Putting square pegs in round holes. A mother’s view on dyslexia | Rebecca Jane column

This time last week, I sat reading a 34-page document that summed up my almost nine-year-old darling daughter (otherwise known as ‘dynamite') has dyslexia.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 5:34 pm
Rebecca Jane

It was no surprise, in fact it is a report I’ve been begging for since she was five. It was blatantly obvious from an early age. I have a 15-year-old daughter too, and quite frankly, the differences in their milestones didn’t just ‘speak volumes’ they screamed!

Until eight months ago, at eight years old, my youngest still couldn’t read or write and it was deeply worrying. Nothing we seemed to do help, it simply didn’t work. I would constantly tell the school how it wasn’t right and eventually they tested her for dyslexia, eight months ago. It came back pretty conclusive.

Her school have been incredible, they have enlisted various support and opened up new learning styles. The report I read last week gave a brutal conclusion.

‘The dyslexia will mean the child is impacted substantially during day to day life, and it will exist in the long term. Therefore the child is classified as having a disability under the Equality Act 2010’

That’s brutal reading if ever I heard it! It did make me tear up, because frankly, on paper, it’s harsh… but dyslexia is so much more than a few pieces of paper and my little dynamite is so much more than a diagnosis.

My daughter may struggle with the academic side of life, but she doesn’t half make up for it in other areas. She has the most charismatic, happy, bubbly, passionate personality of anyone I know.

Apparently that’s quite a normal thing for anyone with dyslexia, they are gifted in so many other ways! Put the kid in front of a person, and she comes into her own. Her confidence is off the charts and her skill in navigating around her ‘disability’ is exceptional.

I’m delighted to say, that after eight months of intensive work from her school and at home, the little ball of dynamite can now read and write.

It was like a switch flicked when the diagnosis first came in and everyone stopped what they were doing, how they were teaching her and actually adapted to her style. We had to, because her brain, literally, just doesn’t work in the same way 80% of the population does. It isn’t wired like that!

For years we had been trying to put a square peg in a round hole, and it just doesn’t work! My daughter doesn’t understand phonics or syllables. She can’t break a word down, her little mind doesn’t work like that. She learns whole words. Something I never even realised could be a teaching style.

She needs reading devices to help her speed up the time it takes her to read anything, and lots of children need coloured cards over any piece of writing to stop the words jumping off pages at them.

Her school changed the way they taught her after the diagnosis and thank goodness it worked. There were times I thought she would never learn to read or write, but eventually we have got there.

She will always be impacted, but what is important to me is that she will not be impacted enough later in life that it will break her confidence.

My problem is the school system only seems fit for the round pegs, unless a serious fuss is created on behalf of the square ones!!

School reports have the headlines at the top, telling kids they’re either ‘exceeding targets, on target or below target’.

All of her little life, I get reports telling me she is ‘below target’, I didn’t need a piece of paper to tell me that. Dynamite will never be ON target, there’s a 36 piece of paper that essentially tells me that now. I don’t care if she is on target with the rest of her peers, I care about HER targets…

Is she happy? What IS she good at? Where is she excelling? What are her goals for the coming term and what are her teachers goals for her? Reports rarely go into these elements, and when they do, there’s just too much focus on the negative.

Yes, we need to know if our children aren’t in line with a national average, but repetitively and in such a negative format? Surely there must be a better way.

20% of pupils are dyslexic. That’s possibly 20% of kids who are getting a piece of paper telling them they are ‘below average’ constantly.

What message is that sending out to those children that they will carry with them later in life? Constantly being told they’re ‘below average’ when they can potentially never truly obtain the standards of their peers.

We’re setting poor little children who are already struggling, many trying their absolute best to get ahead, up for a fall before they even begin. The messages we carry with us in adulthood are built into us from children.

‘Big boys don’t cry, be strong, my teachers always told me I was naughty in school…’ Imagine growing up thinking, ‘I was always below average’, when it isn’t even the child’s fault, it is a mental disability.

They’re not ‘below average’, they may be perfectly average for them, they may be exceptional for them. They’re just not the same as 80% of others.

The test for me, is how happy is my little princess? Thankfully, she is the brightest ball of joy who never gets sad, depressed or in a mood (side note, she can be a serious diva at times, but, I think this may be as a consequence of having me as a mother!).

She starts school most days at 8am for one to one maths tuition, she finishes at 4pm after her extra reading classes, and she has never once complained.

Every single morning our pattern of behaviour is the same. I wake her up, she puts an arm out of her bed and goes ‘HUG’… she has 5 minutes telling me how annoyed she is that the sleep fairies didn’t bring a dream for her that night, she gets herself up, makes her breakfast (unless she has charmed her sister into doing it for her, or my dad - who takes them to school), gets herself ready, tells me how much she loves me 24 times in the first hour of every day and literally bounces out of the door ready for her day ahead.

That is what counts!

For all the tea in China, I wouldn’t change my square little peg. For all the elements dyslexia takes away from her, it gives her so much more too! Every child is unique and however they are, we need to celebrate their special little personalities, character and gifts. It really is just that simple.

A special thank you to my daughter's school and the teachers who have helped shape her life for the better. We have been truly grateful and blessed to have such support, I honestly hope all children get the same opportunity