We recently had the opportunity to chat with super dyslexia advocates Shannon and her 11-year-old daughter Jenna about school, self-advocacy, and... snakes!
We contacted Shannon after she shared a photo of Jenna brandishing her very own dyslexia ID card—a homemade creation inspired by one of our blogposts!
Originally created by Dr. John Frauenheim at the Beaumont Hospital in Michigan to help dyslexic students self-advocate, the ID cards sparked much conversation in the dyslexia community and we knew it was only a matter of time before we had DIY-ers crafting their own.
Turn on text-to-speech and ear-read along (or eye-read!) for our full interview with Shannon and Jenna.
Headstrong: Before we talk about dyslexia, we think it’s very important to discuss one of Jenna’s other passions: snakes. Jenna, how much do you know about snakes?
Jenna: A lot. I have 35 of them. 15 hatched the other day...
Headstrong: 35?! Snakes hatch? Like out of eggs?
Jenna: Yeah. And some breeds give birth live.
Headstrong: What kind of snakes do you have?
Jenna: Ball pythons. Carpet pythons. Corn snakes. King snakes. Milk snakes. Boas.
Headstrong: You have a boa!?
Jenna: I have a few. One of them is six feet long—but I can carry her. She’s really nice. Her name is Nagini.
Jenna: From Harry Potter.
Headstrong: So how did you end up with all these snakes?
Jenna: I don’t know. We were told that if we kept our room clean for a month, we’d get a reptile as a pet. My big sister did it first and then my dad wanted a snake and then I wanted a snake. And then... we just kept getting more and more snakes! My favorite snake is my corn snake Tiny.
Headstrong: Is he actually tiny?
Jenna: No! He’s the biggest corn snake. Our friend who breeds them says he’s ginormous.
Headstrong: Maybe it’s time for us to give snakes a second chance! Ok, let’s talk about a different animal. Shannon, how did you find out about Headstrong?
Shannon: When Jenna was identified earlier this year with dyslexia, I did what every parent does and went looking for resources. I came across Ben Foss’s book, “The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan”—bought it, read it, took everything to heart, and set out to find the best ways to help Jenna, who had struggled for many years. She’s 11 now and has only just been identified.
Headstrong: You learned about the dyslexia ID card from our blog. What prompted you and Jenna to make one on your own?
Shannon: Well, we’ve been encouraging Jenna to have her own voice and I thought this was a simple solution to put it into practice. She could go to school and if she had a teacher who didn’t know her, the teacher would understand why Jenna is pulling out audio books when the rest of her class is eye-reading. In this way, she could easily explain what she needed without having to be verbose.
Jenna: It also made it easier for my table when I took out a little computer and they said, “Why do you have that!?” I could hand them my ID card and say, “Hey, just read this!” It made it a lot easier.
Headstrong: So what do these cards look like and what does someone need to make the card?
Jenna: You need a printer and a computer and my mom got the doctor’s signature and the stuff from the children’s hospital and then she wrote a bunch of facts that we might use on my IEP plan.
Shannon: We took 2 pieces of paper so we had a front and a back, and made it into a 3 x 3 square. On the front we would put information about the physician, Jenna’s name, and the certification that she experiences dyslexia, which compromises reading and spelling ability. On the back we printed what we felt were the key IEP points that we wanted addressed by someone coming in to the classroom who didn’t know Jenna.
We laminated and hole-punched it, and now she has a lanyard that she can wear it on or keep in her pencil bag.
Headstrong: Will you share your IEP points with us?
Jenna: Yes. My IEP says:
- I may use audiobooks for reading (Nook / headphones).
- Students who correct my papers are mutually agreed upon by me.
- During all tests, please be available to read words, sentences or to paraphrase questions as needed.
- I use a Forte (word processor and headphones) in class.
- Allow me to skip answering / reading aloud out loud at my request.
Headstrong: That is amazing! After you made the card, what was the next step?
Shannon: We took it to the pediatric neurologist from Children’s Hospital who had identified Jenna and explained the idea to him. He was intrigued because he has patients with other LDs (learning differences), not just dyslexia, who might benefit. He immediately signed it, and was very encouraged to see all of facts and needs from her IEP on the back.
At the school we showed it to the Special Education resource teacher who agreed that it was a very helpful idea, especially because it didn’t cost us anything! And again, that it could help students who aren’t necessarily dyslexic but who have other needs.
Headstrong: Jenna, tell us about the first time you used your ID card at school.
Jenna: It was in the of middle of the school year, and my regular teacher was gone so we had a substitute for two or three days and, well, I was nervous at first to show him the card so I asked mom to come with me. She did, but she made me talk.
Headstrong: And what did you tell him?
Jenna: I have dyslexia and here are some of the things I do. Here is the card we made so you know some of the facts. And he said, “Thank you very much for showing me this.”
Headstrong: Well that sounds surprisingly straightforward. What was it like in class after that?
Jenna: It was easier even though my table was wondering what I was doing a few times. Sometimes I left the classroom to go to a different classroom and stuff. So I just let them read the card.
Shannon: I think it was also helpful because for a long time this year, the classroom was really kept in the dark about why Jenna does things differently. The teacher wasn’t encouraging and didn’t explain things. It wasn’t just a benefit to the teachers—the card opened up points of communication between Jenna and other students.
Headstrong: We’re curious, has anyone asked for help making their own cards?
Shannon: Not yet. As you’re aware, dyslexia is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. It’s kept very quiet. Who else is dyslexic? Her school is not very...
Jenna: Dyslexia friendly...
Shannon: Right. We have kicked and fought our way to get her the accommodations she needed this year. Every step of the way has been a battle. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find others in this area who are dyslexic. But as we go through the journey, I have found people online and have shared the idea repeatedly, you know, this might be something that could help your child.
Jenna: Um, I have pen-pals now who have dyslexia... and it makes a difference because I don’t care if I spell something wrong or if they spell something wrong cause I understand what they wrote.
Shannon: I think the key thing for us is that we want Jenna to feel comfortable with being dyslexic. It’s been an adventure for her. As the middle child, she’s seen one older sister fly in one direction and another fly in another direction and this year, with her identification, she’s starting to fly herself. We know how to help her now. Just like she has blonde hair and blue eyes, she has dyslexia and can embrace it.
Shannon and her family live in California in the Central Valley. Even though Jenna’s hair is naturally blonde, it currently has bits of pink and purple in it. Along with three other humans, Shannon and Jenna are the happy caretakers of 35 snakes and two lizards.