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How an early intervention for dyslexia leads to more effective support.

By Barbie Shipley.


Barbie Shipley is a full time marketing executive and all-the-time wife and mother of a ten-year-old dyslexic boy who lives in Knoxville, TN. When she’s not working, you can find Barbie running, cooking, sewing, taxing her son to golf lessons or karate and skiing with her family but mostly helping with homework. She considers herself an expert in the creation of mnemonic devices — a key component to helping her son prepare for tests! 

In the article below Barbie writes about how the early diagnosis of dyslexia in her son lead to the development of comprehensive support throughout school.

Barbie Shipley, a mother of a dyslexic son
Barbie Shipley

It started when my extremely bright 4-year-old son, Griffen, wasn’t learning colors or his ABC’s. He could get you the colored block that you asked for and point to the color you told him, but he couldn’t tell you what color was even after you just said it.  He could tell you exactly how to draw any letter -- just as his teacher taught him, but he couldn’t tell you what letter he just drew.  He was our first and only child, we didn’t know what to expect, we thought he was just playing coy.

It wasn’t long after that the director of his pre-school suggested there might be an issue. Fourteen hours of testing later, the psychologist told us that our Griffen tested  “off the charts” in his IQ, but had severe dyslexia, significant ADHD and short to long-term memory issues.

I had no idea of how to apply this information or what it meant, he wasn’t even in kindergarten yet! At the time I didn’t even know my son was getting an early diagnosis, But I thought that this would set us on a definitive path, and it didn't, because there isn’t one.

The thing I realize now, this early diagnosis, while it didn’t provide a path or game plan, did gave us time to ask questions, to interview schools, determine programs, try various interventions, get an idea of what he responded to, what he didn't. It allowed us the time to interview schools, see what kind of assistance would be available, make decisions based on what we learned, we built a relationship with the school, so that now five years into it, having conferences and meetings about his IEP isn’t scary, it is productive.  

They say that up to the third grade, kids learn to read, now that he is in fourth grade, everything has switched, he’s reading to learn and the challenges are very real – but I think we’re prepared for them. I can’t imagine what we would be going through if we were just now learning about the dyslexia now.  Griffen is the earliest diagnosed dyslexic at his school; we went into kindergarten with an IEP in place that we’ve adapted every year.

Early diagnosis also allowed us to prepare Griffen, help him understand his dyslexia. He isn’t afraid to tell people, including the kids in his classes, about it. He is used to the interventions, he’s had tutors twice a week since he was four. He knows he has to put in extra effort and we discuss our strategies for success as a family. Griffen is the first person to remind a teacher of his accommodations and is learning how to navigate the tools that help him such as Learning Ally.


Ultimately, I think early diagnosis helped lay the foundation of confidence in Griffen. He understands why he struggles and is willing to work through problems. He knows he has support and isn’t alone. Perhaps he wears his dyslexia as a badge, he likes that he thinks differently, and frankly so do I. 

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