When Beth began researching how to help Harry, she had an epiphany and discovered she wasn’t lousy at spelling – she also has dyslexia. This was a coincidental revelation given that he is adopted and therefore didn’t inherit the condition from her.
‘People have said to me, “I never thought you had dyslexia, you’ve done so well”,’ says Beth. ‘That annoys me because dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence. Many of the world’s most talented individuals have, or had dyslexia: Henry Ford, The Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, Bill Gates, Picasso, John Lennon, Agatha Christie, the list goes on.’
Dyslexia is a difference in brain structure; it isn’t the result of poor parenting. The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand estimates 70,000 schoolchildren in Aotearoa are affected. Primary schools focus on reading and writing, and dyslexic pupils are frequently left behind. ‘For them to succeed, it’s important to teach spelling systematically,’ explains Beth. ‘I believe multisensory, sequential, phonics-based instruction is essential for these children to learn to spell and read. It takes a dyslexic child over 1,000 sightings to commit a word to long-term memory.’
Beth points out that just as no two fingerprints are the same, no two dyslexics are identical. ‘My book explains dyslexia is frequently accompanied by other learning challenges such as ADD, auditory processing issues, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. Rather than go into depth about these other conditions, I point parents to useful web links.’
By discussing some of the lesser-known aspects of dyslexia, such as problems telling the time and understanding left from right, Beth hopes to empower people to accept that these are not personal failings, but common issues for people with dyslexia.
When asked how she came up with such a striking title, Beth tells me that she thinks in pictures. ‘I imagine dyslexia as a large octopus exhibiting eight areas of difficulty: reading, listening, spelling, writing, memory, motor control, spatial awareness and social challenges.’
Although the book covers heavy topics such as health conditions associated with dyslexia and social issues around abuse and bullying, its tone is upbeat, incorporating humour and illustrations throughout. Beth has cleverly named her chapters after Dr. Seuss’ books, for example, Harry Hears a Who; but has no idea it starts with the letter ‘W’ and How Dyslexia Stole Christmas (and Joy in General). When asked how this came about, Beth says, ‘I was standing in a Wellington gallery before one of Dr. Seuss’ paintings titled Fooling Nobody, when I realised I shouldn’t be ashamed of my dyslexia. I learned that Dr. Seuss wrote children’s books because he struggled to read as a child, so I named my chapters after his [modified] book titles in honour of his work.’
Dyslexia: Wrestling with an Octopus is uniquely written as a chat between two parents at a school gate. The down-to-earth narrative is brilliantly executed with a holistic approach, as Beth strives to give parents helpful tips to enable their children to thrive in every aspect of life – academically, socially and physically.
Published in late November, the book went on Amazon.com as a pre-order in the middle of September and promptly received commendable feedback. Dyslexia tutor Katharine Beaumont said, ‘This book was like turning the light on for me. I’ve worked in the field of learning disabilities for years, and yet it taught me so much.’ For Beth, hearing this has made all her hard work worthwhile.
Words Belinda O’Keefe