Lotta Pikner is a mother to four, culinary graduate, and for the last few years an entrepreneur. “For me, the children are everything. It’s important to me that my children get to grow up in a safe environment with lots of love, so they can be happy and healthy. Because all of my children have been diagnosed with dyslexia, that displays in different ways, I’ve chosen to work from home so that I can always be there for them.”
Lotta’s oldest child was diagnosed with dyslexia in the fourth grade. “It wasn’t a complete surprise. My husband also has dyslexia, and I’ve always preferred work that is hands-on. It was Wilma’s principal that first approached us, informing us that Wilma was struggling to decode written and spoken information, and that resulted in her having very little energy left to form mental images, which is very important for comprehension. She was falling behind, so the principal suggested we talk to the school counselor, who was a huge help.”
Wilma’s difficulties in school didn’t affect her self-confidence. She was still determined to get good grades in all her classes where possible. Failing wasn’t an option. “Our society is built upon doing well in school, so we just needed to get to work on making that happen. When I didn’t get the answers I was looking for, I took matters into my own hands and started researching online. I learned as much as I could, so that I could pose informed questions and demand quality support for Wilma. Word spread quickly that I was sitting on abundant knowledge. Teachers started turning to me to bounce ideas and ask questions, and I was supporting other parents in similar positions. I was also very active in a Facebook group- “Barn i behov” (Children with needs). It’s important that we learn as much as we can, but it’s equally important that we listen to our children and instincts. I feel sorry for parents who solely rely on the school for support, believing that the school has all the answers. That’s not the case, it’s extremely important that we parents are actively involved.
School specialized in dyslexia support
When Wilma was accepted to Ängkärrskolan, Sweden’s only school that specializes in dyslexia support, Lotta felt she could relax a little bit. The teachers are informed, involved, and listen to parents. The school also has tools that can help. “At this school, they use computers and programs that can help, such as ClaroRead, which reads texts out loud, and Stava Rex that corrects both spelling and grammar. When I saw The 3D Classroom for the first time I got very excited. Here’s a program that doesn’t just make learning easier, it makes it more fun and awakens a yearning to learn. Visualizations are important for all students, especially for those with dyslexia. By making difficult subjects like biology, chemistry, and geography easier to understand while still being fun we’re building a strong foundation. Both seeing and hearing information makes it easier to understand and build mental images, as well as understanding where we need to spend more time on a subject. When the teacher makes their own videos, the students receive information in a way that they’re used to, with the same pedagogy and voice. They can pause, fast forward, and watch the video as many times as they need to fully understand the material. All of this contributes to a conducive learning environment.”
The will to learn and the feeling successful are important. “Wilma was very good at Spanish, a language where words are spelled as they sound. English was much more difficult. Her teachers wanted her to stop taking Spanish to focus more on English, which we refused to do. You have to let your children continue to do what they find joy in, it will help them in the long run. In Wilma’s case, it was evidently so, her high grades in Spanish raised her GPA and allowed her to get into the high school of her choice.”
Wilma now studies at a high school which focuses on the arts. “Her new principal started by saying that 90% of the students at this school aren’t diagnosed with learning difficulties, but that everyone that has applied to this school has done so because they prefer creative work. Therefore, they put more focus on improving reading skills, giving the students extra time to start earlier and stay later to receive extra help. It was wonderful to hear, that they are so accommodating. That no student needs to feel like an outsider, and everyone has the same opportunity to succeed.”
Not all roses
Like all stories, this one hasn’t entirely been a bed of roses. “We’ve had many teachers that refused to listen. We’ve had uninformed principals. A big problem in Sweden is that funding for dyslexia support has been pulled, because a lot of the support programs available are expensive. Ängkärrskolan is fantastic, but they can no longer afford to only have students with dyslexia, and now have other students with other types of learning diagnoses. I really hope my other children will get to attend the school, but they only have room for 125 students.”
“A question I often ask is why the government doesn’t do more? Many of the tools that help children with dyslexia would be useful for all students. Everyone should have access to these tools. I don’t think school should be a lottery, which it feels like right now.”
Lotta’s advice to parents:
- Follow your instinct! Don’t hesitate or look the other way. You know your child best and you can make the biggest difference. Take the time to talk to your children. Get to the root of the problem.
- Do research! Talk about it with others! If you child does get a diagnosis, learn as much as you can so you can support you child and ensure they get the help they need. You need to be actively involved, and you need to be able to question what is happening.
- If you child is diagnosed with dyslexia, remember that it’s a broad diagnosis. I have four dyslexic children, who all handle it differently. You have to help your child find their way.
- Children with diagnosis’ are superheroes! They just need to figure out what their unique strength is. Allow your children to continue with activities that make them happy and let their skills shine!
- Get involved at school. Talk to teachers, principals, and counselors. If your child isn’t getting the support they need, go further. Report any school that isn’t fulfilling their duties as a school.
Lotta’s advice to schools:
- The principal must have the right competence to prioritize and structure work at school, to implement the proper corrective measures, and to support the teachers. To see the difference between ”must have” and ”nice to have”.
- Counselors to do their part! They play an important part in discovering, supporting, and providing for the student, since they have proper training and specialist skills in noticing potential diagnoses and how to support these children that teachers may not have.
- Children today have new ways of learning, that are more visual, which the school must learn to use. Invest in digital tools that can be used and enjoyed by all students.
- Everyone needs to learn how to read. To achieve that you need structured methods for students to follow. These shouldn’t take time from other subjects! Keep in mind that there are also other ways of testing this knowledge that isn’t written.
- Talk and listen to the parents! But don’t forget to talk to your students as well, include them in the process.