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Caylla's Story ~ 9 Months to Literacy

Caylla's Extraordinary Story ~ 9 Months to Literacy

If you’re in the mood for an uplifting story than you’re in for a treat.  I tell the following story to wrap up many of my presentations because it’s a story of hope, a story that’s not easily forgotten and one that has brought many parents of struggling readers to tears (including myself  - every time I tell it).  The tears these parents have cried aren’t tears of grief; they are tears of joy.  This story has not been dramatized and it is not made up.  This is a real story about a real student. 


Smart & Illiterate 

Several years ago I was teaching as a special education teacher, working with students who qualified for services in reading.  Caylla, one of my students, was a charming young lady whose main interests included fashion, friends and music.  In talking to Caylla you could tell that she was as bright as she was charming.  Caylla’s outward appearance and conversational abilities told this story, but as soon as Caylla was asked to read or write, a totally different story was revealed.  You see, Caylla was different from the majority of her classmates because Caylla was in 5th grade and couldn’t read.  Caylla was completely illiterate and at the same time she was smart.  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  Let me explain more. Caylla had normal intelligence yet in 6 years of formal schooling not a single teacher or her parents had been able to teach her how to read.

Causes for Reading Failure

The cynics would say, “Well there must have been other issues going on.” “What was her home life like, and was she lazy/did she even care about learning to read?” “Did she come from a low socio-economic background?”  "Was their trauma she had experienced?"  Most would think there must have been some type of extrinsic cause for her reading failure.  But, Caylla did not have truancy issues, health issues or other extenuating circumstances. She had loving parents, caring and "highly qualified" teachers, and she was given a lot of extra reading help before and after school for many years.

Dyslexia is Invisible

Unfortunately, none of this mattered because no one realized that Caylla was dyslexic - severely to profoundly dyslexic. Dyslexia is an invisible disability.  You can’t see dyslexia by looking at someone.  Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the Audrey G. Ratner Professor of Pediatrics (Neurology) and Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity calls this The Paradox of Dyslexia.

In September of 5th grade, Caylla was not even reading at a prekindergarten level and behaviors were starting to take form.  It was looking like Caylla was on a fast track to dropping out of school at a very young age.  Having dyslexia in our family, I knew a thing or two about dyslexia identification and remediation.  I knew without a doubt Caylla was dyslexic and recognized that if Caylla hadn’t learned to read by this point in her life that she never would unless given the right type of programming - Orton Gillingham based reading intervention.


From Illiterate to Literate  

Caylla had never been given Orton Gillingham based reading instruction, so my I began working with Caylla everyday - 50 minutes each day - and Caylla started to make progress.  Yes, you read that right...I worked with her 5 days a week, one-on-one!!  Some days were easier than others, but by the end of the school year Caylla was reading at a 4thgrade level!  There aren't words to explain the extent of this 9 month long transformation. To put it simply, her teacher’s were amazed, her mom was elated, and Caylla’s reaction was humbling...she knew all along that she had the ability to learn to read.  Deep down she knew she was smart enough to learn to read.

The Right Type of Instruction

At the end of the school year and after completing my final benchmark reading assessment, I said to Caylla, “You have worked so hard this year and you’ve become such a great reader.  All of your hard work has really paid off. What do you think of your growth?”  Caylla responded with a wide smile and corrected my statement.  She said, “Oh, Mrs. Steinke it wasn’t me …you just needed to water my brain with the right type of water.”

Caylla was right. She had always worked hard and all of her hard work and effort had not paid off until she was given the right tools to work with.  Why would you continue using the same reading methods year after year when they haven’t worked year after year?  Changing reading methodology for Caylla was like flipping switch.  All of her hard work was finally able to produce results.

If you have a story of your own or have any questions about Dyslexia, we'd love to hear from you.  Please feel free to contact through our website at


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