I would like to take you on a journey; the journey my daughter has travelled since she started school 7 years ago. My darling girl ent...

Meet the Team - Maree Evans

10:27:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

I would like to take you on a journey; the journey my daughter has travelled since she started school 7 years ago.

My darling girl entered her first year of school like most other students, full of wonder and curiosity. She was eager to learn and excited about what each new day would hold. This excitement though soon gave way to self-doubt as we began the process of learning sight words. We would practice them every day until she knew them confidently, yet once she was tested at the end of each week by her teacher she could recall only half or less. So we would practice again and again but she could never retain them. I was assured that she was probably just a bit slower and she would ‘get it’ eventually. By the end of Prep she was starting to refuse to go to school in the mornings, but we got through it and assured her it would get easier.

When we got to Grade 1, things didn’t get easier. She developed major separation anxiety, begging me not to leave her at school. Her teacher told me she wasn’t improving in reader levels and her reading comprehension was low. I was told I needed to read to her more and make sure she did her readers every day. I assured the teacher we were already doing that; we had been reading to her since she was a baby. I asked if dyslexia was a possibility and I got the look that I would come to know very well. The look of condescension. I was told that if I just read to her more and if she tried harder she would do better. So we read even more. We read street signs, recipes and anything else we came across. This just made my daughter withdraw more and she started to hate herself.  My vivacious, confident little girl was disappearing before my eyes, making worrying comments such as “I should just walk off a bridge”. She wished she could just disappear forever. As a Mum this was so hard to hear. My sweet, innocent 6yr old child, feeling so bad about herself that she didn’t want to be here. She would also go into rages; smashing things, screaming, crying and lashing out at me physically. We began seeing a psychologist who suggested we get cognitive testing done as it was very clear she was an incredibly bright little girl, and the reading struggle she was experiencing didn’t make sense.  We found a paediatric educational psychologist who conducted testing and found she was indeed very bright. Her performance scores however were 2 years behind her chronological age and much lower than her cognitive testing predicted. With this she was diagnosed with ADHD-Inattentive Type and severe anxiety, no mention of dyslexia.

Grade 2 started with major school refusal and lots of self-doubt. Even with a great teacher my daughter was still struggling, and now she had started running after me when I dropped her at school. She would refuse to let go of me and cry when I tried to leave. Her amazing teacher would meet us at the gate every morning and walk her to class, showing her photos and music on her phone to help her overcome her anxiety. I was spending hundreds of dollars a week on occupational therapy, psychology sessions and various ADHD programs. Though some of these things helped a little nothing improved her reading and spelling.

We moved to a new town and a new school for Grade 3 and this is when things truly fell apart. Her reading levels just weren’t improving; she detested reading and would avoid it with all she had. She still loved being read to and never had any trouble with her listening comprehension. Her teacher told me constantly that she needed to apply herself more, she needed to try harder, she needed to do more homework, and she needed to take responsibility for her learning. I always heard what my daughter needed to do but never what the school and I could do to support her. I went in search of more answers as I just knew something wasn’t right, she was a bright girl and the reading and spelling struggles just didn’t add up. My research led me to dyslexia time and time again but no-one would listen to me. We had wasted thousands of dollars on alternative therapies that had done nothing to help her and I was stonewalled at every mention of dyslexia as a possibility. Her paediatrician told me that she didn’t believe in learning disorders. The educational psychologist told me dyslexia no longer existed. The teachers told me she was simply manipulating me.

So by grade 4 things were pretty dismal and my once happy girl was an anxious mess. She would lie under my car so that I couldn’t leave in the mornings and would run away from the school grounds regularly. She told me frequently that she wished she could just disappear. Most mornings and afternoons were full of tears and angry outbursts. She hated school, she hated life and she hated herself. My girl was completely crushed and broken and no-one would help us, no-one cared.

We decided to move interstate in a bid to find better support, and fortunately for our family it payed off. We found an amazing school that listened to our concerns and genuinely cared about my daughter’s well-being. They had already incorporated multi-sensory learning techniques and used a phonics based reading program. They admitted to not knowing much about dyslexia, but they were open to my concerns and supported me getting an assessment done. It was during this year that I found Dyslexia Support Australia and the Australian Dyslexia Association, groups that support evidence based education. By the end of this year we had had an assessment done and it was confirmed that she had moderate dyslexia as well as dysgraphia.

Finding out that she had dyslexia was a relief for me, I now felt that I knew how to help her. Unfortunately, the school didn’t know a lot about dyslexia, but to their credit they are doing lots of professional development and learning all that they can. Most importantly they support her and focus on her strengths, building her up instead of tearing her down. We use an evidence based system at home and she is making steady progress and improvements in her reading and spelling.

We still have a long way to go, her mental health has been severely affected by this journey. It makes me so angry that she has had to suffer the consequences of a system that doesn’t understand her or know how to help her. She has missed out on so much of the joys of childhood because her anxiety does not allow her to enjoy these things.  I firmly believe had she been diagnosed and given evidence based intervention when she first started to struggle her mental health would not have been so negatively affected.

This is why a lot of parents who have been hitting brick walls for years are so frustrated and doing everything they can to advocate for change. We don't want to see another family go through this, or another child fall through the cracks like ours did. Until you have lived with the consequences of the apathy and ‘wait to fail’ models used by so many schools you just can't understand the pure heartache and distress it causes.

It is time for those in a position to effect change to finally start listening and take action. Letting our children suffer constant failure and negative mental health when we know how to help is not acceptable. Every child deserves to go to school with a sense of happiness and belonging, and the ability to look back at their school days as some the best days of their life.

We want:
1. Undergraduate teachers to have adequate teacher training for learning difficulties and evidenced based ways to teach literacy.
2. Early, explicit and systematic phonics based literacy instruction and intervention.
3. Recognition and support for students with dyslexia, including accommodations for exams in years 11 and 12.

Will you be the person that stands with us to make a positive change to thousands of students and their families that are crying out for your help?