Entry:  E082 Name:  Sally Age:  Adult Champion: My Son My father-in-law John has eight grandsons, no granddaughters. John, now in his e...

My Red Letter 2017 - E082 - Sally

08:38:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry: E082
Name: Sally
Age: Adult
Champion: My Son

My father-in-law John has eight grandsons, no granddaughters. John, now in his early 80’s, recounts his time at school as being traumatic as he was made fun of because of his spelling. One story he tells is being hauled up to the front of the class by the teacher and told to write the word ‘come’ on the board. He couldn’t do it and everyone laughed at him. It is likely he had dyslexia but it wasn’t recognised in those days and children did what John did – sat up the back of the class and kept their head down. His son, my husband, has dyslexia. He is a successful engineer but only through hard work and determination. He left school at 16 to train as an electrician and in his 20’s decided to return to education, complete his school exams, went on to University and did well. He was also not diagnosed but I notice little things - like spelling ‘milk as ‘mikl’ on a shopping list (then going to the shop and forgetting to buy the milk), still not remembering our son’s date of birth after 22 years, and rarely reading a book for pleasure. 

Of the eight grandsons, one has been diagnosed with dyslexia in America, one in the UK and two in Australia – 50% have dyslexia across three continents. What better proof that there is a genetic link! 

My son is my hero, my champion, someone who brings joy to my days. I knew he had dyslexia from an early age. We were sitting on his bed playing I Spy – I Spy something beginning with SSSSSSSSSS. “I know” he exclaimed– “light”. Although his ability to rhyme was well developed – his first words were shoe, boo and poo,  - his ability to ‘hear’ the sounds in words was not. He had word finding difficulties, a stutter, and found multisyllabic words difficult to say. He would happily sit and listen to bedtime stories, part of the nightly routine and had a well-developed vocabulary.  I am a psychologist with lots of experience diagnosing dyslexic children so Jack had the optimum environment in which to progress. Phonological processing games at every opportunity, flash cards, spelling with wooden letters and sand trays, nightly stories and my own structured, systematic phonics teaching were some of the things in place in the early years.

I couldn’t really diagnose my own child, bit unethical, so had a psych friend to do it when Jack was in Year 3 and he obtained his first, official dyslexia label. I can only remember him once becoming upset, throwing himself on the bed after struggling through some homework crying “I just want to be normal”.  In general, he took it all on board, and as a very extrovert, creative child always had a quick comeback for anyone who teased him. He began using a small laptop in all lessons at high school and when other students asked why, he would reply ‘because I’m special”. He would sometimes be told – “you are so lucky being able to use a laptop” and he’d say sarcastically “yeah, it’s really great having an inherited neurological disorder that makes me work twice as hard as you”.

Our main aim for Jack was for him to be happy at school and to develop his self-esteem. We had identified musical ability and interest from an early age, he was always drawn to any toy that made a noise, so we made sure he did music and drama lessons outside school. He won a violin scholarship in Primary school, and a voice one for high school and we picked a high school with a good music and drama programme as well as one that would meet his dyslexic needs. I became a ‘theatre Mum’, scouring the internet for possible musicals that he could be in and traipsing all over Perth taking him to rehearsals. We began after school tutoring in Year 3 and this continued until year 12. I became the nightmare parent who demanded audio books, scribbled on homework he could not read, sent back spelling lists that were pointless, quoted the Disability Discrimination Act and most teachers responded. Jack made himself a credit card sized card for high school with his photo on that said “I’m Jack and I’m dyslexic. Please don’t ask me to read out loud in class, I might take longer to complete work and my spelling is really bad but I’ve been working on it since Year 1”. He gave it to all his teachers and relief teachers and it made a big difference.

It’s been a hard slog to get through school but Jack passed his ATAR English with 50.3% after 9 years of tutoring and his mother on his back. He got into WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts) where he wasn’t the only dyslexic. This year he graduated with a B.A and has just returned from working at the Edinburgh Festival and is travelling all over Australia with work. 

He is my hero, we got there, in the end, I couldn’t be prouder.
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