Until the age of five, Susie, our eldest of four, was a bright, bubbly, positive girl. She showed all the signs of being intelligent, but at school she began to struggle. We didn't worry until she was about six, when we realised that she just wasn't learning as her peers were. As the months went by we saw a noticeable downturn in her confidence and self-esteem and she became more introverted.
We started having discussions with the school. The teachers were wonderfully caring. I will never, ever allocate any blame to them or the headteacher, but there was no formal assessment available for children. They said that in every class there would always be a few children who struggled.
It got to the point where Susie was so far behind that the teacher simply was unable to spread her time between the rest of the class, who were making reasonable progress, and Susie, who was making virtually none. She didn't know why she was different to the others and no one had been able to explain it. I was at a complete loss. I just assumed that Susie was not bright, which was confusing for me because until she went to school she appeared to be developing as fast as the any child.
It was causing problems at home because her sister Rosie, who is two years younger, was overtaking her and correcting the way she spoke, as well as her spelling. Susie had no escape from it.
By the age of nine Susie was going downhill rapidly. Her confidence and ability to communicate and make friends was becoming severely impaired and her emotional state was becoming less and less stable. We could see her starting to cut herself off. She would try to develop friendships, but when her friends came to the house they would quickly become more friendly with Rosie because she was more gregarious.
Until then I had believed that private education was unnecessary and élitist. I believed that state education should be adequate for all children. I had gone to a grammar school on a scholarship, and it was an eye-opener for me to realise that while the teachers in state schools were very good, the resources, the training and the time they had in those days for each child was inadequate to bring out the best in every child. I decided I would move Susie to a private school where the classes were very small and she would have much more one-to-one teaching.
My wife, Heather, felt the same way - Susie's needs had to override everything. When you have a child who's crying when going to school; crying when she comes home; crying when she tries to do homework; crying when her school report is being compared to those of the other children, you forget your politics,you forget your beliefs and you suddenly say, "As far as the education and health of my child is concerned I will not compromise."
I felt a great loyalty to the teachers who had worked hard with Susie, and a bit of me was saying, "I'm insulting the teachers by taking her away." I went through all those emotions. It was not their fault that Susie didn't succeed in their environment. There were simply too many children in the class, and teachers then were not given the tools or the training to cope with Susie's specific condition. We still hadn't had a diagnosis. I probably delayed my decision for 18 months longer than I should have done because I had this guilt around taking her out of the state system.
Within days of Susie starting her new school, one of the teachers who had been trained in special needs came to me and said she was showing all the signs of being dyslexic. It was like saying she had some horrid disease. I thought it was my fault, but found out it was something she was probably born with.
Susie was more comfortable there and received the best education available. They had more resources and the classes were smaller, so she ended up getting more attention. Her self-esteem was still bad, but it stopped getting worse. She was supported and encouraged on a daily basis, and while the progress was not magnificent there was some improvement.
When she left at 16 she was still struggling with spelling some four-letter words and found reading very, very difficult. When she was 19 she attempted to take her life. She hadn't learnt enough to get a job, she wasn't making friends and couldn't earn money. Had she stayed in the state system - where at the age of nine she was already showing clear signs of being bullied - her depressions may have been even worse. I dread to think what would have happened.
I became so obsessed with helping Susie that I assembled a team of researchers to investigate what caused the dyslexia and to devise an exercise programme that we believe develops the part of the brain that is underdeveloped in children with learning difficulties.
Susie is now 34. Her ability to learn has been transformed and she works for me.
Looking back I would do the same again. When you're at your wits' end you will do anything.Reuse content