Q and A on Dyslexia

My 9-year-old daughter interviewing me about having a dyslexic daughter

 

“I am interviewing my mum to see what it is like having a dyslexic daughter.”

Question 1/ Did you always think I was dyslexic?

Mum Answer : “I had a feeling you were dyslexic at about 5, when you started writing backwards rather than forwards.”

Question 2: Did you feel you were the only parent at the time and did you think why is it my daughter?

Mum Answer: “I remember feeling quite lonely because I didn’t know any other people with dyslexic children and I thought if it is 1 in 10 children, there must be other parents out there, but I didn’t know anyone.”

Question 3:What was your first emotion when you found out I was dyslexic?

Mum Answer: “Sad, because you were so articulate verbally, but you were unable to get your thoughts and amazing ideas down on paper and I didn’t know how to help you.

Question 4: What did you want to do to help me when you found out I was dyslexic?

Mum answer: “I tried speaking to your teacher at the time, but she said in Year 1 it was too early to diagnose dyslexia and there would be no benefit labelling you. I found this frustrating. One teacher at parent’s evening told me she had tried everything she could for you and she could do no more and I remember just crying infront of her and said you can’t right off a six-year-old.”

Question 5: Did you have any worries for my future?

Mum answer:”Yes, because in this world, we are often judged by our academic achievements and if you find reading and writing hard I worried about you falling behind at school.

Question 6: When you heard about famous and successful dyslexic role models how did you feel?

Mum answer: “ I was excited and pleased because people had succeeded despite being dyslexic. I read a lot about the subject including a book called:“ The Gift of Dyslexia.” I learnt that dyslexia can be a gift and not a disability, it can be a blessing in disguise. I wanted you to meet successful role models and I wrote to Jo Malone, a famous dyslexic business woman and Helen Arkell, a wonderful dyslexic pioneer, now in her 90s. I said if they can achieve great things, so can you.”

Question 7: Do you think my earliest days at school I made much progress?

Mum answer: “No, but, one thing I do know is that you had to work doubly hard and you always tried your very best even though you found reading, writing, spellings and phonics very difficult. You even found it hard to write your name. You were also the youngest in your year group and left-handed, so school was challenging.”

What do you think of my academic leaning now?

I think you are making steady progress as there is no quick fix solution. I know we both get frustrated at times, but we need to be patient. I have to appreciate that you find writing and spelling hard and we need to build your confidence.

I am now hoping to teach you touch typing so you can get your ideas down on paper. I am very proud of you.”

 

 

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The Minefield of Minecraft

My 8-year-old son, is like any other boy his age, he has a mop of hair, which he insists he doesn’t ever need to brush, he loves Lego and will drop my hand instantly when he sees an older boy from his school and I am fine with all of that. The one thing he has never really been into is computer games especially Minecraft – often referred to as Kiddie Cocaine.

When I heard one mum telling me that now her son is “addicted” to Minecraft, she was ok with it, because she uses the game like a bartering system. So, it goes like this: “If you finish all of your homework, you can have 30 minutes of Minecraft” and like magic this usually works. I remember, almost complaining that although my son had Minecraft on his Kindle, he just wasn’t interested, for that matter, he wasn’t interested in doing his homework either, so I  could not use the carrot and stick method. Well, be careful what you wish for…

After two years of the game being left dormant on the kindle, my son had a friend who tapped on the icon and released a whole new world, a little bit like a dealer, he gave my son his first taster of this magical, adventure game and he became an instant addict. On the sofa, there it was, the mop of un-brushed hair bent down stooped over the Kindle and he was  building, creating a fantastical kingdom where everything and anything is possible.

I asked my son a question and his eyes were transfixed on the screen “Um, hello, mum here…! No answer, then you always do the test to see if they are listening. “Would you like an ice cream.” The reply: “Um, no thanks” and no eye contact.  No thanks to an ice cream! This was serious.

So, I decided, like the other “responsible” parents I know, I was going to monitor the Minecraft addiction and I would create a reward system, so, if you do this…you can have 30 mins of Minecraft.

I had to laugh after one hour of play, my son looked exhausted and I wanted to find out why. This is what he told me:” Well, I created an amazing castle, with a fantastic garden and a roller coaster I had made –  which broke, I made into a bridge. This morning, unfortunately, lots of villagers were creeping in to my castle and  stealing my  food. There was a creeper behind them and I had to kill the creeper and killed the villagers by a mistake. I felt really bad about it and so I built a big orphanage for the villager’s children!”

He has also had a problem with a herd of kittens, adorable as can be, but they took a wrong turn and fell of a high rise block, there were no survivors. I was exhausted just listening. I live in the real world and this is way beyond my imagination. I told him I was not happy about him killing villagers, but I was pleased he felt guilty and made amends by building the orphanage – to meet the needs of the children, whose parents were sadly killed. I also posed a question, as someone in power, did he feel bad that the villagers had to steal food because they were so hungry? He told me, not to worry as the problem was now resolved. He now leaves a slab of meet outside his castle and even ties string on it so that his villagers can carry it home. I note, there is no 5p bag charge in the Minecraft world.

I appreciate the fact, my son likes the escapism, but it also intrigues me that he has a real social conscience in unreal world. He feels guilty for decimating some villagers and makes amends. When I watch him building walls so easily and creating amazing gardens, I actually wish this was real. Our garden could do with a make-over and I would love the Minecraft team to come in and create an instant garden to my specification free of charge. I still don’t really understand it, but I feel – like it or love it, it’s here to stay. I must go now because I need to remind my son to feed his villagers and to take the orphans out to the cinema.

Pushy or supportive mum?

imageToday I feel worried, guilty and excited rolled into one. Why? Because my dyslexia daughter is doing an exam, which I put her in for. I am always looking for ways to nurture and boost my daughter’s self esteem and someone recommended LAMDA drama exams as being the perfect way to help with memorising poems and speaking in public. Without too much persuasion I signed her to a drama school club.

Being dyslexic means my daughter has problems with sequencing and a poor short-term memory so learning a poem can be tricky –  especially if there are lots of complicated unconnected words. My daughter was given two poems and after a few weeks she could recite them beautifully and then I got the note that in two weeks time she would be doing her first LAMDA exam. I had the poems in front of me and asked my daughter to recite them, to my horror I realised she had learnt them, but changed many of the words, putting her own spin on the poem. I knew she would be marked down for mistakes, but by over-correcting her I was chipping away at her confidence and making a small problem bigger. I considered pulling her out of the exam, because I wanted to increase her confidence, not make her feel worse. But then I felt bad because she had worked so hard and by dropping out of the exam my daughter may feel a failure.

So, I decided we would go through the poems line by line and because my daughter is a visual learner I would give her silly visual trigger points to help her remember. So for the word “happy”, I smiled broadly at her for the word “neat” I brushed dust off from my shoulder, the idea is that when she thinks of the poem, she has the images in her head.

She did such a great job, we also recorded her saying the poem on my iPad and she played it back several times as repetition works really we, she made great progress. The question I have is was I right to push her out of her comfort zone to boost her confidence because this could all backfire – or it could be the best thing we have ever done? A real gamble.

Today is the exam and my daughter got up at 6.30 am to practice – her idea not mine. She has wonderful facial expressions and I really enjoyed hearing her recite the poems, so maybe I had made the right decision. She had also had a bout of whooping cough so I was hoping the cough, which she still had would keep at bay today.

At 10.15, I was in a supermarket, deciding which mushrooms to buy, and I stopped  – knowing my daughter would be standing straight on a spot, pink tails back from her face and shaky hands, reciting her poems, but without me doing ridiculously over exaggerated facial expressions. She was on her own and I could do nothing to help her.

I then got a ping on my e-mail to hear that a minute before the exam, my daughter jammed her finger in a door, it drew blood and was very painful. It broke my heart to think of her in pain and doing an exam, so all I can do is hope for the best and see if my gamble has paid of, I really hope it has because  dyslexic children need champions and confidence boosters. Right or wrong, like many mums, I did what I thought was right at the time.

 

It’s party time…

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I’ve buried my head in the sand for too long and with Lucy’s 4th Birthday fast approaching I decided it was time to hold her first proper party. It should be an exciting time, but it filled me with dread, who do we invite, the whole class or just her closest friends? Where to hold it at home or a hall? Do I pay an entertainer or do it myself? Decisions decisions. . .

My daughter’s going to be 4 and yet I felt under pressure to book Kylie to keep the little ones amused. But rather than paying a few hundred pounds I thought I would go it alone and organise an old-fashioned party at our Haslemere house.

Writing out the invites was no easy task; the pen had just dried on the first one, when my daughter announced: “Actually, I don’t want him to come because he called me a worm 10 days a go.” Now she tells me!

Little did I know, these days no child can lose a party game, all children are winners and in each neatly-wrapped layer of pass the parcel a sweet or present must pop out because this is what children expect. In my day, pass the parcel was one present wrapped up in crumpled layers of newspaper. How times have changed!  So 15 layers of sweet-laden wrappers later I‘d accomplished my first mission.

I was writing clues for the treasure hunt and felt very pleased with myself, until my husband pointed out that the party guests were 4 and my cryptic clues would be better suited to The Eggheads, so I went back to the drawing board.

When it comes to the party food it used to be jelly and ice cream, now you have to swap lolly sticks for carrot sticks and ice cream for hummus to cater for children whose parents will only eat healthy food. I tried to strike a balance between the two.

I think the party bag fills every mother with horror. We are haunted by party folk-lore where every child was given an iPod or 2 first class return tickets to New York. Some bubbles and a bouncy ball just can’t compete, but that’s what I went for, I didn’t want to set the bar too high for future parties.

Then the big day arrived. At 3pm, the door bell rang and a small smiling super hero appeared followed by an Indian and lots of princess all ready and waiting to be entertained. The pressure was on, children can be very critical and honest and if they don’t like something they won’t spare your blushes. As the first game began all eager eyes were on me, it was like being a stand up comedian, on an empty stage, not knowing if you were going to a hit or heckled off stage.

To give credit to all the children they were impeccably behaved and made my job easy, so it was a huge relief when the last superhero flew out of the house.  Although it was a traditional party with no glitz or glamour I hope fun was had by all. I am already planning what to do for my next party; I just need to track down the number of Kylie’s agent.

Inner child…

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 Whilst in a local opticians, I was looking to buy a new pair of glasses. There were several to choose from and so I enlisted the help of my 3-year-old daughter, Lucy. Without hesitation, she picks a pair of bright orange Mr Tickle glasses. I pointed out that apart from being quite small, they wouldn’t suit mummy. It made laugh because I realised that children see the fun in everything and we adults often take life too seriously.

 So last week, I released my inner child and was reversed my pram out of my front door, pretending to be a train, shouting “choo choo choo choo”, much to the bemusement of my opposite neighbour, who looked at me like I was a little mad. Maybe I am, I often act the fool and dance around the kitchen to make my children laugh, but if I am honest, it can be liberating to loose your inhibitions. Even my language can be child-like, I am so used to driving a broom broom that the word car often escapes me. When walking with out my children, it’s my automatic response to say: “woof woof” when I see a canine!

 I tell my children to be honest and not tell lies and my daughter has heeded my advice quite literally. She says exactly what she sees, without sparing anyone’s blushes. Whilst out and about I hear “Mummy, he’s got a very red face,” and in a supermarket, whilst deciding which mushrooms to pick, Lucy tugs at my coat and says: “she is a very big lady,” so I did what I thought was best and pretended I didn’t hear and so she shouts even louder: “I said, she is a VERY BIG LADY”. As adults we are trained to hide our true feelings, but children don’t have a façade. We may think it, but children have the honesty and innocence to say it.

 As a rule, children bounce out of bed happy and excited about the brand new day, where as us tired adults crawl out of bed dwelling on the problems that lie ahead.

 We are forever teaching our children about the dangers of life from crossing the road to stranger danger and yet sometimes we should take a step back and focus on the fun in life, see the world through our children’s eyes and not take life so seriously. Maybe I should have picked the Mr Tickle glasses after all . . .

Going potty…

I am officially going potty!

I’ve succeeded with my daughter and thought it would be a walk in the park second time round potty training my three-year-old son. I mean how hard can it be?

I admit I’ve left it quite late, partly due to pure laziness plus a lack of time. However, I was a little embarrassed when a very confident two-year-old pointed out that my son was still wearing a nappy. It was at this juncture I took it upon my self to embark upon operation potty-training.

The long summer holidays were here and so I had plenty of time and no excuses. The well known phrase about leading a horse to water really struck a chord with me because for love nor money I could not lead my stubborn son to any loo or potty. He point blank refused, so I had failed at the first hurdle. But, I knew I had to get back up and try again.

Although my son is very able he’s not very willing. I would win an Oscar for praising every child we know wearing “big boy pants”. I’ve tried reading potty training books, bribery and bought every pair of fun character pants under the sun from comedy ambulances to six-eyed aliens, but no matter, he’s just not interested.

In my vulnerable state I must be an advertisers dream I was frantically searching the internet for novelty potties, bright ones, glow in the dark, dancing, singing and flashing ones, you name it I was looking at them. Money no object if it meant my son was nappy-free then so be it.

You can imagine my delight when my expensive neon, novelty, frog potty arrived in the post, the answer to my prayers. Potty unpackaged the green frog was ready to go; all it needed was one enthusiastic boy. He shrieked with delight when he saw the huge frog eyes looking at him, so far so good: “Is this really for me. I love it.” Ah success, but then he promptly turned on his little heels and left the room leaving me alone with the frog.

This task was really hard, I was on the brink of searching Yell for a Potty Training School where for one week you drop your child off and they came back potty trained, but, alas, no such thing exists.

I decided to go cold turkey and with novelty pants on my son and I turned our back on nappies. I would be lying if I said we had cracked it, but slowly but surely we are making progress.

There have been some funny moments amongst the frustration, one being when my son proudly pulled down his trousers on a park round-about, showing off his new crocodile pants to a surprised seven-year-old and the other being when he accidentally weed on a bouncy castle which resulted in children screaming and mass evacuation, much to my embarrassment.

Believe me I’ll be delighted to see the back of the green frog who glares at me every time I walk in the bathroom.

The terrible twos…

imageThere’s nothing worse than, when in a public place, your child has a full-blown tantrum, arching its back, screaming in a puce rage, oh and then a kindly old lady, pops up from nowhere and says in a calm voice: “Somebody’s Mr Grumpy” as if you hadn’t noticed! There’s an unwritten rule that when a mum sees a child having a paddy we look the other way because we’ve all been there and the last thing a mum wants is stares because you just want to disappear in a puff of smoke.

I have run out of numerous supermarkets forgetting my shopping just to avoid the embarrassment of a toddler tantrum.

How can a small “butter-wouldn’t-melt child” transform in to a bottom lip curled under, stomping, huffing and puffing, door-slamming petulant pint-sized teenager?

Sometimes, there’s no rhyme nor reason. A rage can come out of the blue from 0 to 100 there’s a huge tantrum over something as small as a cup of milk, I get the milk and my son Harry screams: “No not this cup I want a cup with a lid on.” So I dutifully get a cup with a lid on to be told: “NOOOO milk from a GREEN cup!”

I remember saying, before being a parent, I would never use bribery, but how wrong I was. Like a magician, I am frantically pulling out various objects from my bag, starting with a toy followed by raisons, upgrading the treat each time ending with a show-stopping chocolate biscuit and if that fails – exit stage left.

You may be reading this thinking ah ha this is where you are going wrong, you are rewarding bad behaviour. In the cold light of day, I agree, but when you have a screaming, stubborn toddler you will try anything to get them to be calm.

Keep Calm and Carry On” I have this war-time motto on my bag, a plaque on my kitchen wall as well as on my keyring and would love to say I adhere to these wise words, but that is all they are to me words because when my son is in full tantrum I can feel my blood pressure rising and I am far from calm.

Harry has just turned three and has been remarkably well behaved so far no big tantrums, so I am assuming this means the terrible two have disappeared and Abracadabra he has turned in to a tremendously happy 3-year-old . . . now that would be magic!

 

The bear necessities…

imageThe eagerly anticipated day finally arrived. Peeping out of a tatty old cloth bag were two black eyes . . . it was our new house guest, Arnold, the school bear.

My daughter, Lucy, has been so excited. Each of her classmates takes it in turns to look after the furry friend and it’s a huge honour, not to mention responsibility. I have to admit I hadn’t given it much thought that is until I read Arnold’s diary.

The teacher asks the children to write about Arnold’s adventures whilst staying over-night. So how hard can that be?  But, then I started reading the diary, apart from being a little paranoid by the children who had written their own tales in their fair wobbly hand, I was struck by the varied activities. The boring mundane day just wouldn’t do and when I confided in other parents I realised I was not alone.

One friend told me of parents trying to out do each other with their bear activities. It wasn’t good enough to say the bear relaxed and watched TV. No, they arranged their weekend around the bear visiting expensive restaurants and day trips to London. Diary entries included “we taught Arnold Yoga, he swam 10 lengths in our indoor heated swimming pool and then he played a few rounds of golf with daddy.”

Another friend who confessed to looking after a bear during the summer holidays in Morocco. All was well, their bear was enjoying the sun and they bravely took him on a shopping trip to a busy bazaar. But unfortunately, he must have been distracted by a stall as he became separated from the family. You can imagine their horror, this wasn’t any old bear, it was the one and only class bear! The dad frantically went up and down the market trying to spot the bear, but to no avail he was gone. The whole holiday was on the brink of being ruined, so he rang up the teacher and luckily they had a stand in looky-likey bear in the event of this happening.

Thank goodness we only had Arnold for one night and when he stayed with us he came with his own wardrobe of day clothes, a warm coat and pyjamas. He played on my daughter’s swing, did some colouring and had dinner with us. I have to say he had impeccable table manners.

Then Lucy announced he had fallen down the stairs. I dismissed this saying we didn’t need to mention this, but she insisted the accident be recorded in the diary for all to see. I was worried bear social services would come knocking on our door in the deal of night.

It was quite a relief when Arnold was pushed back in to his tatty old bag along with fitted wardrobe and diary. Next time he comes to visit I am confident he will love Mauritius along with his new summer wardrobe, own hotel room and personal masseuse and all the “bear” necessities!

Cabin fever

imageMoving to a rural Idyll from London, life was pretty easy that is until it snowed. I’ve never understood the concept of cabin fever until last month. After days of being snowed in with one husband, two children and a goldfish I suddenly got it.

One morning, I looked out of my frosty kitchen window and, clear as day, I saw a penguin, just a small one, but it was definitely a penguin. I was about to call my daughter to see it, when I had a reality check. I remembered I didn’t live in an igloo, but a semi-detached house, in  an area not renowned for its arctic wildlife. What I actually saw was a black and white cat playing in the snow. To me, it was a penguin, to my husband it was a cat and I was officially mad. This was my first taste of cabin fever.

The first few flakes of snow were exciting. When it settled, Lucy ran out in her wellies and squealed with delight as she left her tiny footprints in the pristine snow. But then we were house-bound, had a power cut, no TV, the cupboards were bear and the novelty of the white stuff was wearing off.

Having made a whole snowman family plus dog, exhausted our craft draws, watched several DVDs and baked enough fairy cakes to sink a battleship I was running out of ideas.

So, Lucy and I embarked on an expedition to the corner shop. Dressed with four layers, waterproofs, boots and a bright red sledge we were ready – all that was missing were the huskies. After braving the snow, we were dismayed to find the shop had sold out of all bread, eggs and milk. We settled for a giant bar of chocolate and a tin of soup.

It was great when the snow melted, my husband returned to work, pre-school re-opened and we went shopping, walking and living without falling over. Life went back to normal – without the penguins!