In kindergarten, while other students were beginning to read short sentences, Josh Thibeau was still learning the alphabet. “I thought, I can’t read so why even try. I thought it was a waste of time.”
Five to 17 percent of all children in the U.S. have developmental dyslexia. Josh is one of them.
Children with dyslexia — often caused by some difference in typical brain development — have trouble with comprehension because they can’t read text accurately or fluently.
Josh, now 14, has four other siblings, three of whom also have dyslexia. “We are very fortunate because if Josh had been a first child, we would not have noticed any of the signs,” says Josh’s mom Janet Thibeau.
During his early years in school, Josh found it difficult to keep up with his classmates. He was not able to associate letters to the sound they made. “I really hated it because I couldn’t show what kind of person I could be,” says Josh. “Other students were reading books I really wanted to read, but I couldn’t because I still had no idea what sound the alphabet made.”
Dissecting dyslexia at the Gaab Lab
When Josh began participating in research studies in the Gaab Lab — a Boston Children’s Hospital research laboratory that strives to research and mentor those affected by the disorder — his mom says she started to see a change in his attitude towards reading.
“I think the Gaab Lab gave all the children, especially Josh, an opportunity not only to see something positive, but also to be part of something bigger.”
Gradually, Josh began to feel a sense of belonging. “I was no longer the dumb kid in the room who couldn’t read, I was just one of many students who had difficulty reading.”
In addition to the Gaab Lab, Josh’s parents tried to find activities outside of school that he enjoyed. “Josh loves swimming and has been on a swim team since he was young,” says Janet.
“Rather than focusing on trying to fix the things he wasn’t good at, we tried to balance with things that made him feel good about himself. That is one of the best defenses to get over the struggle of academic studies. Find something you do well and make that part of who you are.”
Projecting a future beyond dyslexia
Now a rising high-school freshman, Josh is already looking toward his future and planning a career. He says one day he wants to work in film.
Since he couldn’t read fantasy books, like Harry Potter or the Percy Jackson series, when he was younger, he had to find other ways to tap into his creativity. So he built stories with his imagination. “I had to form my own fantasies, and that really pushed me into wanting do stuff with film, so I can convey what I see to others.”
While he waits to see his name on the big screen, Josh thrives in his academic studies, and continues to participate in the Gaab Lab research and outreach. When asked what kind of advice he would give to other kids struggling with dyslexia, he says, “Keep on trying your hardest. It might seem difficult, and you might want to give up, but there are other people in the world going through the same difficulties, and sometimes they have it even worse. Don’t let dyslexia hold you back.”
Learn more about the Gaab Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital.