Diagnosis brings positive change

TRUMAN – The first-grader was struggling in school, lumbering through assignments and ultimately failing tests.

“Why am I working twice as hard as everybody else? I’m so stupid,” he told his mother.

Hearing her youngest son, Matthew, say these words broke Melissa Steuber’s heart. She knew her son wasn’t “stupid.” Far from it. Matthew was creative and clever, but school was hard for him.

“No matter how hard we studied his spelling words or how often we would practice, he would struggle with spelling,” Steuber said. “He is a very intelligent child and could answer without difficulty when given the information verbally, but when he had to write it down, it just didn’t go well.”

Matthew could get single letter sounds, but a combination of letters, such as “igh,” proved almost impossible for him to comprehend.

Steuber talked to a teacher at Truman Elementary School about Matthew’s frustration. This teacher had children with dyslexia in her family, and she told Steuber about the symptoms of the learning disability and that it often runs in families.

“My husband is also dyslexic, and when I discovered dyslexia runs in families, I felt fairly certain that this was the cause of my son’s struggles as well,” she said.

The Steubers’ other two sons, Mason and Mitchell, were “A” students “without any effort,” she said.

She consulted Matthew’s pediatrician and a psychologist for more testing. He got only three answers correct out of 20 written questions but achieved a perfect score when the questions were read to him.

Steuber’s suspicions were confirmed, and she delved into researching the topic. She learned of a place called the Reading Center in Rochester, a non-profit organization that has been helping struggling students for more than 60 years. Staff at the Reading Center evaluated Matthew and developed a specific plan.

“We came back with a written plan, and Truman [school staff] put everything in place immediately,” Steuber said.

Matthew was just beginning the second grade at the time. By the end of the school year, he achieved an overall math score of 91 percent and a overall reading score of 69 percent on the Iowa Basic SkillsTest.

Wendy Moeckle, a Reading Center-trained tutor who lives in Fairmont, works with Matthew during the week, and Steuber credits her with Matthew’s improvement.

But it’s the involvement of the Truman school staff that she says is vital to her son’s education.

“I cannot overstate how critical the support of Truman Elementary School has been,” Steuber said. “From our principal to my son’s classroom teachers, everyone immediately came on board to do whatever we needed to do to help my son be successful.

“I am so thankful my son attends a school that has such compassionate and willing staff. He isn’t just a number. Every single person in that school cares about my kids like I do,” she said.

Reading Center staff told Steuber that the instantaneous support Matthew received from the Truman staff was “absolutely unbelievable.”

Matthew, now in third grade, looks forward to school and seeing his teacher, Jennifer Ellis, every day.

“It’s amazing how far he’s come,” Ellis said.

She tries to “give a little more attention” to students who have learning disabilities or struggle in class.

“She’s wonderful,” Steuber said of Ellis.

Steuber works with Matthew so “he can become his own advocate” as he becomes older. But, until then, she will continue to support her son and educate people about dyslexia.

“It’s my intention, as his mother, that he will never fail,” she said.