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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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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Why our schools need to say dyslexia

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Me at three.

I remember this day clearly. I insisted on dressing myself. Mismatched mittens and wrongly buttoned sweater — it didn’t matter. I was pleased with the results. My father took this photo, a celebration of his fiercely independent child.

Me at three.

Happy, free, loved, accepted.

My life before school. At home with a mom and dad who let me be me.

All that changed, I changed, when I entered the public school system here in Canada.

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My #dyslexia story. Something lost. Something found.

I was identified as dyslexic at the age of 49. It was like finding the missing piece of an unfinished puzzle (to paraphrase Steven Spielberg). Finally, my life made sense. In the days that followed, I did what I always do: I wrote it out. Then, I published my story on my book blog Lost and Found Books.

Here is my dyslexia story. Something lost, something found. Continue reading

Telling our own story/ies

“We deserve a chance…not to be defined by what we struggle with and what we are not, but to be seen as whole people with a mix of strengths and weaknesses. We deserve a chance to add to the narrative on dyslexia that historically had been dominated by (albeit well meaning) non-dyslexics.”

Sarah Fearn, editor’s preface, everything is spherical (2014)

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I sense a change is coming. Our voices are getting louder. Whether it’s on social media or through storytelling or advocacy work, people with dyslexia want/need to tell their own stories.

This is no small thing.

This is an act of bravery, even defiance, in a world that presumes to tell us who we are and how we feel; that we are broken, where we are broken, and how we can (or can’t) be “fixed.” This comes from the strangest places. Not just from the trolls, but even the people who aim to help. So many labels, but very little real understanding.

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How i didn’t learn to read

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I’m a child and this is how I learnt to read or you could say how I didn’t.

When you think about giftedness you think that reading would be like a first sense, but it’s not. I didn’t learn the way the school teaches, here’s the summary:

Teacher: “Here kids this is how to pronounce the alphabet, now go read.”

Me (in my head): “teacher, WHAT ARE YOU DOING, that was so vague TEACH ME!”

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