Every so often I write a very personal reflection and this blog certainly meets that criteria … this is a blog about something that is immensely important to me. As a mum of three children with dyslexia and the wife of someone with dyslexia and having dyslexia myself life can be exhilarating and frustrating in equal measures. Exhilarating because a house full of people with dyslexia means a whole heap of diverse thinking and frustrating because of the way the world see’s and copes with people with dyslexia. This week it’s been frustrating to the extreme … and it’s only Tuesday. This week I found myself so frustrated that I stated to someone “ I don’t care about the rules” which is not like me at all!!
The world sees people with dyslexia as people who have trouble with reading and writing and whilst this can be the case the reality is that it’s so much more than this:
- Visual disturbance
- Difficulty carrying out sequences of directions
- Taking longer than normal to complete written work
- Poor short term memory
- Poor organisation skills
- Difficulty in making notes or copying
- Trouble learning foreign languages
- Mispronunciation of words (really problematic as a nurse I’d like to add here!)
- Poor retrieval of words
Recently I came across this whilst surfing the internet and I have to say that it made me cry, as both my husband and I have heard our children say these things so very often: (Wilkie 2019 )
For a parent of children with dyslexia I can definitely attest to the fact dyslexia is in fact forgotten PE kits, it’s about suddenly remembering that homework needs to be handed in that day, it’s about spending hours and hours on one short piece of written work, it’s about extreme tiredness after school as your children have been concentrating all day and have been dealing with visual disturbance, it’s about forgotten books, it’s about not being able to recall the 7 times table, it’s about spending hours learning to spell one word, it’s about never being the person with neat handwriting …. It’s so much more.
What scares me the most is the impact all of this has on mental health and the impact on our children’s future mental health. Did you know that dyslexia is linked to depression, anxiety, self harm and even suicide ? (Passe 2010 , Dyslexia and Literacy International 2019 and British Dyslexia Association 2019 ) It is!!! And as a parent this is very frightening indeed.
So where is all this going you may ask … as I said at the top of the page that this was a very personal reflection .. and so far all I have thrown at you are facts! Well recently my daughters school banned mobile phones but seem to have set aside the fact that mobile phones for someone with dyslexia act as tools that give access to speech to text technology, diaries, alerts, alarms, apps, photography, voice memos, video …. and so much more … all in your pocket. I get that there is research about the impact of mobile phones on learning and yes for the majority of children I can see that this may be beneficial (putting aside the fact that mobile phones are part of society, the cat being well and truly out of the bag, and that I would much prefer that we teach our children how to use mobile phones responsibly – as that’s a whole ‘nother blog post) However the problem with blanket bans and restrictive policies is that they discriminate against the minority. In a recent meeting with my daughters school they, sadly, clearly stated that their mobile phone rule is an “iron wall” … and this worries me greatly.
Is it a reasonable adjustment that a child with dyslexia should have access to a mobile phone? Schools and education authorities have had a duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled pupils since 2002 (originally under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the DDA) and, from October 2010, under the Equality Act 2010. Yet there seems to be an ever-increasing trend for blanket bans on assistive technology in schools. We, not our daughters school, provide our daughter with a phone, a laptop, yellow paper, yellow overlays and glasses, we have even produced a “This is me” document with our daughter for teachers, so that they know all of her needs. All of these things are deemed as reasonable adjustments by the school except for the mobile phone. In fact, we were informed that the school would “definitely not be allowing the use of a mobile phone as a reasonable adjustment” … which leaves me asking …is a simple policy adjustment unreasonable?
Our daughters school states that everyone, including staff are treated equally, with everyone being subject to the ‘iron wall’ no mobile phone rule … having reflected on this my thoughts are drawn to an image that I have seen shared many times across social media:
( interactioninstitute.org and madewithangus.com 2016)
Imagine the children in this picture are trying to learn, if we treat them equally the child on the right will struggle, if we make a reasonable adjustment then the child on the right has the same access to learning that the other children have. The mobile phone rule is strict and stringent because they want all children and indeed all staff to be equal in this change … no exceptions, no movement…. however equality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
We were asked if perhaps our daughter could use a ipad instead and whilst this seems like a solution on the face of things when dissected it’s clear that is akin to our daughter only having one and a half boxes in the image above. If we take a relatively simple example like homework:
At the end of a lesson whilst children in the class are packing away their things the teacher pops homework up on the board. Most children are able to either remember this until they get to the next lesson, or make a quick note on a piece of paper (or their rather handy pocket sized planners !!). A child with dyslexia at my daughters school would be expected to get out their ipad back out of their bag to either take a quick photo of the homework or to note it in their electronic diary. That child has to then repack their bag … and all of this happens in front of their peers. The child is then made late or rushes to the next lesson and sometimes the child will then receive a warning mark for being late.
Situations like this can happen 20, 30, or even more times a day for someone with dyslexia…. From having to document something quickly, to knowing where you need to be next or even needing to remember PE kits. Spending your life being ‘at sixes and sevens’ is stressful … especially when everyone else simply pulls out a pocket sized planner! I don’t think that mobile phone use for someone with dyslexia is overreacting or being unreasonable, as the knock on effect in terms of anxiety and mental health can be immense. Perhaps this is a good juncture to refer back to my earlier point regarding dyslexia being linked to depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide.
So this is why I found myself saying in a meeting “I don’t care about the rules” because a rule that enables discrimination to be part of education is not a rule I care for. I would much rather we work out how we can change and adjust that rule so that children with dyslexia are enabled to learn.
As a grown up adult person with dyslexia I cannot imagine life without my mobile phone, I would be a mess! So my reflections here leave me with several questions:
- Don’t we need to enable our children with dyslexia to use the same tools that enable and assist us as adults?
- Isn’t preparing children to be functioning adults part of education?
- When are we going to stop seeing mobile phones as playthings and start seeing them as tools?
- When are we going to stop creating restrictive policies and rules that put barriers in the way for minorities?
- When are we going to use a bit of common sense?
- When are our schools going to understand the far reaching implications that dyslexia has on mental health?
- What happens when a school refuses to believe that a small policy adjustment is an reasonable adjustment ?
Aston (2019) states “Generalised anxiety, depression and low self-esteem can come about not because the person is dyslexic but because of the way their dyslexia is perceived by society and education in particular and how it has impacted on the person’s sense of self.” We have to start to do dyslexia better in society … as a mum and a person with dyslexia I would definitely like to be less frustrated and see all organisations celebrate diverse thinking instead of creating rules to stifle it.