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My Neurodiverse Family

Learning is at the heart of Kallidus, and most importantly, learning how to support our people. We recently interviewed our brilliant Learning Designer, Justine, to learn about her family’s incredibly inspiring story of navigating neurodiversity:

When I met my husband, I knew nothing about neurodiversity and the conditions it encompasses. So when my hubby let me know he was dyslexic, I had to learn just what this meant for him. His Dad was also dyslexic, and his nephew is also, so we knew it was in the family, but we had no idea how it would impact our future. My husband has difficulty with reading, but with the onset of our smartphones, this opened up a whole new world of reading for him. The worst thing we found was that his memory is shockingly bad, and this is apparently part of dyslexia. Routines got developed, things always in the same place, and other small coping mechanisms like everything on the google calendar. When we had our first child, some OCD elements started emerging. We were ready. Clothes had to be put on in a set order. Toys had set places and couldn’t be moved – not even a millimetre. But we saw amazing things in him. He doesn’t read stories but will absorb fact books at an amazing rate. He has a near photographic memory, so once he sees something, reads something, or experiences something, he has got it and can recall it in minute detail.


Our coping mechanisms expanded to embrace everything he is… our new normal. We did not go and get him diagnosed. Our son is our son, and I do not need a medical label to define him; plus, he does not need the stress of doctors and tests, so we just lived our life and had fun along the way.


Then our daughter arrived, and our world changed even more. Through primary school, she struggled with reading and her writing practice. We saw the classic signs. “B”and “D” were always switched around. “P” and “Q“ were confused. She is highly creative and excels at maths, art, and worldview topics, but English was her stumbling block. We knew she was dyslexic. We had conversations with the school and learnt that schools could do some initial testing for dyslexia, but sadly, our primary school was not prepared to do that. You cannot get a dyslexia diagnosis through your GP; we asked. You have to get tested through other means, private clinics, at a cost of hundreds of pounds. We looked into the formal testing, but it sounded like a stressful experience, and we didn’t want to put our daughter through that.


With husband and son both being neurodiverse, our daughter also being neurodiverse was no shock, and we just embraced who she is and prepared ourselves for the difficulties that secondary school would bring.


We found that learning activities that didn’t feel like learning activities engaged her brain in different ways, and she could retain information in her own way. We taught her and her brother how to cook, load the washing machine, and do jobs to care for the family…all things to make them feel self-sufficient and boost their confidence. We wanted to show them they could achieve anything they wanted to, and we didn’t all have to know all the heavy academic subjects. We found joy in the small achievements like raiding the freezer and putting their own dinner in the oven. We wanted happy, independent young adults, and let them know we didn’t care about school grades. Their happiness was most important to us. In secondary school, our son excelled. His photographic memory was a great help, and he sailed through his GCSEs. We did not apply any pressure on revision or grades. The school was doing enough of that. We let him work at his own pace.


Our daughter’s experience was very different, and not in a good way. She went to the same secondary school, but the school signed up to do the baccalaureate, which significantly affected her GCSE choices later.


As I mentioned earlier, she is creative and draws daily, creating characters, writing stories, making things, and learning different crafts with her grandmother and me. She loved maths and always did well, but she wanted the more creative GCSEs and had a plan in place when it was time to make her choices. The baccalaureate limited her choices, and she lost her creative options, leaving her with just art. She was gutted, and forced to make choices about languages and humanities, all heavily academic subjects. We put some routines in place to help focus her mind. Her poor recall meant she would forget she had homework to do, so we made sure she had a work desk in her room so she could sit in her own space with her own things and chat with her friends while completing her homework. We also managed to get her taken out of the English literature topic, as this one is heavily reliant on memory for poems and books, etc, and was a hard topic for her. Although the baccalaureate got put on hold, for any parents looking at school choices for their dyslexic child in the future, this education approach could have a huge impact on them, and maybe something they want to consider come school application time.


We spoke to the school about dyslexia testing, and they could do this in school. Our daughter was excited. This was going to be life-changing for her. And it was. The testing looks at several things and only requires our daughter and her teacher to do the testing. It was quick and simple, and identified that a shift in the colour spectrum helps our daughter read. There are a series of coloured overlays that you can use on printed materials to shift their colour, and this is known to help dyslexics once the correct colour is identified. The testing confirmed she is dyslexic. No shock there, but it also provided some great coping mechanisms. She now has a blue (cyan) overlay to use on printed materials, books, etc. It is supposed to be possible to get the colour overlay as glasses, but we haven’t yet found an optician who can provide this with prescription lenses.


The biggest boost for her is the Open Dyslexic font. This font has been developed specifically to meet the needs of anyone with dyslexia, and you can freely download it. You can also find it on smartphones, which is included in the Kindle app. This font lets our daughter easily use the computer to type up her classwork in a way that works for her. Or she could change a Kindle book to this font to make it easy to read. Her smartphone uses this font for her keyboard display. This is epic for someone who struggles with reading; she can really speed up typing her messages with no spelling mistakes.


My ‘children’ are now 20 and 22. My eldest is working and enjoying his freedom. Our daughter is in higher education! Who knew? She decided to go to our local college for a level 3 course in Fashion and Textiles. Lockdowns affected class time, and the research element for the course became problematic. Towards the end of the first year, she heard about a game design and animation course in our local college. With a recommendation from her current tutor, she got a place on this alternative level 3 course and switched her focus. She is currently at the South Central Institute of Technology, taking a HNC (level 4) game design and animation course.


For someone who hated every moment at school, this for us is amazing. This is all done and organised by our daughter, with no prompting from us. She found something she was passionate about and dived into higher education and everything it involved. The college embraces neurodiversity and recognises the expansive variety of thinking it brings.


So, for our family, dyslexia isn’t a roadblock. It may bring challenges, but our small coping mechanisms helped calm our environment over the years, and they evolved over time. For us, dyslexia is just a small diversion in our life journey. It is a small element of each person in this family and by no means defines them. For you and your loved ones, you will find your own paths… ways to cope… ways to adapt…ways to embrace a condition that brings some amazing, different dimensions to your lives.

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Written by Claire Moloney

Claire is an enthusiastic and meticulous content writer whose passion is to support growth and continual learning for everyone.


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