The pressure for our children to do well academically can lead to sleepless nights worrying and wasted energy nagging. I know, I’ve been there!
My son crawled late and spoke late. I listened to those who said he was just a 'late developer', even though my gut told me something wasn't right. At infant and primary stage I spent too long trying to make him understand maths and read more fluently. I couldn’t understand why he was so eloquent and capable in other areas, gravitating towards high achieving friends, having great organisational skills outside school and a creative, imaginative mind. At 11, he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia and dyscalculia and something which I have only recently learned more about - slow processing disorder. The diagnosis gave me an explanation, but didn’t stop the worrying. How would he cope, what would he be, what should I be doing to help?
From 6 - 11, he and his best friend built a whole town at the bottom of our garden. It had houses, a theatre, a park, a town hall, it’s own language and currency, and required a passport and visa to visit. When his slightly older friend moved onto secondary school, my son turned into ‘Bear Grylls’ and spent hours outside, creating dens, lighting fires with flint and cooking himself beans on toast. At 13 he decided being a spy might be a suitable career and did a padi diving course, learnt to sail, ski and shoot arrows. (I kept quiet about spies needing to read and write!)
School was a nightmare; even in a small class his progress was slow and he became despondent. I tried (not hard enough) to find out more about ‘slow processing’ and half heartedly looked into getting speech therapy for him which I’d heard can help. My GP ‘pooh phooed’ the existence of ‘slow processing disorder’ which, if I’d ignored and researched, could have unlocked the door to education for my son.
Then by chance, he found his ‘thing’. A visit to the Electric Magnetic Festival (a Nipperbout client) led to the discovery that he had an aptitude for IT and more specifically, writing code. He began to imitate other teenagers spending hours in his room on his computer. He wasn’t playing games or listening to music. He was coding, hacking and listening to podcasts on ‘security now’.
About that time he began asking to leave school. His older sister had been home educated for a while, so he was aware of this as a option. I resisted, as I didn’t feel able to sufficiently support him. However, after a parents' evening when it was clear his GCSE results would be low anyway, I gave in. He left school and joined a sixth form college early for year 11 (yes, you can do this, who knew?!) sitting his maths and English GCSEs and doing a level 2 BTech in IT. He thrived, working hard and succeeding for a change.
When a photographer for the Mail on Sunday arrived to take his picture, I discovered he was writing letters to the government about security legislation! My dyslexic son had letters published in 3 national news papers.
When an official document from Companies House arrived, we learnt he had set up his own company and when he asked for the train fare to London we discovered he was pitching his business idea, ‘dragons den’ style, to an investment company!
My head was still stuck in the need for an academic route and a painful summer of arguments followed, as we cajoled, begged and (I’m ashamed to say) manipulated him into going to back to college. He gained his level 3 BTech with a double star distinction, but at the end of year 12 , flatly refused to return. With great maturity he sat us down and pitched his business idea, eloquently and passionately, giving us valid reasons why school was not for him. Reluctantly we agreed, and since, he has gone from strength to strength.
He was accepted onto the NatWest Accelerator scheme and has an office, a phone and mentors who encourage, challenge and set him targets. He has been included on an EU funded scheme for entrepreneurs and was a finalist on the TransferWise 2020 project. The skills he is gaining will support him through life, and since security and AI are key skills the UK lacks, I’m now relaxed and confident about his future.
* If your gut tells you something's wrong, ignore the platitudes dished out and insist on an early diagnosis. Research and learn everything you can about that diagnosis. Dr Tim Conway and the Morris association have some excellent information and programmes to identify and help dyslexia early.
* Slow processing disorder really IS a “thing” although some doctors and teachers may deny this. Learn everything you can and follow advice (NDCS can give information). There are speech therapy exercises which can re-programme how the brain takes in information, and cunning microphone aids which help with processing! A processing disorder isn’t about not hearing, it’s about the brain translating what’s heard or seen too slowly, so that new sounds coming in distract the listener and key information is missed. It differs from auditory processing because it all includes visual things as well, for example how quickly one can do maths facts or copy things down.
* Listen to and trust your child. School is not the route for everyone and real life experiences are sometimes better for learning and development. I applaud Simon Cowell for saying he won’t send Eric to school for precisely that reason. Education Otherwise is a great resource and support for learning at home. My home schooled daughter gained a first at University, runs her own company and is a director of my company.
* Remember, childhood is precious and short. Celebrate your child’s successes, acknowledging any failures as learning and development opportunities and encourage them to try everything so they can find their ‘thing’.
* Be open to all their career suggestions, no matter how bizarre, and support them in finding out more about whatever they are interested in. I’m told that today’s young people are likely to change careers several times in their lives. How exciting is that!!