Dyslexia is a language processing disorder.
-Dr. Sally Shaywitz
I love talking to my son. It’s honestly my favorite thing to do. Yes, he jabbers on endlessly about the YouTubers he watches, FortNite, Pokemon and whatever else interests him and I don’t understand any of it, but he’s talking to me so therefore I am interested in everything he has to say (plus, he can be really fun to talk to!).
He’s always been a big talker. Since before his baby babbles turned into actual words, he has been going on and on, and it has been awesome.
However his dyslexia impacts his ability to communicate effectively from time to time.
This used to take two forms, the first of which used to drive my husband up the wall.
There were certain words, that no matter how hard he tried, he just could not say them correctly. As an example, instead of “remember” he said “renember.” There were several others but this is the one that sticks out in my head. Truly it was like nails on a chalk board for my husband. He did not understand why our son could not say it correctly. Attending a lecture by Dr. Sally Shaywitz shed a lot of light on this particular inability and I’ll never forget my husband turning to look at me and saying, “I get it now.”
My personal frustration used to come out with our son’s inability to get out what he was trying to say.
“Mom, you know that thing?”
“That thing we were talking about the other day.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I need more information.”
This would descend into a frustrating conversation where we might be able to pull out of his head what it was he was referring to, but sometimes it would end in him stalking off, frustrated that he can’t get it out.
If he could get it out, the conversation still might not go well. He would bring up a topic and get the key subject out, but not the context. This would descend into a very frustrating form of 20 questions.
Over time, more often than not, I would handle it well and be able to help him get out what he was trying to say. Naturally it would depend on my patience level, what I was doing at the time, etc.
I need to insert here that I am NOT a patient person. I’m typically doing several things at the same time and if I stop to listen to you I tend to want you to get out what you’re trying to say, not fully stop everything that I am doing to have an endless conversation that could have happened in 45 seconds.
Living in the moment is a mid-life lesson that I am determined to learn, and, yes, this frustration with having to stop can make me come across rather cranky. I am working very hard on trying to learn the lesson and both have and exude more patience.
But I never wanted my son to see that side of me. By no means am I perfect and I frequently fail and exhibit frustration with our conversations.
What I try to focus on is a) he’s a boy and soon to be a teenager and I need to be EXTRA grateful for these conversations, use this to build bridges that will continue the rest of his life and be present in the moment; and b) he is already frustrated, and my frustration with him exacerbates his level of anxiety, and that is definitely not healthy. I am the adult and I have control of my emotions and I need to be the example of patience.
But what I’ve noticed is, for the most part, his struggle with language tends to happen mostly when he’s tired. If he’s amped about something, he doesn’t struggle with his words.
This week has been entertaining. Every morning in the car on the way to school he’s tried to tell me something and he has significantly struggled to find his words. Sometimes he manages to get it out, and sometimes he just drops it, frustrated that he can’t tell me what he’s trying to tell me.
A new expression he seems to have developed is, “Oh, my brain!!!” which he says in a frustrated tone.
Today we had a particularly funny conversation. He went to get his lanyard for school (the kids have to wear badges at school and he has a lanyard his dad bought him at a comic book store that he loves and has been wanting to take to school for the year). When he came back down I was putting his lunch box in his backpack.
He says, “I will buy lunch now.”
Instantly confused I ask, “What? You said you hated buying lunch because you hate the food. I thought we’ve talked about this. You can’t even call what they serve you as real food. You want me to stop making your lunch so you can buy lunch?”
He stops and says, “I’m confused.”
It takes a few minutes for him to clarify that he’s confused with what he’s trying to say and he’s trying to figure out how to say it. I give him a hug as we walk to the car and say I understand and I can try to help, and I’m here when you’re ready. He finally says, “Because I have my badge on my lanyard and can wear it around school, now I can buy lunch IF I want to. That’s what I was trying to say, Mom.” Which of course I follow up with, “Do you want to buy lunch?” to which he promptly replies, “NO!”
The language he wanted, needed, wasn’t there and he had to stop and think for several minutes to express what he was trying to say. By being calm and patient, I was able to keep the conversation going. He didn’t shut down and say “Oh, my brain!”
I shared our conversations this week with an adult dyslexic friend of mine and she giggled and said that it’s hard to think in pictures but have to relate your thoughts in language.
That made me stop and think.
Being a non-dyslexic myself, that was a profound perspective, and for all of the work and advocating I do, it was not a thought that ever crossed my mind.
Dyslexia is a language processing disorder. For a dyslexic brain they are wired for data to start in the right hemisphere and then travel to the language processing centers on the left; so of course the mind of the dyslexia thinks in multi-dimensional pictures. Given that this is the case, how are words supposed to encapsulate that amazing thing inside their minds?
For all of the science that I’ve read, it was truly an ah-ha moment.
As a parent of a dyslexic child, the journey constantly keeps me on my toes. The lessons never stop. I think if my child was 100% normative, I would be a vastly different parent than the one that I have become, than the one I am still growing into. He truly makes me a better person as he opens my eyes to so much that I did not know or understand.