Getting Lost in a Book, Dyslexia Style

There is always an undercurrent that is weirdly
specific to discussion of children's books. Because with children's books, the question always exists: can they read them? I mean, art and music
and movies are never put under that scrutiny. Kids (or other viewers) might not appreciate
something, but they can understand it, or at least, they have the tools to. But
children's books are part of kids' first steps into written language, and then as the kids get more adept, the books change and change until they're more adult books.
Or at least, that's the way it's supposed to work.

Because for some kids, it's trickier. Some kids will never be able to
absorb written language in a fluid, unthinking way. They can almost all learn to read, but not in the same way. So how do we bring
them into literature? Because I do think everyone should at least have the option of connecting with books. What's excellent for kids about reading,
at least to my mind, isn't just an ever-increasing skill at decoding.
It's entering into a story, it's understanding language as a way of
communicating other worlds, it's being human. Sure, decoding is great,
but it's not the point. It's connected, I think, to a way of thinking about each other, there's a reason that so much therapy for kids on the autism spectrum has to do with stories, and social stories, and imaginative play. It's a way of understanding that other people exist, which is in some way the basis for civilization.

My friend's son was recently diagnosed with dyslexia. It's been a tough
road for him and his family, watching his frustration as reading came
to other kids but not to him. He wanted stories to be read to him, but he didn't always want to have to rely on an adult for this, and as we all know adults have many demands on their time. The family is
working to to absorb this new information into their lives, and is trying to figure out ways to help him out, and one of the
things they've discovered is this.

I'd already been hearing about the amazing e-books at our library,
where you can click one onto your computer and it sits there for 2
weeks then the file vanishes. You can put it on your iPod or other
e-reader (but not on a Kindle, sorry!) and it's altogether  cool.
But the most amazing thing on the site above is the e-books that
are MP3 files. You can put them on an iPod and all of a sudden your
child has a book to listen to.

This is, I think, amazing.

means that now, my friend's son, who's struggled so hard with words and
stories, whose mom has ached for him to be able to enjoy the amazing
escape and haven that reading is for her, well, now he can be spotted
thus: sitting in the big armchair in his living room, listening to
Harry Potter on his iPod, eyes focused somewhere on an invisible middle
distance, swept up in a story. Something so many of us get to do, that he's always wanted.

It's made them both so happy.

As someone who is not so open to audio books (I feel like the spoken voice is a barrier between me and the words), I wonder how it feels, this new entry to the world of stories. It must be like those dreams New Yorkers have about suddenly finding a new room in their apartment, something they'd always dreamed would be there. It makes me hopeful about a lot of things—all those things there are in the world that people think they can't do. What if all of a sudden there was a way they never thought of?

4 thoughts on “Getting Lost in a Book, Dyslexia Style

  1. Such a wonderful post! I loved that this boy was welcomed into the “club” (finally). But I loved your line most of all: “Sure, decoding is great, but it’s not the point.” You nailed it. The point is the author’s message, the story. I have only listened to one adult audio book, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. He read it. It was wonderful. I have also listened to 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola in the car with my kids. They listened to it at least three times (in a row!) before it was due back at the library. Tomie dePaola read it. It was wonderful too. How awesome that you can get an MP3 version. I need to do more listening. It really does take you into another world, just like reading it yourself.


  2. Must be getting sappy in my old age, but reading about this boy sitting there listening to Harry Potter actually brought tears to my eyes. I suppose it’s an indication of how important I think it is that everyone can get access to that experience – to be swept away in a story. Unlike you, I quite like audio books: If they’re well read, that is. Badly read books set my teeth on edge.


  3. I’m sure your friend has heard this sort of story before but here it is anyway. I have a cousin who is severely dyslexic. And when he was young (and an obviously out-of-the-ballpark bright kid) there was little known about dyslexia…I remember the great relief in the family when we finally knew what was causing his problems.
    He’s now grown, a master electrician, happily married with two kids. And he’s a reader. It takes him a long time to read a book but he does so and he loves books.
    Wishing your friend and her son the same. Sounds like he’s off to a good start.


  4. Aw. I was so happy to hear this story, too. I’d never thought about how it would be important to a kid with dyslexia to be able to access books without adult assistance (interference).
    I don’t have difficulty reading but have been rediscovering audiobooks. I listen to them at night while knitting. It’s interesting to feel how the experience differs from reading the written word. On the one hand, the book is mediated by the reader. On the other hand, the story or experience can feel more direct when spoken. I also find that I process spoken words differently from written. But, at the core, it is still, as you said, the story, no matter how you access it.


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