In the UK, 10% of children are dyslexic. On average three children in every classroom are dyslexic and struggle with literacy (around 1.2 million children). But what does it mean as a parent when your child has dyslexia? Here, Kate Cracknell who blogs over on parentingpagesblog guest posts on exactly that….
I asked my 9-year-old daughter to have a clear out of her room and she was incredibly eager, much to my surprise, after about 30 minutes she shouted: “Ready!”. I walked into the hall and was hit by a minefield of books, they were everywhere and not one toy in sight. You may ask why this is so significant, well as an avid reader and my profession is writing, books are a huge part of who I am and it broke my heart to see so many unread books rejected.
When my daughter was only a baby I remember buying her the complete collection of the Mr Men and all of the Peter Rabbit books and this was followed by Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. Because I loved reading, it never occurred to me that my daughter would regard it as pure torture.
Instinctively, I have known my daughter was dyslexic since she 5, when she found writing everything backwards was easier than writing forwards, but I was told that I was over-reacting, but I knew my daughter’s verbal skills did not match her reading and writing. Once she was tested for dyslexia, I was relieved and told my daughter straight away and I told her to be proud to be different.
My daughter is very dyslexic and reading is a chore not a pleasure – by her clearing out her room of all of the books, it was a release, no longer did she have to look at these neat, brightly coloured spines staring at her from the overflowing bookshelf.
She was sending the message to me loud and clear that she hated reading and she wanted all of her books out. I will admit it made me sad seeing all of the books discarded. Unloved and unread all of the adventures trapped inside. But, if I see it from my daughter’s point of view, she hates reading because she find is very difficult, she can’t read small text, the words jump around, letters blend into each other and “no” can read as “on” “saw” as “was” and unsurprisingly, she doesn’t get the context because she can’t read the words and if you can’t understand what you are reading what’s the point and where is the pleasure?
At Infant school, my daughter was often mocked for reading the “baby books” when her peers were finishing off Harry Potter, she felt ridiculed, insecure and embarrassed. All of the children are graded on their reading ability – even though they maybe call the children “penguins” and the able readers called “lions”, the children are more than aware of who is who because all of the books are colour coded. I understand this system, but even at age 4 and 5 children feel stigmatised.
Every week she would get 0 out of 10 for her spellings and I asked the teacher if we could stop the tests as they were futile. Despite more being known about dyslexia, the teaching profession could learn more about engaging dyslexic children and teaching in a multi-sensory way. Traditional, conventional teaching does little to engage the dyslexic mind. For example, my daughter likes to do lunges when she does her maths and with a visual memory we draw pictures to remember words, this is something you don’t see very often. Some children called my daughter “stupid” and one boy told her she didn’t belong in the school, when I heard this I cried.
I was once asked to read a piece of writing with all of the words jumbled around and was asked to tell someone what the paragraph meant. I couldn’t, I felt frustrated and ashamed and annoyed with myself. This is how dyslexic children feel when they out loud read in class, reading with sniggering and small comments about how they said “bab” instead of “dad”,“bog” instead of “dog.”
Unfortunately, we live in a society where we are defined by our academic qualifications, “which university did you go to… what degree did you get”? As a former University graduate and a writer, I am embarrassed to admit I judged people who found spelling and writing difficult, because to me it was effortless and a joy. I was angered when I looked at an application letter with spelling mistakes. This was before I knew anything about dyslexia. Now, if I see anything with spider handwriting and “bs” and “ds” the wrong way, I just want to give them a big hug and the last thing I would do would be to judge them. In fact the opposite, I know how much work would have gone into writing that letter.
I was once told by a teacher to be careful not to “label and define” my daughter by her dyslexia and to some extent I understand what she means. I talk about dyslexia a lot! My daughter has many qualities and actually one of them is dyslexia. It is a gift, it is sometimes an unwanted gift, but what it takes with one hand it gives with another. Dyslexics think outside the box, they are risk takers. My daughter always runs as fast as she can when she hits a rounders ball, she will never stop at first base, because she takes the risk and runs and gets a rounder.
I remember a large bran tub at my daughter’s school fair and there was one special prize hidden near the bottom, but it was impossible to find, every child diligently put their hand in, but to no avail. I turned around to find my daughter head first in the tub, saw dust everywhere and yes, she got the toy because she worked out that digging with your hand didn’t work. Another time we were at a large, complex maze and my daughter got to the middle quicker than anyone of us and I asked her: “How did you do it?” I looked down and she was muddy from head to foot, she had buried under every bush to get to the middle, not conventional, but it made me laugh.
My daughter stepped in to read in assembly at short notice, when a girl was off sick, no one else volunteered. My heart was in my mouth because she was reading a new, complicated text about the Tudors. She stood on the stage and stumbled over several words and spelled some out loud. She was incredibly vulnerable and I wanted to scoop her up and take her away, but I was also incredibly proud of my daughter facing her fears and reading in public and helping our her class, which is what she does.
Despite all of her talents, she still tells me she isn’t intelligent because she is not conventionally academic, but she is incredibly artistic and creative. She aspires to be a lavender farmer with bee hives in the next door field, I have already been recruited to sell the lavender honey in the farm shop!
Helen Arkell, a well-known dyslexic mentor, once said and I paraphrase: “A world without dyslexic people would be incredibly dull.” I couldn’t agree more.