Making the Most of God's Gifts

Her daughter was brave about her learning disability, braver than her mother.

By Caroline Updyke, Short Hills, New Jersey

As appeared in

My phone buzzed as I got out of the car and walked up to my daughter Lauren’s school. I didn’t have to look. I knew it was a reminder that I was due in her classroom in 15 minutes. As if there was any way I could have forgotten what I’d promised to do for her eighth birthday. I’d stayed up all night worrying about it.

That morning at breakfast I’d asked Lauren again, “Are you sure that’s the book you want me to read?” She looked up from her cereal and said, “Yes, Mommy, I’m sure. Mrs. Small said to have you read my favorite book and Thank You, Mr. Falker is my favorite.”

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I knew Lauren loved the book. I did too. We’d discovered it a year earlier, not long after she was diagnosed with a language-based learning disorder—a fancy way of saying she’s dyslexic.

Thank You, Mr. Falker is by the children’s book author and illustrator Patricia Polacco. It’s about her own struggles in school. She could draw well but could not read.

She was teased and bullied and felt terrible about herself until fifth grade, when her teacher, Mr. Falker, realized she had a learning disability and taught her to read. The book ends with her running into Mr. Falker years later and telling him she’s now a writer and artist, thanks in large part to how he changed her life.

Lauren started this school year—second grade—not being able to read. At all. That didn’t seem to get in her way. She was full of opinions and not afraid to express them. She told imaginative stories. And like the young Patricia Polacco, she was quite the artist.

Her teachers assured my husband and me that eventually Lauren would learn to read, and we believed them.

But how long would that take and what would she lose in the meantime? What would her classmates say when she couldn’t read aloud the way they could? How could I give my daughter self-confidence when she was failing at the most emphasized skill at school?

I kept asking God to protect Lauren and light her path forward. She’s so smart and creative, I’d pray. I don’t want dyslexia to be the thing that defines her.

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I signed in at the office and took my time walking to her classroom, noticing all the homages to the written word in the hallways. Book reports lined the walls and a large yellow bulletin board proclaimed, “Reading Is Fun.”

Was it a good idea to read Lauren’s class a story about a dyslexic girl? Would describing the ways the author had been bullied as a child give my daughter’s classmates permission to torment her? Reading wouldn’t be fun for Lauren if that happened. It would be misery.

Mrs. Small met me at the door and led me to the front of the classroom, where there were two chairs set up side by side. The kids sat on the carpet. I waved to the aide, Mrs. Thompson, who had been such a help to Lauren, and took one of the chairs.

Lauren sat beside me, sporting a paper crown with “BIRTHDAY GIRL” written on it in crayon. The L was pointing in the wrong direction. I opened the book and began to read. The kids sat in a semicircle, eyes pinned on me. I felt Lauren’s little hand drape over my leg.

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Your Comments (17)

Truly an inspiring story! Lauren must be a petty amazing child and I would have to believe her parents are as well. I really enjoyed the story. It was well written and very engaging. I hope to read more from this wonderful author in the future!

"She saw her disability as motivation—as a strength—not as a liability." This is the powerful take-away. God continue to bless you and Lauren!

wonderful story!!! love the way little lauren & her mom handled introducing lauren's handicap to her class: that was so very positive!!!
I weep with joy for lauren to have a mother such as Mrs. updyke---seriously: I went thru school in the 1960s with dyscalculous, a math dysfunction in my brain that "came with" having no sense of direction---all I ever got was beatings from my folks "for not paying attention" & horrible humiliation from my 3rd & 4th Grade teacher & my 5th grade teacher in front of my classmates---until the "new Superintendent" we got half-way thru my 5th grade year put the screeching halts to that, thank god. [dyslexia was just starting to be discovered, but dyscalculous was, as yet, a relative unknown.]...both of My 6th grade teacker & 7th & 8th grade teacher worked & worked with me [my 7th & 8th grade teacher gave me the "option" of taking the 8th grade over---& I took it, with both his & my folks' blessing.
Yeah, Lauren, May god continue to bless you---& your wonderful loving & caring mother.

What a great story and beautifully written!
This kid is a true inspiration to all kids who might be a little different.
Kudos to mom all the way around!

I truly believe that life's greatest lessons are those we learn from children—ESPECIALLY—children with disabilities. There is nothing "dis" able about Lauren. She seems to have the confidence, strength and focus to not just follow her dreams, but to make them happen. I'd like to read an article in the future for WHEN Lauren gets to meet Patricia Polacco at a writer's conference.

This story brought tears to my eyes. To know that Lauren has the strength, the confidence, and the joy in life to be whatever she wants to be is truly awe inspiring. What a beautifully written piece. You can actually feel this moms love for her child in every word of this article. So beautiful.

What a lovely story--I am teary like Lauren's teachers! Thank you for sharing this experience--it was incredibly touching.

Thank you for sharing this powerful story; it is both powerful and inspiring. You are a very lucky mom to have a daughter like Lauren and she is very fortunate to have a mother like you. Will we see more of your work here?

This was a very sweet story and I am happy for Lauren that she was surrounded by such a supportive classroom. Many children are not that fortunate in many school settings. They also rarely have just one disability. The language based learning issues need to be addressed early and with accurate testing. My daughter was pulled out of class, not included in classroom projects and by the 4th grade was on the outside looking in. Fortunately we had the resources for tutoring and private schools. She is now in college and it is still very hard for her but she has succeeded. She is an avid reader and that is amazing to me...prayers answered for sure!

Thank you for your sharing this touching and important story. As a mother with a dyslectic son I can more than relate. I am happy to share that my son's dealing with his diagnosis taught me much. I am proud to say that he is a college graduate and serves with the LAPD. I pray that you will continue to rejoice in each goal your daughter reaches - the journey is filled with blessings!

Beautiful. Spread the story. Spread hope :)

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am a Speech-Language-Pathologist, PASSIONATE about teaching others to understand reading problems, and teaching children and adults how to read. Your story touched the very depths of my heart. God has such a wonderful way of teaching ALL of us to love and accept each other. In this case, it was from the wisdom of your daughter. What a trusting child; what a brave mom. I salute you both and will be sending many prayers!

Thank you so much, Ms. Schwaglere for your comments!! It is so gratifying to know that you were so touched by Lauren!! I can imagine how rewarding it myst be to be a Speech-Language-Pathologist, especially knowing the amazing impact you have on kids' lives!! I appreciate your comments and your kindness.

Thanks!
Caroline Updyke

Thank you, Mrs. Updyke. What a lovely and inspiring story.

...for your kind words. :-)

I was so inspired by this story! I am a Titile one Reading Specialist and have worked with children like Laurenfor many years. I feel the pain of a child who struggles with the abstractness of print. I've seen the hurt that ugly words from a peer can cause in a child with a learning disability. Like Lauren, I could not read in going into the second grade. Oh how I Struggled with those funny symbols on a page. It was My second grade teacher, Mrs. Beale who helped me decipher the written word. She was patient as I wrote the alphabet, sang the sounds, then made up fun little songs to go with the phonetics and phonemes of words. mrs. Beale let me stay after school and would sit with me as we read Dick and Jane books over and over again. By the end of the school year I had mastered reading ad wasn't far whine my friendsin te second grade. I didn't have dyslexia, but I had a real focusing problem. The label ADHD would have been the term for me back in the late1960's. I also had a devoted mother who was determined to do whatever it took to get me through second grade and every grade. I share all of this with you because I too was inspired by my circumstances to one day be a teacher and encourage those students who had some forrm of a disability to read. Today, I teach because of te patience of a teacher and mother who never gave up on me. I encourage my students that they can become anything they want to be, we just have to figure out the best way they learn and teach them to overcome their disability, just as Lauren has done.
Thanks so much for being transparent and sharing this story. It will be something I share with my students for years to come.

Judi Harman
Reading Teacher

Ms. Hartman: Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I find it amazing that you leveraged your own issues reading and now teach children with similar issues!! Like you, I know I too could have easily have been diagnosed with ADHD--and I still have all types of trouble focusing!!!

It is exactly because teachers like you lend their time that children like Lauren can flourish! Lauren is a total bookworm these days--she has a real love of language and storytelling. We feel so fortunate to have had such incredible teachers who made it so easy for Lauren to move past this obstacle.

Thank you so much for sharing your story!!
Caroline Updyke