I have talked before about my son and dyslexia but I have been reminded on several occasions this week how dyslexia affects more than just reading and writing and how it spills into everyday life, and how people have no idea of how it impacts on life and how it chips away at confidence and self esteem. How it even spills into the things we love, and how dyslexia can taint the sweetest of moments if we don’t understand it!
My son is 10 and he is the inspiration for this post…
He worries me more than my 2 daughters put together, not because he is dreadfully behaved or because he causes huge problems. I worry because I know how hard he finds it to be independent. I know how hard he finds it to organise life. I know how hard he finds it socially and I know how hard he finds it to keep himself afloat in the classroom. I know I can’t do it all for him and I don’t do it all for him but it is so difficult finding the balance between success and failure. I feel like we are on a continuous and never ending knife edge of supporting him enough to keep him on a path where he experiences success but also experiences failure in a managed way so he can build enough resilience and strength to be able to cope but so it doesn’t break him completely.
He is working so hard at school at the moment, but as he pointed out the other day… I’m working so hard but I’m just not really getting anywhere! This is true he sits continuously just below average in terms of attainment and he truly busts a gut! His school are recognising his needs and meeting them well, however this doesn’t stop the fact that all day, everyday he is placed in a position where all the things he finds difficult and hard are exposed, used and measured and scored against others.
As I mentioned before it is not just reading and writing he finds hard. When you know the true impact of dyslexia you understand that Dyslexia is not just about reading and writing it’s about processing language and remembering instructions and managing a weak working memory! It’s about constantly being aware of the fact you are slightly behind everyone else, it’s about knowing inside you need longer than others to process or understand an instruction or that actually you might need to hear the instruction twice to be able to understand it. It’s about trying to stay ahead so that if you do fall behind you have time to catch up.
He has recently started to play rugby… He isn’t sporty but he wants to try. He has joined a club with a great group of supportive boys and parents and coaches. He has been going about 3 months now and is taking on all the rules and is growing in confidence every week… This week though we went off island, we went to a different club, to a different pitch, with different children and different coaches, on Astro turf not on grass which he has never played in before… I could see his anxiety rising, I could see how he was on the edge of fight or flight… He isn’t confident in a new situation because someone might ask him something he doesn’t understand, he might look stupid, he might not be able to play as well, there are too many variables he can’t control… A dyslexics worse nightmare… Not because we are control freaks or have ocd, but because when we are not in control we can’t protect ourselves – being in control is our natural defence mechanism to keep up safe when we feel threatened.
It was no surprise to me that 5 minutes into the training session he found himself unable to cope… Except he didn’t use the words I can’t cope… He completed a training task, got tackled to the ground and burst into tears, not faking injury but using the injury to cover his insecurity and as an excuse to get out… I could see the coach talking to him and I did what some might consider an awful thing… I turned my back and I walked away… I left my best friend to comfort him and to tell him he was doing great and to get him straight back in… When I walked back over a few moments later he was back in and playing better than ever… He had lost some of his anxiety and was playing better than ever…
If I had waited for him to come over and to comfort him he would have never gone back in and he would have completely broken down… I didn’t walk away because I didn’t care… I walked away because I did care… He was so proud of himself at the end of the session. I was so proud of him. I told him the whole way home and we talked about his anxiety and about the fact he nearly gave up. We talked about the fact that it was a huge achievement to have worked with a different coach, coped on a different pitch and had given it a go!
My son also took a trumpet exam this week… His grade 3. He has worked so hard and music is something he is good at… However don’t underestimate how hard he has to work to read the music, and learn the theory… In fact I think it would be fair to say he doesn’t read the music, he learns it by ear! The minute he tries to read the music he looses his musicality because he can’t process the written notes quickly enough! fortunately 60% of the exam he is able to prep for by ear and learn by heart… However the other 40% is sight reading and oral… It’s given to you there and then! Scary stuff when you have working memory lower than 5% which he does!
we arrive for the exam and he is as prepared as he can be. His pieces are stunning, even made my dad cry in a rehearsal, he is smiling and relaxed in the car, excited even.
We arrive at the venue, book him in, sit in a waiting room, there are parents and teachers waiting. There is awkward silence, in one direction we can hear a violin from behind a closed door that says warm up room on it. In another direction we can hear the faint sound of scales from another violin in the exam room. His teacher isn’t there yet. I can again see the anxiety rising in him. We sit for a few moments surrounded by stress and tension. One of the parents asks him what exam he is doing, he replies… I play the trumpet, it’s my grade 3. The warm up room door opens and out comes the violinist pacing the floor waiting to be called in… We sit in more silence until a teenaged girl appears, flounces into the area where we are sat, hot bothered and anxious…
How did it go her mum asks… I’m not sure she replies as the other violist is swept away off to his exam… Then out of her mouth tumbles… I screwed my scales, I couldn’t do the sight reading, I don’t think the examiner liked me, the oral was awful he asked me things I couldn’t answer… I turn to look at my son who is close to tears. I ask the girl what grade she has just done… Grade 7 she replied. I sweep my son into the empty warm up room as I can see he is about to loose it.
In the warm up room he breaks down. I’m not doing it, I’m not going in. I can’t do it mummy. I am never going to get through it. I pause and I look in his eyes. I see the pain, it’s reflected in my eyes. I see straight through him. I have been there and I know exactly what he is feeling and thinking. In fact he isn’t thinking … He is feeling nothing but anxiety which is overwhelming any rational thoughts, reasoning or logic… Those feelings of insecurity and poor confidence and self esteem have firmly taken a grip… It’s all he can see and feel.
What did I do… Told him to get his trumpet out of course.
He didn’t argue, he didn’t refuse, he slowly got the trumpet out repeating, I’m not doing it, I’m not going in.
At this point I told him he didn’t have to go in if he didn’t want to but perhaps he should try warming his trumpet up and hopefully his teacher would be here soon. I left him blowing air down his trumpet, checking the waiting room for his teacher, she still hadn’t arrived but his pianist had. I went back to the room, he was calming a little and verbalising a little more… What if I make mistakes, what if I can’t answer a question, what if I loose my place. I told him I would be proud however he played. I also told him how hard he had worked and he owed it to himself to at least give it a try!
His teacher arrived, she talked him through what he needed to do and before we knew it, it was his time to go in. He walked dubiously behind the pianist but walked without any further prompting. I sat on the edge of tears waiting for him to come out. Proud because he had done it, but also because I was left with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. I sat weighing up whether I was being a good mum by encouraging him to do these things. Perhaps I should just be keeping him in his safe comfort zone and protecting him from further hurt?
After the longest 15 minutes of my life he came out smiling, feeling he had done ok. He independently thanked his teacher for all her help and thanked the pianist for his time and patience in rehearsals… I felt humble in his presence, how have I produced such an amazing human being. I genuinely felt in awe of him. As we walked back to the car his hand slipped in mine… ‘Thanks for believing in me mum’ he said. All the tension and stress had gone. We giggled and laughed in the car on the way back to school and he gave me the run down on how it had gone!
It is the most painful thing ever to watch your child struggle, particularly when you know exactly how they are feeling and the emotion is so raw … It is so difficult to remain subjective… Then I stumbled across this quote!
‘ If you play it safe you have decided you don’t want to grow anymore’
It would be so easy to keep him safe and to keep him close so he does not experience any further pain than is nnecessary, but would that really help? He needs to grow. Perhaps this is what I am doing, maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty. I’m helping him grow. If I keep him safe then he won’t learn what he is capable of and he won’t fulfil his potential. It’s surely my job to believe in him and provide him with opportunities that I know he will thrive at… Dyslexia will not get in the way and dyslexia will not be a barrier to him being whatever he chooses, it will not define him and it will not quieten his voice like it did mine for so many years. He has many special skills and talents and has the most empathetic and kind nature… He is called Billy and he is mine and he makes me proud everyday.
Find me on Facebook Another Way Round or Twitter @jodyslexicrees
P.S when he gets his exam results I will make sure I post them in a blog, just in case anyone is interested !!! 😉