Our Son Greg and Dyslexia
“My bad days started in Kindergarten”. That was our son Greg’s heartbreaking commentary on our public school system that through apparent ignorance and academic arrogance, or perhaps purposeful denial, failed him and continues to fail thousands like him to the present day. Until Kindergarten he was an active and happy child that exhibited no signs of mental impairment or low intelligence. In fact, the opposite was true. He learned to walk before the age of one and was inquisitive and bright; soaking up knowledge like a sponge. He was happy in Play School but began to exhibit a reluctance to go to Kindergarten after a short time. He became quiet and withdrawn. He was no longer a happy, carefree child. One day while giving him a bath (he was about six years old and in Grade One) he started to cry. I asked him “Gregory, what’s wrong?” He said: “I haven’t been happy since Kindergarten, Daddy, I am stupid and a jerk and I want to die”. My heart broke for him.
When he was still in Grade One we had him tested. He was having trouble learning the Alphabet and increasingly withdrawn. The person who evaluated the results informed us that Gregory was below average in intelligence and we should not expect too much from him; it was developmental! This person (who later turned out to be unqualified to interpret the test) informed us that the high level of general knowledge exhibited in the test results was due to us being older parents. That was the beginning of our distrust for the Public School System. This feeling was reinforced by a fellow employee who had a child with learning disabilities. He cautioned me not to trust the Public School System that seemed to exhibit the “not invented here” syndrome combined with a smug academic superiority complex. If “they” hadn’t heard of it and didn’t teach it, it obviously didn’t exist! If it didn’t exist then they didn’t need to deal with it.
We were getting very worried and desperate when we heard of a Dr. Kline who was apparently an expert on learning disabilities. He was 75 years old at the time and already semi-retired. We called him for an appointment and after a few questions, he agreed to see Greg. After a brief examination and interview that included watching him build a complicated structure out of building blocks, he informed us that Greg had Dyslexia and on a scale of 1 to 10 was a 7 or and 8 in severity. He said that Greg was very bright and could learn to read and write well with the appropriate Orton Gillingham phonetic teaching method but would always have trouble spelling. He informed us that we had two options: get an in-class Tutor or enroll Greg in a private school that taught the Orton Gillingham method. The Public School System was (and still is) using the Whole Word Method. At the time there were two schools to choose from: James Cameron in Maple Ridge and Kenneth Gordon in Burnaby. Both schools were about equidistant from our home, but James Cameron at $500 per month was substantially less costly and equally rated. The Primary School Greg attended would not accept a Tutor, so we enrolled Greg at James Cameron for Grade Two. He attended there for five years with my wife driving him to Maple Ridge every morning from Coquitlam and picking him up in the afternoon. Greg learned to read and write well enough to enter the Public School System for Grade Seven. His spelling of course was still poor so we took some time to inform his teacher of Greg’s background and Dyslexia. We asked her not to embarrass Greg in class because he would never be a good speller. She nodded her head as if she understood and within days did the exact opposite when she asked all the children in class to read out their spelling test results. I believe Greg got three out of ten and was mortified. She informed us that she did that to reward good performance! She seemed like a very nice person and a good teacher but she obviously had no idea what Dyslexia was and dismissed our comments and concerns as just ignorant prattle from overly protective parents.
Greg finished high school and graduated with honours but we always knew that his struggles continued unabated affecting his confidence and self-esteem. The look on his face on Graduation Day belonged to someone who had failed. Through many struggles and much effort on Greg’s part that included a three-year stint in the Canadian Army as a Paratrooper, he has reached a point in his life where he can acknowledge his Dyslexia without feeling diminished by it. The black cloud over his head is gone. We were lucky to be in a position to help him along the way, from identifying the problem, to finding a solution, and then being able to carry it out. So many families are not able to do that and the Public School System is, for all and intents and purposes, their adversary. Apparently the Public School System still does not recognize Dyslexia as a separate defined learning disability and does not incorporate accommodation for it in their curriculum nor teacher training. If reports of Dyslexia in varying degrees of severity affecting up to 25% of the population (predominantly in boys) are true, then this is a scandal and betrayal of enormous proportions. It should not be allowed to go on!
Peter and Diana Epp
October 18th, 2017