My seven year old boy is dyslexic. It doesn’t say so explicitly in his assessment report, though you probably need a physiology degree to understand it, but apparently he’s showing all the signs, along with challenges with working memory and auditory processing. Whether I like it or not I’ve been plunged in to a world of acronyms and centiles, which leaves me reaching for the gin! Forgetting the tongue-twister terminology, what this means for my son is that he finds most aspects of school difficult. Reading is a struggle, he often can’t follow what’s going on in class, and he gets blocked when trying to write down his ideas. For him school is like swimming against a strong current. He’s trying his hardest to stay with his peers but his dyslexia keeps pulling him back into the water. And it’s a tense experience watching on from the shore.
One of the hardest things about discovering your child has a learning difficulty / difference (or whatever PC term we’re now supposed to use) is that you have to accept that they are not the same as you. Just because you excelled academically doesn’t mean that they will too. My husband and I flew through school. We were classic high achievers. Prize swots. My Mum would delight in telling people about how I read fluently at four, how she never had to prompt me to do homework, and how I won the class prize every year (yawn, yawn). But as an adult I see that this doesn’t mean I am any more intelligent that my dyslexic son. I was just programmed for school. My brain works in a way that allows me to soak up lots of information very quickly, retain it and then regurgitate it in exams. That doesn’t mean I fully understand the subject matter. It merely means I have an amazing short term memory and a very unfair advantage!
My son’s brain is wired differently. He can’t remember where he put his shoes two seconds after taking them off, he can’t hear all the sounds in a word, and he struggles to memorise basic timetables. Yes, he is different from me. But I’m glad he is. His inquisitive little ways make me beam with pride. Our lengthy school runs are packed with science based questions that completely stump me (thankfully the physicist husband is my phone-a-friend). He often spends the weekend constructing elaborate experiments around the house with the middle child, using every bit of kitchen equipment we own along with junk from the garage. The mess sends me crazy, but I make myself stop and appreciate their curious, creative minds. I want to foster this innovative spirit and then maybe it’ll become a lifelong passion. For I now know that life is not about straight A’s. I am mediocre. He is dazzling.
I have no doubt that he will find his path. But I do worry that he has at least nine more years of schooling to get through, forever being on the back foot. No mother wants to see their child struggle. When he tells me that he’s stupid it crushes my heart. Naturally I try to reassure him by telling him that his brain is special, and that he has his own strengths, but unfortunately I can never take away the fact that he feels different. And when you’re at school being different, whatever form that may take, hurts. His anxiety often manifests itself in naughty behaviour. If I even mutter the word homework he goes back to the toddler days of feet stamping. It’s hard as I can’t ignore these explosions, but then I can’t begin to imagine just how frustrating and exhausting school must be at times. He has to let it out for someone.
Which brings me on to my own anxiety. Since we realised that reading wasn’t clicking in his first school year, I’ve spent many a night trawling the web for advice on assessments, schools and tutors. I worry that we’re not doing enough at home, or that we’re doing too much. I worry that there is some magic therapy that I am missing out on. I worry that he’s worrying. I worry when I’m not worrying (but that’s a whole other post).
I’m very grateful that this year he’s been blessed with wonderful teachers and the progress he’s made is amazing. His dyslexic tutor tells me it’s all about keeping his self-esteem high. The schoolwork we can help him with, but he must feel supported and reassured. Now we are moving back to the UK I fear he’ll take a step back. So I’m busy trying to navigate the complicated system of SENCOs and EHCPs (see I’m all over the acronyms!) to make sure he will get all the support available, and that his self esteem won’t dip. And this is only primary. I am sure a whole other box of delights awaits us for senior schools. I just want to get it right for him. More than right if that’s even possible.
For now we take it one day at a time. I’ve learned that little and often helps. Homework overwhelms him so we try and fit in small chunks each day. It’s a challenge with the four and one year olds vying for attention, but we mostly manage it. And I don’t beat myself up if we sometimes don’t. More than anyone he needs downtime. We’re using a great book called Toe by Toe which has helped his reading enormously. With spellings he now creates diagrams to memorise patterns. He’s a huge fan of the iPad for capturing his story ideas and making movies. We also use audio books to get him excited about stories, and we sing along to Rock Timetables in the car (it’s strangely addictive). What works for us is surreptitiously slipping in little tricks and games that won’t scare him off.
As for the future I sometimes wish I could push a button just to make sure it all comes good. That I didn’t screw it up! I don’t have a desire for him to become a rich banker, a lawyer or a doctor. Ultimately I just want him to be happy. To know he’s done the best he can, to have friends, to have a passion. I don’t want him to he feel dragged back by his differences, but instead feel that they’ve pushed him forward and given him a unique view of the world.
The four year old is showing some early indications of dyslexia. It’s too soon to say for sure, but if it is then we will embrace it and scale their hurdles together as a family. We’ll encourage their love of science, circuitry and construction and who knows where it may take them.
‘On and on you will hike, And I know you’ll hike far, and face up to your problems whatever they are…..And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! Kid, you’ll move mountains!’
Oh The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss