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.
As I said in my first article on dyslexia I am not a physiologist. My expertise on the subject comes from my own experience as a mother of a teenage boy who was diagnosed with dyslexia at the age of 9. I am also dyslexic, and lived unknowingly with dyslexia for most of my life. I am simply telling our story in hope that our experiences may help others.
Once Kade was diagnosed as being dyslexic I knew he was going to need as much help as I could possibly give him in order for him to achieve his full potential. I know I was in a very fortunate situation that I could rearrange my work schedule to ensure that I was always there to bring him to school, to collect him from school, and with the exception of one day a week I was the one spending two or three hours every evening doing homework with Kade.
When it was necessary for me to work in the evenings I arranged for my brother, also dyslexic, to come tutor Kade in my absence.
We got into a good routine which I highly recommend. When Kade and his older brother came in from school we ate dinner together, than he took a break for about a half an hour. Kade has a desk in his bedroom where all homework is done. I’ve never allowed TVs in my sons’ bedrooms, just music systems and books, so there is minimum distraction, this is important for study whether your child is dyslexic or not.
I found a tutor who was willing to help Kade. She is the mother of a dyslexic adult son, a primary school teacher and works in special needs. Her knowledge and experience have been invaluable to Kade and I. She gave us very simple but effective advice.
Most dyslexics will find difficulty in organisation (I know I did until I learned some skills, I am now either super organised or completely disorganised, there is no middle ground). Reading is also a problem and copying work from a black or white board. We read a line, look down to write the note, when we look back up we have lost the place and have to start reading from the top of the board again. This makes taking notes really awkward. However there are simple ways to make organisation easier at primary level.
- Give one instruction at a time. If I were to say to Kade go upstairs, tidy your bed, brush your teeth and bring down your washing, he would probably only remember to bring down the washing.
- We hung a white board in Kade’s bedroom and wrote a list of one word instructions for his morning routine, and he drew pictures beside the words. The list included 1. Wash 2.Brush 3.Tidy 4.Laundry 5.School bag 6. Breakfast etc.
- Allocate a colour to each subject, for example Geography is green. We put large green stickers on Kade’s geography books, copies, folders etc. This meant he didn’t have to look for the work ‘geography’ he just had to find the colour green.
- We then asked his teacher to write the homework on the board in different colour chalks. Each line was a different colour so Kade could find his place on the board much easier.
- We discus with his teacher what was a reasonable amount of time to spend on each subject at homework time. Rather than spending an hour trying to finish one subject and then being too tired to tackle something else, we set a timer and once the time was up we would move on to the next subject regardless of how much went unfinished.
The key to all of this is getting the teacher on board, and that’s where parents come in, don’t expect the teacher to know whats best for your child. Meet a new teacher within the first couple of weeks. Let them know what your child’s needs are, and how they can best accommodate your child. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t want to help. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I think it’s also how I present Kade’s needs. I always acknowledge and show appreciation for the teachers heavy work schedule, I never make demands, only suggestions, I will always take the teachers suggestions on board and I always let the teachers know that I am more than willing to do whatever it takes on my part to help my child.
Kade’s 5th class teacher was a dream. She was interested in understanding Kade and in helping him achieve his true potential. She came into our lives at a crucial time as it was in 5th class that the most worrying part of this whole experience occurred. Kade became depressed and this terrified me.
But I need to back track a bit. When Kade turned 9 four major events took place in his life. Firstly he moved schools. We had moved house a couple of years prior to this, but for various reasons had kept him at his old school. I began thinking of the future and believed it would be better for Kade to go to the local primary school, as he was going locally for secondary school. I felt he would be at a disadvantage if he knew no one when starting secondary.
During midterm break that October we took a vacation to California, and it was during this trip that Kade lost his ‘First Teddy’. We left it behind in a hotel in San Diego and realised when we were in Anaheim. ‘First Teddy’ had travelled everywhere with Kade from the time he was an infant, and to lose him was devastating.
My mum became sick shortly after this, and was diagnosed with Multiple Myloma. She became very ill after receiving radiotherapy and it was a worrying time. This was Kade’s first experience of illness in the family.
The fourth event was of course his dyslexia diagnoses.
As I said in my first article Kade has always been extremely articulate and he was able to express his feelings of depression to us. He described feeling sad, crying for little or no reason and having no energy. He also told us that the long, dark winter days made him feel unhappy. At the same time he developed a habit of jerking his head. My husband and I spoke to his teacher and to the principle. If Kade showed signs of becoming upset in school his teacher would send him to the principal’s office and he would council Kade. I can’t praise the principle highly enough for his part in Kade’s recovery.
The school called in the department, and fast action was taken. A child psychologist was sent almost immediately, to assess Kade. She spoke with Kade on several different occasions, with my husband and I, and with Kade’s teacher and principle. She observed Kade in class. She also counselled Kade, and indeed my husband and I too.
I also spoke to our family G.P. and got advice from her.
The physiologists finding was; when Kade became upset he would revert back to losing his first teddy, which really was a symbol for the other things he had lost.
In moving schools he had lost the security and familiarity he had been used to since his early school days.
When his Nana became ill he lost the childhood idealism that the people you love will always be in your life.
With his Dyslexia diagnosis he lost the innocent confidence that everything in life will come easy.
He did indeed also lose his ‘First Teddy’ which was a real, physical loss, and was the only way he knew how to describe his feelings of loss.
The child physiologist gave great advice, and instead of trying to avoid the subject of ‘First Teddy’ as it had caused so much upset, she urged me to speak openly and often about it, so Kade could get all his feelings of loss out in the open. This worked and I am forever grateful to all of those involved in helping Kade during this time. Over a period of a couple of months we saw Kade’s mood lift.
I will never forget the utter terror I felt when Kade became depressed and although it is years since he displayed any signs of depression I will forever be on full alert for the signs reoccurring.
If you think your child may be depressed
- Act immediately
- Take professional advice
- Don’t wait for the mood to pass
- Don’t feel that you are over reacting, better to treat something that maybe nothing than ignore what maybe something!
In 6th class I decided to have Kade assessed for Attention Deficit Disorder. I decided to go through the department this time rather than have a private assessment. If the department detect a problem than the department has to put a structure in place to help. I knew we would have a long wait for his assessment but I decided to be patient. Well that was the original plan, but as the months passed I grew less and less patient and my phone calls to the physiologist’s office became more and more frequent, and a little frantic. I definitely crossed the line from being persistent to being a pest!
It was worth it, the process of assessment began just in time for Kade entering secondary school. By the time Kade finished primary school he was a happy and confident boy, with a small group of good friends, and he was nervous but excited at the prospect of moving to secondary school.
Watch out for my next article Dealing with Dyslexia in Secondary School.