Honoring a Very Special Group of Mothers – Mothers of Boys and Girls who are Dyslexic

This article appeared as a Mother’s Day message from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity Co-Director, Sally Shaywitz, MD.

May 9, 2014

This Sunday, May 11th is Mother’s Day, a day of special recognition and appreciation for all mothers. Here, I want to honor a very special group of mothers—mothers of boys and girls who are dyslexic. When I speak to virtually anyone who is dyslexic and they tell about who has made the difference in his/her life, who has provided endless support, love, understanding and belief in them, the answer—my mother.

There is no bond, none, stronger than that between mother and child; nothing can break this connection. This steadfast, unwavering bond is especially critical if you are dyslexic. Here, we know that it is inevitable that there are going to be bumps in the road, frustrations: refusals by schools to diagnose and to recognize dyslexia; misunderstanding that slow reading doesn’t mean slow thinking; failure by a child’s teacher to accept that the child is trying as hard as she can or that the child is not stupid; seeming inability to obtain a valid evaluation of the child and, most upsetting of all—the child’s loss of belief in her own ability after she fails to finish a test because she ran out of time or is unable to read aloud without stumbling when called on to do so in front of her class. What I have witnessed over and over again is that there is one person who knows better, who sees beyond the difficulties, who believes in him and, as I noted in Overcoming Dyslexia, becomes his champion. She knows that underneath all these struggles is a wonderful, highly intelligent child who needs people to understand her and to provide her with what she requires in order to become a reader. I have read through so many reports where since a very early age, there were naysayers, questioning the intelligence of the child—either telling her mother that she wasn’t very smart or that to make progress at a snail’s pace was acceptable for this child. Thankfully, her mother knew better and refused to accept such assessments or predictions for her child.

From a highly successful adult who is dyslexic:

“My mother has been the most important person in my life. Her character and values are those that I try to emulate as well as those that I would like to pass on to my newborn baby. The greatest compliment I can give her is that the one person I would have most liked to have met would be my grandmother (her mother) to see the person who, in turn, had such an influence on her in instilling such love and warmth.”

Mothers support their children, not out of feeling sorry for them, but most importantly because they really do know their child best and know this child has incredible—albeit often not appreciated – strengths in big picture thinking, reasoning, and, as Charles Schwab states, “seeing the end zone” while others are still moving forward inch by inch. I have seen mothers with barely an eighth grade education standing up to school principals with umpteen degrees – in support of their child, demanding better access to appropriate interventions. I have observed mothers, intrepid in support of their child, who have become full time stay-at-home mothers so that they might home school or tutor their son in order that he has a chance to succeed. What is so impressive is the commitment of these mothers, no matter who they are, where they come from geographically, their level of education, their race or socio-economic status.

In my many travels, I have learned that this inextricable bonding and support of a mother for her dyslexic child is universal. In Sapporo, Japan where conversation was carried out via a translator, you didn’t have to speak the language to feel the passion, the emotion and deep concern and commitment of a mother to her dyslexic son or daughter. In Los Angeles, California at a gala for a wonderful school for children who are dyslexic, I can still picture a highly successful businessman get up before several hundred people and tell, with tears streaming down his face, how he struggled in school and could get no help from his school.  His mother knew she had to do something. To ensure he received the education he needed, she started a school in their apartment. Striking, too, was when his mother who was in her 90’s came to the platform to share their story. The love and affection between them, the wonderful memories of how she ‘saved’ him and her dedication to him have left an indelible imprint in my memory. Ask a highly successful dyslexic adult how s/he achieved success, the response, without a moments hesitation, “My mother believed in me when no one else did.” “My mom, read to me and stayed up all night helping me with my homework.”  “When, I began to think I was not so smart, it was my mother who, in every which way she could think of, found examples to show me how really smart I was.” “My mother’s belief in me, her refusal to accept less than the best for me, her confidence in me and willingness to go to bat for me, gave me strength and a belief in myself.” “There is no way I can ever thank my mother for all she has done for me.”
“Mothers, you can sense what is necessary and nothing can hold you back from doing what is needed for your child and for all children who are dyslexic.”

In truth it is the child who empowers and emboldens his mother. Love for her child transforms all mothers, no matter who they are—from shy, soft-spoken, even frightened mothers to shed  their fears and to go forward to defend their cubs. Mothers, indeed, are our heroes, the true superheroes of our generation. Mothers, you can sense what is necessary and nothing can hold you back from doing what is needed for your child and for all children who are dyslexic—be it starting a charter school for disadvantaged dyslexic children in Louisiana or banding together from all parts of our country to go to Washington, DC to urge your congressional representatives to support dyslexia, to support the important and necessary Resolution 456, or closer to home, remaining with your wheezing daughter in the steamy bathroom so that you could continue to go over her reading lessons or to lie next to your child each night to tell her how she will succeed and realize her dreams.

Because of your powerful bond with your dyslexic child you will know when and how to act to ensure that your child is understood, receives the instruction and accommodation he requires, believes in her—or himself and has access to a bright future. Mothers, you are the ones who are making a positive difference. No one is as strong and effective advocate on behalf of your child as you are.  Mothers you are making and will continue to make a real difference in your child’s life. And for this – we, at the YCDC, your child and all parents thank you.

Sally Shaywitz, MD
Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development

Co-Director, Yale Center for Dyslexia &Creativity

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