Suzanne Lang fondly remembers asking her then 5-year-old son, Alec, what he wanted to be for Halloween.
“The king,” he said, beaming.
So they went to the craft store and picked out red velvet and white fur for a cape. Lang made a scepter out of cardboard and spray-painted it gold.
“When I put the crown on his head, he looked at me with big eyes, full of confidence and joy,” she says. “Sadly, I wouldn’t see that look again for many years.”
There had been hints back in preschool that something wasn’t right. Alec’s speech was slightly off. He had trouble in kindergarten with letters and words. But at the same time, he was very bright, creative and inquisitive.
In first grade, things began to unravel. Every day the class would spend time writing in their journals. And every day Alec would try hard but only manage to write one word — and he’d spell it wrong, too.
School became unbearable for him. He began chewing through pencil erasers. He’d come home after school yelling or crying, feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. In third grade, when his school evaluated him, he told the staff he was “stupid,” even though the evaluation found he actually had a very high IQ.
“My little ‘king’ seemed so far away,” Lang noted.
Eventually, the Lang family discovered that Alec had dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These issues aren’t uncommon: one in five children struggle with brain-based issues related to reading, math, writing, attention and organization.
“Back then, all I knew was that I needed to start looking for ways to help my son,” Lang says. “But I hit a roadblock I never expected; few parents wanted to open up to me about their children’s struggles.”
It’s an uncomfortable subject, after all. It’s also invisible — no one can tell by looking at a child that he can’t read or write.
“I turned to the Internet, but it was beyond frustrating. Most websites were full of confusing education jargon. And if I found a site I liked, I kept wondering, ‘Can I really trust this information?’”
Lang spent countless hours tracking down experts, eventually finding a reading specialist named Margie Gillis.
“She helped us understand two very important things: why my son was struggling and how I could help him,” Lang says.
That knowledge marked a turning point for the Langs. They found a middle school that gave Alec the chance to meet other kids with learning and attention issues. This helped build his confidence and gave him a sense of community.
“I remember him saying, ‘I never thought there were so many people like me,’” Suzanne says.
Once he had the kind of instruction and support he needed, Alec started to make progress. By the end of middle school, he even started talking about wanting to go to college.
“Even as Alec started to thrive, a sadness came over me,” Lang says. “I thought, ‘How many other parents are out there looking for answers?’”
That’s when she embarked on a new mission — to help other parents whose children have learning and attention issues. That journey led her to join the team at Understood.org, a comprehensive resource that empowers parents of kids with learning and attention issues.
Understood was created by 15 nonprofits that care deeply about kids with learning and attention issues. Its mission is to empower parents with clear explanations and practical advice about learning and attention issues. This powerful new resource offers parents daily access to experts, personalized support and connection to other parents in a safe online community. One of the site’s interactive tools, Through Your Child’s Eyes, allows parents to experience the challenges of living with learning and attention issues, like ADHD or dyslexia. All for free.
“Understood launched in October 2014, and my greatest hope is that it becomes a lifeline to every parent who is looking for answers,” Lang says.
Alec is now a college freshman studying engineering. He’s on the dean’s list and is thinking about what he’ll do after graduation.
“I asked him when he visited over spring break if he knew what he wanted to do, having so many options,” Lang says.
While Alec doesn’t exactly know yet, he did let his mother know that he wanted to do something cutting edge — something that will “change the world.”
“He was confident, almost beaming,” she says.
Her “king” was back.
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