied to with no academic support system.

Jake Sussman

“That was fine,” Jake says. “In life, there’s no special corner for employees with learning differences.”

He directed his energy and charisma toward creating a Hillel on the Rhode Island campus. By the time he left for his senior year at the University of Hartford — for its program in communications and business — there were 30 attendees at Shabbat dinners.

As a junior, he took part in a campus poetry slam. “The Forgotten Child” was all about overcoming adversity, and being true to oneself.

Negative labels are destructive
Counter-productive and obstructive
This forgotten child refused to acknowledge
“You will never go to college.”

Speaking those words out loud, Jake felt empowered. He told his story — but he was not alone.

“Everyone learns differently,” he notes. “I may be 3 grades behind in reading, but I’m the best artist in the class. Teachers have to be able to tap into that.”

He realized his poem spoke for “anyone not seen or heard.” Learning differences, sexualities, physical disabilities — whatever adversity students have to overcome, Jake included them. They too are “forgotten children.”

At boarding school, Jake had met Harvey Hubbell V. The Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker — who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 1960s, and in 2013 produced “Dislecksia: The Movie” — was intrigued by Jake’s passion. And his poetry.

Beginning last May, they collaborated on a video. Last Thursday — in the middle of Dyslexia Awareness Month — they launched “The Forgotten Child” on Facebook. In it, Jake implores:

Don’t ever give up your shot
Our minds are all we’ve got!

Within 2 days, it had 25,000 views worldwide. And dozens of very favorable comments.

He hopes it reaches the right audiences: people with learning differences, and those who work with them.

“I’m not a teacher, a psychologist, a researcher or a parent,” he says. “I am a student. I represent all those who are not seen or heard, just for the way they learn.”

“The Forgotten Child” is just one of the ways Jake is speaking out about his own educational life, and those of so many others.

On Monday night, he was at a Decoding Dyslexia meeting in Salt Lake City.

I’m not sure whether he presented a talk or a poem.

Either way, I have no fear.

His message was heard loud and clear.

(For more information, email bookings@jakesussmanlive.com)

Jacob Sussman, filming his video.