Tag Archive | dyslexia

Rescue us from norms!

It must have taken a lot of courage for Richard Macer to make the documentary about his son’s Dyslexia. (Hoping it will become available again soon) Especially at a time of his learning life when his future seemed to hang in jeopardy upon his SATs results. (A ridiculous practice I’ve condemned before – and which some schools and teachers are beginning to boycott) The family’s feelings were hinged on it. My heart went out to them.

Richard and son

In the programme they described some of what it’s like for a dyslexic in school, how inhibiting it can be in terms of academic progress, how their son’s brain seemed to work differently to others, as did dad’s, how this could be perceived either as a set back or a potential gift.

And I was screaming at the screen; ‘it doesn’t have to be like this’! No one’s future should be the result of performance in one moment of time at 11 years of age. It’s preposterous. And preposterous that the system has been set up like this and causes so many families so much distress. particularly families of dyslexic children for whom schooling fails so miserably.

Towards the end of the programme, after tears and relief that the son did okay in his SATs, dad made a comment about his son’s ‘faulty’ brain and I was really saddened to hear that. Because dyslexic brains are not ‘faulty’. And no one seems to be saying what’s glaringly obvious to me: That they are only ‘faulty’ within the context of schooling. Take the dyslexic out of school, take away the label Special Educational Needs, and meet the child’s individual needs in alternative ways (which should be open to everyone instead of the single track approach of academic practise that schools use) and the child can learn and achieve. Those dyslexics within the home educating community are proof of that.

The trouble with the system is that it measures to norms. It proposes a pattern of normal and then tries to make each child fit. Those that don’t fit are deemed as ‘behind’ or ‘failing’ or SEN. But what the heck is normal? And heaven preserve us from fitting it, for it is often those who don’t who go on to do great things; invent things, find cures, have ideas, create solutions. In fact a wonderful piece towards the end of the programme looked at a body of research to uphold the idea that our survival as a species is dependent on those abnormalities, dependent on those who can see beyond the norms and continue to diversify. It’s diversification we need for perpetuation – not normal!

So rescue us from norms, I say, celebrate those who are different – dyslexics among them, and see the limited schooling system for what it really is – the cloning of diverse intelligences into sad souless sameness.

And all the best to father and family.



You’re not finished yet

If you’ve read ‘A Funny Kind of Education’ you’ll remember me telling the story of a close friend and the terrible angst she experienced because of the neglect of her Dyslexic son in school. (Find it on the Books page)

Basically they’d written him off completely and he and a class of ‘disruptive’ others who no one cared about were told they were ‘unteachable’. Enough to make any one disruptive. As the lad said at the time; ‘what’s the point of even trying when they’ve already decided we’re not going to make the grade?’ He was willing to learn. But without support and understanding he was unable to in that climate.

She and I met for coffee the other day. Yep – we still do that together after all these years, still support each other

Trying to hide behind her glasses!

My dear friend trying to hide behind her glasses!

through the tough bits, and still swap notes about our ‘children’ now successfully out in the world despite our angst.

We were remembering the times back then when her worries were intense. Following the time described in the book  her young teen was farmed out of the school to do various other ‘activities’, none of which he wanted to do and none of which were really of any value. Except to keep him off the school stats, of course, as she sees it now. (She’s been with me too long!)

“The one thing that kept me going and kept my faith in him intact,” she said over cake – yep we still do that too, “was something you kept saying to me at the time when my doubts were uppermost.”

“What was that?” I was thinking back fast. I’ve made some terrible gaffes in the past.

“Well you were always adamant he was intelligent, even though dyslexia was hampering his results in school. But the best thing you kept saying was ‘he’s not finished yet’. It was so reassuring. And I think about that a lot now. Even in relation to myself and the things I still want to do’.

It’s a good one to keep by you for when you’re fretting over the kids or something you feel you’re not achieving. You can use it about schooling, home education or about your own personal development.

As an update, thanks to her continual support from home and working through stuff with him, her son went on to college where he received suitable help for his dyslexia, then Uni, graduated, has a good job. She kept her faith in him throughout and credits me with prompting her by say ‘what are his needs now?’ whenever she panicked about ‘the future’.

Her daughter whom she home schooled for a while (starting at the end of the book) has just completed her doctorate. That would not have been the case, she feels, if their education had been left in the hands of the system without parental help and belief.

So whether you home educate or your children are in school, if you’re wobbling over certain things not being achieved yet just remember; the kids are not finished yet. Stay on their side, keep believing and keep with their needs now.

And remember, you’re not finished yet either, whatever age you are!

Image rich education

seeking out pictures - a soothing stream and leaves

seeking out pictures – a soothing stream and leaves

Sometimes I just have to go seek out pictures! Writing can be very monochromatic as a medium, even when talking about the diversity of home education. I begin to hanker for other things to look at besides print.

So I totally get it when kids feel the same. Especially those who don’t readily take to reading but find it as enjoyable as I do a smear test! And there are some kids like that, especially those on the Dyslexic spectrum or those fidgety little people for whom sitting still is an anathema!

When education in schools first took off it was always related to words, especially the printed word. It had to be; it was a person’s only access to knowledge. And it was also part of that exclusive hierarchy where those who had access to reading – and therefore learning – were considered better than those who did not.

That’s no longer the case. Everyone has access to reading and knowledge. And skill in reading is not a direct indication of intelligence. There are all sorts of intelligences and I have known very intelligent children, with a lively, logical and analytical mental aptitude who find no joy in reading because their brains are wired in such a way to make reading as challenging as I’d find running marathons.

Home educating a Dyslexic child made me think about this a lot. And think about ways in which learning, in our media and image rich culture today, no longer needs to depend on print. Although print would inevitably be part of it – it could be a small part at the beginning, building as skill and maturity grew. And we found other ways to learn through practical, experiential, image rich, hands-on opportunities. And that was even before the wonders of YouTube, a fabulous font of knowledge and understanding available through film clips.

For far too long children’s learning has been manifested through the narrow medium (by today’s standards) of the written word. I almost see the old fashioned text and exercise book method (or Web research which is just as bad for a dyslexic if not worse as there’s more to trawl through) needing extinction. Typing with Word is definitely less laborious for children who find writing difficult, but we could still lessen written methods of learning in favour of more image rich ones now accessible. Just because it isn’t reading and writing doesn’t mean it’s not learning, despite the snobbery still attached to those methods!

For many children their learning is inhibited by print. Formats like YouTube open access to learning in ways we didn’t previously have. Many home educating families have told me that their children didn’t practise formal written methods of learning until they were much older yet still went on to write accomplished essays and do Uni work. So we can seek alternative ways to enhance our children’s understanding and knowledge which don’t rely on print.

Meanwhile, I’m off to seek out pictures, away from print, and a visit to the theatre to see my eldest in a production of The Snow Queen. If you’re in Brighton seek it out at The New Venture Theatre and enjoy a print free story with the kids which is bound to inspire! Stories don’t always have to be read – from Snow Queen to Shakespeare – which you can even get in Manga! (Search ‘dyslexia’ for other posts on the subject)

Chelsea playing Gerda in The Snow Queen

How a parent helped her child through school by knowing how home education works

Messages from readers are such a joy to receive – most of them anyway!

I had another recently from a parent telling me how useful my posts were in helping them keep a balanced view of their child’s education.

The interesting thing was that it came from a parent with a child in school; the posts about home education helped keep schooling in perspective too.

One of my best friends was delighted to hear this – she’s been telling me the same thing for years; how we helped her see education a bit differently and consequently support her child in school. So her words have been endorsed – she had the pleasure of saying ‘I told you so’ when I rang her today!

She had a dyslexic child who had the classic labels; ‘lazy’ ‘thick’ daubed onto him in class. But she had me in her other ear saying that they were wrong. Hers was a bright child who was just not having his learning needs met by a system which disregards individuals (and very often dyslexics), clumps everybody together within a narrow framework of measurement then, when the obvious happens and some don’t achieve, say it’s all the kids’ fault.

It’s not, but she, like most parents, assumed all teachers and schools knew what they were about.

Sadly, not always, they also have agendas other than the needs of an individual child. I’ve worked in them – that’s how I know – and that’s one of the things I told her.

I also know that there’s no magic training that makes a person a good teacher, no magic technique for teaching that makes teachers recognise children’s needs more intuitively than many parents, and most teachers have no training in dealing with children with special needs anyway.

If you’ve got a child who fits happily within the very narrow criteria schools use for measuring success, you’re very lucky.

Most children don’t actually fit, but that doesn’t mean they ‘fail’ either; instead they are failed by this system.

Anyway, thanks to her faith in her child, her intuition (and my words, she says) she enabled him to succeed against awful odds, go onto Uni and he’s now started his first job. So I asked her what were some of the things she did as a result of our conversations and her observation of our home education that supported them through the many challenges they faced within the school system.

These are some of the points she mentioned, which we’d talked about when we were homeschooling:

  • Stay on the side of the child (particularly when the child feels the school is not), listen to them, believe in them, rather than unquestioningly believing what the school wants you to believe.
  • Remain focussed on the needs of your child. Not on the needs of the institution. Basically we should remember that the school is there to serve the education of your child – your child is not there to serve the school! Challenge them!
  • Understand that children take different amounts of time to learn something, gain skills, to develop and mature. This is quite normal and they are not abnormal if they don’t fit into a prescribed and generalised timeframe. Just because a child hasn’t learnt something when the curriculum says they should, does not mean they’ll never learn it, or that they’re failures, so don’t panic or worry or pressurise. Try and keep it lightweight and be patient.
  • Listen to your guts and your intuition and your child. If you sense something is wrong then it probably is.
  • Don’t always assume that the school and the teachers are right, are professional, or are to be unwaveringly respected. We are trained in obedience to these institutions (banks, schools, health care centres spring to mind). That’s how celebs got away with abuse – no one could believe that these icons weren’t right or good. Basically we know and respect when someone’s doing a good job – and when they’re not. All professionals have to earn respect by their continued integrity and respectful behaviour. Question them if it’s not.

Home educators are told that they have to by law provide an education suitable to a child’s age, ability and aptitude and any special educational needs they may have. I often wonder just how many schools really do that!

‘Dyslexic: My Secret Past’

Never thought I’d say this about a pop star – but what a courageous man Shane Lynch of Boyzone is!

Heartfelt thanks go to him for taking the enormous and emotive step of publicising his struggle with reading in the programme on Channel Five last night; Dyslexic – My Secret Past. (http://www.channel5.com/shows/my-secret-past/episodes/shane-lynch-dyslexic)

We need far more like him to make it not a secret. And to make it nothing to be ashamed of.

It’s school’s fault it was considered shameful. For years those of us who can read easily put down those who couldn’t, considering them to be not as intelligent.

But thanks to the gallant attempts of people like Shane, highlighting the problem, maybe us readers will be put in our place a little bit.

For maybe it is us who are the unintelligent ones – especially some of the teachers – who have assumed that children who can’t read are stupid or lazy. Because it’s a stupid assumption on our part to think that kids who can’t read would choose to sit in a classroom not being able to do what thirty of their other mates can do and take the humiliation because of it. No one would choose that.

Look at it another way; would brilliant singer/song writers like Shane call us stupid or lazy because we couldn’t sing or write songs? Of course not. Yet reading is a skill just like singing – it is NOT a reflection of a person’s intelligence. Reading is a skill that needs certain conditions in the way our brain interprets print to be present. Singing is a skill that needs certain conditions – like an acute ear for pitch and good vocal chords for a start – to be present. That’s all…you see where I’m coming from.

Singing is a skill – not an indication of how clever we are overall. Reading is a skill just the same. We are NOT unintelligent because we can’t sing. We are NOT unintelligent because we can’t read.

The trouble is, learning and education in schools has been heavily reliant on print. You’d think in this day and age they could do something more variable. But because of that approach school has become an increasing nightmare for many children, thousands of dyslexics among them.

And that’s why many parents with dyslexic children are turning to home education.  Home educating means that you can approach a child’s learning in so many other ways which do not rely on the printed word and which are more suited to their needs. Experimental ways, practical ways, experiential or conversational ways, visual or image heavy – rather than print heavy – ways. There are so many different approaches you can take to learning, other than through reading and writing. Home education gives you the opportunity to turn a dyslexic child’s education from a nightmare in print to a fulfilling success. We need the same choice of approaches in schools and to lose the stigma attached to non-reading.

Thank you Shane for continuing to highlight the difficult and emotive issue of not being able to grasp the skill of reading in a school setting. For it is only in a school setting that it really impacts on education.

Dyslexics, like all of us, have other incredible skills just like Shane and his singing and song writing. It’s those which need focussing on, not one small inability to read. And it is only the inability in the rest of us, teachers among them, to see that which makes it such a problem for so many children.

Useful links on Dyslexia from the web:









Home education – making learning a lot more fair

The little girl in the story in June 2005

Once there was a little girl whose zest for life was unstoppable. She was fascinated with the world around her, loved to explore and loved books and stories – could never have enough of being read to.

When she was four she looked forward to school and more books and more learning activities but the only thing they seemed to do was sitting and writing and her zest turned to hatred.

So her parents decided to home educate.

Once away from school, and the pressure of being forced to read and write before she was ready, her love of books returned. She carted more home from the library than she could carry. She pestered to be read to, not only stories but non-fiction as well. Her appetite for knowledge and learning grew daily. She used the computer. She pieced together the language she needed. Her family kept her love of using books alive.

But although she loved them she still couldn’t seem to read well enough to enjoy it herself. And any pressure to help her overcome this killed the joy. Having experienced it before her parents recognised her dyslexia and tried to keep the pressure off and the pleasure on, during her home school years. She didn’t manage to read a whole book comfortably till she was thirteen but that didn’t matter in a home school environment. She still enjoyed them. She was clearly intelligent, motivated and achieving. At sixteen the local college welcomed her with open arms.

Although confident and competent she realised that compared to the others her reading speed was extremely slow. There were insinuations from others (staff included) that her ability was ‘poor’ – she felt they thought she was a bit dim – or lazy. Dyslexia is an excuse – not a reason isn’t it? Anyone who can’t read fast must be a bit dim, mustn’t they?

Despite this she battled on with her work, eventually passing maths and English exams after many painful re-sits, and with support that was as useful as a paper shopping trolley. In fact it was verging on destructive. But she went on to get good grades overall and got into the Uni of her first choice, determined to continue her love of learning there.

And it was there that she was officially tested for dyslexia and had it confirmed. And had an overwhelming sense of relief that she wasn’t just dim after all. In fact, as I told my lovely daughter, it is doubly incredible that she has achieved what she has. Because for a dyslexic to try and achieve in a system designed for non-dyslexics is the same as competing in a running race against two legged people when you’ve only got one! As the Paralympics illustrate – it isn’t fair.

By home educating we made it a lot more fair! And best of all we kept her love of books and learning alive.

(Look out for more on our story in my new book A FUNNY KIND OF EDUCATION out soon)

Links from the web on Dyslexia – if you haven’t already watched it the programme by Kara Tointon on Youtube is worth a watch:








There’s no such thing as Dyslexia?!

How often have I come across that shocking attitude – quite often from people in education!

So it is totally wonderful to have programmes like ‘Growing Children – Dyslexia’ on BBC 4 last night, highlighting and increasing our understanding of it.

The appalling attitude we have had to children who interpret the symbols to read and write differently from others is akin to the racism we had pre-sixties. These children were considered ignorant because they couldn’t read as easily as others, and even though we now know that Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, some people still hold that attitude from the dark ages.

I repeat, for those who still doubt; Dyslexia – and/or difficulty with reading – is NOT a reflection of a person’s intelligence – or lack of it. Thankfully programmes like these are showing us why.

During our home educating years we came across many families who’d withdrawn dyslexic children from school because they received no help with their dyslexia. In fact most teachers are not trained to recognise it let alone deal with it.

But by home educating you can remove many of the situations that children find themselves in at school which make coping with dyslexia so hard. You can give children all the time they need to learn to read. You can approach their learning in a multitude of ways – not only via print – but with the help of multi-media and in multi sensory ways. You can allow them to learn in an environment that is free from the distractions found in schools which dyslexics find so hard to overcome and maintain focus. You can nurture a child’s self esteem – so important for achievement – and prevent it from being eroded by being in a group of people who seem to be surging ahead with a skill whilst you’re standing still.

Out of school learning can be approached in ways that help students see that dyslexia doesn’t have to be so big a problem. And as was identified in the programme, dyslexics often have special talents which out of school can have time devoted to them, developing achievement in other areas which promotes self confidence. We saw dyslexic children who were home educated go on to achieve the same as other children despite their dyslexia, some going onto university, which the parents doubted would have been the outcome had they remained in school.

It’s a fascinating programme (worth watching on iplayer) that really helps us understand that being dyslexic is nothing to do with intelligence, but everything to do with the fact that all kids have the right to the learning approaches that suit them best.

And the ignorance lies with the people who fail to see that.

(Click on my Dyslexia tag to find other stories about Dyslexia)

Other links round the web:






How many teachers have ‘learning difficulties’?

It’s uncanny how many dyslexic children you come across when home educating. Although maybe not – when you read stuff like this;

Almost two thirds of parents of dyslexic children (61%) said their child had to wait a year for help after being diagnosed, a report suggests.

Of 450 parents surveyed for the charity Dyslexia Action, 90% said teachers lacked awareness of the condition’. (See the full article here)

It’s a sad fact that if you don’t suit the systematic schooling that takes place in the classroom you’re unlikely to get an alternative. Thank goodness for home education; it rescues many of the children with dyslexia and allows them a different approach or more time to learn.

It seemed obvious to me, when I worked in a classroom, that if I had a bright, intelligent, cooperative kid who was failing to learn to read than I must be doing something wrong and needed to change my approach or find out why. But it appears most teachers don’t think like that. They like to think there must be something wrong with the children.

I also thought that it wasn’t so much that children had learning difficulties, it was that the system had difficulty with finding the right approach to enable them to learn. But I knew I was a bit weird thinking that.

The problem for children who cannot achieve in the way schools want them to achieve is that the blame is put all at their door rather than with the schooling. This eventually makes kids think that there must be something wrong with them and erodes their confidence and self esteem. That situation can cause damage that takes a hell of a lot of healing.

But, in most cases, if children are given different ways to approach their learning, as many home educating parents know, then often so-called difficulties can disappear. So much so that ‘learning difficulties’ don’t exist, except in exceptional circumstances, once you take the learner out of school.

Sometimes I felt like standing on the rooftops with a loud hailer and shouting DON’T BE SO NARROW MINDED! THERE’S MORE THAN ONE WAY OF LEARNING!

But I didn’t. We just quietly home educated instead. Home educating enabled both of our children to overcome challenges they faced, one particularly with reading (didn’t read a complete book till she was thirteen – now just got Distinctions at college and is on her way to Uni). We didn’t want to label it a problem, just something we needed to work around.

What we have had recently is huge problems with the college; in getting the tutors to think about changing their approaches to help students, which didn’t seem to have occurred to them!

Which leads me to ask especially in the light of this article; is it some of the teachers, rather than the students, who actually have the difficulties with learning!

Don’t Call Me Stupid repeated.

‘Being dyslexic doesn’t mean you’re stupid or thick. It just means that you have to be taught in a certain way that suits your brain’.

These are Kara Tointon’s words, spoken bravely on her programme ‘Don’t Call Me Stupid’ on BBC3 which illustrates the problems for people with dyslexia. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vy8c7

I’m so glad it’s been repeated. It needs showing over and over. Until people stop being so bigoted and superior about a condition they would like to label laziness.

This courageous description shows what it’s actually like not to be able to read and learn at the same rate as other people and how associated difficulties can affect the whole of a life.

People who have never experienced dyslexia first hand can be blind and dismissive. It’s much easier to blame a child than blame the adults responsible. Teachers shout at kids to pay attention when they already are, as Kara describes. So we desperately need programmes like this to keep highlighting how real the condition is. And how profoundly affected so many children are and how they suffer from a system in school which fails to address their difficulties.

Kara’s absolutely right; kids need to be taught in a way that suits them. But in our narrow and rigid system we have as much hope of that as we have of fuel being a penny a litre!

Unless you choose to home educate, of course, as many parents with Dyslexic children decide to do. But that’s not an option for all. What we really need is to stop forcing our kids to wear academic straightjackets and start educating their individualities. Then there would be no difficulties.

It’s going to be shown again, so if you missed it check out the next time on the BBC3 website. And help raise awareness and understanding of the gruelling challenge for dyslexic kids in school. And maybe even fight to get that changed.

Kara also said that everyone has that special something to give but school is not necessarily going to be the place to find it. If you’re dyslexic you’ll be lucky to merely survive with your self esteem intact, let alone discover your special something!

(You’ll find some heart warming stories about people coping with their dyslexia in the comments on the original post Don’t Call Me Stupid after it was first shown in November 2010. And more posts on dyslexia in December 2010 and January and February this year. Or just click the Dyslexia Tag to the left under ‘Here’s what I talk about’. )

The Gift of Dyslexia


After talking about Proust and the Squid, a book to help people understand the dyslexic brain, I feel I ought to mention again ‘The Gift of Dyslexia’ by Ronald Davis just in case anyone missed it when it was mentioned in the blogs and comments earlier in the year. It is the most uplifting book that changes the way we think about children – or anyone for that matter – who cannot easily read. You’ll find more about this work here; http://www.davislearningfoundation.org.uk/aboutus.htm