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A Tale of Two Sisters

First child Sophie a happy pre-schooler, spoke early and asked intelligent questions. At school she struggled with reading, letter reversal, illegible writing and later spelling. Teachers described her as ‘a good, quiet little girl’. Regular stomach pains before school became an outward and visible sign of a depressed child who was hard to manage at home.

A friendly neighbour, an educational psychologist, ran tests on her showing a high IQ and a ‘visual discrimination’ problem described as ‘developmental’. Working with a tutor trained to help children with Specific Learning Difficulties (SLD) saw very improved reading and writing ability after one year. Successful throughout school she gained UE, and succeeded in getting into Medical School and now works as a Medical Consultant.

Young sister Emily, a defiant, naughty pre-schooler learned early to use ‘NO’. A short spell at Montessori ended with the teacher giving an audible sigh of relief when told of Emily’s departure, having earlier expressed concern about her inability to stay ‘on task’. She loved Kindy but sitting still at story time was identified as a challenge. Learning to read also proved difficult, and her inability to ‘settle down’ was soon identified at school. Stomach pains in the morning suggested growing anxiety of school. The educational psychologist who tested Emily showed her IQ to be high and noted exceptional ability in visual memory, acuity and discrimination tasks. Auditory memory and discrimination tests though were in the lowest percentile. These disparate results indicated SLD but strong-willed Emily refused extra tuition.

Attending school in England for a year in a class with 18 and a phonics approach to reading saw her anxiety of school disappear. On our return when asked why she enjoyed school in England she replied, ‘ I liked it being quiet and having my own desk.’ By the end of primary school her reports had described her as impulsive, overactive, inattentive and openly defiant, all symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But she had a winning personality, quick wit and great sense of humour.

Placed in the top stream at Secondary School her reports followed a similar pattern; ‘she lacks concentration’; ‘disruptive in class’; has problems staying on task’. Despite this she achieved University Entrance and chose a Chemistry major. By year 3 poor grades were worrying her and she agreed to visit a paediatrician interested in adult ADHD. After a two hour session with us he noted that she seemed happy, had a loving family and close friends, and many sporting achievements. But he went on, ‘I can see that your academic work is worrying you and tests suggest that you are ADHD and using Ritalin initially for a month will show if concentration improves’. After beginning the Ritalin she was surprised with her capacity to concentrate and in her final year she attained ‘A’ and ‘A+’ scores. She now works as a Technology Process Manager with a multinational drug company. Her practical ability is used to capacity as a problem identifier and solver in production processes.

This overview summarizes the approach of our family to support two sisters with different types of SLD and focuses on educational experiences, but reaching adulthood does not eliminate SLD and often has profound effects on personal and private lives. Parents, grandparents, caregivers and children will all be greatly empowered by acquiring knowledge about SLD and this can be a life changing experience.

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