My Dyslexic Child v Your Little Johnny

Little Johnny.PNG

I just read a Facebook post where the author said something that really struck home with me; so I have a gripe I need to get out there, that every parent of a dyslexic child can relate to.

Please stop telling me how academically amazing your child is and how well they can read.

During the Kindergarten years, I get it, it’s big kid school and everyone wants and believes their child will be the next Einstein or Neil deGrasse Tyson, and with each finger painting or sight word memorized, it’s just proof that such an impressive future is within sight.

We are all hard wired for competition.  You want to brag, I want to brag.  We’ll never come out and say “my kid is better than your kid,” but at the very back of our minds, there’s a little bit of that (though almost none of us will admit it).  We want to see our children do well and succeed.  We believe we are good parents if they’re successful, like we did something right.  So the bragging is just as much about us as it is about them.

So I get that you are proud of your child or even your grandchild.  I get that you want to sing their praises from the mountaintops, and I truly want you to.  If I didn’t have a learning different child, it’s an easy bet I would be one of you, but my reality gives me a different perspective.

And let me be clear about this, please continue to sing praises over the awesomeness that is your child and their academic success.  What I ask of you though, is if you know someone whose child is struggling with a learning difference, please don’t sing Little Johnny’s academic praises in front of them, and here’s why.

Our children work incredibly hard, in an education system not designed for them, to keep up with their peers.  Typically our children are academically behind their peers and are doing an enormous amount of work to keep up with them, and typically for lesser grades.  What takes your Little Johnny 5 minutes to read, may take our child 30 minutes.  This isn’t because our children are stupid, lazy, not trying or not putting forth enough effort, it’s truly because of how their brain is wired, or in other words, how they were made.  As mothers we didn’t drink or smoke or do drugs or any of the other litany of charges that may be laid against us for our child not being “normative.”  Our child doesn’t come from a deficient genetic pool or deserve this in any way.

For the entirety of their academic lives they will work way more than twice as hard, they will put in 2x to 4x more hours, they will read the same book multiple times, just to ensure comprehension, they will start papers the second they’re assigned because they know it will take days or even weeks to complete them.  For every A they achieve, there was more effort than you can conceive, and honestly, for every C achieved, the same amount of effort went into that as well.

One of my favorite examples of the effort a dyslexic child puts into reading a paragraph is the example of the gas tank.  Let me explain.  Think of your attention span as a gas tank.  You are only given so much, the tank is only so big.  For a normative brain, the gas expended to read a paragraph is minimal and doesn’t require 100% attention.  In other words, it is barely a fume off the top of the tank.  For a dyslexic person to read the same paragraph, they will expend their entire tank, just to a) actually read the words accurately and b) take in the content of what they read so they achieve comprehension so they can either write about or discuss it.  At the end of the paragraph they’re exhausted, running on empty, while their normative peers are still running on full.

This means at the end of the day, our children are completely drained, exhausted physically and emotionally, then they come home to homework, dyslexia tutoring if that’s even financially possible, other academic tutoring if necessary, sometimes sports if that can be fit into their already impossible schedules because they should still be allowed to be children, music lessons if possible because music is so important to brain development (or just because we make them).

Our children are constantly on the go with little time to be allowed to be children.  They’re running on empty a great deal of the time, yet we continue to push them as parents in order to support their needs and help develop the tools they need to survive in their academic setting.  Because of all of this, fitting in therapy to cope with the anxiety and stress is also necessary so let’s just throw that on top of the pile of things our children have to put up with as well.

So to reiterate, I think it’s awesome that Little Johnny is doing so well in school, can read so well.  Truly, congratulations!  I genuinely mean it.  Please keep bragging about him, because Little Johnny needs to know how proud you are of him and his achievements.  That’s important for his emotional well being and development.

But please, I’m begging you, be cognizant of the feelings of us parents whose children are learning different.  Our children’s academic struggle is very real and unless you live this, you will not and cannot understand.  Your bragging makes us sad and adds to our pain as parents.  We watch our children struggle and constantly wish they didn’t have to.  We watch them melt down over homework when they’re already completely exhausted and just can’t give anything more, and we feel powerless, heartbroken and angry.  The academic journey for our children is equivalent to a field of landmines that our children have no choice but to traverse and we have no choice but to watch.  Very little academically will come easily.  All they achieve will be earned with more drive, commitment, resilience, tears, meltdowns, etc. then you can possibly believe.

So please, I just ask for your understanding, not your pity because we don’t want or need it, just your understanding.  I’m proud of Little Johnny’s achievements too, and I am not taking anything away from his accomplishments.  It just makes me sad to hear about it, because I just need you to know, that my son’s C was hard earned and I think that’s pretty darn amazing too, but I won’t say anything because of the funny look you’ll give me thinking I’m crazy bragging about a C, because while I love you, you just won’t understand.

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