Elise’s Journey – My Top 10 Tips for Raising My Child with Dyslexia

By Judy, proud mum of Elise

(This is a summary in point form of a presentation given at the 2021 AGM)

1.   Invest in the right support

  • It wasn’t until Elise was 4 that I realized there was a problem with her speech development
  • Her younger brother who was 2 was talking – and had a larger vocabulary than Elise
  • So we started on a journey of Speech Therapy – expensive and did not help at all
  • 3 speech therapists later, and a lot of frustration – nothing changed
  • Lots of well-meaning people were happy to take our money – but without understanding the root cause – it added to thousands of wasted dollars
  • And then in November of the year Elise was finishing year 3, I attended a parent information evening at Ferny Grove State School – where I listened to a presentation by Jason (a literacy development professional) – and suddenly, all the challenges Elise had been experiencing were clear – she was Dyslexic
  • The following year, while Elise was in year 4 – we embarked on the journey with Jason – and Elise learnt to read!

2.   Build on your child’s strengths

  • It is very easy to focus on what your child is not good at – they have to confront this every day at school
  • This daily experience can quickly spiral into anxiety and serious mental health issues
  • For Elise, by the end of year 2 she had lost all confidence. She was already a shy child – probably because her processing speed is quite low and she wasn’t always able to participate in conversations with her peers.  But her self esteem reached rock bottom by the end of year 2 – she was depressed, was self-harming and refused to go to school
  • So, my advice is, find something they are good at and can be better than their peers
  • Ideally, this is something that they enjoy too. For Elise, we discovered that she was a talented swimmer.  She also loved art and painting.   Swim club on Friday night became a place where Elise gained so much confidence – in fact, by the time she reached year 6, she was the sports captain at her primary school
  • In addition, when Elise was 9, I began taking her to Chinese lessons – I figured that Chinese was a picture-based language – with no phonetics at all – how perfect for a child with dyslexia. Elise excelled at Chinese – undertaking this externally through Distance Education until the end of year 10

3.   “Normalize” dyslexia

  • When Jason confirmed Elise had dyslexia, my husband realized that he did too. He’d failed English at school and had never been able to keep up.  His whole family thought he was “dumb”.  Thankfully, he was extremely capable in maths and his spatial skills were off the scale – making him the perfect engineering student!
  • So – this made talking about dyslexia at home, and the challenges really easy
  • We would talk a lot at home to Elise about how everybody’s brain is different – particularly when her younger brother was present – who is not dyslexic. We did not want him to think his sister was “dumb’ but just that everyone has different strengths
  • As Elise got older, we pointed out “famous” dyslexic people that she knew, e.g. Tom Cruise
  • Just recently, we’ve been talking about “Richard Branson” as Elise is currently at the final stage of the interview process for a role at Virgin Airlines

4.   Build your knowledge and then find your way of sharing your knowledge with other parents to make their journey easier

  • When I first met Jason, he strongly recommended building knowledge about dyslexia – so I read and researched everything I could find
  • I connected with SPELD and attended some of their information sessions
  • I also became very interested in, “The Woman Who Changed her Brain” – Barbara Arrowsmith Young – and attended seminars when she came to Australia
  • The more knowledge I gained, the more I was able to understand what my daughter was experiencing and what we could do to support her

5.  Find your support group or create your own

  • Ten years ago, a group of parents formed a group called Brisbane Dyslexics
  • We met through mutual friends, all inspired by attending a workshop one evening held by Jason at Ferny Grove state school
  • We met once a month and shared our stories and also advocate for others and devise ways to build awareness
  • We went onto organize parent events and supported each other to be vocal at our schools and on our P&Cs
  • We started a FB group – which now has 905 members!
  • I was involved in a video about dyslexia organized by a support group on the Gold Coast
  • And I was even approached by the ABC and agreed for Elise and I to be interviewed on the 730 Report

6.   Put school in its place in your child’s life but not the centre piece

  • We have always advocated that school is only one part of a child’s education
  • During primary and high school we took Elise and her brother out of school a number of times for several months to go on long family holidays
  • During primary and high school we took Elise and her brother out of school a number of times for several months to go on long family holidays
  • This gave our children experiences beyond the confines of the school boundary and opened their eyes to the world
  • In fact, each time they returned to school after these absences, they got better grades! (and we did not do any school work during these breaks!)

7.   Advocate for your child by work with the guidance officers and the teachers

  • Once you have found the right school for your child, then work with the teachers and the guidance officers
  • Finding the right school for Elise was a big challenge – she changed schools after year 2 – and we moved to a new school – the teacher on day 1 said to me “we don’t use the word dyslexia here”
  • Having said that – that teacher was incredibly supportive – and Elise gained confidence significantly during year 3
  • However, I continued to “educate” the school – through the guidance officer and through each teacher and the principal
  • I still recall the day the Principal at Elise’s school called me after a NAPLAN test – she had received high results in the English category…. So Jason’s intervention has ‘worked’! – my first thought turned to Elise being very lucky guessing the answers in the multiple choice – but I accepted the praise gracefully

8.   Build awareness and acceptance of dyslexia at school

  • By the time Elise was in year 6, the school was celebrating “wear red for dyslexia”
  • There was a special assembly where I hosted a discussion up on stage with a very talented young author – he was 9 years old and had won a prize at the London Book Festival.  Of course, he was dyslexic – but an extremely talented young author.  When he asked the audience (of over 1000 students and teachers) if they had any questions about dyslexia – at least a hundred little arms shot up into the air!

9.   Advocate for changes in the education system

  • There is no excuse for the lack of understanding in the education system and it’s ‘sausage machine’ approach to teaching – so I became a vocal advocate for change
  • Teaming up with the Gold Coast support group, we booked a meeting with the Education Minister to lobby for support!
  • I am not sure if it made a huge difference – Qld Education has an enormous amount of inertia – but we were given time to put our case forward and provided with key learning support contacts in the department with whom we continued to advocate over the coming years

10.   There are many pathways to education – focus on learning

  • We are extremely lucky that nowadays, unlike 30 years ago, there are so many pathways for children to keep learning
  • Although Elise ‘retired’ from her swimming career after primary school, at the age of 14 she discovered another passion – lifting weights at the gym with her Dad
  • She had such a keen interest in health and fitness, I explored the option of a Certificate III in Fitness – which she completed successfully in year 10 and then a Cert IV in Fitness in year 11 – so by the age of 16 she was a qualified PT!
  • However, despite trying to persuade Elise otherwise, she wanted to do the ATAR option….she didn’t want to be different to her peers …but it was a real struggle for her to keep up… and by the end of year 11 she was exhausted
  • After organizing a conversation with Jason – Elise was persuaded to not continue with her ATAR and chose some easier subjects
  • But in year 12, she became disengaged in school, and by the end of Term 1 – which was this year – she was missing 1-2 days of school each week – refusing to attend
  • So we made the tough decision to let her leave school – on the promise that she would continue education at a diploma
  • We managed to organize an enrolment with Mater Education – to be an enrolled nurse
  • Elise has now finished her first 6 months – and loves it
  • She’s currently on her first work experience  placement
  • She has a part time job as a COVID tester – and is now in the final interview stage for a parttime job at Virgin (and also has a final interview for Jet star as well – she’s always dreamed of working for an airline!)
  • We’ve helped her buy her own 1 bedroom unit

Not bad for an 18 year old who has not finished school!

Post Script (as of April 2022)

Elise recently secured a role at Jetstar as Cabin Crew – after 6 months of multiple exams and selection processes – which started with 4000 applicants and resulted in 11 graduates!   It’s going to be her part time job while she finishes her nursing course at the Mater!

Definitely a proud Mum moment!

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