My daughter and co-author, Honor, is dyslexic. Not profoundly dyslexic but bad enough that it has a real impact on her reading speed and writing skills; bad enough to need provision at University and bad enough that she has to make a huge effort all the time to compensate. When Waiting for Callback came out it was important to her that she get across to readers and/or potential writers that stories can be a huge part of your life even if you’re dyslexic.
Honor blogged about her dyslexia and how she coped here; this is my experience. I’m the sort of person who gulps down books in a day - I was a bookworm from the age of four. Maybe that was why it was a bit of a shock to me when Hon struggled (her dad is dyslexic so her ‘got’ it). I won’t say I struggled too because that wouldn’t be fair but it did take me some time to adjust. I claim no expertise but for what it’s worth, here are the main things I learned along the way.
1. Thrusting more and more books upon your tiny child in and of itself really won’t help. They will just feel the weight of being buried under books in every possible way. This will be made worse if, like me, you pile on the expectation at the same time. Wishing will not make your child suddenly be able to read well.
2. Finding the book that you think will be the key to a reading break-through isn’t going to happen. I tried time and time to foist age appropriate classics on Hon only to have them spurned in favour of Rainbow Magic Fairies. Now, I am truly grateful to Rainbow Magic Fairies. Let go of your literary snobbery, it doesn’t help.
3. The fact that your child won’t read her way through hundreds of pages doesn’t mean that the stories in those pages are out of reach. Read aloud, buy audiobooks; search out other formats (Hon found poems and scripts easier to read). Go to the theatre, watch films. There are lots of ways to be immersed in stories.
4. Age- appropriate is a tricky concept at the best of times. I was munching adult books as a twelve year-old, I now happily read children’s books. Don’t look sideways at the books your friends’ children are reading. It will make you worried and worse, you might pass that concern over to your child.
5. Try to let go of the idea that with just a bit more practice your dyslexic child will crack spelling. With luck they’ll get a bit better (thank you Word Shark and chalking words huge on the garden wall) but chances are they’ll always get it a bit wrong. You might as well enjoy the unintended comedy - Sylvia Plath never meant for ‘gilled like a fish’ to be declaimed as ‘grilled like a fish’. One of the lovely things for Hon in writing our books together is that she can write freely and I (and a fantastic team of experts) will sort out the spelling and syntax.
6. Any sort of writing is good. When Hon started texting I worried that her writing would get even less ‘perfect’ but I think it just freed her up. Texting is fast. You’re judged more on your banter than on your spelling.
7. And if you sometimes feel over involved in your dyslexic child’s writing and reading well, that’s not all bad either. I’m pretty sure that Honor and I collaborate more easily as writers because of those years of (mostly constructive!) criticism.
8. There are compensations. I’m not talking about the things that happen in differently wired brains because I don’t really understand that and it irritated me when people would describe dyslexia as a ‘gift’ while I was watching a young, stressed child try and fail to get their reading done for school but I have witnessed the development of some impressive coping skills.
9. And not having your nose in a book all the time isn’t all bad. We went to Venice. I sat reading a book...about Venice. Honor watched and listened. It was a lesson to me.
Barrington Stoke do a great range of books that get over the problem of mismatch between children’s age and their reading age. I wish we’d been more aware of them.
Kara Tointon’s documentary ‘Don’t Call me Stupid’ is well worth hunting down and watching.