Thursday, April 19, 2012

jiminy crickets!

Sass: "Hey mum - look - I've got a cricket on my shirt"

"Hey mum - do crickets bite? can they sting you? what do they eat? where do they live? can they swim?" (ummm our kids are monster swimmers, so this is a kinda logical question for them to ask!) 
"what sorta cricket do ya think it is mum?"

mmmmm - I smell a school holidays project opportunity

we find books, I find an internet link

Me: "mmmmm what we seem to have is a black field cricket"
(we pour over the facts... mmmm -  nocturnal, likes to hide in vegetation/under rocks, eats decaying plant matter, doesn't bite/sting/attack humans)

so Sass builds a cricket condo in a shoe box and a cricket viewing jar
complete with rocks, grass, sticks and tube (for hiding)

(Sass loved the Eric Caryle book 'The Very Quiet Cricket' as a youngster)

and as I watched him get super excited about learning
the teacher in me felt vindication for my belief in the power of student-led education
and as a parent - I felt so happy that Sass was motivated to delve into a book

you see - our boyo has severe dyslexia

books (ahhhh 'my precious') aren't so much his friends
as they are scary, scary things that were put on earth to humiliate and embarrass him....

This is a common feeling amongst folk (young and old) with dyslexia or other 'learning difficulties'

So I suppose you've figured by this stage that this is not a post about crickets - but our tale of dyslexia.... It's a somewhat rambling tale (please bear with me) - shared today in the hope that it may help other parents and folk who 'see things a little differently' ....

We became aware that something 'wasn't quite normal' with our lad's reading around the end of his kindergarten year.... while almost all of his classmates could read simple (or not so simple) booklets, our son seemed to have difficulty just following the line of text.... no we weren't overly worried (I've been a fan of Steiner education that doesn't even begin teaching kidlets to read until after the age of 7...)

In year one sass continued to make very slow progress - by the middle of the year sassy's peers started seriously outpacing our boyo in the reading department and the school started him on the 'reading recovery' program (intensive 16 week program designed to help struggling readers) .... and then there were the tell-tale letter reversals ('b' might be 'd', 'p' and 'q' were swapped - and my fav - 'm' and 'w' were interchangeable!)  After Sass completed the reading program (making little progress) it became clear that there was something 'else' going on - we weren't overly worried - but it was time to check all the obvious things - we had eyes and ears tested (like many kids his age sass was slightly long-sighted - they also found he had a small hassle with changing focus from distance to close vision... ), we went off to 'smart body smart brain' for extra testing (turned out sass had a small hassle with audio processing... no not a hearing problem - but his brain had a delay in figuring out what he was hearing - it took in the first and last bits of a word, but not the middle.... and viewing anything black on white on paper just made his brain go into a total spin - the stuff kept moving damn it! like a river of ooze on a page.... no wonder he couldn't track a line of text! and before you ask - yes we looked into irlen lenses - but he isn't a strong candidate right now....) Armed with this knowledge I spoke to everyone from the GP, educational psychologists, his classroom teacher and specialist literacy teachers, the department of education learning support unit, reading tutors... (believe it or not - there isn't a lot known about what dyslexia is - how and why it occurs - and its generally a very loooong process to have 'dyslexia' diagnosed...)

By the end of year 2 it became very clear to all that our boyo had a classic type of dyslexia. Luckily Sass had a wonderful classroom teacher (who also happened to be the wonderful new principal at our little public school) I say luckily because the NSW Department of Education does not recognise dyslexia as a supportable condition (WTF?!!!!!!!!!! don't get me started on this..... totally insane!)

Through his school Sass has undertaken the 'reading recovery' program (twice), a computer 'brain training' program (an expensive program purchased by his little school because the government wouldn't...... grrrrr - I said don't get me started!), multi-lit (a reading program run by volunteers.... because the government doesn't fund..... oh you get the picture!)  he has had a one-to-one reading tutor (you guessed it - not government funded but a community volunteer) since Year 1..... Our little school has left no available (educational) stone left unturned to assist our sassy-boy and other kidlets with reading difficulties -- but it is uphill battle.

Sass is now in year 4 and for the first time he is starting to realise that there is a world of reading difference between himself and most of his mates..... we are now entering the really challenging time.

One of the biggest problems for kids with dyslexia (and other learning difficulties) is self-esteem - It's heart breaking to hear your child say 'I'm dumb' or worse  - for him to come home from school weeping 'everyone tells me I'm stupid'.... we tell him (and the world!) people with dyslexia aren't stupid - they just comprehend things in a different way (ps check out a few famous folk with dyslexia) - but this is small comfort for our not-yet-ten-year-old.....

yes we've talked about homeschooling to overcome the teasing (I heartily support anyone who has chosen this path - I just don't know if I've got the 'goods' for our kids)... but I'm not convinced that homeschooling is the right path for our kids who are both monster (MONSTER) sports stars. Sass is the school's athletics, cross country and swim champ - actually he's the zone PSSA swimming champ and was recently selected by Swim Australia to meet and train with AIS Olympic hopefuls Alicia Coutts and Sally Foster..... (but he's very quiet about his sporting abilities so I shouldn't start carrying on here....) Doing well in sport has helped our Sass feel good about himself - its a small counter to the constant negative messages he is bombarded with.....   but it's a tricky balancing act isn't it?

Our main focus has always been to help both our kids to feel confident about themselves - to know that they are ok, no matter what anyone may say (I think this is the main thing all we parents want eh?) We want them to know and feel proud about their strengths (not to be braggards or poxy little snots - and certainly not to use their strengths to make other people feel small) we want them to appreciate that we are all different - and that's ok!

my oh my - I hadn't meant to rattle on and on...... but dyslexia is something close to my heart - and our kiddies are even closer ;~)

And strangely this neatly brings me back to the sams creek bookworks open day (May 5th don't forget) - We are holding the open day as a fundraiser for Cobargo P&C - as a small show of support for our fabbo little school - thanks Cobargo PS for all you do for our kiddies...


  1. ronnie, you brought tears to my eyes. your sass will be ok, (i've been through it, another "issue", with my kids) and i live it every day as a special ed teacher. what sass has that others (read: my students) don't have is his family. you. i, too believe in student driven education (it's not even what my fellow sped teachers believe in or indeed know about-don't get me started). anyway, with all we know about education and brain function and learning what do we do? set our children up for constant failure.
    makes me want to go study crickets, too. hurrah for crickets! give that little swimmer a hug for me.

  2. Hi Ronnie,
    I am sooo hearing you. My absolutely beautiful (in every way)16 year old girl has auditory memory processing difficulties, which were only picked up later rather than sooner after the intervention of supportive teachers finally listening to our concerns. But no help on offer for such "trivial" hinderences. We still front up at PT interviews with the same information every year, as the schools have not once passed information from one teacher to the next (I feel like a dripping tap sometimes). We have had many ups and downs, tears and heartbreak through the years and as you say the confidence issues that spill over into every aspect of life has been the biggest. She is a brilliant kid and probably works twice as hard as everybody around her to do well for herself and would never for one second want any one to know she has difficulties. We have weathered all the NAPLAN tests and the disappointment of expected outcomes. The next step will be getting through senior essays and sitting the QCS unaided. With an older sister who eats books for breakfast we have tried so hard to make books a positive part of her life by presenting her with books aimed at her age level which also have a lot of visuals to help her decipher storylines, hard to find as they get older, but so worth the effort (I am so proud of her, she has just finished reading Hugo & Wonderstruck, and enjoyed it). I wish your Sass well with his challenges and have confidence that he will learn to separate his self-worth from his dyslexia. It sounds like he has wonderful parents who will be there to help steer him and cheer him and teach him how to discover his own strengths and potential.
    Sounds like Cobargo PS will look after him too. Goes to show, small is not always a disadvantage!

  3. Wow Ronnie... its great that you have been so thorough and so utterly lateral and supportive of Sass, that the teacher was quick and many have helped and aided along the way.

    Ive met various people who've old me about their experiences with dyslexia ... how they found a pathway through all the issues, even in the past when it was unnoticed and generally often unsupported.
    In Christchurch, NZ, opposite the Art Centre, there is a lovely building and garden belonging to an organisation for Dyslexia. The garden open onto the street and had various sculptures and quotes easily accessed.It's an amazingly engaging and thought provoking site... the only like It I have ever seen before. It gave so much dignity and wonder to the cause.
    Most suffer indignities growing up for so many reasons...I'm a great believer in sensitising kids to the fact the the people in the room all around them are all fighting private battles for one reason or another.

    Bullying is often a way that some choose to fight their own demons and sadly they are not helped before they've sunk into this behaviour ...perhaps for ever.

    Your Sass will shine because of his family ... your efforts and values...and how you encourage his communal interactions.

  4. I haven't had experience of dyslexia; but the notion of lines squirming and swimming and moving about must be totally daunting. I have however had similar experiences with 'the system' with regard to physical disability and ongoing struggles for access and support and just common sense. I really fear for kids and folks who don't have strong and intelligent advocates working out ways to work around the many barriers.... Best to you and the family; and to Sass as he finds his way amongst it all. The swimming and success is great and the knowing that you are good at stuff really helps...I hope the system sorts itself out sometime soon (but would't be holding my breath). Gow ell, F

  5. thanks guys for taking time to read and comment - I DO think everything will be fine for our lad in the long run.... as long as his self confidence isn't shot to pieces....

    I suppose we are quite strict as parents go - our kids have never had commercial TV (we don't have it in our house...) they don't have any playstation or DS or weeeeeeeeee (you know what I mean - computer gamey things) no way in hell do they have mobile phones or internet - they're still itty bitty kids! ... our two run around making up games outside - they go for rambling walks around the farm, they ride bikes (and the next door neighbour's ponies when they can sneak a ride!) --- their life is both sheltered (in terms of TV, internet etc) and full-on (they know a LOT about birth and death and reproduction... they are FARM kids after all!) ---- fingers crossed that the decisions we're making work out for them in the long run....

  6. I think you're creating a wonderful world for Sass and his sister that beats anything they'd get anywhere else and which will nourish them in so many ways... How fantastic that Sass is such a good athlete. But you know, with all the support and love and understanding you give him I reckon he'd be OK anyway - he sounds like a great kid! I expect formal schooling with confront you with problems throughout primary school and beyond, but you're such a strong person Ronnie I'm sure you'll get through, and I bet Sass has picked up some of that strength from you too. Good luck to you all, Sara x

  7. Sass has THE best mother ever, the greatest positive force to face and overcome challenges.
    All my best wishes for every step of the way!


thanks for all your lovely comments - your words are greatly appreciated xx