Dyslexic Home-Schooling Horror Hits the Housewife

At the start of this year, I started home schooling my little lad.

I had always thought home schooling was for people who like wearing Medieval clothes and re-enacting the Battle of Hastings in French at weekends, or who have been preparing their child, since before birth, to do a maths degree at Harvard aged nine. On a scholarship.

Apparently there are women who play classical music to their foetus to ensure it will become a precocious genius.

Then my little lad started having panic attacks, insomnia and vomiting through anxiety. He kept me awake literally all night crying. I realised there can be other reasons for home schooling, too.

My son has dysgraphia. This is related to dyslexia, from which almost everyone in my family suffers. Eksept mie. Dyslexia means problems with reading, and dysgraphia means problems with writing. Having been my older sister’s homework checker throughout my childhood, and adoring all her creative spellings, the mere mention of these problems gets me in a sillie mude! I still remember a fascinating and brilliant essay she wrote all about Tropickle Rane Forrests.

But let me be serious for a moment. If I can.

There’s a part of your brain that recognises symbols, and knows that the shapes “A-P-P-L-E” represent a certain sound. There’s a separate part of your brain, which knows that sound means a crunchy green or red fruit. When you read, a neural motorway connects them so they can work together. When you read aloud, another couple of roads connect each of these centres to a third part of your brain, which commands the movements of your mouth, tongue and vocal chords.

When you write, a fourth centre is involved, controlling the fine movements of the hand, and another set of neural motorways is needed to connect it to the network.

Who is Best Banana?

In people with dyslexia or dysgraphia, one or all of these neural motorways is reduced to a single lane, or closed off completely. This gives them weird, trippy effects. Some of them see the letters walking around the page like ants. Some people with dyslexia can only read if they say the words aloud or mouth them quietly – they’re taking the long way around two roads, as the direct route is closed off for them. Different roads are shut off in different people.

I remember my mother once reading a newspaper article out loud to me.

“What did that say?” she asked at the end.

“But you just read it yourself,” I pointed out.

“I know, but I wasn’t listening,” she answered.

broken typewriter distortion
For many people with dyslexia, any page of writing looks like this.

Dysgraphia isn’t just messy writing or bad spelling. It’s a serious impediment to the process of transforming intelligent thoughts into symbols on paper. Telling a child with dysgraphia that his writing looks terrible, and making him do it again, is as cruel as telling a child with a limp to go back to the door and walk into the classroom again, and this time stop doing that stupid walk. For my son, filling one page with writing takes such intense effort that he usually breaks down in tears from sheer exhaustion.

Yet my son’s former class teacher thinks dysgraphia means “stupid and spoilt.” She spent three years telling him off for writing messily, skipping letters, and not being able to keep up with her three-page-long dictations of drivel about the melancholy colours of autumn, or Piero the Lonely Clown.

After an intensive campaign of criticism and being made to feel inadequate at school, my little lad’s self esteem had plummeted to the point where he was plagued with doubt about whether 2 plus 2 really does equal 4. Literally. He went into a mental paralysis.

At my son’s school you cannot have a private meeting with the teacher. You have to barge into the class and talk in front of all the children.

“Who does he think he is, expecting to be treated differently from the rest of the class,” the teacher said to me. “Is he autistic? He needs more discipline.”

“What I need is a teacher who can explain Steven Hawking’s theory of the Big Bang,” interjected Kiddo in English, “Instead of having a nervous breakdown when I write outside the margins.”

His teacher did not react as she does not understand English.

“This report from the Italian state health service says Kiddo has an I.Q. of 140 and the vocabulary of a 17-year-old,” I told her, handing over a dossier covered in the official rubber stamps Italians adore so much. “It lists the ways he needs help in class. Basically, photocopies and worksheets instead of dictations and copying off the board.” The document actually specified which Italian law obliges her to do as they say.

“But he needs to learn how to write properly,” she insisted.

“No I don’t,” piped up the little lad. “The only people who do handwriting at work nowaday’s are greengrocer’s. Everyone else use’s computer’s.”

Nine months of  begging for a few simple provisions for my son achieved nothing. I realised I was going to have to do it myself.

 

Sobek the crocodile god – what luxuriant hair growth!

To my surprise, it’s a lot of fun. We’ve been doing Egyptians, and we just mummified my lad’s toy crocodile using toilet paper and some of my pendants as religious amulets. We wrote a few hieroglyphic messages of protection and good luck on the side of the sarcophagus (Oh alright, it was a cardboard box). We made Hubby join us in tearing at our hair and wailing disconsolately for the “opening of the mouth” ceremony.

Actually we led Daddy off the hair-tearing, as his already modest crop of hair falls out all by itself these days.

I saw a massive poster in Palermo last week, advertising an operation that involves transplanting the hairiest part of your chest up onto your bald pate so that – hey presto! – you look young again and can pull a suspiciously fake-blonde woman with double-D breasts. This type of chest-dependent surgical rejuvenation seems tailor-made for the Italian market, and may explain why I have seen so many wannabe playboys lately with hair that evoked windswept pubis.

But I digress.

Medallion man

The best thing about about home schooling my son is that he is happy and relaxed again, and his intellectual curiosity has returned.

Next week, I am going to teach my son about a little boy who had similar challenges to him. He hated school and its rote learning. He learned to speak late, just like my little lad. He often ignored his teachers when they asked him questions. Many people thought his social ineptitude meant he was autistic. His parents were cousins and, worried about his genetics, they took his to the doctor to be tested for mental retardation.

That boy’s name was Albert Einstein.

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50 thoughts on “Dyslexic Home-Schooling Horror Hits the Housewife

    1. Yes, except he goes off to his grandmother once a week or so for some intensive Italian grammar, and reading to build his vocabulary. He does everything else with me and frankly I am better than his old teacher in most subjects: English obviously, history too as that was my degree subject, and I am getting much better progress than she did in the other subjects too.
      I think growing up surrounded by people with these problems gave me the best possible preparation for understanding how to help!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post. Do you know about Richard Lavoie? He did a fantastic video called F.A.T. City that helps teachers, parents etc see what it’s like to have a learning disability & discusses useful accommodations that can be negotiated with teachers etc without other students even being aware of it (if the teacher is cooperative). Here’s a link to the Intro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFm-OvUhDiQ.
    Good luck with home schooling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the link Pip! That’s a really good set of videos and it would be great if my son’s former teacher could/would learn this kind of thing.
      Having grown up with both parents and a sister who had dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia I saw a lot of the difficulties it created in daily life, and also the extraordinarily impressive things they achieved to get around it and handle the things they found hard or impossible.
      To be honest I think I could run a course like this myself!!! to train teachers in how to identify these specific issues early on, and to help students deal with them.

      Like

      1. I’d actually like to offer my services as a coach, giving teachers courses in how to identify dyslexia etc in children and showing them how easy it is to help. I used to train foreign teachers of English in modern teaching techniques so I am used to planning teacher training courses.
        The majority of dyslexic children go undiagnosed until their teens, always being branded stupid and lazy. This happened to my sister and the effect on self esteem was devastating and permanent…. and this is typical with these problems.
        If I can train the teachers it could make a huge difference to a lot of children.

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  2. My troupemate’s little boy has dyslexia. Fortunately, he has teachers interested in working with his parents. And recently he found a book that for whatever reason (maybe it’s the typography) he actually enjoyed reading and now wants to read other things.

    It sounds like your son will do just fine now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Besides having dysgraphia, I think that he’s very lucky to be born intelligent and to an intelligent mother who has the time and talent to teach him well. If his reading and computer typing skills are ok, then I’m sure his dysgraphia will hardly be a handicap in his later life. It’s important though that he still has good contact with other peers and to cultivate any interests/talents that he may display.

    Based on his interjection, he still has enough self-esteem to come up with that, so that’s a positive thing too.

    See also:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/brainy-sons-owe-intelligence-to-their-mothers-1339099.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind comments and for the interesting link.
      He does karate three times a week (the only sport he can stand!) and on the other days I always arrange a date with a friend. His afternoons used to be fully taken up with homework and remedial lessons, so he actually has more of a social life (and does more sport) than he did when he was in school.
      His character is actually blossoming too. Yesterday he met some very shy children and gently and gradually brought them out of their shells: until recently, it used to be the other way round.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As italian all I can say is that isn’t the same in all our country, there are some schools and some teachers who work seriously, but I have to admit that they are an exception.

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    1. I think it’s the same everywhere to be honest. My friends in England have told me I would get exactly the same problems and attitude in England. I think you’re just lucky if you find that rare one who understands this particular type of problem and knows how to help.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “What I need is a teacher who can explain Steven Hawking’s theory of the Big Bang, instead of having a nervous breakdown when I write outside the margins” is the best thing I’ve read on the internet in months.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You are doing the right thing for your son. Perhaps at a later time he might find a school program better suited.
    I don’t know how old your son is but look up some computer programs for your son. I used the very primary program offered on line called Starfall ( some/most..? of it is free) and they may have something for older children too. The children in my class loved it. Wonderful to hear you are bringing history to life for him. so good to have Nona’s input too! I taught little ones from a drama based and arts background and it was a wonderful teaching experience. Bless you all!

    Like

    1. Thank you for those tips.
      My objective is to get him competent on a keyboard in the next year and a half so he can go to middle school with the right skill set to cope autonomously. That was the clincher for me in deciding to take him out of school – I can’t expect his class teacher to train him to touch type, but that’s actually the most pressing thing he needs to learn right now.

      Like

  7. I’d never heard of dysgraphia before either. Really interesting post. That teacher sounds like she needs a good kick up the arse. Glad he’s back on track – sounds like you’re doing a great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think dysgraphia as a named syndrome is fairly recent actually, as is dyscalculia (which my family members all have too – a kind of dyslexia with numbers!)
      Back when my sister was at school they just called it “stupid.”
      It breaks my heart to think about how bravely and patiently she put up with all kind of punishments which basically amounted to child abuse from her teachers.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m sure it’s far more common than we realise. “Stupid” or “mollycoddled” are just ways for people to quantify what they don’t understand. There are people rotting away in psychiatric hospitals in Ireland because maybe they were bi-polar or something that is completely treatable nowadays. Back in the 60s, not so much. And now there’s nothing they can do for them because they’re completely institutionalised. Sad.

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      2. Very sad and very true.

        I hope people with share this article, and send it to any teachers they know, because there are still primary and secondary school teachers who have never heard of dysgraphia or dyscalculia.

        It reminds me of a woman in my local mental asylum when I was a teenager who had been there since the second world war, apparently having had a nervous breakdown. Apparently she lost the ability to speak and only uttered gibberish. After living most of her life on sedatives, a foreign nurse got a job there and realised she was not speaking gibberish, but Hungarian!!!!! She had freaked out when she received news her husband had been killed in battle and was bundled off there and never released. Truly heartbreaking.

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  8. In Germany we have (had) a very sophisticated system of special schools for every kind of disability. The teachers were specially trained for all kinds of problems. Yet nowadays, our wise and social politicians say, that it is a human right for disabled children to learn together with all other children in the same schools, regardless of any disabilities. Disabled children could feel discriminated if they were not allowed to join normal schools. So, our special schools are closed down one after the other in these days, and the usual teachers are expected to cope with the children and their various and challenging problems. They have no chance. – So far so bad for Germany (and the money goes to … Greece?), but now comes the funny part: Every time parents and reasonable persons do complain about this obvious money-saving measures, our politicians point out that *Italy* allegedly is practicing such a teach-all-the-same system for decades, of course with great success! Italy really is the paradise. The teachers there … they are so sensible in their treatment of all kinds of disabilities … they did more training on this than on the subject of the curriculum, we Germans are told … and allegedly, Italy is spending a *lot* of money for this system! Italy, o Italy! Always the land of dreams for us Germans! 🙂 (By the way: Would be nice if your boy could learn to write some day despite of all obstacles, maybe the movie “The king’s speech” could help?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We had exactly the same system in England – they decided it was better for special schools to close and children with difficulties to mix with able children. If they are physically disabled only, then I agree with this, but if they need to be taught in a different way or to be taught different things, then it is foolish.
      The old system in Italy was that each child with learning disabilities had a teaching assistant who sat in class helping them – a full time private tutor, in other words. Great, but how can that possibly be economically viable? And anyway what is the point, when the child cannot follow the lesson that the rest of the class is doing?

      Like

  9. This is such an interesting post. I had no idea. But I don’t have children and I don’t know anything about education. What interests me, is, how does dysgraphia relate to drawing? Would drawing help, or would it be a nightmare for him?

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    1. Well, my son and my father are not good at drawing at all, but my mother is a professional artist, and my sister and nephew are both extremely good at drawing too. They all have dysgraphia.
      Practising drawing never helped their writing sills at all, so I think they must be two independent skills that use different parts of the brain.

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  10. Well done, Veronica. We home-schooled our daughter for two years but the Bay Area has a wonderful home-schooling network which you may find lacking in your part of the world. Nevertheless, it’s definitely the right decision as you get to spend so much more quality time with your son and you will give him a first class classical education that he wouldn’t have been able to receive anywhere else. Forget running the Sicilian National Tourist Office, home schooling is much more fun.

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  11. This post resonated with me! Thank you for writing it and sharing your decision. Ever since moving to Southern Italy almost 2 years ago, my son has been struggling in the local school. They tend to yell (putting it mildly) in class and it terrifies my son. In our culture when we raise our voices we are mad, but here it can be just a normal way of communicating emphasis. He also got bored with the repetition and focus on handwriting and started acting out. I tried to explain to the teacher that drawing 50 boxes, 50 triangles, and 50 dashes (with the emphasis on neatness) was not a great way to engage young minds for an hour. She said he needed more discipline. He has been so sad and has started lacking confidence. Anyway, I’ve been homeschooling in the afternoon, but haven’t quite committed to full time, and just haven’t had the guts to transition him totally. I know it’s the right call, but I hate the thought of taking him away from his buddies. Your post helped me see that it might be just what he needs?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, and pages of the letter A and also, he often had to “write all the numbers from 1 to 500 then all the numbers from 500 to 1.” In my book, that’s not a lesson, it’s a punishment. What does my son have to learn from that?
      I am making sure my son gets a social activity every afternoon, 3 times a week it is karate class and the other 3 it’s a play date.
      Now that he’s not having to deal with all that shouting in the class (which he found seriously traumatic and which destroyed any hope he might have had if concentrating) I find he is far more sociable – the quality of his friendships and social interactions is improving visibly.
      I was told he needed discipline but actually, the other shouters in the class needed discipline – what he needed was serenity and intellectual stimulation.
      If you do decide to home school in Italy, this website has all the info and downloadable forms that you have to complete and present to the school to take care of the legal side.
      http://www.controscuola.it/faq/

      Like

  12. Despite all seriousness of the situation you picture, your post made me laugh quite a few times while reading. It´s strong, brave and admirable you took things into your own hands – I can imagine how unbearable the situation must have been for you as a mum, and of course for your little son. I hope I´d do the same thing if I was in your place. Wishing you lots of fun and success in the home class room!

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  13. Well done, you, and boo hiss to the teacher who appears to have trained light years ago. What a grade A, diamond-encrusted, 18 carat rat-bag!
    I want to make amulets now. I’m jealous. I didn’t do anything as exciting at school, but I would have driven my mother up the wall if she’d home-schooled me (I wasn’t dyslexic, but I was hyperactive – practically drove my parents insane.)

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    1. I always wanted to make amulets as a kid, so I am using the little lad to fulfill all my thwarted childhood desires!!!
      I have taught whole classes of hyperactive kids in London, imagine twelve of them all together! My lad isn’t hyperactive, thank goodness, but he has attention deficit, so I have to be extremely bossy about keeping all potential distractions away from him. friends are banned from phoning me in the morning, hubby is not allowed to leave clutter lying about etc etc.
      Sigh. It’s not easy.

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  14. Good on you Veronica, you have my total admiration. My little guy starts school in Sicily this September and I’m dreading it as I can see the problems I will have ahead. I don’t think he has the same problems as your little genius has had (be sure to give him a hug from me for his courage and perseverance) but it’s going to be one big huge culture shock crash for me. I love the Montessori method and wanted to send my son to an appropriate school but in my small Sicilian village there is no such thing, which is sad as Italy is the home of Montessori. I wonder if your little man enjoys learning with that method …

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    1. The hug for my little lad is much appreciated!!!
      I would not worry too much. Assuming your son doesn’t have specific learning problems, I think the Italian school syllabus (which is extremely standardised nationally) is fine really. In some subjects it’s great.
      There is too much emphasis on handwriting and rote learning, as I said, but you do end up 50% home schooling your child in Italy anyway, as they do 5 hours with the teacher in the morning and then 2 to 4 hours of homework with you in the afternoon. I personally think you can treat the homework set as a “suggestion” and make your son do something else if he would learn more from it. I never made my son copy text out of a book or write out lists of numbers – I would let him “trade in” these boring (pointless) homework tasks for a more interesting one, like doing a reading passage from his English workbook, a scientific experiment, or reading a chapter of a book to me.
      When he gets started, drop me a line any time so we can compare notes and strategies!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I read somewhere that Pierre and Marie Curie, along with some of their educated friends who also had kids, got fed up with the rote teaching in the schools. So the group set up a home-schooling co-op. The adults took turns teaching their subject specialties to all the kids. One of the Curie daughters eventually became a noted scientist and the other a writer.

    Before any laws mandated school attendance for kids, only the well-off in any country got an education, and it was usually at home with a tutor!

    Home schooling is somewhat popular in the USA these days and there are many support programs/materials/worksheets, including on-line. One of my former neighbors home-schooled all four of her kids for various reasons, including learning differences. The important thing is to get help in the teaching when there are subjects you cannot handle on your own (if any!) You are doing the right thing! Lucky kiddo.

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    1. That’s very interesting.
      I read a very interesting article by Richard Feynman some years ago in which he observed that the rote learning in many Latin countries (he spoke in particular about Brasil where he did a lecture tour) corresponds with a proportional lack of scientific discoveries in those countries. He thought enquiring minds were dulled and that rote learning does not actually lead to understanding, but merely an ability to repeat things in way that give the impression you understand.
      I managed to pass chemistry exams at school with high grades like that, parroting things without understanding anything whatsoever.
      Obviously you cannot make the next scientific breakthrough if you don’t really understand what you’re repeating!!

      It would be my dream to team up with some other parents and teach as a group, but sadly home schooling is so rare here I will not get the chance. I chatted to an American friend who actually mentioned that, in theory, a group of about six to eight parents who paid for their children to go to expensive private schools could save money by registering their children for home school and then hiring professional tutors for them – that way they would get quality attention in smaller classes.

      Luckily at this primary school level, the only subject that can present problems is Italian, and the kiddo goes off to his Nonna for that.

      Like

  16. Hello – just read this post from back in January, which is the same month my little boy was diagnosed with dysgraphia and dyspraxia. Two words which even my spellcheck doesn’t recognise. We live in the north of Italy, near Como, and before I took the initiative to take my son to a neuropsychiatrist (against our pediatrician’s advice), we went through 3 years of tears, nightmares, bitten nails and finally bedwetting as our bright, lively boy was constantly told he was lazy and not trying hard enough at school. His untidy handwriting was just because he “didn’t understand the importance of study” and his constant movements in class were “not paying attention”. The fact that he was clearly intelligent seemed to count against him – if he’d been stupid, he would just have been written off. Anyway, after 9 months of doctors and tests, he has his DSA certificate, and he now uses a tablet in class. The teacher is still convinced there’s nothing really wrong with him, she still tells him off for fidgeting (despite the doctors having explained it to her, and given her a load of classroom strategies she never actually uses), but the big change has been in him – he just shrugs her comments off, secure in the knowledge that a) he is intelligent (he has been telling me he feels stupid since 1st year), and b) that he is different, and that’s OK. He doesn’t have to write neatly like his classmates, and it doesn’t matter if he’s no good at football. He can play it and enjoy it anyway.

    So, to get to the point (sorry, long-winded explanation), we have signed him up to a Montessori for middle school in 2016. We’re lucky to have one near enough (although not quite, we will have to move house), and after seeing the way they work, I’m convinced we’ve found a solution. We’ve been warned time and again about middle school, which is the weak link in the Italian school system (*snort* – as if the primary school wasn’t bad enough), and the experience that causes Italy’s huge school dropout rate. Rote learning, bocciature, absolute silence and discipline in class, 3 hours of homework every day…no thanks. Try checking to see if you have a Montessori nearby?

    xxx

    Deborah

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for this advice Deborah and for sharing your story.
      So many people have been warning me abuot middle school and I didn’t fully understand what they were worried about – for my son the problems are happening right here in primary school, right now.
      I will try to find out if there is a Montessiro school near enough to send him for middle school.

      I am going to send you an email if that’s OK.

      Like

  17. Hello Veronica,
    I’ve just started following you after thoroughly enjoying your wonderful “Dangerously Truthful Diary” which I could not put down until I had finished it!
    After reading your post about home schooling, I just wanted to say that after moving to the Scottish Highlands from Edinburgh, my daughter who is very bright was miserable and not doing well at the local high school which is not very academically minded. Luckily I discovered “Interhigh ” on the Internet which is based in Wales and she now goes to school online and this year is doing 10 international GCSE’s. She talks to her teachers who are all very kind (and other pupils if she wishes) using the microphone on her laptop. She really loves it and is so happy now and getting very good grades. Her ” classmates” are all over the world and she even has a boy in her class who lives in Sicily!
    Interhigh say that they have dyslexia support groups also and there was a piece about them in the Sunday Times about them recently.

    I don’t know if the Godmother would approve though!

    I hope your health is improving and that you continue with your wonderful blog/ books which give us so much pleasure to read.
    Best wishes,
    Anne

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for your very kind comments about my blog and book. I am so gald you enjoyed/enjoy them!

      Interhigh sounds like a fantastic idea and it might be a brilliant solution for my son in a couple of years’ time. Teaching him the whole secondaery school syllabus would be rether beyond me in some subjects!
      He’s got 2 more years of primary school to do and we have decided to give regular school another go, starting at a new school with a new teacher, for this year. I think his main reason for wanting this was that, the more he got over his stress and trauma from the old experiences, the more he missed the companionship of the other children.
      Anyway fingers crossed! We’re just doing it on a try-and-see basis….

      Like

  18. I loved the way you ended this article! I, too have a dysgraphic-dyslexic son. There is a most marvelous book that I recommend called “The Dyslexic Advantage”. I hope you’ll check it out, I just loved it. It is a very positive and uplifting perspective on Dyslexia. In any case, I must say I’m impressed that you are homeschooling. That is an incredibly huge job! This week, I’ve just started blogging myself about my path as an Accidental Housewife and how the path led me to open my own French tour company. I think we have some things in common, so I’m going to follow you. It would be great fun if you followed me too. I can see that you have a lot of experience blogging and I’d love to get your input!

    Like

    1. I will have a look for that book – thanks for the tip!
      Your tour company sounds exciting… Maybe you could could sign in to add another comment, then I can find my way to your blog. What is it called?

      Like

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