The Thwarted Reader

My daughter is passionate about books.

She devoured the whole of Harry Potter before the end of Grade 2; she knows the Chanters of Tremaris novels off by heart. After finishing Little Women, she eagerly hunted down Good Wives and Little Men and consumed them too. Her favourite book, by a long stretch, is Around the World in 80 Days; the elaborate language and the complications of the plot delight and absorb her. As a voracious reader, as a writer, as a proud mum, I'm thrilled by her evident love and need for literature.

But - and it's a huge but - Alice can't read.

She's in Grade 3 now and probably reading at a Grade 1 level. Deciphering the simplest sentences is a frustrating battle. We're almost certain that she has dyslexia (which after all means nothing more than 'difficulty with reading and writing'). All these books that she consumes, she has experienced either through audio-books or by me reading to her. The gap between what she wants to read, and what she is able to read, is so enormous that it might be never be bridged.

We've tried it all. She's had eye tests and ear tests and coloured glasses. She's had expensive assessments which told us what we already knew - that she has trouble decoding written symbols into words. She's had tutoring, which she hated, and we tried an at-home reading program which crumbled after a few weeks. She had a year of wonderful literacy support at school, but that program is only funded up to the end of Grade 2. Fortunately this year she's had a fantastic classroom teacher, who understands how to motivate her, and plays to her strengths.

Because Alice does have strengths. She is articulate and creative. She's confident and fluent in giving oral presentations; she's inventive and original. She is well aware of her difficulties with literacy and is convinced she's stupid. At the end of Grade 1 she was so frustrated and miserable that she was almost suicidally depressed, slumped on the kitchen floor, asking, "What's the point of me? What's the point of being alive?'

Thankfully she is no longer in despair, but sometimes I am. I fear for her future, I panic that she's never going to get it, that she'll be crippled by this disability for the rest of her life. Sometimes I think she'll be okay, that she's bright enough and creative enough to find her own path; sometimes I think one day it will all click and she'll be fine; sometimes I comfort myself by observing that she is, slowly, making progress.

But it breaks my heart to witness my child - a naturally solitary, imaginative child, who craves stories, who feasts on language, a born reader by temperament - shut out from the wondrous garden of books by the cold iron bars of this mysterious inability. She loves books so much. I hope and pray with all my heart that one day, she can have all the books she yearns for.


  1. What a courageous post! How lucky for Alice that she has a mother who also loves books, and will obviously help her in every possible way. There are some fantastic programs around for helping kids with dyslexia, and I hope that you will soon find the one that works for her.

  2. Very courageous indeed. I hear this story (although rarely as eloquent) very often in the schools and libraries I visit. And I've never known it not to have a happy ending. But how wonderful for Alice that she has the passion for reading, even if she hasn't got the skill part yet. The passion is the most important part, and it's much harder to get that. I hope it all works out - I'm sure it will.

  3. It's so hard to hear this about beautiful, articulate little Alice and I have held her in my heart all weekend! But what Lili says is so true, if she has the passion she will overcome the obstacles. And let's face it, what better environment could she be in? Great big Nana hug to you, Kate. x

  4. Thank you all for your lovely comments (and the emails I've had as well). I'm sure we will get there in the end. It's heartening to feel so supported, thank you!

  5. Dear Kate,
    Indeed a courageous post. Perhaps we could research some famous, successful creative heroes with dyslexia, for Alice to look up to? There would be so many, though they aren't in my head right now. Actors, artists, musicians...
    Another art making day is surely in order, if Alice is interested. Perhaps in your beautiful backyard? :)
    Love to you all

  6. Oh Kate.
    It's fantastic to see you're supporting Alice in everyway possible.

    I've tutored children with - or suspected - dyslexia and trust me, wanting to learn, wanting to read is half the battle!

    Good luck and I'm sure she'll get in the end:)