My son shouldn’t have to fight just because he has dyslexia

By Grainne McCool  @grainnemccool

My youngest son was just eight-years-old and doing really well in school, or so I thought – until I heard the word ‘dyslexia’.

His teacher asked me to pop in for a chat one day and I did.  She was concerned about my son’s environment at home and asked if something might be wrong within the family.

I assured her that all was well and wondered where this was leading.

The teacher explained that my son was one of the top students in the class on a daily basis, but when a class test was carried out the previous week he came near the bottom. The same had happened with his last test.

When this episode was repeated just a few months later I was again sent for.

This time she suggested that the Resource Teacher should carry out some tests with him.

Within a few days this was done, and the Resource Teacher met with me.

She said that she strongly suspected the child was dyslexic and recommended having an Educational Psychologist assess him.  

A few weeks later the assessment was carried out and dyslexia was indeed diagnosed.

Ultan McCool as a schoolboy
Ultan McCool as a schoolboy

Initially I was wary of this term and feared for the hindrance it was about to pose on my sons life.

I needn’t have worried.  The child took it all on board and set about working towards understanding and living with this condition.

He discovered that some of the greatest writers were dyslexic and so it became ‘cool’ to compare himself to W.B Yeats and Agatha Christie.

Yeats was dyslexic and became on of our literary masters
Yeats was dyslexic and became on of our literary masters

A wonderful book was introduced into his life, Toe by Toe.  This was his learning strategy over the next few years.  Now he is 18 and the book still echoes his life.

The boy sat his Junior Cert in June 2013.  He was allocated a ‘reader’ for this set of exams.

This entailed his having someone read the exam questions to him and then he proceeded to write the answers.  His results surpassed all our expectations.

Many of his peers who are also dyslexic had been exempt from studying Irish, as languages pose a huge problem to dyslexic children.

My son and I discussed this issue and we agreed that he should try and attempt the subject and just see where it took him.

Thanks to an amazing Irish teacher at Moville Community College in Donegal, he was able to study the subject and subsequently obtained a grade C at ordinary level in his Junior Cert.

I really did shed a tear on this result – It was a huge achievement.

Now as the Leaving Cert 2016 is fast approaching, I have to admit I do fear for his end result.  With cutbacks in the system one really has to be a very low achiever to obtain any assistance with exams.

The boy was assessed last year and we had hoped that he would be rewarded with a ‘reader’ once more, and a waiver for his grammar, spelling etc.   Unfortunately he did not fall into the category to be awarded this exemption.  And so he must face these dreaded exams alone.

He is currently sitting his mock exams and coping extremely well with them.  

I still recall the Educational Psychologist who assessed him ten years ago, telling me that should he continue through education unaided he would succeed in passing his Leaving Cert, as he has such a high intelligence.

But she told me that should he be allowed to sit exams orally, he would excel.

Unfortunately he will be sitting these exams completely unaided and fending for himself.

He is currently preparing to sit four higher level subjects alongside three ordinary level, and he is even sitting the Irish exam.

As the forthcoming election is fast approaching in Ireland I will be seriously considering what the prospective parties have in place regarding policy for catering for children and youths like my son with dyslexia.

Ultan with mother Grainne McCool and aunt Louise McCauley
Ultan with mother Grainne McCool and aunt Louise McCauley

It is a little late to help with my son but I will be seeking to vote for someone who might just make the education system a little bit easier and less stressful for children coming behind him.

They deserve so much better.  They deserve the chance to shine.  Dyslexia is not a condition which should be allowed to hold our youth back.  But the current policy is doing just that.

There is no help there for my son this year.  I can only hope that in future years, children in the same situation will be allowed to excel just as my son should be allowed to.


But for now this boy will sit his Leaving Cert and he will show the system that he deserves to be counted. He will show them that he will defeat them all. And he will survive. No thanks to our Government and their provisions for him, but simply through his own determination to survive.

W.B Yeats had no help either.  My son has the same experience in 2016.  Yeats was a success and my son will be too.  But he shouldn’t have to struggle to succeed.

ultan mccool

Earlier this month a student with dyslexia challenged the Minister for Education’s refusal to grant him an adult “reader” to help him understand his Leaving Certificate papers.

The 18-year-old sixth year student from Dublin was given a reader when sitting his Junior Certificate, but has been refused one for the Leaving Certificate, which he is due to sit later this year.

At nine, the student secured a placement at a special school for children with dyslexia who are of higher or average intelligence but with lesser literacy skills than 98 per cent of their fellow pupils.

Since returning to mainstream school, the student attends after-school study five days a week.

A clinical psychologist said the student’s change in attention and listening are worsened by anxiety in exam situations.

The student claims he is severely prejudiced due to the refusal of a reader and the matter is urgent as he is to sit his mock Leaving Certificate.

When I vote later this month I will weigh up all the odds.  I won’t be voting with a light heart.  I’ll be considering the educational future of our youth with learning difficulties.  The youth that will be our country’s future.  The youth that deserve to be counted.

4 thoughts on “My son shouldn’t have to fight just because he has dyslexia

  • February 9, 2016 at 8:46 pm

    We’re in the same boat with oyr son, they are only allowed 2yrs in the special dyslexic school, if they are lucky enough to get a place, and be near one. We live in Meath, closest dyslexic school to us was Dublin, it was a long enough commute, as there are only 4 schools in Ireland and they are limited because they keep small class sizes to offer the best support to the children who often have other issues on top of dyslexia, our son is also dyspraxic! The trouble I had trying to get a decent school for him after his 2yrs finished last June, every school had either big classes and or no extra support or resources!!! which doesn’t work with a dyslexic child, they get lost in bigger classes
    classes. As a result we are paying for private education which is financially crippling, and he’ll have to do an extra year to catch up on maths, his worse subject!! All this could be prevented with proper teacher training, smaller classes and support for special educational needs kids. More and more kids are diagnosed every day with some kind of special educational needs, that’s not going to change. How they teach now also needs to be looked at as not every child learns the same!!! These children are our future, they will be paying the future taxes, benefits and pensions for us to survive and the future is not being catered for!! Simple changes and support can make all the difference to all our futures now!!!

    • February 10, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      Hi Barbara, sorry to hear you have had to go done this route just to get your son the education he deserves. Would you be interested in talking further to us about it?

  • March 3, 2016 at 8:03 pm

    My daughter is in fifth year and is very stressed about doing Leaving Cert next year. She is already having nightmares about doing the exams; dreaming that she failed hermaths and won’t be able to go to college. She dearly wants to do midwifery and as the points are high she is forced to take all honors subjects putting enormous pressure on her. She spends all her spare time now studying and weekends are spent going to grinds She is overly anxious all the time and has suffered with stomach problems which our gp says is a result of stress. I don’t kni how how I can help her through it.

    • March 3, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      Hi Mary, sorry to hear your daughter is going through this.

      Some of us are parents too and know how you must be feeling.

      Would you speak to us for a story (no need to be identified) because this is a concern a lot of young people have and parents too. And we will seek to get comment from an expert on this.

      In the mean time perhaps tell your daughter some of us here didn’t do well in exams and still got in to careers.

      Tell her to not make it the take over her young life and to have fun during some of the weekends.

      But we aren’t experts so we will seek advice. Is your daughter dyslexic?

      Keep well and give your daughter a big hug and tell her it will be all okay. Our thoughts are right with you and her.


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