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My heroic, dyslexic son

  • 08 April 2016


There is a party trick that toddlers sometimes perform where they read something or identify letters. The adults coo in admiration and everyone agrees that this is exceptional. My son never did this trick.

In preschool, the teachers were impressed with his imagination, his vocabulary, and his humour. They did note that he had struggled a bit with writing his name, but assured us that it would come in time.

Boys sometimes take longer, they said.

By the time he was a couple of years into primary school, it was clear that something wasn't right. I had begun to laugh ruefully every time I heard someone unpack the old saw about kids who are read to, kids who grow up in 'language rich environments', and the other 'sure things' that guarantee a high level of literacy.

The day he was born, I happened to be rereading Shakespeare's King John. I read a couple of scenes to him at the hospital in the evening and haven't missed a night since.

His environment couldn't have been more 'language rich'. His mother and I were both English teachers. There were books everywhere. I was working on one about Shakespeare when he was a toddler. He acquired an imaginary dog called Hamlet and, as I have often recounted, gave me the premise for that book one morning in the car while I was explaining a problem I was having with the fictional aspects.

But the reading simply never came. There were occasional advances that weren't much noticed but took an enormous toll on him. Meanwhile, the other kids had started to pick up on his difficulties. He's a sensitive kid and this was devastating. His self esteem took hit after hit, leaving him confused and often unwilling to go to school in the morning.

He was tested, of course. The results told us what we already knew, and used a lot of jargon that threw us off course slightly. There was a suggestion that it might be developmental. It wasn't.


"When I phoned the person who conducted the tests, they admitted that it wasn't a word they used, but agreed that the term would apply to my son's condition."


The word for my son's condition did not appear on the report. For reasons I am only now beginning to understand, that term had gone out of use in some quarters. It might have been a matter of workplace semantics or perhaps an admirable