My journey with a dyslexic daughter has been difficult, heartbreaking and challenging but it has also been heartwarming and uplifting. As a former high school teacher I trusted the knowledge of primary school teachers. My inner parent alarm bells were ringing but I was told to wait and see! I had no reference point as this was my first child.
By the end of year 2 she had been driven to the pit of Tartarus and was an angry, scared child. We were lucky enough to have a new school learning support teacher who waved a red flag about her inability to sound out words. She couldn’t even sound out the whole alphabet after 2 1/2 years of school, 2 1/2 years of preschool and a language rich home environment. Her anxiety spiralled out of control and everyday I was greeted at the school gate with the anger and frustration of the school day spilling forth to her safe haven of home. Her anxiety was so disabling by then that it affected all aspects of her learning and life. We consulted a psychologist. She was unsure if there was an underlying learning difficulty as the anxiety was so overwhelming at that point in time.
She had 6 months of cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychologist and we worked at home on her areas of weakness slowly and gently. Our major focus was restoring her self esteem and reducing her anxiety. At the beginning of year 3 we undertook a full educational assessment with the Australian Dyslexia Association and started tutoring with a SPELD NSW structured literacy tutor.
Being told she was dyslexic and dysgraphic was such an empowering experience for all of us. We had a path which I bulldozed through with the passion that only a parent could muster when their child is threatened. Suddenly the light was shining again in my daughter’s life. She no longer called herself dumb and stupid. She no longer believed teachers who thought she was lazy or listened to bullies who called her names. She started to identify with all those amazing dyslexics who have found their way in a literate world.
It certainly hasn’t been easy. She had significant anxiety and learned helplessness. We had to rebuild our child one piece at a time and there were many setbacks. She has come so far on her journey. She now says that being dyslexic is the best thing in the world and it is awesome. She likes being unique and special. My daughter has a wonderful creative mind. With the help of assistive technology and explicit literacy instruction that creativity is being unleashed. She wishes to be a writer like all the dyslexic authors who have made her feel that it is possible to be anything. I am so proud of how far she has come.
Once we were on the right path with my daughter I thought of my 10 years of high school teaching and all those angry children with behavioural problems who couldn’t read and write. I remember quite clearly of the year 10 child who could not spell his middle name. I despaired that many had no one with the knowledge or drive to help them in the school system like my daughter. With dyslexia having a genetic component I thought of all those families with generations of literacy difficulties.
So I decided to strive for change in the education system and support as many children and families as I could. I administer Dyslexia Support Australia and founded Dyslexia Support NSW. Sometimes my role as an advocate for evidence based intervention is frustrating. But it has been an amazing journey. I have met the most inspiring and driven women who dedicate every spare minute and every spare dollar to helping countless children. I feel privileged to be part of the dyslexic community.