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.
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.
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.
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.
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.