We did a thing this week. Something tremendous. Perhaps not so tremendous by other’s standards, but huge and wonderful for us.
This is the summer of returning to travel. In our home that means loading our gaggle on an airplane and heading to my heart’s home. We traveled out west for eleven glorious days. We returned for just fifteen days when we realized our marvelous accomplishment. No, his accomplishment. For you see, my singular focus in life is this: to help shepherd humans through the world who are capable of kindness, compassion, and the ability to fly on their own.
While on our family trip, my 12-year-old referred to himself a Dori from Finding Nemo. The words tumble out of his lips and onto my heart. I am dumbfound. The gravity of his grasp of the intricacies of his beautiful brain articulated in one sentence. He knows. You see, for some the understanding of dyslexia rests with reversed letters and thinking of b’s mistaken for d’s. To boil it down so simply does not accurately articulate the complexity of this special brain.
I’m speaking to the parents of children who cope with working memory process deficits, dyslexia, or other learning differences. You see all of these culminate in a bundle of anxiety; crippling anxiety that might cause a small child to hide under tables or circle a trusted teacher on the playground.
Dyslexia, you see, is an alternative wiring of the neurons in the brain. Note, I did not stay it is an incorrect or miswiring. It is, in fact, a complex and important diversion from the “normal” style of learning. People with dyslexia are often cast aside as non-compliant or not trying. When, in fact, their neural pathways are just different. They are not wrong or miswired. They just take a different route. Dyslexia impacts my child in many ways. B’s are d’s are p’s are q’s. His executive functioning is difficult and often it appears he is wading through water. This is primarily due to his working memory deficit which is in the 1st percentile. Which is where we arrive at my child, who has an incredible IQ, finding Dori in the mirror when he looks at his reflection.
Working memory is defined as, “the part of short-term memory that is concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. I really like this definition by Peg Rosen, “Working memory is like a temporary sticky note in the brain. It’s a skill that lets us work with information without losing track of what we’re doing.” In my child’s case, his high intellect tells him he should know the information, he understands that he has been shown the information, but he cannot retrieve it. Kind of like putting your keys down but you can’t remember where. You tear through the house and know you put them in a special place so you can find them, but can’t remember where. It is that but with everything in your life.
This is just one of the ways dyslexia impacts my child. And it causes crippling anxiety. Worry that he will not remember how to get somewhere. Anxiety and pacing for his safety and familiar people. Fear of being reprimanded for “not paying attention.” So when I tell you that my child bravely, as if taking a step off a cliff and believing he would not fall, walked onto an airplane, by himself, it is no small feat.
Four years ago he was hiding under tables when placed in new situations. He was crippled with fear that he would be shamed in front of other students and made to feel like he wasn’t enough. Yesterday, my child took a leap of faith and believed in himself. He got on the airplane, by himself, trusting that his grandparents would be on the other end of the flight.
As he stood in line, spot A47, to board the nearly four-hour flight, I pulled down my mask and kissed his beautiful brain. When he boarded I sobbed from a place of pride and accomplishment. I waited until the airplane was in the air before leaving. And when he touched down on the other end, my parents welcomed him with open arms and celebrated his independence.