Dyslexia is a difference in how the brain processes information that results in a combination of strengths and weakness, and that can mean, whilst dyslexia can be a real factor in life success it can be an unusual path to it, especially through school.
I found this as the parent of two sons with dyslexia, and it is a story I have heard countless times in my two decades working with young people with dyslexia and their families.
There is an image that comes to mind when you think of perfect parenting, reading to your child and in return them finding a love of reading, exhibiting aptitude for the skill beyond their years.
When you are parenting a child that doesn’t enjoy bedtime stories and just won’t take to reading – despite you throwing everything at it – it can be really hard.
So much of what children are judged on in mainstream education are skills where dyslexic children struggle to reflect their underlying ability. “Jonny, recited the poem perfectly” or “Mary, already knows her 13 times tables” or “Sam, can spell elephant, which he shouldn’t be able to do for two more years” – dyslexic children are often unlikely to do well at these things, however hard you push them or they push themselves.
That isn’t to say they aren’t all admirable skills, but when we limit our signifiers of intelligence to a small range of the actual signs, then we are going to make some groups feel stupid unjustly and their parents feel like they are failing them.
The dyslexic brain is hardwired to explore the information it is given or comes across. This is its greatest strength.
Give a dyslexic child a Lego model to make and you will often find they ignore the instructions and reinvent it. Taking apart and reinventing toys is simply the dyslexic brain at its finest.
Exploring how something works, whether it can be improved and challenging the perceptions of expectation are what we need in order to innovation.
Whilst the written representation of language is a struggle for dyslexic children, reading and writing isn’t communication. Many dyslexics are great communicators. We know dyslexics are many times more likely to be at the top of exploring our world through art, the Royal College of Art has six times the numbers of dyslexic student compared to higher education generally. We also see many leading directors talk about how dyslexia has factored in their success.
Making unexpected connections is common. Any parent who has engaged in an argument with their dyslexic child will know that their ability to connect ideas and to weave rationale for the perceived misdemeanour is exceptional.
Many parents want desperately for a child with dyslexia to be able to meet those traditional measures of aptitude. We have all fought through extra literacy lessons, held back the fun things to get those times tables engrained or chastised our child for not following instructions. It’s a completely natural approach.
However, we have to temper it with nurturing the dyslexia explorative strength.
For example, we find young dyslexics often respond best to talk and discussion. Rather than reading about issues, events, emotions and ideas, have a conversation with your child about it or even better take them to a battlefield or a museum to see as well as discuss.
Your child can be successful, we see dyslexics every day achieve stunning things and they will all tell you they struggled at school. Never forget, 40 percent of the UK’s self made millionaire are dyslexic.
The key is to find and unlock those talents and accept that the route they take to learning might be a tad unconventional on occasion, but there is nothing wrong in that. In actual fact, there are often many benefits to being unconventional -although school can often leave you feeling otherwise.
Embrace the differences. Find and unlock those talents and abilities.
Finally, support the British Dyslexia Association so we can drive forward changes that will enable us to lobby for an education system that enables children to demonstrate and achieve their potential.
About the Author
Helen Boden is the CEO of the British Dyslexia Association.
With a background in education and training since 1990 and a qualified specialist dyslexia teacher, Helen began work for the BDA in 2002 and has been with the organisation for 15 of the last 17 years. After running the organisation’s training department, Helen became CEO in March 2018, with a focus on empowering dyslexics through lobbying, raising awareness, training and direct support.
Learn more on how dyslexia can affect a student's education in our Succeeding with SEND: focus on dyslexia video.