My entire life has been devoted to the written word. Growing up, books were all consuming. I filled exercise books with my writings. By my late teens I was performing my words, writing plays, theatre pieces and stand-up poetry routines. My road to publication began with published plays, and in women’s magazines, and then with my first novel. A voracious reader and passionate writer, I’ve been blessed to make a career out of both. So as I began my parenting journey, I couldn’t wait to share my love of books with my two sons.
However, life likes to stick its foot out and trip you up occasionally, and it did that by gifting me two dyslexics.
High five life, that’s hilarious!
I did what I do best, and read everything ever written on dyslexia. I learnt a lot, which made it more confusing because it’s an incredibly complex area. The most important thing I’ve learnt is that dyslexia is NOT a learning disability. (Although it can be a teaching disability, because the classroom is no place for people with dyslexia.)
In our home, in the language we use, in the way we approach it… dyslexia is a gift. I will not have anyone tell me it’s a disability. It is a superpower. People with dyslexia think differently. Neurodiversity (our preferred term because we’re dealing with a multi-layered difference here) is a superpower. And yes, we were using the term superpower for our differences well before Greta Thunberg was, but I love that she’s sharing this news with the world.
So how does a bookworm-slash-writer raise dyslexics to still have a love of reading? I’ve discovered I can’t. Instead, what I’ve focussed on is a love of stories. To instil a love of storytelling in your children is often the path less travelled to getting them to read. Great stories don’t all come through books, but if you love stories, you will end up reading. Somehow.
How did we do it in our home?
- I read to them: this is a no-brainer.
- Perform stories: we’d get up and act tales out. My older son would improvise tales for up to an hour at a time, probably in an effort to stay up later, but it worked.
- Oral traditions: stories have been passed down through the generations, well before the written word. my sons are fortunate to come from a family of great storytellers, such as my father who weaves his tales of his life and our family history, embracing the family motto of ‘never letting the truth get in the way of a good tale.’ These stories don’t need to be written down, they need to be passed on… and my sons know them well enough to do that.
- Music: great songs tell stories. Studies show that dyslexics often struggle with music. That is not my experience. My older son has been playing professionally since he was 14, is studying music at university on a scholarship. Not bad for a kid who struggles to write. He plays music, composes music… He sees music. My younger son found ways to hide his dyslexia. He could hear a piece of music once and memorise it, and then would pretend to read the sheet music while playing. It was years before we knew he couldn’t read music. Or much of anything really. But he is a great young muso. Music is good for the brain, and an excellent way to express a story.
- Films and TV: We’ve seen the t-shirt “I won’t read the book, I’ll wait for the film” and yes, I used to be judgy about that too. Now I know that the t-shirt was probably written by a dyslexic (or their mother, who can spell). I used to be a purist… I would rarely enjoy a film version of a great book – but now I celebrate whenever great books hits the screen.
And finally… the absolute best way you can encourage a love of stories in reluctant readers, or people who struggle with reading… is audiobooks.
Companies like Bolinda don’t just produce talking books. They use the best voice-over artists in the country to create riveting entertainment. And for those purists out there, at Better Reading we stand behind our belief that audiobooks are absolutely books. I have encouraged my sons to read, read, read… by listening.
As they got older, they began listening to audiobooks while they also read the text (as the tracking of words with the eyes is beneficial for dyslexics).
So are my sons big readers? No, but they do read. They even devour the occasional book that really grabs their attention. But mostly, they have an appreciation for stories – and they enjoy stories and tell their own in many different ways.
Jane Tara is the Lifestyle Editor at Better Reading, author, and mum to two fabulous dyslexic boys. If a pill was invented to cure dyslexia, neither of them would take it.
Dyslexia Awareness Month runs throughout October. Read more about it here.