This is a story about my family and one shared by a proud mother, but it's also a story of bravery and one that may inspire you or someone you care about if you choose to share. It might also give a good deal of hope to anyone who has a child with dyslexia or a learning disability or anyone has been diagnosed with this. This young man (pictured first year of high school & year twelve), who has graduated school a few months ago in October 2018, began high school year seven as an undiagnosed severe dyslexic. He had a reading age of an eight year old (year three), couldn’t tell the time and added up on his fingers. I spent most of his primary school years talking to teachers and trying to get to the bottom of why he struggled because he seemed intelligent. Each time I brought up dyslexia, they assured me that if he didn't swap his "P's" and "Q's" around, then he didn't have dyslexia. I simply believed the experts and didn't even Google it, can you believe? Eventually, on his entrance test to high school, the psychologist called me and explained that he would be placed in classes for kids who needed support. I explained to her that I had expected this and had planned to have what I called "The Conversation" with all his teachers. This was my annual chat beginning of each year to discuss his challenges. I wanted them to understand that I knew what was happening and though he wasn't academically brilliant, that wasn't as important to our family. I did also want them to know that I was there to support him in any way possible. The psychologist though asked me a few other questions about his primary school years and then said, "He could be dyslexic. You know swapping "P's" and "Q's" is only one symptom. Get him tested and let's see what that reveals."
I hung up, and then Googled the symptoms. Even without testing, when I saw all the other signs, I knew. My heart sunk, I started to cry and I felt as though I'd completely let him down. If I'd only checked, it was there to see. He clearly had a majority of the symptoms. When he was tested, even watching it was so obvious. Regardless, we explained to him this was no excuse for not doing his best. Probably a needless warning because he always did do his best and his teachers commented constantly what a delight he was to teach. They would say, "If every student was a Bailey, teaching would be easy." He dived into high school with gusto, availing himself of every opportunity and began to win the annual awards for many of his classes. These were for his level, but gradually over the years, he was moved up into general classes. He still won awards but these were for more woodwork or sports, where he really shone. The first year of high school, he won the Dean of Year's award for living and demonstrating the school's value system. As they were describing this child before the announcement, I sat there, never having seen him win any award and never expecting him to, and starting thinking, This sounds so much like our Bailey. But it couldn't be him, surely, and yet... Then they called his name, and I thought, Okay, so this is where he can really shine. This school values the same traits as us. He can take this road, and reading and maths won't matter on this journey. Bailey was placed in a program, which he attended several mornings a week, whereby a trained teacher worked with him to help him learn the basics of reading and to build from there. He had to start right back at early level phonics. Gradually he began to learn to read and comprehend. He'll never be fluent but he reads well enough now that you wouldn't know how difficult it had once been for him.
Every year of his six years, he won the Respect, Honor and Integrity award, which is only handed to twelve of the 300 odd kids in each grade. He was his home room class representative four times during the six years, an assistant prefect in Year Ten, a Peer Support Leader in Year Eleven and a Prefect in Year Twelve. He sat on many committees and contributed everywhere he could with time and enthusiasm. In fact, when he wasn't chosen as Head Boy, most teachers and students expressed surprise. It had been his goal since Grade Eight, but when he wasn't the Principal's pick, he just said, "Never mind. I'm busy anyway with all the other committees I've got." I think I was more upset.
He represented the school in practically every sport going: running, athletics, swimming, triathlons, football. In his last month at school, he was handed the prestigious Swim Coach's Award, chosen for his conduct and overall leadership of the team. In his last school year, 2018, he found time to train for and run a marathon of forty-two kilometers (twenty-six miles). I can't even tell you how amazing of an achievement that is when you see the course, the last leg completely filled with hills, which he said he wasn't even sure he could walk up. But somehow he kept going. The teacher who had supported him with the extra english training for all those years, shared with me when she was pregnant with her second child, that of all the kids she's ever taught, if she picked one and hoped her child would grow up to be like them, it would be Bailey. A year ago, he began summer holiday work at a local Office Works store (like a Staples), as a school book list hub worker filling book lists. At the end of that project, they asked him to stay on part-time in the night fill restocking team. Within a few months, they’d graduated him to floor staff & he’d come home excitedly talking of how he’d helped people in the tech area & the thrill of being of service. He then created a system using his own initiative to help smooth re-ticketing the multiple products, as prices change daily with competition. They re-ticket 11,000 items a month & don’t often get them all done, which loses the company money because they have to honor sometimes cheaper prices. He hit this goal and got 15,000 re-ticketed himself and also encouraging others to do it. Last few months, he’s come home late because he’s stayed back helping the night manager close up. He’d watched what she did to end the day, and without being asked, he’d go do what he could so she wouldn’t have to work back. The store manager, night-fill manager & day manager are all arguing about who gets him on their shifts with staff shuffles. Now, after being urged to nominate himself for Coordinator Management Training & come on full time, he's just had an interview that he says went very well, as they were most impressed with his school leadership resume. Not a single mention of his academic scores, which were average (but very good for a dyslexic). If he’s not accepted, because they only take two in Western Australia each intake, they’ve offered him a job as a product specialist in a store that needs a change of culture. His current store manager is moving to the store and wants him to come along to help get it get back to where it should be. Bailey was going to start diploma training for sports management this month, February 2019, but he's decided to defer and see where this takes him. His store manager told us, as parents, we should be proud as he always comes to work happy & has incredible work ethic & initiative. Though I am proud of him & feel we had a little to do with his attitude, most of this is him. Academic pursuits were never going to be his forte, so we encouraged him to play to his strengths. The one thing I have done for my kids is be their advocates in the school system. I wanted them to be treated fairly & respectfully, even though sometimes systems don’t give that to people who don’t fit the “normal” mode. "Do your best" has always been our mantra & I constantly reminded teachers in meetings that we didn’t value educational grades' results as much as attitude & communication skills. That our main goal was to raise two kids who were kind, respectful & contributed more than they took. If they didn’t pass an exam, we’d ask them, “Did you do your best?” If they said, “yes,” then we were good. If they were treated unfairly by a teacher or the system, we’d question the school or teacher because we wanted them to know you can’t take things lying down, either. It’s important to question things & fight for what you believe in, but respectfully. However, in the end, we explained these were great life lessons because life isn’t fair & they’d meet plenty of people in the world who weren’t fair and would frustrate them. "Get over it and get on with the next day," we’d say. I don’t think many of Bailey’s graduating peers would be currently offered a management pathway four months out of school, especially a young man with a learning disability. But he & we never gave his dyslexic diagnosis any power over his future. He did work hard, before & after school, for the first three years of high school in sessions to overcome how far behind he was but most of all he just kept a great attitude through the ups and downs of school. This is a tale of ignoring that which holds you back. If you cannot change it, then it's of no use to you to ponder its impact. There is no single pathway to success & happiness. So, find what you are good at. Discover your own power & own it. Follow your heart. Never accept a momentary label as you. And make a fool of anyone who says you’re not good enough or you can’t do it. Just soar...
Bailey got the job and he's one of the youngest trainee management coordinators that they every had with an incredible salary package for a young man of eighteen. So yay for him!
A month or so in to his new role, he's grown incredibly in confidence, has been left to manage a store as part of his training, constantly tells of new organization systems he's created and just generally loves what he's doing. So, not a single dyslexic challenge has held him back in his job. In fact, I think he sees the world differently because of the dyslexia and so what originally seemed like a challenging learning disability has actually been a wonderful gift.
He's actually soaring and it's incredible and inspiring to see.
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