Rodrigo Gains the Childhood He Was Missing–Thanks to Dyslexia Games

Case Study by Heather Vaught

Name(s): Ten-year-old Rodrigo Astor – parents, Yessenia and Andy, and sister, Ciara

Location: Dundee, FL

Challenge(s): Rodrigo struggled in school due to dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and unspecified anxiety disorder.

How they discovered Thinking Tree Books: Yessenia searched “dyslexia curriculum” online.

Favorite Thinking Tree workbooks: Dyslexia Games, Series A, Book 2 (where Rodrigo experienced his first big breakthrough) and Book 6 (where Rodrigo is becoming a more independent reader).

“I’m really happy,” Rodrigo says. “I think Fun-Schooling is fun. One day we met Sarah Janisse Brown at a Barnes and Noble. She was so nice to me. She saw the work I was doing and said I was doing a good job. Sarah told me I was going to start reading in 3 months and I started reading. The first book I read all by myself, I told my mom, ‘I’ll do the easy words, you do the hard ones.’ I READ IT ALL BY MYSELF! My mom says I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, and I believe.”

“This says ‘ap-ple t-r-ee,’” sounded Rodrigo Astor.

“What?!” asked his mother, Yessenia.

“It says ‘apple tree,’” he repeated.

“Rod, you’re reading!” Yessenia exclaimed, and the tears began to flow.

Rodrigo gasped. He had read without mom’s help. “I can read!” he cried. “Sarah said I would be able to read!”

Most parents cheer the first time their child reads without help, but for Yessenia, this moment was a long time coming, and for Rodrigo, it was a major win.

A Rough Start

Rodrigo spent his first month of life in and out of the hospital. He experienced complications at birth, and at 20 days old, doctors gave him only 48 hours to live. 

Fortunately, Rodrigo beat those odds, but he was diagnosed with Hirschprung’s disease, a congenital disability in which nerves are missing from the intestine. Rodrigo underwent several biopsies, and at 30 days old, had a colostomy. 

Later, his appendix ruptured, requiring more hospital time. 

As a result of Rodrigo’s rough start, he suffered many developmental delays, including digestion and elimination issues and speech and language problems.

Choppy Waters Ahead

The early years  were filled with doctors’ appointments. Yet Rodrigo was able to start preschool in a mainstream classroom with an IEP (individualized education plan). However, the teachers were not able to give him the time and attention he needed, and he started to backslide. 

Kindergarten and first grade brought similar challenges. Rodrigo and his mom spent several hours daily on homework. Yessenia was concerned Rodrigo might have dyslexia. Teachers reassured her that many children struggle at his age and he’d hit his stride.

Rodrigo is STRONG, but he was reaching his breaking point.

“Mom, I’m frustrated! I can’t do this,” he cried. “My friends read. My friends are fast. I can’t. I don’t have time to play. I don’t have time to watch TV. I don’t have time to do anything.” 

Yessenia’s heart broke for her hard-working son. She hugged him and assured him that he didn’t need to compare himself to his friends. 

Then she had the idea to ask him what he saw while he was trying to read.

“The words are jumping. They just keep moving,” he replied. 

She reached out to school psychologist Gretchen Cabranes, who had been involved in Rodrigo’s IEP, to help navigate a new path. They researched homeschooling and how to transition in a way that would best support his needs.

Covid’s Silver Lining

Then Covid hit and suddenly everyone was homeschooling, including the Astors. Yessenia worked with Rodrigo throughout the day, and at last they had their evenings back.

When local schools reopened for in-person instruction, they were given a virtual option, which Yessenia gladly embraced. But school took all their time, and Rodrigo didn’t have time for a childhood.

Neurologist Dr. Avi Domintz-Gebet referred him for a neuropsychological evaluation at Bay Area Neuropsychology in Tampa. Rodrigo was diagnosed with ADHD-combined type, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and unspecified anxiety disorder. Finally, they had diagnoses to work with.

Yessenia and Gretchen Cabranes found many homeschooling resources they liked. They zeroed in on Dyslexia Games from Thinking Tree Books, created by Sarah Janisse Brown for her dyslexic daughter.

The Final Straw

Meanwhile, virtual school included daily meetings with Rodrigo’s teacher and classmates. When the teacher called on Rodrigo and he didn’t answer right away, she called on another student to help. He motioned to his mom to come turn the camera off, and then he burst into tears.

“I knew the answer!” he cried. “I just needed more time.”

Yessenia comforted Rodrigo, but in her heart, she was done. “That’s it,” she said to herself, “it’s time.” She began withdrawing Rodrigo from school and purchased Dyslexia Games to start their homeschooling journey.

“It was scary,” she says, “but deep down, I had confidence it would work. It worked for Sarah’s daughter, and I knew it would work for Rodrigo too.”

Her husband wasn’t so sure. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico and hadn’t heard of homeschooling. “Kids need to be in school,” he said. “They need socialization.”

Smooth Sailing at Last

Yessenia reassured her husband and plowed ahead. She loved the feeling she no longer had to rush, and Rodrigo loved Dyslexia Games. Peace filled their hearts and home.

When Sarah Janisse Brown was in Florida, she met with the Astors. Rodrigo was so excited to meet Sarah and tell her what he loved about her books. There was only one thing . . .

“I can’t read,” he confessed.

“Well, Rodrigo,” she replied, “I give you three months, and you will be able to read this note that I’m going to write for you.” She also gifted him the next level of Dyslexia Games.

Buoyed by Sarah’s encouragement and generosity, he continued to work hard. He surprised himself when he read without help for the first time. And then he remembered Sarah’s note. He was able to read that too!

Encouragement left in the back of Rodrigo’s Dyslexia Games journal for when he could read it himself one day!

A Day in the Life

These days, Rod does a few pages each day in his various Thinking Tree Books – Dyslexia Games, Brain Games, Math Craft, and a couple of Fun-Schooling journals. He also watches educational videos, and he loves to go to the library and get books.

Rodrigo is 5’3” at ten years old, “But, he feels even bigger,” Yessenia chuckles. “He’s so proud to tell everyone he meets that he can read.”

Big sister Ciara is happy to see that both her mom and Rodrigo are less stressed. “I see a difference in him, I mean he even read over me once,” she says. “He read my text messages. I couldn’t believe him. I was like ROD, OH NO!” 

He’s good with numbers too. Recently, he offered to help Ciara with her calculus homework. “I’m slow, but I’m good!” he says.

Rodrigo’s dad Andy doesn’t worry as much as he used to. He’s seen Rodrigo is less stressed and has improved in his expressions and focus. He was impressed when Rodrigo helped him fix something he was working on. He sees many families homeschooling nowadays. “I say to myself, ‘this is good,’” he smiles.

Finally, Rodrigo has time to do fun things–like horseback riding, participating on a swim team with his sister, playing baseball, playing drums, connecting with other kids in his Funschooling Co-op, and taking lots of field trips. He gets more socialization now than when he was in public school.

Yessenia’s Tips for Parents

  • “Believe in yourself and your child. My faith is huge. God gave us the abilities and tools we need to teach our children.”
  • “Do the research. Dig in and don’t be afraid. Find something that works for you. For us,  it was Dyslexia Games.”
  • “Ask for help. There was someone in your place before, and if not, you will be that person for someone else.”


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Learn more about the program that helped Rodrigo
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