I had lunch with an old friend of mine yesterday. We’ve kept in touch over the last 20+ years when we did an MBA together. She’s had a successful career in finance while I’ve had a liquorice all-sorts type of constantly changing occupational therapy for a mind that can’t stay at rest too long.
Anyway, she of the child-free existence still dotes on the children of others and takes a keen interest in how the offspring of her friends are doing, and, knowing both my current librarian / teaching situation and the background of the fact that I have a SEN (ADHD) teen asked me about the potential dyslexia of the son of a close friend. The issue was typical and one that I come across often enough that I could be quite wealthy if I got a dollar each time I encountered it, or a variant in any area of educational need.
Child has an undefined issue with reading / spelling / learning. Otherwise bright. Mom / school / teacher thinks that he should be tested. Dad is totally against it. Because he doesn’t want the “label”. Because he’s going to take it upon himself to teach his 8 year old to read.
My friend stressed this was a father who truly loved his son. Who had the means, financial and otherwise to get the best help for his son if it was needed. As long as it didn’t involved testing and a diagnosis. She was asking me of the ways to make sure the son got what he needed.
I gave her the usual. The positive messages. You wouldn’t prevent a child from having an eye-test and getting glasses if they couldn’t see properly. The earlier you understand what is going on the better in terms of interventions, help, accommodations etc. We know so much more about the reading brain than we ever did before, that it’s not a calamity. I also mentioned that I’d just been through some of Microsoft Education’s Educator courses on inclusive and assistive technology and that he may want to have a look at the interventions available.
And then I hit hard with the real issues. At 8 years old, you have a compliant child, willing to please the adults around him. You have a surrounding where children are all over the shop still with reading. But you have the beginning of the big academic sorting. Between those who are learning to read and those who are reading to learn. And that divide just keeps on widening. And kids know it and are acutely aware of where they stand in this sorting. I saw those kids in primary when I was teaching there and now I see them in middle school. They’re no longer 8, they’re 14. And they know every trick in the book to deflect attention from the fact that they (still) can’t read (well). They are the class clowns, the exasperating kids who are still falling off their chairs, annoying the teacher and the rest of the class. They will do anything to not appear stupid. They are not stupid. But in their minds they equate the reading issue with intelligence. They may or may not be talking to their parents, let alone being compliant with any reading intervention. They’re frustrated and angry, not hopeful any more.
There is so much that can be done when you have an 8 year old. Of course you can help anyone at any age, but why let your own darn ego get in the way and not do things earlier?
There’s another very important piece to all of this. Children, even “your” children, are not yours. They need to know themselves and their learning. They need to become their own advocates. To know what they need and have the strength to stand up for it. For all the wonderful teachers and administrators out there, there also are a lot of very harmful people. So even if you have a diagnosis, and interventions and recommendations, there are enough people who will take the attitude that “it’s not an excuse” and that the child is “lazy” or “naughty” or “bad”. I speak from very bitter experience in that respect.
She asked me for an article, anything to give to him. I asked how much the father would be prepared to read. I scrolled through my Evernote. I have 238 articles / notes on dyslexia. The one I consider to be the bench mark one is “Rapid automatized naming (RAN) and reading fluency: implications for understanding and treatment of reading disabilities.” but that weighs in at over 30 pages, so we settled on the KQED article “Understanding Dyslexia and the Reading Brain in Kids“; the name Maryanne Wolf as an expert, and the one home intervention I know of that apparently has some research backing (in case dad was still going to teach his kid in 100 days … face palm).
The last presumption makes my blood boil. People spend a life-time specialising in teaching children (and adults) to read, with or without dyslexia. People like the reading guru Pernille Ripp whose daughter has issues reading do not deign to come up with easy platitudes in this area. If you’ve ever read the first few chapters of “Reader, come Home” you’ll be in awe of how anyone ever learns to read. And yet this parent, this father who professes to love his child is prepared to squander another 100 days to muddle around, just so that he can save face or something.
How do you, my readers, deal with this type of question? Are there other resources out there that are “parent” friendly? Are there better ways of broaching these conversations?