Words to the wise

Mar­garet Rooke dis­cusses her new book, ‘Dyslexia is my Su­per­power’, with Cather­ine Shana­han

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting | Helen O’callaghan -

“ONE thing that’s re­ally clear is how dif­fer­ent ev­ery­one’s ex­pe­ri­ence of dyslexia is,” says Mar­garet Rooke of the chil­dren who fea­ture in her new book Dyslexia is my Su­per­power (Most Of The Time).

For sure the ex­pe­ri­ence is not uni­ver­sal. Jed be­lieves his brain was shot through with a light­ning bolt of smart­ness. El­liot be­lieves there is noth­ing he can’t do. Grace’s friends told her she had spe­cial needs.

Ryan Hamil­ton Black, from Kil­dare, reck­ons it gives him su­per­pow­ers and who would ar­gue given Ross in­spired the book’s ti­tle?

Rooke’s book is a fresh and in­vig­o­rat­ing take on dyslexia, told through the voices of chil­dren, most of whom see their learn­ing dif­fi­culty as some­thing of a mixed bless­ing. With­out doubt, it makes school es­pe­cially tough and text­books a night­mare, but it also gifts chil­dren with an atyp­i­cal way of think­ing that seems to lead to greater cre­ativ­ity.

The au­thor, who lives in Bri­tain, has a per­sonal in­ter­est in dyslexia — her daugh­ter Loretta was di­ag­nosed at age 13.

“Our story may not be typ­i­cal. Loretta did re­ally well in pri­mary school and we pre­sumed she’d carry on do­ing well in se­condary.

“But she stopped pro­gress­ing. She told us school was chaos and she wasn’t learn­ing any­thing. We thought maybe the school was chaotic. I tried to in­ter­vene but it didn’t go down well.

“Then one day I found a poster she had made for Anti-Bul­ly­ing Week when she was aged about 11 — she was 13 at this stage — and the poster said, ‘Tell an Adult’. Ex­cept it was spelled wrong. And I thought ‘Oh my good­ness, she’s dyslexic!’”

Di­ag­no­sis came late for many of the chil­dren in this book. Rooke says they were told a child can of­ten get by in pri­mary school be­cause they find ways to com­pen­sate for the prob­lem ar­eas. But se­condary school is a dif­fer­ent ball­game.

“You have dif­fer­ent teach­ers, class­rooms, sub­jects. Loretta couldn’t find a way to cope.”

Her daugh­ter was a very pos­i­tive child but sud­denly felt la­belled and wor­ried she couldn’t achieve what she wanted to achieve. Rooke was de­ter­mined she would ful­fil her po­ten­tial and helped her with her GCSEs.

“We did a lot of work on them to­gether. And she did her A-lev­els — two cre­ative sub­jects and so­ci­ol­ogy. But she de­cided she wasn’t go­ing to univer­sity be­cause she’d had enough of ed­u­ca­tion.”

Some of the kids’ sto­ries about their school days are heart­break­ing. The panic is pal­pa­ble when tasks prove too dif­fi­cult; the shame in front of class­mates, im­mea­sur­able.

Leah wants to work in coun­selling be­cause she knows “how it feels to get hurt or em­bar­rassed”. She talks of her teacher shout­ing at her in front of the whole class.

Rooke says the Dyslexia As­so­ci­a­tion of Ire­land (DAI), which put her in con­tact with the Ir­ish case stud­ies in her book, are call­ing for manda­tory teacher train­ing in dyslexia, as well as eas­ier and equal ac­cess to dyslexia as­sess­ment and sup­ports.

“I think peo­ple should be lis­ten­ing to them [DAI]. It’s not fair on the child with dyslexia, or on their par­ents or teach­ers or class­mates, when the train­ing is not there,” says Rooke.

Most of the chil­dren who spoke to Rooke have learned to em­brace their con­di­tion, largely thanks to the sup­port and en­cour­age­ment of par­ents, teach­ers, and peers. Oth­ers still strug­gle.

Rooke — who has writ­ten sev­eral books on dyslexia , in­clud­ing the best­selling Cre­ative, Suc­cess­ful, Dyslexic fea­tur­ing high achiev­ers such as Darcey Bus­sell, David Bailey, and Richard

Bran­son — says it’s re­ally im­por­tant for par­ents to iden­tify their child’s strengths and play to them. “So much of the fo­cus now is on re­sults, re­sults, re­sults. There’s real com­pet­i­tive­ness in the play­room. But re­ally it would help all of us if we cel­e­brate what they are good at, be it cook­ing or what­ever.

“The most im­por­tant thing is for the child to know there is some­one on their side, be it par­ent, aunt, un­cle, friend, telling them they are not stupid, they have their own tal­ents. That you be­lieve in them — that’s a huge way to­wards en­sur­ing a suc­cess­ful fu­ture.”

So what of Rooke’s daugh­ter, now aged 19? She has that en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit that Rooke be­lieves is es­pe­cially strong in peo­ple with dyslexia. And she’s har­ness­ing it well. She’s on the cusp of launch­ing her own shoe de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness and has been to China to set up a sup­ply chain.

“I spoke to her on the phone and she said ‘Mum, I’m learn­ing ev­ery day. She never said that to me be­fore.”

Rooke gives the last word to one of her con­trib­u­tors, Iso­bel, 17, from Wales: “Ideas are what’s im­por­tant — not the abil­ity to re­mem­ber a se­quence of let­ters.

“If you find a way to deal with global warm­ing or clean out the oceans, no one will say, ‘I’m not lis­ten­ing be­cause the spell­ing is wrong.’”

Mar­garet Rooke has more than 25 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence writ­ing for na­tional and re­gional news­pa­pers, magazines, and books. She is the au­thor of the best-sell­ing Cre­ative, Suc­cess­ful, Dyslexic, (JKP, 2015).

SU­PER STUFF: ‘Ideas are what’s im­por­tant — not the abil­ity to re­mem­ber a se­quence of let­ters’; be­low, Mar­garet Rooke and her daugh­ter Loretta.

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