Reading Between the Lines

Hope Malmstrom shows how powerful the will to learn can be

By Dwain Hebda

Hope Malmstrom at Access

More than anything she's ever wanted in her young life, Hope Malmstrom wanted to read. 

Taking a cue from her older brother Luke, 13, and sister Grace, 10, the bright, engaging 7-year-old from Little Rock loved school and was well-liked among her classmates. 

But as hard as she'd try, the skill of reading eluded her. 

"When she was 5, she would ask me at night, 'Mama, my friends are reading. When am I gonna learn how to read? Who's going to teach me how to read?'" said her mother, Andrea. She paused. 

"It's hard as parents to watch your children struggle." 

Until she started school, Hope was typical in every way. But after just one year of preschool it was obvious there was something different about the way she learned, or more accurately, was not learning. 

"Hope is laid back; always smiling, life is a party," Andrea said. "She loved school, but when we met with the teacher, her teacher said things just are not clicking." 

A former preschool teacher herself, Andrea would review materials with her youngest every day, to no avail. After the first year, Andrea and her husband, Scott, made the painful decision to have Hope repeat preschool in the hopes that she would make more progress. A couple of months in, however, the youngster was again falling behind her peers. 

"I wish I had started sooner in my early intervention, but I just thought that Hope would catch up with everybody else," Andrea said. "By her second year of school, even Hope realized she wasn't where the other kids were. She told me one night, 'Mama, my friends are way smarter than me.' And that’s when my husband and I realized we had to lay the pride aside." 

Hope Malmstrom and her mom, Andrea, marvel at Hope's progress at Access. 

Hope Malmstrom and her mom, Andrea, marvel at Hope's progress at Access. 

Her parents decided on a new strategy and had Hope tested at Access School in Little Rock where she was diagnosed with unspecified neuro developmental disorder, which affected her processing skills and working memory. The diagnosis was hard to hear, but also represented the first real step toward addressing Hope's problems in the classroom. As soon as they were able, the Malmstroms enrolled Hope at Access. 

Immediately recognizing that teaching her to read phonetically wasn't going to work, her instructors switched to methods that better fit Hope's learning style. Just a few months in, remarkable things started to happen. 

"Let me tell you, this child is doing phenomenal things," Andrea said. "She not only loves school, but she loves to learn. I cannot say enough good things about the teachers and therapists on staff at Access. They're amazing, they truly have a love and a desire for these children." 

The techniques enabled Hope to progress so quickly her teachers decided she could skip a level of coursework. Today she reads along with her mom during story time, and has made up a lot of academic ground overall. 

"Her teachers are honest with her. They tell her, 'You can do it, it's just going to take you longer.'" Andrea said. "She's realizing that and she's pushing through those hurdles. Every time Hope comes home, she's got a big ol' smile on her face and she says, 'I need to practice this' or 'I want to learn this.'" 

Andrea said the successes have fueled a boundless energy for school and a newfound self-confidence in her daughter. 

"Since she's been at Access, her confidence level has soared," Andrea said. "She even told me, 'Mama, I'm smart. I really am.'"