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Dyslexia and ADHD
The Miracle Cure
By Wynford Dore, David Brookes
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2013 Wynford Dore
All rights reserved.
SUSIE'S STORY – MY DAUGHTER WITH DYSLEXIA AND ADHD
(ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER)
Surely, there is no worse feeling in the world than having your child tell you that she does not want to go on living. As I stood by my 25-year-old daughter's bedside in hospital, where she was recovering from her third suicide attempt, I remember feeling utterly helpless. I felt lonely, desperate and useless. I also felt anger towards the Establishment for not having the answer to her problem.
Like so many parents in the world, I had a child who suffered from a learning problem. Looking back, my greatest regret is my lack of understanding of the condition when she was growing up. At the time, I just could not believe that something could go into a person's head and not stay there. I had never experienced that myself and my other children picked things up with great ease. Because I could not understand her problem, I was not there for Susie in the way she needed me to be. Now I realise how she felt, I will never get over the guilt.
At this point, it must be stated that the problems that Susie had were considerably more severe than many of the people who were to go through the programme we have developed. Most of the people we have helped over the last few years have displayed considerably milder symptoms than the ones Susie had. The reason I want to make this point clear is that it would be a great shame for parents to read my daughter's story and assume that, because their child may not be affected by learning or attention difficulties as severely as she was, this programme is not for them. Indeed, Susie is an extreme example of the type of person who comes to us. Nevertheless, if it had not been for her, the whole programme would never have existed.
LIVING WITH A LEARNING OR ATTENTION PROBLEM
The more I come to understand about what Susie was going through, the more I look back in anguish at how she must have felt. For her, each day was a nightmare. When she got up in the morning all she could think about was the prospect of going to school and how she felt different and inferior to the others around her. In her lessons, she would constantly make all kinds of mistakes. She seemed to be unable to grasp simple concepts, learn from them and mentally develop like the other students.
If she ever did manage to learn anything one day, by the next morning it would have vaporised from her mind, and she would be back to square one. I remember clearly trying to teach Susie simple three- and four-letter words, and she would just look back at me with a blank expression; she could not take it in. It was as if something was wrong with the wiring in her head, stopping her from retaining anything. One day, we spent hours going over her four times table until eventually she seemed to have got it. However, the next morning at breakfast, I gave her a little test and she did not have a clue.
I used to feel extremely frustrated, but also very puzzled about her seeming inability to learn. In some circumstances, she was able to run rings around me. I could see she had a creative mind, which showed itself in all sorts of ways. For example, she would often say something highly intelligent, which would surprise me to the core. However, the next day if I asked her about it, she would not be able to remember what she had said. It was almost as if she had found a way to manipulate her own IQ, as if she could turn it on – or off – at will.
Of course, I now know that this was not the case. Just as I was frustrated and did not know what was going on, so was Susie equally frustrated and confused. The difference was that she had to live with that frustration. Although I was really worried about her, at least I could have a respite. I could go to my job and escape from it. She had to deal with the fact that school work was impossible, organising herself was impossible, completing any task was impossible. She was not simply failing academically; in social situations, she also faced huge obstacles.
When Susie was growing up, she had communication problems. This was largely down to the fact her verbal processing speed was much slower than it should have been. Often what she wanted to say would just not come to her mind quickly enough and so the conversation would move on before she had time to contribute. This meant that girls of her age could not relate to her and while growing up she had few friends. As other children learned more and more, and grew in social awareness, Susie barely moved forward at all. Most of her friends were either much older than she was, or much younger. With these friends, she felt that she did not have to struggle so much; she could just concentrate on having fun and not worry about showing herself up.
She seemed to have absolutely no concept of the consequences of her actions, which caused much grief and frustration to those around her. She simply did not know how to ask for things. When she wanted something, she would just go ahead and take it. This caused all sorts of problems with her siblings, as, for instance, she would go into their room, take their music tapes without asking permission and not put them back.
Even the simplest of tasks would become a huge chore for her. I remember how I would give her £10 and ask her to go to the local newsagents to buy a newspaper. Hours later, she would return with the wrong newspaper and no change. In frustration, I would sometimes shout at her for being careless. This would, of course, always result in tears and she would run to her bedroom and slam the door.
Looking back, I now know that she was not being deliberately careless at all. She simply couldn't help being unstructured and disorganised in her everyday life; she had no alternative. At the time, none of us understood this and Susie was constantly in trouble. Because of her poor verbal processing, she was also the butt of many of her siblings' jokes. While we, as parents, did all that we could to contain this, children will always be children and I am quite sure such ribbing happened constantly behind our backs.
No doubt, this contributed to the desperate feeling of loneliness Susie had to endure for the whole of her childhood. I remember the day of her fifteenth birthday and we invited a number of children around. Of course, most of these children were Rosie and Glyn's friends because Susie did not find it as easy to make friends. This meant that everyone was playing with her brother and sister, and she was ignored even though it was her birthday. She was not involved in the game of cricket, she was not involved in the after-tea card games and she spent most of the time lost in her own world because her verbal processing was so slow she simply couldn't comfortably relate to others.
Because of her learning problems, we sent Susie to a private school. This was because I felt that in a state school, where there can often be over 30 pupils in one class, there was no way a teacher, despite their best efforts, would be able to give her the attention she needed. She went to a small school called Abbotsford School in Kenilworth, Warwickshire. As I did not want Susie to feel different to my other children, I ended up sending all my kids to the same school.
When Susie was nine years old, her teacher came to me and told me she thought she was dyslexic. Thank goodness that teacher had the astuteness to point out to me what was then a rarely recognised condition. As a consequence, we took her to see Dr Margaret Newton, a psychologist specialising in dyslexia and formerly of Aston University in Birmingham, who confirmed that Susie did indeed have dyslexia. I remember the whole way through the meeting Susie was restless and could not sit still. She spent much of the time looking out of the window and avoiding eye contact with anyone in the room. By this point, she really was just tagging along in life. She was unable to understand major concepts like dyslexia and she would much rather have been in her room, passively watching the world drift by.
Abbotsford was a wonderful little school that had a track record of getting children through their entrance exams to senior schools in the area. The teachers were some of the most intelligent and caring people I have ever met and were committed to helping Susie get over her problems. Despite this, she went right through her education retaining very little. The school, of course, was aware of her problem and needed to put her in classes with younger children. This was terribly embarrassing for her and she still recalls being 12 years old and sitting in a class with eight-year-olds, learning how to spell three- or four-letter words.
For a long time, Susie worked very hard. However, as you can imagine, she made very little headway. I remember dreading parents' evenings. Susie's mother and I would always have to take a deep breath before sitting down to talk to one of her teachers. We knew it would not be good news, we knew it would be difficult to take in. It was particularly hard because her two younger siblings Rosie and Glyn were flying academically and getting glowing reports. I remember coming home one evening from parents' evening to find Rosie and Glyn waiting for us at the door. They were all excited, positive and upbeat, and wanted to know what had been said about them. In direct contrast, Susie was sitting in the corner of the room, with her head down and headphones on. She was too scared and embarrassed to ask us how it went; she knew what the answer would be.
I found myself repeatedly telling her off for making the same mistakes. As a parent, I felt that I had to do this because it was my only tool to try to get her to focus. In absolute honesty, I was at my wits' end and I did not know what else to do with her. I had sent her to the best school in the area and she had met with the top research experts. Yet still she was not making progress.I could not think of anything else I could do – if I could have, I would have done it. Susie had gone to the Dyslexia Institute in Coventry in her early teens and tried their methods but to no avail. Indeed, we had tried all the teaching and reading programmes the experts could throw at us but nothing seemed to work.
Despite all the things I had done in my business life, I felt like a complete failure. Susie was desperately lonely and I could not do anything. I was helpless and hopeless. Although I loved my daughter and I wanted her to be happy, by this point even I accepted there was no way forward. I had not given up on her, but I felt that it was ultimately up to her to come to terms with the problem. It is no wonder then that she became withdrawn, choosing to spend more time on her own in her bedroom. Music and television became her best friends and she shunned the outside world. She used to come home from school and eat dinner with the family. As soon as she had finished her meal, she would run upstairs, into her bedroom, where she would remain until the next day.
'Meal times were particularly difficult for me. I was not allowed to wear my Walkman so I'd have to listen to the others gabbling on. I couldn't keep up with what they were saying and if I wanted to say something I just couldn't find the words until it was too late. By the end of the meal, I was just desperate to get away so I could bury my head in my pillow and cry. I would cry so much that I would have to turn my pillow over because it would get so wet.
'Things were so much better in my room. I could listen to my music and watch the soap operas that I loved. I did not have a life with my own family, or with my school that was worth living. All I remember from those times is a black loneliness. I did not want to be alive.'
The hardest thing was when Susie used to ask me, 'Why am I different? Why is it that other kids are picked first for teams but I am left for last?' But I would never have an appropriate answer. I would want to cry and tell her, 'I do not know why you cannot learn! I do not know why your brother and sisters can grasp things straight away, but you need to be told again and again.'
The difficulty of helping Susie was compounded by the fact that she did not seem to want any help. Every time that we, her family, tried to support her, Susie would push us away and retreat inside her room and inside herself. She did not want our sympathy. Behind the facade of a weak and socially inept person was a strong, independently minded woman who wanted to be self-empowered and independent. She did not want to feel that she had to rely on her family to be happy. Sometimes, I felt like the best way to help her was not to help her at all, hoping that time would be her cure.
I hoped that as her teenage years faded behind her and she became an adult she would develop coping strategies so that, little by little, her self-confidence would build up and she would one day feel 'normal'. Tragically, Susie slipped further and further into a depressed state. She imprisoned herself away from the world and eventually tried to take her own life. This experience taught me in the most painful way possible the grief that many parents around the world face every day.
MY DAUGHTER TRIES TO KILL HERSELF
I will never forget the feeling of absolute despair when I received a phone call from Rosie to say my daughter had tried to kill herself. Although I was aware that she had been depressed, I had not realised just how bad things had become for her. I also failed to make the direct connection between her learning and attention difficulties and her unsettled state of mind. When, as a family, we talked about her depression, we discussed it as if it were virtually a stand-alone issue. We never imagined that the root cause of all of her school problems could be directly linked to her depression.
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it is all so painfully obvious. We now know that what causes learning difficulties can have a detrimental effect on so many characteristics. For instance, nearly 90 per cent of folk who attempt to commit suicide show signs typical of learning or attention issues and as many as 75 per cent of people who have long-term drug addictions have signs of similar issues too.
For Susie, her decline and attempt to take her own life had been years in the making. Every attempt to learn, to develop friendships or to hold down a job had resulted in failure. It did not matter how much her family had tried to help her, life would never cease to be a struggle.
I had bought an apartment for her in Leamington Spa when she was 19, as she really wanted to live by herself and she and I both thought this would help her become more comfortable with the problems she faced. However, that only made things worse. Sitting in her flat by herself she says she would hear my voice in her head saying things like 'Why can't you get a job? Why can't you stick at something useful? Why can't you do this? Why can't you do that?' She would then start crying, but instead of getting angry with me she would mentally beat herself up for hours on end.
The mistake we made was to assume Susie had a choice in her actions. We told her she would have to learn to hold down a job, to learn to get on with people. We thought many of her failures in life came down to the fact that she could not be bothered to make an effort. Unwittingly, what we were telling her to do was the exact thing she could never achieve: she could not learn – it was not an option. The more we told her how she needed to behave, the further she retreated into herself.
Things quickly got out of hand and in a four-year period, during the mid-nineties, Susie had tried to kill herself three times.
Excerpted from Dyslexia and ADHD by Wynford Dore, David Brookes. Copyright © 2013 Wynford Dore. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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