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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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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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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