A week in my life from twelve years ago (part 2)


I found the following pages that I wrote around twelve years ago. This was long before I became a mother; long before my child was in the school system and long before she was found to be dyslexic. I was around ladies who had been wounded in childhood, and through their own tenacity, had survived. I was around women over eighty whom I wanted to emulate in older years. Apparently, I never did like party plans! Reading through my summary of this particular week has me convinced that there are signposts along the way, indicating where we shall find ourselves, and who we are destined to become.

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‘Sunday, I attended a writer’s meeting. A real estate agent talked about his former life as an English teacher. He apparently loathed it. His daughter-in-law then introduced herself, and I desperately wanted to interrupt her. There was no love for her chosen teaching career, and certainly none for her students. “You can’t show them up in front of the class anymore, they believe it’s humiliating! Some of them can’t read or spell properly. In kindergarten they knew that they were failures. Some of them, however, refuse to face facts… If you don’t fit into society and it’s expectations, you will be discarded.” I shot my hand up, feeling like a child in front of this ferocious creature. I talked about the excellent literacy program at the Exodus Foundation, and sweetly inquired as to whether the students had access to anything similar where she taught? Turns out, she was the bloody remedial teacher! I commented that kids have to take in so much these days, and she was un-moved. She used big words, laughing, “some don’t even know the meaning of preposition, and get similes confused!” Oh the horror! I was livid, and ranted under my breath that using big words doesn’t make you clever, nor a writer.

In a lapse of sanity, I agreed to go to a party plan event at a friend’s. My friend is a beautiful, intelligent woman with raven coils setting off a heart-shaped face. Poor darling is surrounded by antiquated ideals and suffocating domesticity. The women gathered were apparently school mums, though in truth, I don’t think that half of them were friends to themselves. They glared as I entered the living room, and looked me up and down. I demurely found a place to sit amongst the humourless women. They chatted amongst themselves about what my friend had in her home. The features, the furniture, the carpet. What they needed to renovate in their own homes. Items that I could buy down the street for $1.00 were being ordered at $40. The women glanced at each other’s order forms, to see who was getting what. I felt like sticking a fork in my eye. I felt like grabbing my friend’s hand and running like the wind away from this hell and these horrid women.

Monday was a better day. I kept a friend company by accompanying him on his truck as he made deliveries, my little dog in my lap. We had a great time cruising Sydney’s highways. I then raced to Lenka’s puppet show at the University of Technology. Lenka is a famous Czech puppeteer, and her work was featured in the movie, Amadeus. I met many fringe-dwellers and artists, as well as Koori friends. Aboriginal elder, Uncle Percy, and sweet Koori healer Yangamarra piled into our car afterward. Uncle Percy sang whilst Yangamarra drummed.

What a week it has been! Some hours were forthright and exhilarating. Some were a drudge, which I frankly resented spending precious moments of my life on. It all adds to the tapestry of life! You realize who and what you want to become through all these experiences.’

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Brain Week, University and Hope


We have had a dizzying week, filled with grace, learning and love. We had a mum and her son come to stay for a little while. They have been on the road for almost a year, and are finding it difficult to locate permanent housing. One day we shall look back with horror that a single mum and her children found it so tough to secure housing. I could think of nobody with such a vested interest in being the perfect tenant. They are travelling South, and I pray that they find what they are looking for. Everybody deserves a permanent home.

My daughter attended a robotics lecture and tour at Sydney University this week, and also went to a Brain Week Open Day at UNSW. She loved being on campus, and was fascinated by all she saw.

IMG_6521This is a picture of her exquisite and beautiful brain activity! I love the violet!

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Casula Powerhouse, Paul Trefry, 'Homeless Still Human.'
Casula Powerhouse,
Paul Trefry, ‘Homeless Still Human.’

My daughter felt emotional as she observed this sculpture, looking deep into his eyes. Everybody deserves permanent housing.

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I attended dinner for a dear friend’s birthday and was delighted that Hannah Erika Music were playing. It was a sublime night. I met a designer, who disclosed that she is dyslexic, and her dream is to empower young people who have dyslexia. I can’t wait to see the glorious clothing she produces after she sets up her business. It is important that dyslexic kids hear of such adults, and have the chance to tour universities, attend workshops and see all the opportunities that are available to them. By ten, most have had deflating experiences and had trials beyond what an adult could comfortably endure. My child loves science, art, music and drama among many other interests. I know she will succeed in whatever she chooses to do in life, not in spite of her dyslexia, but from it. She already thinks outside the box, is extraordinarily creative and curious. These qualities will hold her in good stead.

We also saw a beautiful performance at the Seymour Centre, of Huang Yi and Kuka My daughter asked if the performers had fun coming up with the choreography between themselves and the robot (Kuka). Huang Yi answered an emphatic yes, and went on to tell her that he believed in his dream, and found others who did too. He told her to never let go of her dreams. It was lovely advice to give a little girl with a bucketful of hope.

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Lastly, I had to share the recipe for these fruit balls that my friend made. They are amazing! Mix Coconut, Almond Meal, Honey, Vanilla Essence, Lime juice and peel and Chia seeds together and roll into balls.

 

A Whirlwind Week


On Sunday, we watched a short film that Rev. Bill Crews is putting into a festival. It centred around the homeless residing in two parks near Central Station. How it must feel to be out in the elements in heatwaves and bitter cold… Many in society have a tenuous grip on their security, and it would take but retrenchment or ill health to plummet them into the homeless community. Perhaps that is why many look away. Fear will do that. A lady talked about her daughter’s high school, how they went to one of the parks, armed with sleeping bags. The kids asked questions and listened to the people table their stories. The people became human beings with back-stories, rather than ‘the homeless.’ What a wonderful thing to do!

In the evening, I took my daughter to Govinda’s, a vegetarian restaurant in the city. My daughter proudly ate a lettuce leaf, and some sunflower seeds, and then devoured a bowl of ice cream! She has promised me that she will try new food every day, and I am holding her to it! It would be great to expand her repertoire from beyond Vegemite, apples and Lavash crackers! Okay, she does eat more than that, though barely. Kids can become fixed with their eating habits. I have found that when I leave it up to my daughter to uncover the joy of a new food, it ends much more happily than if I had forced her to try it!

On Monday, I was waiting for the bus with my daughter, to go to drama class. The lady I befriended at the bus stop a few weeks ago pulled over and offered us a lift. Bless her, she went out of her way to take us to the train station. My daughter was impressed with her Hello Kitty seat covers and the delicious air conditioning.  It beat waiting in the blazing sun! Australia is having a very hot week! How wonderful it is when strangers become friends.

We were at a show yesterday, and I was seated next to a stranger. She was an older lady, and she asked whether my daughter was having a  day off school. I explained how she is home schooled, and that it has been great for her dyslexia, to be able to take her time. She told me about her grandson, and how he is dyslexic. Sadly, he has no confidence in his abilities, and left school early. I was able to give her some details about the Exodus Tutorial Centre-among other resources -whom may be able to help. Her eyes lit up, and I knew it was not by accident that we were seated together. She lives not far from me either! Life is a strange and wonderful thing!

It has been a whirlwind week, and it is only Wednesday! More activities have been heaped onto my plate, and at the moment, I am eager for them. I haven’t started the medication for my nerve pain as yet. I have been warned by my doctor and those on it, that whilst it is effective, it will certainly cause drowsiness. I am making hay whilst the sun shines! It is going to be factored in within the next few weeks, making home time necessary. Life is cyclical, isn’t it? I am in the season of crazy-busy, and within a month, I will be in the cycle of repose whilst I get used to this new medicine. Nothing lasts forever; not the whirlwind, nor the sleepiness. Its a matter of adapting to your situation.

 

 

 

 

Dyslexia Empowerment Week


It is Dyslexia Empowerment Week, and the movement in Australia is getting bigger, our collective voice, louder. Munchkin and I attended Light it Up Red last Thursday night in Sydney. The State Library, Sydney Town Hall and the teeth on the iconic entrance to Luna Park were lit red for the occasion.

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I struggle to find words to describe what it meant to the kids to see our beautiful landmark’s lit up in honour of them. I have heard many stories of the hell these families have endured. I know first-hand. I know what it is to be called stupid, and be dismissed. I know what it takes to rebuild yourself. I talked with a teacher who had been educated overseas, and she said that Australia is around thirty years behind the rest of the world regarding awareness of dyslexia in our schools. We started off at the State Library, and walked around to Sydney Town Hall. The kids walked ahead as a group, all dressed in red, having snatched the colour  away from the entrenched symbolism of the dreaded corrective red pen. I saw these kids make a bus out of a discarded cardboard box, and then turn the cardboard into a plane which was sound and actually flew. These kids are creative and downright extraordinary. Things are slowly changing, and I am proud to bear witness to the advent of a new way of educating these kids. Early intervention in our schools, more funding and installation of programmes that have been proven to work overseas… These are some of the steps required to ensure that these kids aren’t left behind. It was a magical night out in Sydney, made more so by the following interaction. There was a big event on inside Sydney Town Hall, and a red carpet had been rolled out on the steps leading to the grand venue. When we showed up to see the red lighting, some of the kids posed at the top of the red carpet. A fellow smiled and said that they must be important. “They are mate,” one of the dad’s smiled. “These are dyslexic kids.” It isn’t a label for these kids. It is a title to be proud of.

Light it Red for Dyslexia in Australia


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Dyslexia Support Australia are a wonderful group of supportive people who have been through it all. I know from personal experience the immense frustration and heartache in sourcing adequate help for a dyslexic child, and it was behind my decision to home school. Many parents would dearly like the following to be a priority within the education system.

  1. Diagnosis at the earliest age possible.
  2. Science/evidence-based interventions and school’s guiding parents rather than the reverse.
  3. In order to support the above priorities, make available further training so that teachers can identify dyslexic students and provide effective reading instruction.

Light it Red is a wonderful initiative where landmarks and monuments around Australia shall be lit red. The dreaded red pen used to mark work at school is well-known to dyslexic students. It has been a symbol of corrections and crosses through their work. It is being reclaimed as an empowering colour, a colour of hope and support. Wear red, and get along to one of the events taking place on October 15th! Upload your pics to https://www.facebook.com/DyslexiaAwarenessAustralia

Behind the Smile  has written an exquisite piece on what it is like to be dyslexic here.

Joy


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 We went on a tour of our town’s annual art show. It was a thrill to see the names of friend’s amongst the talented artists. My little girl was buoyant. She has settled into the new regime of home schooling superbly, and her confidence has been lifted. To be able to do things in her own time means so much for a dyslexic kid. The pressure has lifted. She ran in to find me that morning, squealing that we had new baby guinea pigs. We certainly did! Five in all.

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They are a bit cute!

Snowball is the father. Here he is munching on a corn cob. He broke into the girl's hutch, hence the surprise conception!
Snowball is the father. Here he is munching on a corn cob. He broke into the girl’s hutch, hence the surprise conception!

My little girl, I love hearing you read. I love feeling your  joy when you “get” a word. I  look forward to seeing what you are going to do in this world. I know guinea pigs, music and art will feature throughout your life, as well as birds and trees!  I am delighted that you are coming into your own. You aren’t dyslexic. Rather, you have dyslexia. It is extraordinary how much music and art, compassion and strength can be found in one little girl. I am sad about the times you felt alone, frustrated and exhausted from the dyslexia. I will do everything in my power to make sure that is never the case again. We are able to sound out words, and spell them in a song. If you go to a workshop and are struggling, the teacher lets you use symbols rather than words. It is working.

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Education and Dyslexia


I asked on a home schooling dyslexic forum what they wanted educators to know about their children’s struggles. The response was overwhelming.
One parent talked of the lack of understanding that a dyslexic’s brain is wired differently and that it’s a good thing! It gives them great advantages to be able to think outside the box, but the trade-off is that language is harder to grasp. There is great concern regarding the ability of school’s to correctly diagnose dyslexia. One mum asked every year from kindy to Grade 4 whether her child might have dyslexia. The answer was always “no,” and he was never tested. Private testing confirmed he was. He has now been home schooled for five years and has no belief in himself, and sadly has a massive resistance to learning. He was one of six children in his year who weren’t diagnosed at school.

Another mum said that her child started having anxiety and low confidence. She is now home schooling and has happily discovered that there is a lot less stress. Her seven-year old son has many strengths, but at school he was constantly told what he couldn’t do. One lady mentioned that her mother fought the fight with dyslexia 50 years ago. Her husband’s aunt, 45 years ago, and her MIL 40 years prior. This lady suffered throughout school 20 years ago. “Its getting worse instead of better…and still they do nothing.” One mum stated that there are “accusations of laziness and lack of effort of child. Very little actual positive help. Little understanding of dyslexia and the anxiety it produces. I am now home schooling due to dyslexia and anxiety-anxiety greatly worsened by a system unwilling to understand or help, just blame.”

Another lady said, “isn’t it fascinating how curious they are? My kids are all clever in their own ways, but it is my dyslexic girl who is the most curious…Always asking why? How? What?Where? That’s why home schooling is working for her…She is always exploring and searching for information on any number of topics. ” One mum said, “I had my son’s teacher tell me that I never read books to him.”

Tara said, “Schools should know that more time without explicit MSL instruction or doing still more of what doesn’t work will not get a different result. It will create learned helplessness. That all their collective experiences don’t add to squat in relation to my child if they haven’t ever researched and successfully transitioned a dyslexic child from non-reader to reader. A child is always doing the best that they can and if they are not fully participating, that is a flag that there is support needed.”

This from a student teacher, “This is my fourth year of a B.Ed Primary. I struggled at school, but always wanted to be a teacher. I found that I learned better at TAFE than at Uni. Why? Because it is hands on. First year of Uni, I discovered that I have mild dyslexia and dysgraphia. Finally I knew why I had struggled. However, I feel Uni and especially schools (as I do pracs each year), do not comprehend what dyslexia is and how a dyslexic person learns!”
I loved this encouraging post from Homeschooling Downunder

I will end with one of my heroines, Jackie French

Homeschooling and Dyslexia


The day the resources arrived. The little girl was so excited!
The day the resources arrived. The little girl was so excited!

The mother would never forget the moment she realized our education system had few resources for dyslexic kids. She was talking to the teacher, her daughter outside, swinging her little legs to and fro. “Did I do okay Mummy? Are you proud of me?” Her mother smiled and replied that she was very proud of her, and that she had done very well. She could see the big picture, as parents are privy to. She could see her daughter being broken and scarred by the labels already stuck onto her skin, like a crude tattoo. If a child with dyslexia isn’t given adequate assistance by the time they reach adolescence, their view of themselves can be tragically aligned to their ability to learn within a system that won’t cater to them.

The mother enlisted the private tutor, and along the way, found another remarkable mentor. Elizabeth was an art teacher within the education department for a very long time. She resigned, and went into private practice, using a variety of modalities. She asked the mother to observe where the daughter’s eyes travelled when asked a question. “To the left,” her mother replied. Elizabeth explained that the little girl began to process information from the upper left of her eyes. “Does she have difficulty copying notes off the board, and does she have messy handwriting?” “Yes,” the mother replied. “She is having trouble coordinating what her eyes are seeing with her body movements. Reading off a board or piece of paper in front of her is bound to fail.” She put a coloured piece of paper-a complex word written on it- to the left of the child’s vision, and the child sighted it. Elizabeth then turned it over and asked the child to say the word. Not only could she say it, but she spelt it backwards and forwards! How can you adequately thank people who are giving a child the gift of self-esteem, dignity and a passion for learning? Elizabeth gave the mother exercises to do with the child at home. Even crawling around the floor would help.

The mother knew what she had to do. She studied the curriculum and designated outcomes for her daughter’s year, and developed a lesson plan, using resources and tutors she had uncovered. A home schooling mum she was blessed to befriend helped her. The education department came out and interviewed both her and her daughter, and she was given the go-ahead. Her registration came through toward the end of last year, and then it became real. She was terrified. Frightened of failing her daughter, of the enormity of the task ahead. She had to do it. Local schools weren’t equipped to accommodate dyslexic students. The competition started early, being judged by their class on their ability to write out their own speeches, then recite them publicly. After a month of home-schooling, her mother can already see the benefits. The child speaks with ease amongst adults and children alike. Her self-esteem has been lifted, and she is eager to learn. She often gets to her workbooks before her mother in the mornings. When she is stuck on a sentence, her mother is right there, to read it out. Able to learn on her terms, and in her own time. She has a full social life, to the extent that a day at home with just her mother is factored in. Rather than witnessing the reducing of a child, her mother is watching her grow.

Once Upon a Time… A Dyslexic’s Tale


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Once upon a time, there lived a little girl. She created stories in her head, and regaled the class with her imagery and passion when relaying the tales. She found writing frustrating, and often wrote words backwards. She couldn’t spell. She fumbled along, until a private high school deemed her intolerably stupid; irretrievably incapable. She was broken by fourteen. She knew she was intelligent, not least because of all the dragons she outwitted, laying in wait along her path. At fifteen she resumed school via distance education. Able to learn in her own time, she excelled. She could look up words, and go over her writing until she felt it was right. She went on to write books, and edit other people’s essays. It made her angry, that people had labelled her and deemed her to be unteachable.

The years passed, and she went on to have a daughter. Determined to do all the right things, she ate well whilst pregnant, and offered her unborn a plethora of baby literature. By the time her daughter drew her first breath, her mother had a library of children’s books waiting for her. She read to her day and night, and her daughter loved the puppets and actions her mother performed to go along with the story. Her mother took her to the Opera House regularly, as well as the Sydney Theatre at Walsh Bay to see those books come to life. This child was so active, and so very curious, her mother felt assured that she would have no trouble when she started school.

 

It became clear early in kindergarten that this child was struggling. She wasn’t “getting” her phonic words, and was struggling to read whilst other children soared through the levels. Prescribed glasses were not to be the answer her mother had hoped. Alone and concerned, her mother sought the help of a private speech therapist. Dyslexia was suggested. Comprehensive testing occurred at the start of Year One, and it was confirmed. Her daughter’s language skills were above 95% of her peers, thus she had advanced language skills for her age. Her auditory memory was also excellent. The brain just had difficulty deciphering the information the eye was receiving. Her daughter’s self-esteem plummeted. She was offered a place on Reading Recovery, but it came to an end after a few weeks. School days were represented by frustration, and a weariness descended on her daughter. She had double the work of other children as she needed to complete set work from the speech pathologist as well. Headaches commonly came upon her. Her mother didn’t make her write out Christmas cards, as it proved too tiring. She would stand near her and whisper what a sign said when they were out together with other kids on outings and excursions.

Year Two began with the teacher remarking that they couldn’t help a dyslexic child. She said this child would always struggle at school, and would have a hard time with all sound words. She said she would get a job of some description later in life, as she had an agreeable personality. When the possibility of home schooling was mentioned, it was dismissed. The mother must keep her at school for the social aspect. The child had another assessment, and the results were marked dyslexia. The report insisted that the school and this centre must work together to support the child. The mother researched on her own, a lonely and frightening responsibility descending on her shoulders. She found an excellent program, her daughter eagerly rising each Saturday morning in anticipation. At her first assessment, the little girl cried, feeling exposed. The tutor was so very compassionate, having had over twenty years experience as a teacher. The mother and tutor had to start back at kindergarten level to teach her the basics. The child was so tired. Triple the workload of other kids. Sometimes she cried from the frustration. Sometimes her mother did as well. She worked so hard. The teacher approached the mother. She said the girl was doing extremely well with her reading and writing. She was beyond a basic level, but indicated that in her report she would mark her on the bottom rung so her third grade teacher would have no expectations of her. “No!” her mother screamed inside her head, “I want everyone to see who she is, without labels. This child was born to soar!” History repeating itself. This mother would be damned if she was going to let that happen…
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