"I feel awful for not spotting her dyslexia earlier. But then no-one did until a few weeks ago." Working mum Sally explains how the recent diagnosis explains the past, and how her daughter is now creating her career path making the most of her experiences and abilities.
Somehow, our daughter went through primary and secondary school and it was never picked up at all.
Thinking back, she did have quite a hearing issue when she was two, which was greatly improved through surgery, and we thought well, this might delay her a bit, but then when she was at primary school - as now - she practically devoured books. We think she must have just taught herself to look at pictures, and to scan-read, and then make sense of it all in her head.
We didn't pick up that she was struggling at all, and had been fine at school. As time went on and she went to secondary school (one of the biggest in the Midlands) she mentioned that in some lessons the teacher would write in red ink on a whiteboard. To my daughter the words would all appear to be moving around. We ended up going through all sorts of processes to get to the bottom of that, and some other off-the-cuff things she had mentioned. She even had a CT scan at one point. Was it a visual issue? Or an auditory one, or what? No real conclusion was made, apart from mention of an auditory processing issue, which could easily have come from her initial struggles with her hearing, but there were no 'magic' solutions.
After finishing secondary school with 'reasonable' grades, she didn't take traditional A-Levels but opted for a BTEC course in Conservation & Countryside Management, all about protecting landscapes and habitats, maintaining forests and so on. She came out with marks just under a 'Distinction Star', the top grade you can get. The course is the equivalent of three A-Levels, but just a lot more practical - and this is where she's excelled. She's just started on a follow-up BTEC, a one year course, studying Arboriculture, all about the cultivation and management of trees, shrubs, vines and so on. It wasn't until she got to college on a new course, and three weeks in, a tutor asked, has she ever been tested for dyslexia?
They suggested we put her through a four-hour test with a specialist; we had to fund it ourselves, and believe me, it isn't cheap - but, as any parent would, we wanted to help her to the best of our ability. After a short time the results came through, and she was diagnosed as seriously dyslexic; so much so that had she this been diagnosed earlier in her academic career, she would have been awarded something like 35% extra time benefit, and a scribe to assist in exams, and would have been able to work on a laptop all the way through school. If only we'd known earlier. She has (to date) taken her English GCSE three times, and has consistently achieved a 'D', which in hindsight is amazing.
I'd like to say that having the diagnosis, finally knowing, has helped her. In a practical way, it has; she now carries around some coloured filters with her, turquoise and blue plastic strips; when she uses them she can read anything no problem at all. However, the diagnosis has also upset her, in that she thinks it makes her different from others, and it's opened up a new can of worms. She realises now how much she was really struggling when at school and blames herself; she thinks she should have recognised it herself, and I've even had to insist she has some counselling to discuss the issue, as she holds it all inside her.
We tell her that, in fact, we, her parents should have noticed it, but all I can say is we just didn't. We've treated both our kids as distinct individuals, not wanted to craft their characters, or restrict too much how they were, or be too judgmental about what they were or weren't highly skilled at.
Are there other pointers we might have noticed? I don't know. Her writing varies tremendously: it could be straight one time, sloping the next; big letters one time, then small; really neat, or a real scrawl. And her spelling is interesting to say the least, and there are some words she always used to struggle saying; like the words 'car park' would often come out as 'par cark'; pretty common, but it's a small example. 'Elephant' could be 'ephalent'. Apparently this kind of mixing up is typical with dyslexia, but we had no idea, which makes me sad and feel a huge amount of guilt on occasion.
Looking ahead, the most encouraging thing for us is that she's got a real natural interest in what she does - and she knows all the Latin names for trees and plants - I can't believe how much she knows and remembers. I think being on these courses has been a real relief for her; a real weight off her shoulders, because is doing something that she loves. And to come out with such high results has given her such a level of confidence, compared to before where academically she wasn't doing so well. And you should see the way she shins up and down trees - it puts the fear of God into me!
So yes, I can look back and feel awful for not spotting her dyslexia earlier. But then, no-one else did until a few weeks ago! She now seems to have found her own way and developed skills with which she can now have a fantastic career. I feel she can be happy doing what she does, whereas had she been really academic she might have ended up struggling with something which she wouldn't have succeeded with, and not been happy either. She's now on her own path, and doing something there will always be demand for - and there are lots of interesting avenues her career can take.
And she's really using all her energy and talents. She's doing her Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award this year, having passed her Bronze last year, and was working for the last year at a National Forest Centre as a ranger, teaching kids skills like fire-lighting, den-building and all kinds of outwards-bounds skills. So her experience is also helping her to help others. She's been with the sea cadets for three years, as a cadet until she turned 18, and now as a member of Staff Petty Officer, teaching youngsters skills so that they might go on and, say, be in the navy, but developing them in a myriad of skills. She might say to me, well, this boy couldn't do that knot this way, he couldn't get it, so I showed him another way, and he got that. She's really good like that, because she's got such experience of adapting things to make them work for her. She's got amazing empathy for others. She also started to learn to drive recently, and is doing really well, she's started later than most of her peers, but that is purely down to the lack of confidence she is only just starting to claw back since her diagnosis.
For us, she's in a really good place right now, although I don't think she can quite see it at the moment. One thing that's a problem right now is the matter of her outstanding English GCSE. She's currently on her third resit - having previously got all these 'D' grades. Sadly, she has to take it again. She's dead set against having to do it for a fourth time, and her course tutor is fighting her corner on this, but so far she has been told that in order to progress (and down to her age when she re-registered in college) she has no choice but to try again. It's going to be a real shame if this prevents her moving forward.
I can only hope that the skill she has at adapting and finding solutions, can help her get over this hurdle. It's nowhere near as high as the trees she climbs without a second thought, but it's still a tall order for her.
Sally, a working mum; married with two children.