What do you mean she’s not going to be a doctor?

Danielle Wilson-Gulston

Teaching & Training Associate


“Read what you see, not what you think is there!”. These were my words to my daughter on countless occasions while she read out loud in our daily reading ritual. This half an hour eternity was often filled with tears, screaming, frustration, impatience and mounting resentment on both sides which became a commonplace on our daily drive to school. On one particularly trying morning the reading sounded more like gibberish instead of a whimsical children’s story. At that point I pulled to the side of the highway and we both bawled. Something was wrong – but I buried that thought into the deepest crevice of my mind hoping one day I would magically hear that evasive whimsical storyline; needless to say it never came. In retrospect my bawling was not from a place of empathy for my child, who was clearly having an abnormally hard time reading and spelling which was now reflective in her grades, but rather from a place of pride – what would people think and say? The stigma associated with a non-academically achieving child and children with learning disabilities is real. Imagine having to hear the whispers and gossip in a typical Trini manner: “Nah she not make for school” or “She is a dunce”. GASP! Bury me in the deepest darkest hole.


In a West Indian context, the ability of a child to read, write and spell well is inextricably tied to academic excellence which directly correlates to professional excellence and social mobility. The idea of what academic excellence is has been defined by traditionalist societal pressure that stems from our legacies of British imperialism, which still firmly grips our educational systems. The education philosophy according to Jamaican researchers Bourne and Owen-Wright (2018) ’dates back to the days of emancipation where metaphysics and idealism were the dominant paradigms’. Not to stray into philosophical realms but this preamble helps build the narrative that in a West Indian household, and like many other households in other parts of the world, academic excellence is a sacred institution where failure to achieve has no place.


I mean she went to the absolute best private primary school money could buy, what do you mean her progression is not going to be that of the typical child? How was I supposed to boast to the other parents that my child got an A+ in all of her subjects or to my relatives that she came first out of a class of 30 children. Coming from a family background of academic scholars and generations of educators myself, this was a hard pill to swallow. But in retrospect, my daughter’s dyslexia diagnosis was the best thing that has ever happened to me. To my fellow parents who are stuck much like I was in a place of denial and pride, here is what I learnt on what is now the fifth year into my dyslexic journey.


Before I share my advice, here for context is a definition of dyslexia:

‘Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterised by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge’. [Source: International Dyslexia Association]


  1. Get over yourself.

This is not solely about you, as a matter of fact at its core it’s 10% about you and 90% about your child. However, the ability to recognise there is a problem, accept and take action is 90% about you the parent and 10% about the child. Here’s what I will tell you: like any other change or realisation in life full acceptance will take time. I can almost liken it to the five stages of grief, you will go through denial, anger, bargaining and depression but the most important stage is the last elusive stage of acceptance. It is at this stage, the fear of the unknown has slightly subsided and you are now ready to take decisive action. For me getting over myself meant letting go of the preconceptions of what my daughter’s success should look like, as well as all the ignorant gossip, side eyes and slight comments that were directed my way. I now had the strength and clarity to go through the process of elimination and diagnostic tests to determine the exact problem. The day my daughter was diagnosed with dyslexia I was relieved. I could now educate myself and set a road map to ensure her success, not forgetting she would now define academic excellence in her own way. Do I still feel guilt and shame at this very present time? Yes I do, but as they say “Rome wasn’t built in a day”– everything takes time.


  1. Find the right community of people.

Finding my ‘tribe’, my peeps, the folks that understood my journey has been extremely impactful. Just knowing that there were other parents also sitting at the side of the highway bawling was enough to reduce my anxiety. You mean I am not the only one suffering in silence, there is light at the end of this tunnel? She can become a doctor?  This puts a different spin on things. There are many success stories where people with dyslexia go on to form part of honourable and noble professions in our society.  Having said that the school in which you decide to enrol your dyslexic son or daughter is a life changing decision. Yes, I said life changing – that’s how impactful it has been for me. Once I moved to the UAE, I particularly looked for a school with a strong pastoral care department that specifically addressed the needs of my daughter in and out of the classroom. This has not only resulted in individualised educational planning for her but more importantly the psychological support needed to combat those issues of internalising the message “I am not good enough because I am dyslexic”. The powers that be knew we could not do it by ourselves and it takes a tribe of empathic, supportive people to get you on the right track.


  1. Comparison is your enemy.

If you are anything like me, you always need a yardstick by which you can measure things. For me this has been no different with my daughter’s academic performance. In the past I have compared her to classmates, playmates, siblings and close relatives just to ensure she was within the parameters of normality. This was one of the major contributors to my anxiety – the quicker I realised comparison was my enemy the better things got.  In my opinion the important thing to remember here is to understand that students with dyslexia have their own trajectory. In these instances, I have always referred to the expert teachers who have prepared individualised education plans for my daughter. These plans break down the areas of learning into smaller component parts so I can then see what I can do as a parent to contribute to her success.  The plans cover strengths and attitude to learning, as well as areas of difficulty. More importantly they map out long term goals and objectives, success criteria and the strategies, techniques and resources that will be employed to get to a certain outcome. I must say it requires adjustment in your fundamental expectation of what your child’s success is going to look like over an extended period of time. It does require patience (that ugly P word), but with some level of assurance I can say things do get better.


In the end this is my journey, my pre-destined path and I embrace it fully. In many ways I am still learning how to fully support a child who has dyslexia and by no stretch of the imagination do I think I have all the answers. Some days are great and there are some days I am taken right back to the side of that highway with us both bawling.



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