This Saturday night there was a primetime, major network broadcast of the Indian film Every Child Is Special (translated as Stelle sulla terra in Italian). It was a very emotional event for our family because it talked about an issue that hits quite close to home: dyslexia.
About three years ago, I realised that my younger son was having serious problems reading and writing. His teachers had always complained about his lack of organization, distracting chattiness, terrible handwriting and what they referred to as laziness. I could tell that Gabri was not very enthusiastic about school, but I didn't really understand what was going on. He seemed to be doing okay, not great, but getting by.
Twice when his teachers had wanted to talk to us about his "behaviour," I asked if they thought it would be a good idea to take him to a specialist. Both times (once when he was in kindergarten and once in the second grade) the reaction of the teachers was of surprise. "No, no, no," they told me, "he just needs to mature." They even said, "Lots of kids are worse off than him." Huh?
One day during the summer between 2nd and 3rd grades I sat down to read with Gabri. I asked him to read to me, too. He could barely read at all. He had to sound words out, and often got them wrong anyway. He confused "la" with "al" and "da" with "ad." Letters like q, p, b, d all looked the same to him. And that's when I was hit by a lightening bolt of realization.
My son was dyslexic.
My first reaction was to be gripped by a sort of panic and despair. In all honesty, I didn't want my precious son to have a "problem." My beautiful, sweet, perfect son! How could he have a "flaw"? And particularly regarding reading? I live to read. It didn't seem fair. But, of course, it's not fair, is it? Nothing is fair when it comes to difficulties of any kind touching our babies.
But in the large scheme of things, there are lots of more difficult crosses to bear. So, my second reaction was to research dyslexia on-line and contact those people locally who could help me figure out what to do next.
Our path through the confused halls of the world of dyslexia in Italy has been difficult and an uphill battle so far. Perhaps I'll write more about specifics in a future post, but let me just say that when they say that Italy lags behind the States in many things they are often right. It takes even longer for certain ideas to work their way into mainstream acceptance in southern Italy. What may be taken for granted in Milan could be alien to Bari.
And dyslexia is one of those areas. Very few teachers and doctors know what it is or how to recognize it. Laws guaranteeing dyslexic students' rights in schools, and even the recognition of their existence, are just starting to make it onto the books. Finding a therapist who actually knows what they are doing is, let's just say, a challenge.
But, the TV show Saturday night was a big step in the right direction. It was the program that got the most share that evening, with over 2 million viewers. I truly hope that it was able to at least start to explain what dyslexia means to a country that has very little familiarity with this learning disability.
And for us, it was an absolutely heart-warming experience to watch the 9-year-old boy in the film go through the same difficulties as Gabri (who is now 10) and come out on top in the end.