Reading Robert Frank’s The Secret Life Of A Dyslexic Child and imagining how the words jumble and rumble for Prophet as she reads or speaks or tries to understand directions.
How does it feel to have a bibliomaniac mother who loses herself in books and novels? How does it feel to watch others delight in the written word? How does it feel when family or friends ask what books you’re reading– given your age? How does it feel when people say, “oooooohhh”, and change the subject? How does it feel to be the target struck in the center of their ooooh?
Set apart. Ceaselessly self-conscious. Fearful of frustrating others. Angry at your inability to control how the world perceives you. Lonely. Despairing.
The emotions run the gamut from tears to rage, and I think we do a better job of soothing a tearful child than honoring the humanity in an angry one. Robert Frank encourages us to let our child know it is okay to feel furious or sad. Denying the existence of those feelings- or suggesting there is some way to be the kind of person who doesn’t get angry- is counterproductive and reduces the likelihood that your child will trust you enough to share her emotions.
I want Micah to share her emotions with me. Most importantly, I want her to share her worst emotions with me. Not her sunny, happy, look-mommy emotions which make the world a brighter place but her impossible, threatening, throat-clenching emotions which make the world a darker place for her. Because these are the emotions she most needs to share. These are the emotions that feel like prison until we can sort through them with someone we trust.
Since Frank can speak about dyslexia from the first-person, we are offered a glimpse into how it feels to navigate a dyslexic world. A few insights from the book followed by my applications:
I told Prophet that her dyslexia is part of how she was made. That our culture values literacy, and this says more about our culture than it says about her.
That she is more valuable than our culture, and that she needs to believe this because it is true. No matter what others say. Her dyslexia can no more be “fixed” than the color of her eyes.
I told Prophet the she is learning to read at her own pace, and that her relationship with written text is not anyone else’s relationship with written text. She does not need to read like other people or enjoy the same books as other people or compare her reading journey to that of others. Her journey is her own, and no one else can map it for her.
I told Prophet that fear is always the enemy of our best self. Fear lies to us and teaches us to hide. Eventually, if we take fear too seriously, we becomes the patrons of fear, inventing apologetics for fear.
Eventually, if we hide the truth long enough, we become liars.
We talked about how confidence, and explored how to communicate our own strengths and weaknesses to others in a way that helps them listen. How it’s better to laugh at the ways of the world than cry– but that, often, we may have to do a little of both.
I told her about my challenges with calculus and how thinking about it competitively made me feel like a failure. Even though I wasn’t a failure. Even though all I was doing was learning, which involves making mistakes and moving forward. Learning is all about failure. I told her if she wanted to remember anything from our conversation, then it should be this: Fools never fail. Wisdom is what grows in the richly-composted soil of many, many lessons and mistakes. The sturdiest plant, and the wisest mind, is one nourished on past refuse and error.
I told her that it wasn’t fair to tell people she couldn’t read (which she says to others regularly). The right thing to say is that she’s learning to read. That is the true and honest answer.
A few additional things I learned which gave me awesome opportunities to seek insight from Prophet about her experiences and how they did or didn’t match up.
- Dialing a phone number can be hard for dyslexics. And kids who reverse numbers will often make the same reversal mistake again and again. Like a loop.
- Standard forms and permission slips look like a minefield to dyslexics. All the fine print and instructions can be quickly confused or muddled.
- When a dyslexic person hears a long list of items or directions to follow, the information may become mixed up in her mind. What looks like hesitation to follow instructions may actually be an attempt to sort the various pieces of info in her mind. Similarly, she might have trouble relating chronological order.
- It’s easy to miss the point or purpose of a story or what has been read. In a classroom setting, this can be especially alienating since you realize that others understood and you are left with an anxious blank.
- Prophet has a hard time retrieving information she has filed away in her brain. Rather than offer a simple answer, she usually weaves a web of associations and arrives at the “correct” answer by process of elimination. Frank explained that this challenge also occurs with properly recording and organizing materials in folders or notebooks.
I sit in the yard and draw up various game plans, though no game plan will resolve her feelings or make the dyslexia less punitive in our uber-literal, success-driven culture.
As she works her way through piano lessons, where musical notes alternate with letters and numbers and changing signs, two large black crows exchange carcass data overhead. The crows overheard.
Signs of dyslexia (Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity)
What does it feel like to have dyslexia? (ICM)
How it feels for a dyslexic to read (Thoendel Learning Center)
Through your child’s eyes (Understood)
Two poems about how dyslexia feels (The Guardian)
ipad apps for dyslexia (Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity)
A handy list of notable dyslexics to inspire and encourage
Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist & sculptor
Leonardo da Vinci, artist and inventor
Thomas Edison, discoverer of electricity
Richard Branson, entrepreneur
Sally Gardner, children’s book author & illustrator
Ansel Adams, photographer
John Britten, inventor
Jack Horner, paleontologist
Lewis Carroll, author & mathematician
Terry Goodkind, American author
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc.
Rebecca Kamen, artist & sculptor
Albert Einstein, Nobel-prize winning physicist
Anthony Hopkins, British actor
Mirelle Mathieu, French songstress
Paul Oakenfold, music producer
James Russell, scientist & CD inventor
Erin Pizzey, founder of Women’s Refuge
Chuck Close, contemporary artist
Hans Christian Andersen, fairy tale author
Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of telephone
David Rockefeller, American business executive & philanthropist
John F. Kennedy, US president
Eileen Simpson, noted memoirist
Avi, Newbery Honors winning author
Nikola Tesla, scientist & engineer
Gustave Flaubert, French author
Roberto Bolano, Chilean poet and writer
Philip Schultz, Pulitzer-prize winning poet
Pierre Curie, Nobel-prize winning physicist
Ted Turner, president of Turner Broadcasting
Henry Winkler, actor & children’s author
Rehn Guyer, American toy inventor
Joss Stone, British singer
Frank Woolworth, founder of Woolworth’s
Dave Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants
Molly Sliney, champion fencer
George Bernard Shaw, playwright
Zhang Shang, dissident & human rights activist from China
Benjamin Zephaniah, British-Jamaican writer & dub poet
Bob Weir, Grateful Dead guitarist
Florence Welch, British singer of Florence & The Machine
Woodrow Wilson, US president
George Washington, US president
Agatha Christie, mystery novelist
JF Lawton, screenwriter
Richard Ford, Pulitzer-prize winning author
Henry Ford, entrepreneur & automotive innovator
Erin Brokovich, environmental hero
WB Yeats, Irish poet & playwright
Robin Williams, comedian
Whoopi Goldberg, comedian & entertainer
Jay Leno, comedian
Ann Bancroft, adventurer & record-breaker
Paul MacCready, “engineer of the century”
Peter Lovatt, dancer & academic
Noel Gallagher, songwriter & musician
Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA
Michael Faraday, inventor of the Bunsen burner
Darcey Bussell, British ballerina
John Irving, screenwriter & novelist
Willard Wigan, micro-sculptor
Andy Warhol, pop artist
Ignacio Gomez, muralist
Robert Rauschenberg, American painter & graphic artist
Fred J. Epstein, innovative pediatric neurosurgeon
Octavia Estelle Butler, first sci-fi writer to receive MacArthur Genius Grant
Robert Clark, photographer
F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer
Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip
Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg
James Anthony, youngest pilot to fly solo around the world
Fannie Flagg, author of Fried Green Tomatoes
Jules Verne, science fiction & steampunk pioneer