This article is written with the full permission of my son Kade, who is willing to have very personal information put in print in hope that it will help others who are experiencing similar difficulties. Kade is a very brave and inspiring young man, he lights up my life.
I feel I should repeat I am not an expert on Dyslexia and I have no training in phycology, my articles are based on my own experiences as an adult who lived unknowingly with Dyslexia for many years and the experiences of my teenage son who was diagnosed as being Dyslexic at age nine.
The day before Kade was due to start secondary school in Ratoath College I found out that his Moltoir (year head) was Nuala Ní Mhuricú. I already had a relationship with Nuala as she had been Caoimhnoir (class tutor) to my older son Evan for the first three years that he attended RC. I phoned the school immediately and left a message for Nuala to call me back. Secondary was going to be a whole new challenge, now instead of Kade having one teacher he would have 11, one for each subject. I knew Nuala would be the link. She phoned me at 8.30pm that evening (anyone who thinks teachers switch off at 3.30 when school finishes is very much mistaken).
I had two requests for Nuala, Kade was not to be asked to read aloud in class, as his reading at this time was way behind that of his peers, and Kade should sit at the front of the class as he still got distracted very easily. She said she would email and speak to all Kade’s teachers, the message had been received I could relax, a little anyway.
The following day Kade began his secondary education journey. All the students entered the large hall, along with their parents. There was a lovely introduction and welcome to us all and then one by one the students names were called out by their soon to be Caoimhnoir. Kade’s was Greta Judge, again I knew her through Evan, and although Kade’s best friend was to be in a different class he walked in line, following Greta with a smile on his face.
He arrived home that day still smiling and really that has been his mood since starting in Ratoath College. Yes he has had challenges, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, and his Dialinn is full of notes, never behavioural problems, always organisational ones. But he is happy, truly happy to attend school and frankly that is the most important thing.
The school body have been fantastic with Kade, every teacher agreeing with the suggestions we had, that would make education a little easier for Kade.
Kade’s first challenge was going to his locker and finding all the books and copies he needed for the next three classes. For any given subject he would have a text book, sometimes two, a soft back and a hardback copy. For some subjects he was also required to have an A4 pad and folder, perhaps poly pockets too. A young friend who was a couple of years ahead of Kade made a perfectly simple but effective suggestion. We had already colour coded each subject, and coloured in his timetable accordingly. Shannon’s suggestion was to buy plastic zip folders, coloured of course to match each subject, so in each folder he would have all of the books copies and hardbacks he needed for that subject.
This worked quite well, although it did mean he either forgot nothing for the subject or forgot everything! There were many days that I drove back up to the school because he had forgotten his zip folder which he needed for homework.
Kade’s assessment for Attention Deficit Disorder had commenced and we had met as a family and individually with the psychologist. Kade’s teachers also had to fill out a report. Kade was observed in class and had many conversations with the psychologist. After many months of assessment the outcome was that while Kade did have some attention issues he was not bad enough to be diagnose with ADD. In practical terms the non-diagnosis for ADD meant Kade would miss out on certain concessions a help, but we could continue to look for the right help for Kade.
Kade always reads aloud, it means nothing to him when reading in his head; he needs to hear the words. In class during English the students would have reading time when they would read to themselves. We came up with a solution. We downloaded his novels and plays onto his iPod and he listened to it while following the words in the book. The English teachers were not only accepting of this idea, they suggested using the same technique with other students.
We knew that traditional exams would be a real problem for Kade and that he would never achieve his real potential though ordinary examination.
While Kade was still in first year I met with the special needs assistant, his Moltoir and Caoimhnoir to discuss the best practice for Kade.
We all agreed that Kade needed a reader for exams, and either a scribe or he could answer into a tape recorder instead of having to write.
We tried both ways and found Kade was more comfortable using the tape recorder.
For homework Kade’s dad or I do the reading and he answers into a digital voice recorder, and then emails his answers to his teachers. Again I can’t praise the staff highly enough, each one of them are happy to receive Kade’s homework in this way.
Again Kade needed more assessments in order to qualify to do state exams in this way. I spoke to the department psychologist, a very nice lady with Kade’s best interests at heart. She had never heard of the digi voice recorder. I did comment that giving a 14 year old a tape recorder would be like giving them a typewriter. I also suggested that instead of the department spending huge amounts of cash each year on readers for state exams, the exam questions could be downloaded onto an iPod or laptop and the students could listen to the questions that way. Using the digital voice recorder instead of tape cassettes would also save money.
We are now just a few weeks away from Kade sitting the junior cert. There is no doubt that it has been a challenging three years. Kade still has a problem with organisation, and continues to be easily distracted. All his teachers say he is a lovely boy, well-mannered and well behaved but madly frustrating at the same time. I sympathise with them as I know exactly what they mean.
He is excelling at maths and science, doing really well in History, Geography and English. He surprised us in his mocks by passing Irish and Italian, as foreign language is a big challenge for him.
We are all confident that he will do well in his junior cert, but more importantly Kade is confident that he will do well.
Senior cycle will be the new challenge. Kade has chosen to do Leaving Cert Applied next year. At the end of the year he will then have to choose to either continue with Leaving Cert Applied and just have a two year senior cycle. Alternatively he can do LCA for one year and then do traditional 5th and 6th year.
The advantages to LCA are small class number, only 4 traditional state examinations, project work over the two years which all adds up to his final Leaving Cert score.
My concern is that Kade has fallen down on project work and done better at traditional examinations. But he may not get any concessions if he chooses to do ordinary Leaving Cert. So doing LCA next year is really buying us a year, and hopefully in that time he will either mature enough to work on projects and have them in on time, or will then be ready for Leaving Cert, in which case I will of course fight his corner all over again and look for every concession he can get.
Having Dyslexia is not a learning difficulty it is learning differently, and when Dyslexics are taught in the way that suits us we excel.