Our family has been twice blessed with Dyslexia, both my 11 year old son and 8 year old daughter have it. My husband also possibly has it b...

Nadia's Red Letter

18:41:00 My Red Letter Dyslexia Awareness 0 Comments

 Our family has been twice blessed with Dyslexia, both my 11 year old son and 8 year old daughter have it. My husband also possibly has it but he’s never been formally tested. I say blessed because it has made my children wonderfully creative. Both my kids are bright, healthy, intelligent, artistic children who enrich and challenge our lives as most kids do. 

I guess you could say we were lucky with my son being identified early at 5 years old in Reception by a first year teacher fresh out of university. She was wonderfully supportive but said to wait as it could be developmental, he was still young. So we waited. I thought, surely not – I’d read to him since he was born (which he loved), we did drawing, writing, we had an alphabet chart and a number chart and we’d sung the ABC song a million times. He’d attended both public kindy and Montessori but by year 1, it was still there so we had him formally tested, and dyslexia was born for us. 

We attend a catholic primary school and over the years I’ve found the majority of teachers supportive, but I came to realise it was mainly up to the teacher’s individual desire to learn more about dyslexia and not something the school required. Over the past 6 years I have met with teachers at least once or twice per term (for both kids), providing them with articles and support tools, negotiating homework compromises – it crosses my mind frequently that they might think I’m one of ‘those parents’ but if I don’t, what’s the alternative? Who will advocate for my kids? And every year you start all over again with a new teacher, right from the beginning. Unfortunately there isn’t the luxury of time so the new teacher can ‘get to know’ my kids during term 1 before putting things in place to help them – that’s lost time, that’s time to become dis-engaged. If we gave away term 1 of every year while at school, that’s 8 lost terms – add that to the several years they’re already behind and where would that leave us?! 

By year 3 (for my son) and year 1 (for my daughter, not yet formally diagnosed), I started to look beyond the teacher and to the Principal. What was he doing as leader of our school, to support our teachers who were faced with the many and varying needs of the kids in our classes – what was he doing to address dyslexia specifically? I asked for a meeting. He invited the ‘Inclusive Learning Coordinator’ to also attend – sorry? Who’s that? What’s that? Good to know, my son had been formally diagnosed (with reports provided to the school) for at least 2 years and I didn’t even know our school had a co-ordinator for kids with special learning needs. She had to leave half way through the meeting (!) and I’m not sure the Principal knew what to do with me. I wasn’t a sobbing incoherent mess, I went in with information, I asked questions and he had no answers. He turned the meeting into a ‘learning opportunity’ for me so I could understand how things work. Nice guy. Poor Leader. 

The week after our meeting, I heard a group of teachers were being sent to SPELD to attend some training – a small step, but a step none the less! 

Before I started my son in private tutoring, he participated in the Reading Recovery Program. It didn’t help. When my daughter was diagnosed, she couldn’t even get into the Reading Recovery Program because there were too many other kids ahead of her with greater need. We now have no Reading Recovery Program (for what it was worth) because there’s no funding. And what replaced it? Nothing I know of. 

Today I have 2 kids whose dyslexia presents totally differently in both of them. My son also has APD (diagnosed last year). Just when I think I’ve learned one thing about dyslexia, there’s something new to deal with. My son is an avid drawer, constantly amazing both me & my husband with his skill but his memory and organisation skills are poor so any verbal reminders or instruction from his teacher are lost, school notes never get brought home. Homework is a confusing, argumentative, meddled mess and as his parent, who’s supposed to help, I often feel lost. Amazingly he loves to write, but when he presents me with his stories and asks me to read them aloud, I have to navigate my way through what sometimes seems like hieroglyphics – all the while not letting him know I can’t read it so it doesn’t shatter his confidence. This year he has had his first male teacher, a wonderful role model who is firm but compassionate and patient. To be honest, I’m not sure he knows that much about dyslexia but I’m not complaining because at least he’s supportive and my son likes him – a liked teacher increases the chances of maintaining engagement. My daughter is also an avid drawer, she has an awesome memory, she’s organised and articulate but maths is her enemy. She cries about it. Her teacher is also supportive but again, I’m not sure she has a real understanding of what’s going on. 

As a parent, I don’t have the luxury of relying on our current school system to educate my child. I have to have private tutors, I negotiate, I go in, I follow-up, I double check and I’m exhausted. I’m often lost. I’m not an educator, I don’t have a degree – I don’t even know most of my times tables! Embarrassingly their homework sometimes stumps me and I feel like an idiot. I worry that if I don’t do enough now, they’ll suffer for it later. I only survive as part of a network of wonderful organisations like Dyslexia SA, SPELD and the work of people like Mark Le Messurier, Sally Andrew, Bill Hansberry, Kaye Bosworth and Janice McPhail. 

But should it be this hard? Why isn’t there funding available for dyslexia to help teachers and parents? What about the child who does not have a parent willing or able to advocate for them? Why aren’t we recognised? 1 in 5… 1 in 5 for goodness sake! The Catholic Education South Australia website lists ‘respect, dignity, equality, compassion, truth, love and mercy’ as values upheld in catholic education. Where is the dignity in a child being tested in spelling words he’s never going to be able to spell (on a weekly basis) and then having to hand that test over to the child next to him to mark? In a seemingly insignificant class room act, that child has just exposed a part of himself that is painful, full of shame and uncertain to his peer, and peers can sometimes be the most unforgiving of all. Where is that child’s respect? Where is the mercy in exposing that child to ridicule or worse that he feels he needs to explain why his score is 4/20. With further training, teachers can be more aware, more exposed to better practices (big & small). 

I know there are many families out there that face greater challenges than us. But, surely the evidence is now overwhelming that we can no longer be ignored. Specific dyslexic programs in schools that would benefit all students are essential. When I became a parent I was prepared to work hard for my children, but I didn’t know becoming a parent meant I’d need to wear battle armour every time I had to advocate for my child’s education (the armour has also come in handy during home work sessions which as every parent of a dyslexic child knows, can be like going to war). 

Please... mandatory, on-going professional development in this area for teachers and evidence based effective literacy programs & resources in schools. 

Kind regards 
Nadia (proud mum of 2 gorgeous kids, with a learning difference – not a learning disability)

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