This post has been moved from my book-blog to this one
Man, I’ve re-written this article so many times. Who knew something like this could be so difficult.
My little brother. The baby of the family. A baby who is 195 cms worth of length. I think that translates to about 6’4″ for those of you who have not yet advanced to the metric system.
We go back a long way. In fact all the way back to the time when I was about 6,5 years old. I have no memory of him being born. In fact I have very few memories of him as a very small child other than the fact that he was really cute, I wanted to bite the top of his head and we would swing him between us down the long hill from church. He loved that.
My memories of my youngest brother do not really amount to much until the time our family moved to the US. He was around 7 years old at that time and his life was about to get really tough.
You know how some kids take to bullying like ducklings take to water. Well my baby brother had the great misfortune of meeting up with some of those kids. As a seven-year old boy my brother had three things that made him stand out. The first was that he was a gentle kid (he is now a gentle man) who did his best to avoid trouble. The second was that his English was poor due to us just arriving in the US. Finally, he has dyslexia. Three gifts for a bullier. Some kids and their parents I just want to beat to a pulp.
Five years of hell ensued. How did he respond to the bullying? For one thing he never changed from being a gentle person. He just wouldn’t give in and give up. He was fiercely protective of those he loved. At one time he even took on another kid for something that kid said to me. I didn’t stop the fight. In fact I figured it would probably give him credit with the other kids. But that was and is the kind of brave person he is. If someone he loves is being hurt, he will do his best to protect that person even if it means getting hurt himself.
It’s one thing to do something like that if you are good at it – whether you fight with words or physically. But my brother has never been one who has quick come-backs or been a good fighter. Granted, all he has to do is sit on you now and he’ll probably win, but still. Fighting with words and body has never been his strength. He has paid for that a great many times.
Why would that make him my hero? It’s all about love. His love for people is so great that he is willing to risk himself (and he knows he is risking himself) for them so they might hurt less.
Dyslexia is a strange syndrome. Some scientists even deny its existence and seem to think that all a dyslexic person needs to do is have reading intervention to “get over it”. Other scientists have found factors that indicate that dyslexia is a real thing. As a mother, I am going to state here and now that dyslexia is a very real thing.
The members of this family are fairly intelligent. My dyslexic daughter is no exception to that. In college he does well on her oral exams (at least thus far) and not so well on her written. It has been this way all his life. Sometimes that has caused laughter. When it comes to educational institutions anger, frustration and sadness have been more common emotions. We have even had teachers wondering if he was still dyslexic when he got to high school. The lack of knowledge among educators of what dyslexia entails is staggering.
The traits my daughter shows are:
Appears bright, highly intelligent, and articulate but unable to read, write, or spell at grade level.
Labelled lazy, careless, immature, “not trying hard enough.”
Isn’t “behind enough” or “bad enough” to be helped in the school setting.
Tests well orally, but not written.
Feels dumb; has poor self-esteem; easily frustrated and emotional about school reading or testing.
Difficulty sustaining attention.
Learns best through hands-on experience, demonstrations, experimentation, observation, and visual aids.
Confused by letters, numbers, words, sequences, or verbal explanations.
Reading or writing shows repetitions, additions, transpositions, omissions, substitutions, and reversals in letters, numbers and/or words.
Reads and rereads with little comprehension.
Spells phonetically and inconsistently.
Trouble with writing or copying; pencil grip is unusual; handwriting varies or is illegible.
Clumsy, uncoordinated, poor at ball or team sports; difficulties with fine and/or gross motor skills and tasks.
Often confuses left/right, over/under.
Computing math shows dependence on finger counting and other tricks; knows answers, but can’t do it on paper.
Can do arithmetic, but fails word problems; cannot grasp algebra.
Excellent long-term memory for experiences, locations, and faces.
Can be class trouble-maker (in the sense that he was often told to be quiet and stop asking questions).
Had unusually early or late developmental stages (talking, crawling, walking, tying shoes).
Prone to ear infections; sensitive to foods.
Unusually low tolerance for pain.
Strong sense of justice; emotionally sensitive; strives for perfection.
Mistakes and symptoms increase dramatically with confusion, time pressure, emotional stress, or poor health.
Having two brothers with dyslexia and a sister who worked/had worked at the Dyslexia Foundation in Norway, I knew what signs to look for and what needed to be done when it became apparent that dyslexia had joined our family. Early on I started telling educators what I suspected. Alas, being a parent with expert knowledge about one’s child does not in any way result in being taken seriously.
We went through kindergarten and seven years of Skjetten primary school doing their very best to ignore the problem and place all blame for failure on my daughter. For quite a few years home-schooling would probably have been the best solution for us (hind-sight knows all). It seemed as though I had to go through everything her teacher had taught over again at home. At home we had me read out loud the texts and take breaks when attention flagged. We were also able to discuss the topics we read and try out alternative ways of getting through the material.
As more and more written material had to be handed in, I helped her by going through his texts making sure he had remembered to punctuate, have a capital letter at the beginning of sentences, check spelling and split her sentences.
One of the problems for dyslexic with both reading and writing difficulties is that they tend to not punctuate. Not a single period, comma or capital letter in a whole paragraph. Add to that the letters that get turned around, words that are spelled phonetically, double and single consonants and more, and the need for someone to look through their work is obvious. I would read the text back to my daughter and ask her if that was what she meant. Sometimes we would laugh because her intended message was not the words on the page.
At times we quarreled about the meaning of the assignment. After a while, she realized that I needed to teach her how to decode the wording of assignments. Then we worked on how to set up an essay. Right away I need to tell you that I am absolutely not the best teacher when it comes to writing essays. Autism tends to take over and I write in bullets rather than paragraphs. But I do know what the textbooks state and that is what we worked with.
Poetry. Oh, how I hate analyzing poems. But we could work with the basics – spotting metaphors, allegories and type of rhyming. Analyzing other texts was no easier, but somehow all of this knowledge was placed into her head by us.
We read together. Homework and pleasure reading has taken hours and hours of our lives. Audiobooks and practicing reading texts that interested him added to her sense of accomplishment and pleasure.
Now she has school-books for the blind (when they are available). Other than that, my daughter scans texts to be read by her reading program. When she comes home we sometimes read through material and talk about what on earth these incredibly wordy scholars are talking about. Without auto-correct her spelling is still unusual. Modern technology has made life a whole lot simpler for the dyslectic (unless they are unfortunate enough to have the kind that completely messes with their sight).
Having a neurodivergent mother has in this instance been a good thing for my daughter – especially a neurodivergent mother with a love for words. I don’t know if we could have done the same thing if my interests had been otherwise. My daughter and I were extremely LUCKY that our loves and struggles could work together.