It's not about the book.
I knew something wasn't quite right. Despite being completely dedicated, my third son was having a serious struggle learning to read. It didn’t seem to matter how hard he tried, or how much we helped him- words on a page remained a puzzle.
I don’t like labels. But in some cases, labels are a blessing. In the absence of a clear diagnosis, my sweet boy was starting to wonder what was wrong with him. Was he stupid? Why was he always in the ‘slow group’? Was he going to be left behind?
Finally, after much testing and review, the word ‘dyslexia’ was put on the table. It had been confirmed. And we were going to have to adjust.
To be clear, dyslexia is not a disease. The word itself has its origins in Greek and means ‘difficulty with words’. To my little boy, it meant trouble turning letters into sounds, and sounds into words. It meant that the traditional system for learning to read and write, was failing him.
Fortunately, we live in a country where support is readily available and it wasn’t long before my son was receiving the special help he needed. As parents, we were also instructed on new ways to support his learning and ideas to make the process a little less painful.
Then of course, there was the issue of self esteem. I remember the first night after his profiling had been confirmed; he seemed so confused and worried that I invited him to sleep in my bed. As we snuggled, I reassured him that ‘being different’ didn’t mean ‘being strange’. I also explained to him that dyslexia was not a measure of his intelligence, it just means that he processes information differently.
I also promised him that he wouldn’t be left behind- with a little effort and a little time, he would learn to read. I could see in his eyes that he struggling to believe me.
And so begun a new learning journey. Despite having some clarity, it has not been easy. We’ve wrestled with frustration, we’ve asked many questions. We sat down as a family and talked about dozens of incredible people from Richard Branson to Erin Brockovich who also shared his trait.
We found studies that have assessed dyslexia as an advantage rather than a deficit, identifying cognitive strengths in processing, problem solving, creative thinking and many more. I spoke to him about career options in exciting fields like 3-D construction and App design, where he might one day thrive. I made sure he knew his brothers were on his side.
It’s been nearly a year since we begun this journey and it’s incredible how far he’s come. I was interstate for work a few days ago, when I called home to say goodnight. My little man jumped on the phone, breathless and excited, to let me know that he had finally finally… finished his first book. ‘Proud’ is not enough of a word, to sum up how I felt.
It wasn’t about the book, of course.
It was about his victory. His sense of personal accomplishment and pure unrestrained pride. He summed it up beautifully a few days later when he casually mentioned that he didn’t mind having dyslexia anymore, because “it makes me feel even more special now that I can read”.
The smile every time he holds a book confirms it.