World Book Night Guest Post


I’d like to contribute to this great annual event by sharing some of my thoughts on the importance of reading to my son Tom.

Tom is 17 now. He attends college and is enjoying life. But this has not always been the case. When he was 9, he was assessed and we were told that he suffered from dyslexia and had difficulties with reading. This came as a shock to us because Tom lives in a home where he is surrounded by books and reading is something of a passion. When Tom was very young he was read to and encouraged to read for himself and I have to admit that even now, having had a mass of advice from experts and, yes, read several books on the subject I am still unclear as to what causes dyslexia.

To cut a long story short, Tom was given patchy and inconsistent support at school. He is bright (very numerate) and resented the label “special needs”. He became resistant after being called stupid by one or two teachers and his school years were very unhappy. Tom managed to develop his reading skills enough to just about get by but his attitude to reading became almost phobic.

Academic issues aside, we felt that Tom’s personal development was being limited by his unwillingness to even discuss possible reading formats that he could cope with. He could now construct the individual words on a page but the effort of doing this meant that his comprehension of the story he was reading or the concept being put forward was lost. I had a conversation with a retired soldier friend who had at one time had responsibility for training young recruits and he told me that a good portion of those recruits were similar to Tom. My friend found that, as with any skill, the more it is practiced the better you get to the point where it becomes second nature.

How could we find something that would fire Tom’s interest and make him pick up a book? I discussed this with my Twitter friend, Victoria, and she helped me to realise that we should build on anything that Tom had shown interest in when he was younger. Tom loved being read stories by Roald Dahl but as a 16 year old, he was resistant to reading stories for younger children because it reminded him that he had difficulty.By this time, for Tom, aggressive avoidance was the name of the game. Victoria suggested tempting him with a book of short stories by Roald Dahl written for adults and she very kindly sent me a copy.

The package arrived and was opened by Tom who looked at it briefly then put it to one side and we thought well, that’s that. A couple of days later though he was actually flicking through it at the breakfast table and then he went on to read one of the stories. Slowly, over a period of weeks he worked his way through the book and he started to talk about them. He described Roald Dahl as “sick” and “peng”. This is translated to “really good” and “amazing”. He then went on to read HG Wells short stories and some Jules Verne.

Tom’s conversation is much broader than it was; his confidence is greater, although he is absolutely unwilling to read aloud in public because he was laughed at on a number of occasions at school. He is still wrestling with the concept of whether reading is “cool” among his peer group but he has broken through a major barrier to pleasure and development in his life.

Tom says he’s about to start ‘The Hobbit’ (because of the movie) and is wading through an ‘ Encyclopedia of Middle Earth’!

I said that I still don’t fully understand dyslexia and I know that Tom may never find reading as comfortable as most of us but he has at least found the key to reading for pleasure and the riches that it can bring.

Paul Newcombe


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