Saturday, 3 August 2013

Introducing Mr L

We’re an interesting family.  Well, by interesting I mean odd, confusing, complex.  And by family I guess I mean tribe – at least by some people’s standards! 

A while ago I heard the term “rainbow family” and that descries us pretty well.

We have four children, but for now I’ll just tell you about one . . .

 L - the eldest - is now 14, he went to a pre-school nursery for about 8 months, but it just didn’t work.  He learns by discussing, by picking apart an idea to see how and why it works.  We have conversations that start off about aliens and end up about microbiology.  At nursery they just couldn’t deal with that.  They didn’t understand L, and had no intention of trying to.
When we took L out of nursery he hated the idea of reading.  He’d been told he was “too young” to do some worksheets and that thought stuck with him.  We went gently, but after a while it was clear that he just didn’t get phonics – we could spend a morning playing games and looking at things that started with “a”, and then the next day he wouldn’t remember the sound of the letter at all. 
“Oh well” we thought, he was four.  We had plenty of time.  By six he still didn’t get reading.  We’d tried “look and say” – which is a whole word approach, he managed to learn the words “my name is L” but that took us about six months.  Phonics was no good at all, we had 15 sounds matched to letters, but as soon as he mastered a new one he forgot an old one.  I tried songs, TV programs, computer games, just backing off for months on end.  The pressure from the outside world was growing.  I felt like I was failing.
For years I had been reading how if you show a child you value reading they will want to learn to read.  How all you had to do was read to a child and they’d pick it up.  How all you had to do was have books available.  D and I are both avid readers.  Our home is, and always has been, full of books.  We read to the children every night, and most days too.  Those things just weren’t helping
Somewhere around six and a half I realised that L was reversing letters.  He’d copy stuff but switch the order of letters, or write them backwards.  My sister is dyslexic, as is one niece (other sisters daughter).  I wondered if L was.  In any case two things were clear – he just wasn’t getting reading, and he learned best by talking.  So that’s what we did – talk.  A lot.  About everything.
At some point around 9 L learned to read.  I am still not really sure how – or what made him suddenly be able to learn.  We didn’t do anything differently – mostly because we’d already tried everything I could think of!  He got a DS, and wanted to read the story part of a Pokemon game.  He had motivation, but there had been times when he was very motivated before this.  Something clicked, and We were so relieved that it had.

And now here we are – he is 14.5, taller than his dad (and me!), and he reads.  Somehow I had begun to doubt I would ever be able to say that.  He still doesn’t like to read fiction – unless it is background or rules for role-playing or war games – but he gets Focus magazine (the BBC topical science magazine, aimed at adults), and reads each issue.  He can read quickly enough for day-to-day tasks, he reads quite accurately too.
Earlier this year L decided he would like to take an IGCSE.  As part of that he was formally assessed for dyslexia.  He is dyslexic – profoundly so – and was allowed to use a word processor to answer the questions.  The spell check had to be disabled, much to his dismay!  He also got 25% extra time.  I have no idea of his results yet, but he managed a 2 ½ hour exam, then a 1 ¼ hour one.  That on its own is a huge achievement.  As part of the dyslexia assessment the assessor did a verbal and nonverbal reasoning test, which L excelled on.   I say this not to brag, but to show you that all that talking has helped J We separated learning and reading, believing (hoping) that the reading would eventually catch up.  It certainly seems to have.
The assessment was through the private school that L was sitting his exam at – and according to them most private schools offer the same service.  It cost us £100, and was recognised by the exam board as proof of extra needs.
We also hunted around and found an optician that could do an Irlens test – this is a test to see if different coloured transparent sheets can help the individual.  L found that grey sheets helped, and it improved his accuracy by 20 % and his speed by 45%.  The testing was done as part of an NHS sight test and so was free, and the sheets were £6 each.
More importantly though, L now understands why reading is so difficult for him, and that he can still achieve in spite of that.  Knowing why has freed him from feeling stupid.  That would have been worth the money on its own.

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