Dyslexia – A Mere Stumbling Block on the Path to Book Creation

“Peter is still getting his M’s and W’s mixed up.”

This was Peter’s kindergarten teacher four months ago. Peter is six. He should have known all of his letters a year ago. In fact, he did. So why the sudden trouble with these two? I was a bit disappointed when she told me, but I wasn’t surprised.

Peter has dyslexia. On top of that, his working memory does not function at 100%, making it difficult for him to retain everything we do to help him overcome his learning hurdles. It’s better than it was. This time last year, his working memory only functioned at about 20%, and he’s in an intensive program that’s helping, but it’s still a struggle.

So Peter and I practiced with M and W flashcards, and right about the time he got those two letters down, he slid back again and started having trouble with B and D. Peter is aware that he has a hard time reading. He knows his friends read books a couple levels beyond his capabilities. He groans whenever I make him read or do flashcards. Sometimes I’ll give him a night off and just read a book to him. The poor kid. Up until he had to start reading them himself, he had a love-love relationship with books.

I focus on Peter’s strengths. He’s good at math. He’s athletic. He can build anything, loves making inventions, and is very creative. But at the same time, I don’t want him to give up on reading, to think that it’s something a lot of people can do but is unattainable for him.

Then he happened to be watching the Disney Channel when Bella Thorne’s TTI came on. TTI’s (or “The Time I…”) are clips about some of the actors in Disney’s shows. I hadn’t seen Bella Thorne’s TTI since Peter was diagnosed.

Why does Bella Thorne’s particular TTI matter? Well, because she has dyslexia. She started talking about why reading was a challenge, and how she mixed up B and D and M and W. Peter turned to me, eyes alight, and said, “Hey! That’s just like me!”

It couldn’t have been more perfect.

I made sure to point out to him that she can read now, even though it’s a challenge.

I know it boggles Peter’s mind that I write. When I pulled my children’s book Hero out of mothballs earlier this year, I decided to involve Peter by using him as a first reader. I read it to him while he sat with me at my computer, looking at a screen with a bunch of symbols that he struggled to make sense of. With no illustrations to guide him, he didn’t connect with the story. I had to read passages twice and ask him questions about them to make them stick.

And then it hit me: Peter can draw. He may struggle to read Hero, but I knew if he helped illustrate it, he’d have some ownership. Even with dyslexia, he could still be a part of the book creation process.

Peter learning cursive

Peter learning cursive

If you’re a regular reader, you know that we did it (and you can read about it here). Peter is half-shy, half-proud when he helps me deliver a book. Even though he’s quick to say that it’s too tough for him to read (yet), he loves that his name is on the cover, that it’s our book. He even asked me to teach him cursive, so he can sign the inside cover.

Starting in the fall, I’m going to talk to elementary school students about writing and illustrating a picture book. I’m excited for them to know that a regular mom can make children’s books, but I’m even more excited to encourage them by telling Peter’s story. Books are for everyone – for bookworms like me, those who struggle like Peter, and everyone in between.

Don’t forget, through July 26th, all of my proceeds from Hero are going to WSB’s Care-a-Thon to benefit the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Click here for all the details, including where you can buy Hero in Northeast Florida. You can also get yours from Amazon.com, or message me for a signed copy.

Be a Hero by Supporting Children with Cancer

Hero Benefit poster I am very fortunate that my two boys have enjoyed good health so far. When you don’t face health issues, it’s something that’s easy to take for granted. My usual complaints fall into the categories of being too busy, not getting enough sleep, and worrying about finances. But every once in a while, I’m reminded that these “problems” are nothing compared to what many families face.

I’m talking about children who have terminal diseases. Hazel in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars says it perfectly (and pardon her French): “There is only one thing in this world sh*ttier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

Harsh? You bet. But how do you think these kids and their parents feel? I can only imagine the grief, the turmoil, and the burden. I’ve seen it with aging adults, including my own grandfather, which was terrible – but for a child to be plucked from the beginning of life, without ever having the chance to blossom, and given a death sentence before life has truly begun? It’s unfair. It’s unthinkable.

It’s reality.

If you haven’t faced this within your own family, it’s likely that you know someone who has. I’ve known children who were diagnosed anywhere from one year old to their teens. I’m not sure which is worse – never being able to remember a time before becoming sick or living a seemingly normal life, only to have the rug pulled from underneath you when you thought adolescence was bad enough by itself. Either way, any time I meet one of these children or parents or siblings, I realize how strong they must be, how much different their lives are than mine, and I yearn for a way to help.

For someone like me, neither a scientist who will someday find a cure nor a medical professional who can treat and care for one of these patients, I feel pretty useless. Then several years ago, I stumbled upon News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB’s Care-a-Thon. It’s an annual event that assists funding family support services and research, as well as the fellowship program at the Aflac Cancer Center.

As I listened on the radio, I heard parents and their children share their amazing and heartbreaking stories – and triumphs. I knew that I couldn’t give much, but I also couldn’t not give. I knew that if everyone listening took a few minutes and gave a few dollars, millions could have been raised. In fact, last year, the WSB Care-a-Thon benefiting the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta raised over $1.5 million.

This year, I hope to make my portion even more than usual by giving the proceeds from my children’s book Hero to this worthy cause. From Sunday, July 13 through Saturday, July 26, 2014, I will donate 100% of my net proceeds from every Hero sold – those purchased directly from me, from any location in Northeast Florida that carries it, and from Amazon.com.

Hero by Sarah Cotchaleovitch

Hero by Sarah Cotchaleovitch

Hero is a children’s book about two regular kids and their pets. The kids who have read it so far seem to enjoy it, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way to share my profits than with other children who deserve a chance at a normal life. So here is how you can participate:

Buy a copy of Hero any time from this coming Sunday, July 13th through the following Saturday, July 26th. If you would like an autographed copy, please message me, and I will ship one to you. If you live in Northeast Florida, Hero is available at the following retail locations:

The FotoTechnika Group in St. Nicholas (my printer and the family business)

Owens Pharmacy in Riverside

Proctor Ace Hardware (all three locations)

Roberts’ South Bank Pharmacy in San Marco

• Sweetwood Books of Fleming Island

Hero is also available from Amazon.com.

If you already have a copy, why not purchase another to donate to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta? I think the kids there would love it. Or buy one for your favorite niece, nephew, godchild, or friend. The Care-a-Thon itself will air Thursday, July 31 and Friday, August 1, 2014. Click this link to read more about it (including stories about these amazing children), or use this link to donate directly to the Care-a-Thon online.

Cancer will eventually affect everyone either directly or indirectly, but with our help, these children and their families won’t have to go it alone.