When I collected my daughter from school today she was completely ashen white and drained from the exhaustion of another day of keeping up. I felt, not for the first time, the injustice that my daughter is different due to her dyslexia.
I think every parent who has a child that is ‘different’, for whatever reason, must feel like this at some point. Watching your child struggle because they have a difference that is no fault of their own is exceptionally hard. No-one knows this better than Dave and Lynn and I really admire them for the brilliant job they do in raising their two lovely children. Although I have cursed them a few times during the process of writing this, I do feel very privileged to be asked to contribute as I know that what I am about to write about is not exactly on a par with the struggles that they have faced and will have to face in the future.
My daughter, Louise, realised almost immediately on starting primary school that she was different from her classmates. She found learning to read incredibly difficult and it confused and upset her that she couldn’t do something many of her classmates took in their stride. She was too young to test at that point but we knew by the middle of primary 3, when she was struggling with many aspects of the curriculum, that she was very likely to be dyslexic and a test towards the end of that year confirmed it.
I realise now that we had a turning point when we were able to tell Louise she had dyslexia and for her to understand why she had difficulties at school. To realise that it wasn’t her fault instantly took a huge weight off her mind and she has, so far, been very accepting of it. That’s not to say she likes it, like most children she has an acute sense of fairness and is aware she has to work harder than everyone else and still achieve less. I suppose she has learnt at a very young age that life isn’t always fair. That’s a pretty tough lesson when you’re 39 and your friend turns up for drinks with a new Mulberry handbag (you know who you are), let alone when you’re eight!
The key for my husband and I is to get Louise through school with her self-confidence intact – or as intact as is possible given teenage angst and the school system in general. Feelings of shame and anxiety and a perception that you are stupid are very common amongst dyslexics. Louise is eight and has suffered all of these already. She is ashamed to read out loud (even to her younger cousins), she gets anxious about going to school if she knows they are doing a new topic and she has commented that she is less clever and needs more help at school than her classmates. This is despite going to a school which is well equipped to deal with dyslexia and having had some fantastic teachers who, I believe, have done all the right things and continue to do so. I know there is much better awareness of dyslexia than there was a generation ago but I also know that even now others are not so lucky.
The thing we are realising with dyslexia is that it’s hard to get away from. We try to make sure she has time to focus on activities she loves outside of school to boost her confidence and give her something to look forward to, but this is not always risk free as dyslexia often seems to rear its ugly head (for example, she loves dancing but it’s a dyslexic minefield – right and left feet, sequences of steps, remembering routines).
So I wouldn’t have chosen it, but there are some positives in being different. Louise is starting to become very resilient, she knows she has to get up when she falls and try again. She has been forced to problem solve at a young age and is finding strategies to work around her poor short term memory. She works hard at everything she does – her hockey, dancing, piano, irritating her brothers – because working hard is what she has to do at school and it’s rubbed off. She finds presenting the class talks they make kids do these days relatively easy because she is a good communicator and responds well to visual cues and mind maps. She loves anything to do with people and she has an incredible level of empathy and being able to put herself in someone else’s shoes. It’s my belief that her dyslexia contributes to all these areas (except perhaps irritating her brothers – she’d have probably got there without it).
My husband and I could not be prouder of our wee girl and her approach to dealing with her dyslexia. She knows she’s different, she doesn’t always like it, but that is the way it is and she gets on with it. We’re all different at the end of the day, life would be pretty boring if we weren’t.
Louise wrote this little article about being dyslexic that was published in Dyslexia Scotland’s December newsletter. I hope you like it.
“My name is Louise. I found reading and writing very hard but the thing that was the hardest was maths. I could never get it, but sometimes I found it fun.
My Mum was wondering if I had dyslexia so my workshop teacher took me out of class to do a test. Then, my Mum and Dad told me about dyslexia.
It means you just have to try a bit harder than others do, but that is not a bad thing. It means you are different to other people and that is fine.
I got used to dyslexia. It got a bit easier.
I got some extra help from the teacher and Mum and Dad felt very proud of me because I did not give up.
This is a tip. Even if it gets very tricky don’t give up because Scottish boys and girls don’t give up.”
By Louise Pollacchi (age 8)
Suzanne is a close family friend and is a working mum of 3. Louise is in charge of 2 siblings, a mum and a dad.
If you enjoyed this blog then please donate a few pounds to support the vital work that DS Scotland undertake.