Audiobooks Triumph Over Dyslexia: Part 1

You may recognize Roberta Witte as a frequent commenter here at the blog. When I started discussing how she began using audiobooks with her students, I found she had a very interesting story to share about audiobooks, her son, and her path to becoming an educator.

Read the first part of Roberta’s story below and feel free to ask questions by comment. Part 2 of the story will be posted Wednesday, July 28.

Battle with son’s dyslexia inspires one mother to help other struggling readers


Roberta Witte and son Chris

College senior Chris Witte is sitting in his room, headphones on and a book in his hands, stopping occasionally to highlight passages. This scene is nothing out of the ordinary amongst today’s plugged-in, multitasking college students who enjoy a little background music when studying.

But having received a prestigious internship at Apple headquarters at just 24 years old, Chris is anything but an ordinary college student. And his headphones aren’t playing music. They’re playing a recording of required reading for his college course, and Chris is following along with the book in his hands.

Audiobooks from Recorded Books K-12 forever changed the way Chris manages his dyslexia, and his mother, Roberta Witte, is helping other students do the same.

Seventeen years ago at age seven, Chris began to noticeably struggle with reading. After he was officially diagnosed with dyslexia in grade school, his mother tried every method she could think of to improve his reading skills.

But it wasn’t until she paired headphones with audiobooks that she found the most effective reading method – one that would stay with him today at college.

Recorded Books’ audiobooks opened a new chapter for her son, and now they’re helping Roberta re-write the book on how to help students at lower reading levels overcome their struggles with comprehension.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that 15% of American students may have dyslexia. Roberta first noticed the signs in 1993. Her son was in kindergarten when his teacher observed that something wasn’t working for him. By first grade his struggle with reading became more evident. He found it difficult to sound out new words and connect what he read with what he heard in class.

Right away, she began looking for ways to help him succeed in the classroom. Roberta and his teacher worked hard throughout his first grade year by using tactile letters made from sandpaper and recording his assigned sentences for dictation. Roberta also tried various methods of home instruction, and even had psychological tests performed in an effort to find the answer.

Finally after a neuro-psychologist with experience in this field diagnosed him with dyslexia and ADHD, they looked for tutors and started medication that could help focus on learning. Around this time the administration and teachers at Chris’s school, Sacred Heart School, informed Roberta that they did not know how to teach someone who is dyslexic, and he was transferred to a different school.

After trying two different schools, a variety of tutoring programs and accommodations in the classroom, Chris was finally able to accomplish typical classroom tasks. The medication was helping him to focus and pay attention so he could properly filter what he was hearing in the classroom. By fifth grade Chris was experiencing some success in other subjects like math and science. However, he was still not reading well enough or comprehending easily.

At her wits end, Roberta learned about Recorded Books from a family friend during a summer vacation. She had tried audiobooks before, but her son showed little interest in them, having previously deemed most of the recordings “boring.” Once Recorded Books’ audiobooks were introduced into his learning curriculum, the best way for him to read became very clear.

“I was ecstatic to see my son understand what he just read,” said Roberta. “Chris would listen to the audiobook, track the text in the book and I would quiz him with the accompanying study guide.”

Roberta and her son found what worked. By the end of fifth grade, they realized how much the sound recognition helped his literacy and began using Recorded Books’ audiobooks for class and recreational reading. By doing so, books were no longer boring to Chris, they were interesting.

“During this time, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out,” said Roberta. “This was the moment where he first showed interested in a book on his own. He became immersed in the story and used the Recorded Books’ recording to supplement his leisure reading. He finally fell in love with a book. It opened a whole new world for him.”

Twelve years later, Chris is now a student at University of San Francisco and interning at Apple headquarters. He continues to use Recorded Books to support his reading course load in college.

“After we started using Recorded Books, it was clear what worked for him,” said Roberta. “This modification in his learning style proved the value of accommodating for differentiated learning in all students with similar problems. Quite simply, it changed his life.”

Have you also had success using audiobooks for Dyslexia? Tell us your story in a comment! And be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 2 of Roberta’s story.

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