LMD 048: Belinda Dekker: My journey with a Dyslexic Daughter

sunset-chaserWelcome to The Luvin My Dyslexia Podcast:

Today, I am going to take the words of Belinda Dekker who is a big force in the Dyslexia Support Australia and I think she actually created the Dyslexia Support New South Wales Facebook group and she’s got fabulous information to share and  I’d like today to pay tribute to her by reading in my words two of the letters that she has in recent times written. Today is just fabulous information from a fabulous lady who frankly doesn’t want to talk to me. I really hope that you get from this a lot of good information. The first tells a little about Belinda and her journey and the second letter is a bit of a struggle and you’ll be able to tell the way I read it, quite intense, but each information is for you to take to the teacher that’s teaching your child, the school where your child is in, so that they will understand what they are going through. I hope you enjoy this, I enjoyed reading it. I actually enjoyed the last six months chasing Belinda across Australia and failing to get her on my show. Maybe one day soon. I hope you’ll love it!


Takeaways from this episode:

My Red Letter

My journey with a dyslexic daughter has been difficult, heartbreaking and challenging but it has also been heartwarming and uplifting. As an ex high school teacher I trusted the knowledge of primary school teachers. My inner parent alarm bells were ringing but I was told to wait and see and I did as she was my first child. 

By the end of year 2 she had been driven to the pit of Tartarus and was an angry, scared child. We were lucky enough to have a new school learning support teacher who waved a red flag about her inability to sound out words. She couldn’t even sound out the whole alphabet after 2 1/2 years of school. Her anxiety spiralled out of control and everyday I was greeted at the school gate with the anger and frustration of the school day spilling fourth in her safe haven of home. Her anxiety was so disabling by then it affected all aspects of her learning and life and the psychologist was unsure if there was an underlying learning difficulty. 

She had 6 months of therapy with a psychologist and we worked at home on her areas of weakness. Being told she was dyslexic and dysgraphic was such an empowering experience for her. All of a sudden the light was shining again in my daughters life. She no longer called herself dumb and stupid. She no longer believed teachers who thought she was lazy or listened to bullies. She started to identify with all those amazing dyslexics who have found their way in a literate world. 

It certainly hasn’t been easy. She had significant anxiety and learned helplessness. We had to build her self esteem up bit by bit. We have the most brilliant tutor who is also a wonderful dyslexic role model for her. She has come so far on her journey. She now says that being dyslexic is the best thing in the world. She likes being unique and special. My daughter has a wonderful creative mind. With assistive technology and explicit literacy instruction that creativity is being unleashed. She wishes to be a writer like all the dyslexic authors who have made her feel that it is possible to be anything.  I am so proud of how far she has come. 

Once we were on the right path with my daughter I thought of my 10 years of high school teaching and all those angry children with behavioural problems who couldn’t read and write. I remember quite clearly of the year 10 child who could not spell his middle name. I despaired that many had no one with the knowledge or drive to help them in the school system like my daughter. With dyslexia having a genetic component I thought of all those families with generations of literacy difficulties. 

So I decided to strive for change in the education system and support as many children and families as I could. I have written around a dozen evidence based guides which are distributed freely around the country in affiliated support groups. I administer Dyslexia Support Australia and founded Dyslexia Support NSW. Sometimes my role as an advocate for evidence based intervention is frustrating. But it has been an amazing journey. I have met the most inspiring and driven women who dedicate every spare minute and every spare dollar to helping countless children. I feel privileged to be part of the dyslexic community. 

Belinda Dekker

Belindas Letter to Teacher

I wrote this but never used it for my daughter’s teacher…it was my back up! Why is Erika so slow to complete tasks?

Dyslexia and dysgraphia cause problems with sequencing and organising information so it is difficult for her to work out the purpose of the task and organise her thoughts.  Dyslexia makes reading slow and inaccurate making the question or information difficult to understand and comprehend.
Dyslexia makes the process of reading tiring and laborious. Children with dyslexia and dysgraphia are often working harder than their peers to produce less work and will fatigue easily. Dyslexia and dysgraphia and poor working memory make copying off of the board slow, painful, and tedious. Copying from a white or blackboard – a distant vertical plane – to a piece of paper – a near horizontal plane – presents serious difficulties to almost all learners with a significant level of dyslexia. They find it difficult to reproduce words accurately and, worst of all, they cannot find their place on the board after they have looked down at their book.

Working memory poor 13th percentile. Working Memory Index assesses the ability to hold new information in short-term memory, concentrate, and manipulate that information to produce some result or reasoning processes. It can tap concentration, planning ability, cognitive flexibility, and sequencing skill, but is sensitive to anxiety too. It is an important component of learning and achievement, and ability to self-monitor. Poor working memory means she struggles with automatic recall of facts, problem solving and holding information in mind. Working memory is important in development of written expression, reading comprehension, and math problem solving.
Working memory will impact on her ability to follow instructions.  Anxiety interferes with attention to task and makes her easily distracted. Anxiety takes up mental capacity needed for other tasks. As depth and breadth of worry increases, capacity to concentrate on academic tasks and solve problems decreases. Anxiety takes up mental capacity causing fatigue and impacting on concentration and ability to solve problems.  Anxiety and learned helplessness makes her hesitant and leads to avoidance behaviours. 

Learned helplessness means Erika is hesitant to attempt tasks she has repeatedly failed at in the past. She sees not point in trying as she is convinced she will fail. Processing speed borderline 5th percentile. Processing speed index assesses the abilities to focus attention and quickly scan, discriminate between, and sequentially order visual information. It requires persistence and planning ability, but is sensitive to motivation, difficulty working under a time pressure, and motor coordination. Poor processing speed will impact fluency in performance of all cognitive tasks. Fluency in reading, writing, and math fluency are connected to processing speed. Dysgraphia makes the formation of letters extremely difficult due to problems with orthographic coding, which is the process of storing written words in working memory while analyzing the letters that make up the word. Dysgraphia impacts letter formation, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation and grammar slowing down the process of writing. 
Dysgraphia makes the organisation and understanding of what she is writing difficult.

Resources Mentioned:

Belinda’s Red Letter

Belinda’s Letter to the Teachers

British Dyslexia Association
Dyslexia Friendly Teaching Practices
Anxiety and Education Impact, Recognition & Management Strategies
Dr Amanda Gamble
Centre for Emotional Health (formerly MUARU) Macquarie University, Sydney.

Taking the mystery out of dysgraphia 
Katherine Collmer

Processing Deficits, Specialized Instruction and Accommodations
Sheila Autrey & Sandy DeMuth IDEAS Conference

Working Memory & Processing Speed in the Classroom
Steven M. Butnik, Ph. D., LCP ADDVANTAGE, PLLC Richmond, Virginia



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