When a child lacks confidence, academic and social-emotional skills suffer. Lacking confidence, a child drifts through school like a sailboat on a calm day—bobbing on the surface, needing wind.
As parents or teachers, how can we build a child’s confidence, especially if we suspect the presence of a learning disability or an attention disorder?
First, meet the child where he is.
Meet Carter: a confident, motivated, self-published author with plans for a 30-book series. Carter is nine years old, and his confidence is brand-new.
Carter has dyslexia. In preschool, Carter learned to write his name but had trouble remembering the alphabet and doing basic writing tasks. In kindergarten, while his classmates began learning how to read and write, Carter struggled.
In first grade, “Getting him to read at home was like pulling teeth,” his mother said. When Carter’s turn came to read a section of a story, his go-to reply was, “I can’t read,” or, “It’s too hard for me.” His parents bribed him to do homework. At school, Carter secretly counted the words on the page while pointing to them during silent reading time to hide the fact that he could not read. Teachers provided extra help several times per week, and his parents worked with him at home, but his skills in reading and writing fell further behind. He seemed unmotivated to learn and made little progress. When someone assured Carter’s parents he would “catch on” eventually, they opted not to wait.
In second grade, Carter completed an evaluation at the Stern Center, which revealed dyslexia, a specific learning disability that impacts reading and spelling development. The evaluator explained that Carter was a bright boy with exceptional difficulty processing and remembering sounds in words. This skill, otherwise known as “phonological awareness,” forms the foundation of early reading. The evaluation showed that Carter’s foundation for reading was weak. Carter could not connect the sounds in words to letters on the page, which explained why learning the alphabet was so hard for him and why he could not sound out words. “It’s scary, of course, to have a diagnosis,” said his mother, “but at least we knew what to do.”
At school, Carter began working with teachers who showed him how speech maps to print. Equipped with the evaluation report that recommended direct, systematic, multisensory instruction, his school team supplemented the instruction he received with his classmates in a program called Fundations® with individual, more intensive support using the Orton-Gillingham approach. For the first time, Carter realized that he did not have to memorize all those words in books—he could read them!
By the end of second grade, reading started to click, and Carter asked his mom if they could publish a book based on an idea he had during writing time when he created short, simple stories about a boy and a bat. Carter wanted to inspire others who struggled with reading like he did, but he wanted his story to be exciting and fun to read. Over the next year, Carter and his mom traded ideas and began piecing together short sentences about a boy with dyslexia who had a great imagination but was afraid to read in front of his class. Progress was slow, but Carter persevered, and his mother patiently helped whenever a new idea struck. Many revisions and months later, the image for a cover design sprang to mind, setting in motion the final steps to publish The Boy and the Bat. “During the fireworks last summer, Carter saw his shadow under the streetlamp, and it looked like a superhero, and that became the cover image on the book.”
Though he brims with confidence, all is not smooth sailing because reading and writing remain challenging. However, like a sailboat in a brisk wind, Carter now has a clear direction. He is motivated to figure out words and to persist when challenged. He dreams about becoming a famous author.
Inspired by his idol, Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants author who has dyslexia and ADHD, and powered by his earned confidence, Carter wants to help kids who struggle with dyslexia. Carter’s current goal is to find a publisher and an illustrator for his sequel, The Boy and The Bat—Dino Death. Today, if you ask Carter to sign your copy of the book, expect to see his new go-to message: “You can do anything! Love Carter.”