“It’s like starting all over again” said my 13 year old who is going into Year 9 in September – and is dyslexic. “I don’t remember anything…a, b, c”. Then he laughed as he spelled out the alphabet.
Privately assessed by an educational psychologist when aged 7, who said “it’s glaringly obvious” that he has dyslexia, we have been aware of his learning needs for some time. We’ve done our best to support him throughout – including moving schools, when one particular headmaster responded to my complaint that my son was not getting any support, even with an ed psych report: “This is all we are going to do. If you don’t like it, take him somewhere else”. So I did. Parent power is essential for any child with a learning need, in an age where some schools are still ill-equipped to help or are oversubscribed with an ever-increasing number of children who need extra help.
He went to another school with smaller classes and was able to flourish and made to feel like the intelligent young man he is, instead of being told “some people are just not academic” and “you’re just a bit slow”. He wasn’t “slow” – his short term working memory doesn’t hold information in the same way as others, and therefore written output is delivered at a much slower pace. His self-esteem was so low; it was this that caused more worry than being dyslexic itself. Thankfully, with just a little extra help here & there, he quickly grew in confidence.
People hate labels – many parents think if they have their child assessed they’ll be adding to the problem and the stigma. Dyslexia only becomes a label if we let it – as far as I’m concerned, it tells me that my son learns differently to others. Far better to know what a child needs and how their brain works, so you can properly teach & support them, rather than ignore an obvious problem so they land up with being told they’re thick or naughty, when their frustration with the inability to keep up takes over. Rather like establishing whether you’re a visual, audio or kinaesthetic learner; if you establish that a child needs information presented in a certain way and some extra time to complete tasks, then you can work towards this, helping that child achieve their very best.
I read an amazing article* recently which made me feel desperately sad and hugely hopeful at the same time – “The world can be a really scary place for a young kid with a learning disability.” I never think of my son as having a disability – he’s just my gorgeous boy who happens to learn differently to others. You wouldn’t notice a problem – he’s as ‘normal’ as the next child and to his credit has such a good work ethic and I pray that stays with him. He likes to work hard – and he has to pay attention even more than others so he can keep up. Compared to many, the dyslexia he has is not so extreme that he can’t read or write or work numbers. His reading is great, his comprehension is fantastic – I’m glad I’ve been able to encourage him with books! It mostly affects his spelling and his working memory and therefore his ability to keep up. So when he comes home from the secondary academy he now attends, he is absolutely exhausted. His hard work pays off with awards in French, Spanish, Maths, History, Science, Geography and ICT this year. It’s ironic that he has done so well with languages – I was once told “Oh ‘dyslexics’ can’t do languages, how could they, when they struggle so much with English?”
I recently went to a course about dyslexia run by the Helen Arkell Centre. It was a huge eye-opener. It explained so much – not just about school work, but about the way he is. It made me realise the impact being dyslexic can have on a person, their life and the people around them. It’s hard, but it’s not without hope. Thankfully, with the right encouragement and response, children with dyslexia can achieve anything in life. Anything at all. “You just have to learn, like I did, to find the positives in any situation and make it work for you.”*
It’s only when he sometimes makes comments like he did about going back to school, I reflect on just how tough things must be for him. He never complains. He has an incredible kindness and empathy and I can’t help but think this comes from having been through the mill a bit himself. “People who have dyslexia hold some very unique skills that can change the world, so let’s take a look at the positives here”*. My son has some attributes that some might say are classic of someone with dyslexia – brilliant 3D visual skills, high level verbal reasoning – as far as I’m concerned they’re just who he is. I know my boy is destined for great things and his unique way of learning will ensure he achieves everything he sets his mind to.