Last week I attended a prep reading information night at my daughter’s school and although she shows no signs of having reading issues I felt an uneasiness in my stomach. The wonderfully experienced teacher spoke of how every child is at different levels and not to worry or compare your child because all children learn to read eventually. I agree with what she said but statistically at least one of those parents sitting in that room will be in for an incredibly long (and expensive) reading journey for their child. Something that comes naturally to most children can cost others so much time and effort, not to mention the additional financial cost for the parent. I am here to tell you though that it is all worth it, it does get easier and over time you will see some amazing strengths and gifts emerge in your wonderful children.
For some the journey will start with years of refusal to do homework because it is too hard; reading simple books so slowly you as a parent can barely keep your eyes open; frustration as a word they recognised in the previous sentence is now a word they have seemingly never seen before; struggling to learn sight words as they watch their peers go up level after level, and the list goes on.
The umbrella term for children who struggle with reading and spelling after most of their peers have mastered it is Dyslexia. These children often have trouble with coding, sequencing and the speed at which they are able to retrieve verbal and visual information. While there is a broad spectrum every child with dyslexia has one thing in common - they have had to learn how to learn from a very young age. Dyslexic children have devoted hours of their childhood learning techniques and tools to help them rewire their brain to process words. For non-dyslexics this learning comes naturally and with little effort. The advantage of the struggles dyslexics face in the early years really starts to pay off in their senior school years, as they already know how to study and work hard.
Most of the area responsible for speech, language processing and reading is in the left hemisphere of the brain. Dyslexic people are right brain learners so their strengths are in being creative, artistic, intuitive and rhythmic. This may present as having a great imagination, being a visual person or being a daydreamer. These traits are not often celebrated on a daily basis in many schools, where focus is more on academic achievement. Because they are right brain learners it doesn’t mean that they don’t use the left hemisphere of their brain; it just means they are naturally stronger in areas that the right hemisphere of the brain controls.
Imagine if your child wasn’t very good at art and they were pulled out of class to have special one on one art lesson, then at least once a week they went to an art teacher outside of school for years on end until they had perfected their artistic skills to a socially acceptable level. This is what happens with reading and writing for dyslexic children and this is where the advantages come in. Not only do they eventually master reading and writing to a level that is acceptable (through a lot of hard work) they can also harness their natural ability of being creative, imaginative, artistic and visual that comes with being a right brain learner. These strengths and skills can be of great value and rewarded in the real world when schooling is complete. Look at Jamie Oliver as a perfect example of this! Having dyslexia he speaks of loathing school but thriving in his chosen career from a very young age.
The most important thing we can do as parents is make sure children with dyslexia know how incredibly intelligent they are so that they don’t feel inferior to their peers growing up. My dyslexic son was testing his little sister on sight words one afternoon. She breezed through them and then struggled with a few eventually and she felt a bit down about it. I heard my son say to her “you are doing amazing, you are only 5 and you know more words than I did when I was 10”. At first my heart sank but he was genuinely proud of his little sister and what she could achieve so easily. This is because he is confident within himself as he has reached a point in his education where he can read and write to a level that gets him by and now his right brain learning is beginning to shine.
Dyslexic children and their parents can have an incredibly long, frustrating, expensive and at times lonely journey but the reward is truly worth it. These children have such amazing gifts and abilities to offer the world. Thank you to the wonderful teachers, parents, advocates and professionals that support, encourage and believe in these children and enable their gifts to truly shine.
Counsellor & Author of 'Ben's School Daze'
Owner Motherhood & You
Co-Director Magnetic Moves