Dyslexia: The early warning signs…
I have often written about my son and his dyslexia but I have 2 daughters also who are younger than him, one is 9 and one is 6. All of my children had good spoken language, both receptive and expressive from an early age. They all loved pre school and seemed to be doing all the right things at the right times.
I just knew the boy was going to struggle because despite his fascination with the world, inquisitive nature and vast vocabulary he was not interested in books or letters and did not stay still long enough to hold a pencil! His emotional Literacy and empathy and care for others from an early age was his gift and he used it whenever he could. He is the king of avoidance because formal work is hard!
Number 2 went into formal school having NEVER spoken to an adult at preschool but again with rich language and a keen interest to learn, listen and follow instructions. She is a complex character, a deep thinker, with a dry sense of humour and the need to use few words (like her dad!) She entered Reception able to write her name, most of the letters and mark make. I’m convinced she didn’t talk to adults at pre school because she just didn’t need to, she was sussing them out and taking it all on board, she left her first formal year of school reading and writing, oh and talking to adults outside of the family!
Then there is Number 3, emotionally she is not she is not as secure as the other 2, she cried a few times when I left her at school whilst the others skipped in, but she took to formal learning independently at the earliest opportunity. Desperate to read and interested in books, pencils, writing and letters, mostly she was happy, she left preschool nearly writing in sentences, already reading key words and already able to write numbers to 20. Not because I had coached her but because she loved it, she was always writing, always making stuff and taught herself by copying the others. I describe number 3 as the sunshine kid… You cannot help but smile when you see her, enthusiasm oozes out of her, she had no guard, she literally lit up your day. I hoped and I wished that these were all good signs… My third, the one with no dyslexic tendencies. Until recently and now today I actually think she is going to be the most dyslexic of them all.
Number 3 can read really well. She loves reading at the moment and is still keen. Her books have just started to get harder and include words with more than one syllable. She is starting to get frustrated, she sounds the first few letters then guesses using the pictures… At the moment this is getting her through! What happens though when the pictures disappear? She is reading yes, reading her picture books fluently, but when books are just text she won’t have the skills to be able to break down and read words on her own. This means she won’t be able to comprehend what she is reading either, because she will be making guesses at words which might not fit or she will be unable to read the majority of words accurately.
Number 3 has already been writing for 2 years. She wrote a letter to the Easter bunny this year, independently. Look! Bunny, punee. She has substituted the p for the b because they sound similar. She knows that the ‘y’ at the end makes a long e sound and has used a digraph she has knowledge of. She can spell her brothers name, Billy’ but is not transferring this knowledge to other words, bunee! Chocolate is spelt 2 different ways indicating no consistency or secure knowledge to her approach. Number 3 can recite to me when reading and point out ‘split vowel diagraphs’ . To me and you we would probably call them magic e words. When you put an e on the end and the vowel says its long sound instead of the short sound, like cake, and pole and time. Notice how she spelt ‘hide’ she spells it ‘hid.’ This is because her working memory is becoming overloaded and she has no capacity to apply the rules she knows so well. But also she is not processing the information effectively she is not making the connection between the rules for spelling and reading. Given her starting point and enthusiasm she should be doing this by now.
Lately she has been less ‘sunny’ she doesn’t walk as tall and is not so keen.. she drags her heels as we walk into school and cry’s ALL the time. It’s not just school though it is other things.
I first noticed it at street dance, she used to be at the front, desperate to be seen, and gradually over time she moved herself further and further to the back. I watched her learn a routine and she just couldn’t pick it up as quickly as the others and seemed to just give up. More recently she has had tummy ache before street dance and doesn’t think she can go. Sometimes when I pick her up she is laid on the floor at the front saying she had to stop because her tummy hurts her too much!
Then she started mentioning Rainbows and Gymnastics and how she finds it really hard to hear. She keeps asking me to get her hearing checked, which I am going to do again, but it was only 6 months ago we had it tested and it was clear, perfect in both ears. When I have observed her at these clubs she listens, she is the model child, she is desperate to please. She also however watches the others , like a hawk and copies what they do, seeming to learn by watching rather than listening.
Then there was the day she melted down before school because it was ‘big’ assembly day. I’m confused, surely this is good, you just sit and listen and have to do nothing. Number 3 explains this is not good, because she can’t understand what the head teacher is talking about, she listens hard but can’t understand and what if she is asked a question and can’t answer it she will be told off. In fact every time she goes to anything, a club, a birthday party, school, her biggest concern is that she will get told off. You will never meet a child less likely to be in trouble. This makes no sense, yet this is her biggest fear.
I understand. It not that she can’t hear, it is not that she is not listening, it is that she is unable to process all of the language. At street dance it’s not that she is giving up, it’s not that she has tummy ache, she is protecting herself from the fact that she is unable to process the auditory instructions. She is placing herself at the back so she can copy someone to compensate for the fact she doesn’t understand.
So this week I have no doubt that my ray of sunshine, which is slowly dulling is probably experiencing dyslexia. I am not worried about that because we can sort it out, we can teach her in a way that will help her achieve her best.
What worries me more is the pressure she is placing on herself and her dulling light. She is 6. At 6 years old life is for living. For spinning until you feel sick, for swinging so high your tummy hurts and for being fearless. Already she has noticed she does not pick things up as quickly as others and that she is finding some things hard. She is placing pressure on herself which quite frankly is not pressure she should know even exists.
What am I going to do about it.
I’m going to start by finding something everyday to tell her she is wonderful at. We will start nurturing and embracing the stuff she is amazing at to bring the sunshine back. I am going to make an appointment to talk to school. I don’t want them to do anything at this stage other than have empathy for her and to try and understand where she is coming from so they can support her emotionally. At the moment Academic attainment is not the most important thing, we have time to play with this, we need to get her confident and brave again because only then will we be able to get her to take risks in learning and feel confident to try new things. We will take a few days at a time and ensure she gets what she needs to fulfill her potential.
After all I might be wrong. In fact since posting 30 minutes ago people have already messaged me to tell me I’m wrong and trying to label her. This could not be further from the truth. I just think it’s important to act on what you see in the moment. I have been monitoring it carefully. I’ll continue to monitor it. Just because I suspect does not mean I’ll get her assessed and diagnosed that is not what she needs right now. Right now she needs to feel happy. perhaps there is another cause to her dulling sunshine. I’m just doing the best with what I have got as a parent and knowing what I know as a specialist. Perhaps I do know too much and perhaps I am being over cautious and reading too much into it. But I’d much rather be over cautious and explore it carefully than miss something which could have made a difference.
Life is not a race, it’s about living in the moment and doing your best with what you have at the time. The constant pressure evident in society has rubbed of on her at the age of 6. Because she can’t keep up she feels she has failed. This is not a message that I agree with or wish my child to embrace. We can all be winners and will all be winners but we won’t all win the race in the same way at the same time and we will all take a different route. What I’m going to do is help her find her route and give her the skills she needs to navigate it independently so she is in control.
There is no time to wait or mess about, every minute counts, she might only be 6 but she needs to find her own route because the route she is currently on is failing her because it is not the right route for her and it does not allow her light to shine. Trust me her light needs to shine because she, like all my children, will make a positive difference in this world no matter how small, and she will live her life knowing she did her best and achieved her dreams and once her light is bright again, if she wants to, she can shine a light for others to follow.
Author of ‘Don’t forget to Smile, A memoir uncovering the hidden difficulties of dyslexia.’
Available on Amazon