This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week and I am honoured to be hosting a letter written by author Jane Elson to her nine-year-old self. Jane has always spoke freely about her dyslexia and, when not writing, mentors young neurodiverse people and champions the gift of neurodiverse thinking. She was recently named as being one of the top 50 Neurodivergent Women by the platform Women Beyond the Box but she has not always been so celebrated, as her letter to herself reveals:
A letter to my young dyslexic self
Dear nine-year-old Jane,
Everything is all right. You don’t have to be so scared because the words that trickle out of the lips of your teacher make no sense, or those squiggles on the board make even less sense. You don’t have to feel so anxious as you look out of the window to escape the battleground that is your classroom and the fear that the teacher will stab the air with a question and a smirk knowing that you won’t know the answer. Just keep dreaming, nine-year-old Jane. If only I could swim back through time, I’d whisper into your ear, ‘You are not worthless, you are not stupid.’
STUPID STUPID STUPID. A word that I have been beaten with again and again and again. And that’s exactly what I felt I was when my stories came back dripping and wounded with blood-red corrections.
The utter despair when I saw that wordscrawled in red: stupid- you have made stupid mistakes 5/10
I wish I could whisper to my younger self,‘You will grow up, you will meet other people whose brains are wired like yours and it is called dyslexia. You will go on to mentor young people whose brains are like yours and they will be the most unique wonderful young people who will inspire you every day.’
If only I had known then that I would write a book called Storm Horse about Daniel Margate, who faces the same challenges as I do: seeing letters and numbers back to front with no sense of direction, and who is oh so clumsy. But it’s also a book that celebrates the gift of dyslexia, because it is a gift, and if only, if only, if only my nine-year-old self had known that. Every time I have won a book award it means so much to me and as I thank everybody I always think back to that little girl looking out of the window frightened.
My 9-year-old self would like to cheer all the teachers out there today who help encourage and understand Neurodiversity. A huge big thank you and my nine-year-old self sends you so much love.
As steps are being made in the representation of neurodiverse individuals in children’s literature, we as educators need to think about how neurodiverse individuals are celebrated and support in our learning communities. What training needs are there? How can we ensure differences of all kinds are catered for within the curriculum? How are they represented in the books we share in our classrooms?
Thank you Jane for sharing your own experiences and for all you do to raise up others.