Embracing Nemo: Dyslexia and the lessons I learned from Marlin

I first watched Finding Nemo before I had kids. I understood the story for the most part but rewatching today as a dyslexia mom gave me a totally new perspective and appreciation of Marlin. My heart breaks for him. I cry for him. And I learn with him.

Like Nemo can swim, my son can read. BUT, also like Nemo, my son is slower at this skill. And he tires easily. And some days are better than others.

Like Marlin, I worry.

Marlin with a worried look. Nemo with a determined look.

My little Nemo is heading into middle school next fall. This is hard for any parent, but for a Marlin-type parent? Yikes! I know the workload is going to be heavier. And I also know he CAN keep up if he utilizes the amazing assistive tech tools that are available today.

Up until recently, my young Nemo embraced these tools. But middle school is a different beast. It’s important to be “cool,” but at this age they are still learning what “cool” means.  They aren’t quite comfortable in their own skin. They’re learning.

Since assistive tech tools aren’t used by non-dyslexic kids, he doesn’t want to use them either. Period. Nope. No way. And he will bulldoze his way across the entire ocean to prove me wrong.

Marlin: You think you can do these things but you just can't, Nemo.

I find myself in Marlin mode. Again. It’s the life of a special education mom. Ask any of us, and we can relate! When struggles pop up, we do what Marlin did. We seek help.

Last fall, I attended the Redeeming Red event in my hometown that included a speech by Sean Ochsenbein, a current medical student who has dyslexia and ADHD. Sean talked about his dream to be a doctor, and how he failed the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) the first time he took it because he refused accommodations. Sound familiar?

I’m sure his mom had a “Marlin-moment.” But then something happened …


For Sean, a 5-minute phone call with a stranger changed everything.

He called a graduate school that specializes in learning disabilities to ask for advice on passing the test without accommodations. The stranger on the end of the line said:

“You didn’t take your accommodations? Well, you’re never going to pass that test if you don’t accept your accommodations.”

For Sean, that was literally what it took – a stranger, not his parents or his teachers – telling him that YES, it is OKAY to accept accommodations. They are not cheating. 

Just as someone who is nearsighted needs glasses to SEE the test, a person with dyslexia needs extra time and/or text to speech to be able to READ the test. In both situations, they know the material. It’s not a lack of understanding, and it is NOT cheating.

As my son grows and I grow as a mother, my prayer is that he will accept the things he needs as well. However, like Marlin, I have learned from other parents who have gone before me that sometimes we have to let go in order to help them get there.

And when we let go …..they may just surprise us by crossing the ocean and helping others along the way.

Sean passed the MCAT on his second try using his dyslexia accommodations. 


2 thoughts on “Embracing Nemo: Dyslexia and the lessons I learned from Marlin

  1. This is exactly where I’m at right now with my 7th grade son! I could’ve wrote this! He’s been refusing/making excuses not to use his chrome book at school because he “doesn’t need it.” We had a meeting last week at school and the teachers can’t seem to understand why he doesn’t want to be different then the other kids. He should think it’s cool. I almost fell off my chair. Kids have made fun of him and asked why he has it and they don’t. The teachers even told us in meeting they’ve heard the other kids. I tried to explain to them that if I lived in a magical world where after all their emails of asking me to tell him to focus and it worked, that same world would include him liking the chrome book. Good luck to you! I feel the hard part is really just beginning now. Praying we make it through!


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