Author interview: Mary Avery Kabrich

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When I’m writing, I usually listen to one song on repeat. Working on this interview with psychologist and writer Mary Avery Kabrich, I have been listening to “Chosen” by Rose Cousins:

“Give me a sign, a photo, a map
Something to go by
How am I supposed to know
What I’m supposed to look like”

Mary’s novel Once Upon A Time A Sparrow has become that sign, photo, map for my own dyslexic journey. As a child, I didn’t have any role models who struggled to learn, let alone a novel with a dyslexic female heroine like Maddie. As Mary says in our interview, “I knew something was wrong with me,” but I didn’t know quite what it was. That is changing for our children, and it’s partly because we are bravely telling our stories.

I was thrilled to compare notes on dyslexia with Mary: how it has impacted her reading, her education, her career, and her mental health; how she has overcome challenges to become a psychologist and an award-winning author, and ultimately to simply believe in herself. Drawing from her extensive experience with the school system, she suggests a better way to teach children with learning differences. I encourage you to read her book — Once Upon A Time A Sparrow.

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Book review: Learning to fly in Once Upon A Time A Sparrow

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Have you ever looked up to see one little bird flying out of sync from the rest of her flock? Have you ever wondered why she is falling behind? And if she will find her way back?

Psychologist and author Mary Avery Kabrich explores a similar question in her novel Once Upon A Time A Sparrow, but as it relates to children with dyslexia. Kabrich wants to know, and more importantly, wants the world to know, “why some children learn to read effortlessly as a bird learns to fly, while others flap their wings until they almost break, and still end up in a nosedive.”

In Kabrich’s award-winning novel, the “sparrow” is a nine-year old girl named Maddie — a bright, dyslexic spark who is diagnosed as minimally brain damaged.

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It’s 1967, and Maddie is stuck in the “sparrow” group (for slow readers) at school. She is pulled out of her favourite class for special reading instruction, which is taught in a storage closet, no less. Her teacher, Mrs. Zinc, discourages her from pursuing her dreams: “if you can’t read, you can’t write.” She is publicly humiliated by her know-it-all classmate Paulette. Her loving parents worry over her, but don’t know how to help. But there is much good to balance the bad: she finds support from a special education teacher named Ms. Ellen and strength in family, spirituality and her own imagination.

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The 10% club is knocking: Let us in!

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Can we discuss the elephant in the room? Too many schools are leaving our children behind.

I’m talking about the 1 in 10 children (or more) who are dyslexic — the most common learning disability you’ll find in a typical classroom.

In Canada, numerous studies show that 90% of students are able readers. But that means 10%+ are falling through the cracks of our respected public education system. And if you’re in the 10% club* (which I’m proud to be a member of!)…well…school and work is going to be a lot tougher for you. Continue reading

Notes from a dyslexic writer: How to let go of your fear of writing and become a tortured artist

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Many people seem surprised when I tell them I’m a writer. Yes, I actually make a pretty decent living as a writer, and have done so for the past twenty years. Before that, I did a lot of writing as a university student and before that as an angst ridden teen with a diary.

John Irving, Dav Pilkey, Linda La Plante, Jackie French — all writers with dyslexia. Writing is something many dyslexics excel at.

Does writing come easy to me? No!

Does it take me 10 times longer than a non-dyslexic person to writing something coherently? Yes!

Does it sometimes feel like torture trying to get the words out of my head? You bet!

But I believe this actually makes me a better writer.

The truth is: I write because of my dyslexia, not despite it.

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Ask an expert: “Ghibli movies bring you up if you are feeling down”

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film company founded by Hayao Miyazaki in 1985. Their films are for all ages, and are wonderful to watch as a family. They don’t shy away from serious themes like war and peace, death and friendship, but do so without being preachy. And if you’re looking for strong female leads — look no further.

Today, we ask an anime expert and super Ghibli fan — my 12-year-old daughter — why she loves Studio Ghibli films and why you will too.

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David Flink’s “Thinking Differently” educates and empowers

51n4HUrp8ALDavid Flink’s Thinking Differently (2014) is my favourite “parent/self help” guide to dyslexia and learning disabilities.

And it’s the only book I’ve read that speaks to me both as parent and as a person with dyslexia.

In tone and in content, the book gives a positive, practical and empowering approach to parenting, studying and living with dyslexia and ADHD.

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5 things a 12-year-old wants you to know about dyslexia

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My 12-year-old daughter has a pretty kick-ass attitude about dyslexia. It’s more of a footnote¹ to her life, rather than something that defines or limits her.

Her success is a testament to her hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity–not caused by her learning differences, but by the lack of understanding and support she experienced early on at school. In particular, how the “wait and see” approach (also known as the “failure model“) made school harder than it needed to be for her in the long run.

Given her experience with the education system, what would she like you to know?


5 things a 12-year-old wants you to know about dyslexia:

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Watch: New animated short film #IAmDyslexic

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“Remember, you are not alone.”

That is the empowering message of I AM DYSLEXIC – a gorgeous animated short film just released on YouTube for all the world to see and share.

The award-winning film was directed and produced by Mads Johan Øgaard and Katie Wyman. They are both talented and creative dyslexics – their successful film making a reminder that dyslexia needn’t hold you back from achieving your dreams.

The film was made with no budget and a team of more than 60 students most of which have dyslexia and other learning differences.

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International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Can you see me?

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Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the UN reports that:

“Persons with disabilities, “the world’s largest minority”, have generally poorer health, lower education achievements, fewer economic opportunities and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is largely due to the lack of services available to them (like information and communications technology (ICT), justice or transportation) and the many obstacles they face in their everyday lives. These obstacles can take a variety of forms, including those relating to the physical environment, or those resulting from legislation or policy, or from societal attitudes

Dyslexia is the most common of all learning disabilities, affecting an estimated 15% of the population worldwide. It is considered an “invisible” disability, because you can’t see it (though if you know the signs, you can’t miss it!).

Many people with dyslexia don’t like the word “disability” and prefer it to be described as “learning difference.” However, you need psychologist to diagnosis a learning disability  in order to qualify for accommodations or support at school or work.

What barriers do people with dyslexia face?

1. Lack of educational support or awareness – Many schools don’t understand or recognize dyslexia; they don’t identify or provide accommodations, interventions and support to children with dyslexia (and worse – penalize and punish our children).

2. Financial costs – Without school services, parents must pay for a psychological assessments to get a diagnosis; then they must hire private tutors to teaching reading and math; and then there may be the need to hire occupational therapists, psychologists, etc. This continues into adulthood.

3. Lack of support and awareness at work – Many employers don’t understand or recognize dyslexia; they don’t provide accommodations for employees with dyslexia; although it’s considered discrimination in Canada, they may even refuse to hire a person with dyslexia.

4. Lack of support and awareness in healthcare, public services and business – It’s hard to find dyslexia-friendly information or services, such as receiving written information in alternate formats, accessible websites, accommodations for language training at work, or mental health care that recognizes the dyslexia-anxiety connection.

5. Lack of awareness and prejudice in society – Deeply entrenched societal attitudes based on ignorance and fear stigmatize and create shame for children and adults with dyslexia. The word “stupid” is a scar carried for life by even the most successful dyslexic.

What is the impact of these barriers?

Dyslexia in and of itself need not be a barrier to success.

However, structural barriers and discrimination do prevent us from achieving our full potential as human beings. According to Dyslexia International:

“Without identification and effective intervention, the impact of dyslexia can be significant and long-lasting not only for the individual, but for society at large.

The long-term effects of dyslexia on young adults include school failure, depression, increased risk of suicide, delinquency and reoffending.

Without adequate literacy skills to read signs, fill in forms or write emails, social integration is beyond the reach of young people with dyslexia who have no choice but to remain dependent on society.

Surveys show that among the high percentage of illiterate people in prison, a disproportionate number will have dyslexia.”

Literacy is a basic human right. It’s not OK to teach some children to read. We need to teach all children to read, write and work with numbers – and that means recognizing that children (and adults) learn and think differently.

Doing so would change the world.

“On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, let us remove physical and cultural barriers, build resilient societies and create opportunities that truly leave no one behind.” ~United Nation’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities

More information

On November 9,  2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that:

“…adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury. For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children…”.