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Embracing Shifted Expectations

Embracing Shifted Expectations

I heard an exciting piece of news this holiday season.  

A friend's daughter, who is severely dyslexic, has been accepted to (the highly competitive) Queen's University undergraduate program.

While being accepted into one's university of choice is exciting - I remember my own shriek of excitement when my mom gave me the news over the phone while I was away on a Spring break trip - I relished in the excitement of having to shift my expectations of what was possible for dyslexic kids.

For not only is she dyslexic, she is really dyslexic and has only been educated in an independent school designed specifically to meet the needs of students with language based learning differences.  

I remember a walk on the beach with her and her mom when she was about 11 or 12.  Their family had just returned from a European holiday and her mom and I were talking about how amazing it would be to pick up our families and live elsewhere in the world for a year. 

The conversation meandered to how other families were managing their kids' education while on sabbatical years.  

We had friends who had moved to a small village in France for the year and had enrolled their kids in the local French public school.  Another family we knew were on the move and had taken home schooling supplies with them. 

As we wondered and walked, discussing the pros and cons of each option and brainstormed ways around them, my friend's daughter piped up and said, "But I couldn't do that.  I couldn't go to a school that's not my school.  I couldn't do school like regular kids".

My heart bursts and swells so much as I remember that story.  For now, not only is she going to be attending school like 'regular kids', she will be studying at one of the most sought after and highly respected universities in Canada.  As a peer.

I'm grateful for her, grateful for the school hat has brought her here and grateful for the realization that I was carrying a fixed mindset for what educational opportunities were possible for Sam.  Realizing that at such a young age I already had fixed in my mind expectations for each of my children.  Expectations that were different. 

I'm grateful for the shift and for the reminder to stay open to shifts in possibility.

When I congratulated my friend's daughter on her achievement, she said, with a twinkle in her eye and a determined look on her face, "Thanks.  I'm just waiting to hear about getting into (the even more competitive!) Queen's Commerce program".

Embracing First Place in the World

Embracing First Place in the World

"Mom", says Sam.  "Do you know what a telomerase is?"

"No", I said.  "I don't.  Can you explain it to me?  I might know it by a different name.  (Thinking to myself that he had got the pronunciation not quite right, but not wanting to alienate him).

"Well", says Sam.  "You might have not got cancer if you did know".

I nearly spit out my tea.

"Is that so?"

"It's an enzyme", says Sam.  "It's like a little machine inside a cell.  Which is really useful for understanding cancer".

"Wow", I said.  "Are you learning this is science?  It seems pretty advanced for grade six".

"We learned a story about a women", says Sam.  "She's a scientist.  She. Won. A. Nobel.  Prize.  Which is like getting First. Place. In. The. World".

"You're right", I said.  "That is a HUGE accomplishment".

"And Mom", says Sam.  "She. Is. Dyslexic".

"There are lots of famous actors and singers and rock stars that are dyslexic", says Sam. "Because, you know, we struggle at the school part.  But she says she is a good scientist because she is dyslexic".

"You know", he continued.  "Because instead of sees things in a line and in order, our brains are really good at finding unexpected solutions to a problem".

I quickly googled Carol Greider and found out that not only did she win the Nobel Prize in science, she also won one of the most respected prizes for work in the sciences - Albert Lasker Award.

And was quoted as saying:

“I believe that learning to develop my compensatory skills also played a role in my success as a scientist because one has to intuit many different things that are going on at the same time and apply those to a particular problem”€”to not just concentrate on one of them, but to bring many in laterally. Perhaps my ability to pull more information out of context and to put together different ideas may have been affected by what I learned to do from dyslexia.”

"Oh yeah", says Sam, "She went to Berkley.  I wonder if she knows Marshawn Lynch".

Embracing all the learning styles

Embracing all the learning styles

"Mom", says Sam.  "I'm an auditory learner and I learn kinesthetically too". 

"Sam.  How cool!", I say.  "Talk about it".

"Well", says Sam.  "An auditory learner is someone who when they read information Just. Don't. Get. It".  

"But", he continues, "If you tell me information, then my memory is amazing".  

"And kinesthetic?  That's like when I don't really get it, when someone's explaining how to play a game or something, but if they talk to me while I'm doing it, I totally get it so fast".

"Wow", I say.  "That's so powerful to understand how you learn".

"And useful too", say Sam.  "My teacher says that now that I know, I just need to make sure that I'm receiving information in the way that works best for me".

No kidding that's useful, I thought to myself.

And I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Sam in school and for every child who learns the way that Sam does, to be in an education system that is textbook and lecture based.

Can you imagine when the gateway to your learning and education is through reading textbooks and your brain doesn't take in information by reading it and then to go to a lecture when your brain doesn't learn by being told how to do something.  

And the heart breaking part, is that all it would take to change it, is some understanding of and advocacy for the type of learner that you are.

This point was further driven home last night when I was making dinner and Sam's older brother said, "Mom, can you help me with this math question?" and then read it out loud.  

"I need to read it", I said. 

And as I was walking over to the homework table, Sam shouted "X = 3.5" from across the room - completing a math problem for three grades above his own.

Maybe I'm not as strong in math as I was lead to believe.  Maybe it was just delivered to me consistently in the way that works for my learning style.  Lucky me.


TODAY.com Parenting Team Parenting Contributor