The right way to look at it
Last month, I was invited to give a talk on 'How to facilitate the academic development of children with dyslexia' to parents and teachers of dyslexic children.
As I prepared, I discussed with my husband how we had tried to help our son with the challenges of dyslexia. Since he started primary education, my husband and I have shared supervising his homework and revision.
Guiding and motivating my son to study was an extremely difficult task. Tremendous effort always ended up with little gain, not only on our part but on his. All three of us would always work really hard at getting him through dictations and exams. But no matter how hard we worked, he failed most of them. It was a very disappointing experience.
But as I became increasingly frustrated, my husband reminded me about something that happened when my son was in Primary Five; something that had proved to be insightful for all of us and provided a window into future progress.
One evening, my son and husband engaged in the prolonged process of revision for dictation the next morning. After almost three hours of struggling, my son was still unable to spell out the passage for dictation. Exhausted and distraught, he refused to continue. But before losing his temper, my husband decided to try a different tactic. Instead of looking at everything our son had got wrong, he decided to look at it from the perspective of how much our son had improved in just one evening.
Our son made more than 50 mistakes when we started practising for the mock dictation. But by his final attempt this had been reduced to just 20 errors. Although this would still mean he would fail his dictation, it was huge progress for a dyslexic child. So instead of getting frustrated, my husband sent our son to bed after showing appreciation for his big effort.
A few days later, we had the results back from the exam. He hadn't passed, but we counted the number of errors - 13. We asked him how he felt about his performance. 'Disappointed,' he said.
My husband asked him to count the number of words he wrote correctly. There were more than 80. He was asked: 'Compare what you know with what you don't know, which one is more?' My son slowly but happily said: 'What I know is more than what I don't know.'
We told him that although most people tended to evaluate him by focusing on his deficit, that is not the way he should see himself and it is not the way we see him. This alternative perspective has made a great difference in my son's development and in our family life.
When recalling this experience and the invaluable lessons learned from it, I am grateful to have a child whose special needs bring me both suffering and joy, and have helped make me a better person with a humble gratitude for life.
Dr Lau Yuk-king is a consultant with the department of social work at the Chinese University