Decoding the Superpower that is Dyslexia: Helping Parents and Students Understand this Learning and Living Difference, with Melanie Brethour: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

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Ludo Millar 1:03
Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners, welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast and of course a huge welcome to today’s guest, Melanie Brethour. Now, Melanie, just before we get into the conversation with you, I’d like to give this as a little background to you so that we know where you’re coming from and, and so that I can really beat the drum for you because I’m sure you’ll be too modest to do that yourself. So Melanie is the founder of Decoding Dyslexia Quebec, which is a wonderful organisation, spreading awareness around dyslexia and generally flying the flag for all those students who struggle with reading and the way it’s taught in schools, and crucially, those parents and caregivers who in turn may struggle with that with that environment. And Melanie has a powerful story to tell from her background as a classroom teacher of 18 years to the present day, to being the mother of a child diagnosed with dyslexia, to finding out that there was little by way of support and information online for parents of children with dyslexia, which is going to tell us a little bit more about how Decoding Dyslexia came about. And today, Melanie has kindly accepted the invitation to share that story with you. So listen carefully, because I’m sure there will be learnings at every step of the way. So welcome, Melanie, thank you so much for coming on.

Melanie Brethour 3:28
Thank you for having me. This is my first real official podcast. So I’m very excited.

Ludo Millar 3:33
‘Official’? Well maybe well find out about the other unofficial ones … [LAUGHS]

Melanie Brethour 3:38
Ok well maybe it is my first real one [LAUGHS]

Ludo Millar 3:41
You don’t need to dress it up like that! That’s okay. So, it’s Monday, the 14th of March at the time of recording. What’s giving you reasons to smile this Monday, Melanie?

Melanie Brethour 3:53
Well, I’m excited to be here, as I said, and any chance I get to talk about dyslexia, and just spread awareness about it makes me very happy. So that’s why I’m in a great mood. And I’m happy to be here.

Ludo Millar 4:09
Wonderful. So let’s dive into that first question, because it’s going to allow you to talk about the thing that you’d like to talk about, which is dyslexia. And it’s going to allow our listeners to find out either a little bit more if they’re not kind of experts or work in the field of dyslexia, or to really take their practice further if they are those who work in the field. So basically, the first question is, what is your WHY as an educator?

Melanie Brethour 4:38
Well, I always wanted to be a teacher for the longest time, even when I did camps. When I was a teenager, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. And I went to McGill University in Montreal. I’m in my 18th year of teaching and I have always been in special ed. I taught special programmes and always felt I knew enough about dyslexia. But it wasn’t until my son was diagnosed just a few years ago is when I totally like had a aha moment. And my mom was my brain exploded with all this new information that I did not know. And so that’s my why. He’s my why.

And my goal is to spread awareness about dyslexia, of what I learned. I’m a teacher, as I said, and I wasn’t special ed, but I didn’t know what I knew now. But my saying moving forward is you do better when you know better. And now I know better. And I’m trying to spread as much awareness about dyslexia, not only to parents, but to my colleagues, to anybody who will listen. And I think I don’t think you necessarily have a unique story, it seems to be that many teachers are many parents who have a child with dyslexia. They learned so much from their child, and they want to do the best they can to support them. And I’ve done incredible things in the past few years, because of my son, Benjamin. And that’s my why. And my my goal is to help any parents and spread awareness, as I said, to the teachers who are teaching these one in five kids in our class.

Ludo Millar 6:21
Well, I mean, maybe that final point there is, is the reason behind the question I’m about to ask, which is why did you set up Decoding Dyslexia Quebec? Where did that come from?

Melanie Brethour 6:35
Well, when I was looking at, as soon as my son was diagnosed, I knew he was dyslexic. I knew from kindergarten. But unfortunately, here in Quebec, and I think there’s other places as well, they always say you need to have a diet, you know, we can only diagnose at the end of Grade Two or the beginning of Grade Three. And I know many places, they can diagnose, you know, around five, five and a half years, and I heard many different things. So as a teacher, I thought I knew enough as I mentioned before, and I would watch, I watched a dyslexia one on one video, after he was diagnosed, I still was learning about dyslexia, but that my husband and I were going on like a rampage, learning as much as we can about dyslexia. And that’s when I learned, you know, I heard about Decoding Dyslexia, in the States, they have one in every every state and now in seven provinces. And I went to those sites to get a lot of information, they were super helpful. And there’s a lot of wonderful organisations besides Decoding Dyslexia. And I just remember thinking, well, here I am. I just found out my son is officially diagnosed with dyslexia. I thought I knew enough, I had a teacher, but I didn’t. So I contacted Decoding Dyslexia, I saw that they didn’t have one in Quebec. And they were very helpful. They helped me create my logo, and I met with others. And mine is just right now a Facebook page, but I share resources and information. I do get a lot of questions from parents asking me, you know, what can I do for my child? And that’s why I wanted to start it up. Because I thought, you know, if you’re not a teacher, you don’t have any background in education. You don’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do. And I do know now what to do, because I’ve learned so much in the past few years. So that was really my goal is to help others who maybe don’t have any background, and most parents don’t.

Ludo Millar 8:46
Yeah, I mean, that must get kind of thrown upon you. I mean, even though you were saying that you thought you knew before Benjamin was officially diagnosed. But I mean, that must happen a great deal. That gets thrown upon parents kind of fairly suddenly, does it?

Melanie Brethour 9:05
Yes, yes. When we can see that there are signs and it depends on the professional depends on where you’re at, whether they can diagnose or not. We went privately. He was diagnosed at the age of eight, almost nine. And you know, it’s hard when you don’t want your children to struggle at all. You want to help them and you need to think about school, you’re reading almost- every single subject, you need to learn how to read and they’re doing something so difficult, you know, just like to is on a continuum. So you can have you know, mild moderate to severe. My son is severely dyslexic. And despite having a mom who’s you know, I’m a resource teacher and helping him you know, when he was in kindergarten, he had a lot of support at home and he still struggles so I just my heart breaks for parents who are going through this because I’ve sat on, you know, meetings with parents where, you know, we’re giving- they get the report from the psychologist and the child is  diagnosed with dyslexia and my heart breaks with them. Because your child is going to be struggling in school for a long time. And without the proper interventions early on and the specialised teaching that they need, it’s really hard.

Ludo Millar 10:32
So can you give us a little bit more information about how you, you do help parents understand their child’s diagnosis? In what ways does Decoding Dyslexia, whether it’s Decoding Dyslexia Quebec, or other Decoding Dyslexia organisations, how do they help parents?

Melanie Brethour 10:52
Well, it’s really their information. So if you don’t know anything about dyslexia, you can contact if you’re in a state, we contact your state’s Decoding Dyslexia, for example. And they can guide you in certain areas that can give you resources. Many of them are so huge that they have members. Right now, I’m just like a one-woman show on Facebook. I’m hoping to expand it more. I only started it last year. And but in some states, they’re changing legislation. I know in Ontario, there’s something called the Right to Read, and they’re really making changes, hopefully, in the education system as well in the Faculty of Education. And right now parents have contacted me and they ask, you know, what can I do, what kind of intervention they need, and I always tell them, they need a structured literacy approach. Based on the science of reading and the gold standard for any dyslexic is the Orton-Gillingham Approach. I am trained in the Orton-Gillingham Approach. That’s what he said, when I had turned my son was diagnosed with dyslexia. I decided to take a 60-hour course in Orton-Gillingham. And I did that and you know, I’m doing a practicum right now. And you do what you have to do to help your child because unfortunately, in schools, the teachers are not trained and it’s no fault of their own. I wasn’t trained either. That’s why I’m so- that’s my why is, here I am, I’m a teacher who loves to learn, I do a lot of CPD, you know, I love taking professional development. And I never learned any of this. So it’s just a matter of spreading awareness of this evidence-based interventions that these students need. And it doesn’t only help them, but it helps everybody in the class. So there has to come from, I don’t know, the Faculty of Education, Ministry of Education. And so that’s kind of my going back to my why. And Decoding Dyslexia Quebec is- I share a lot of the other Decoding Dyslexia in the States and in the provinces as well as to, you know, you can take this workshop or webinar, or, you know, this, and a lot of them are free, and it’s fantastic for parents and for teachers.

Ludo Millar 13:22
And flipping this on its head a little bit how, how can we help students understand their own diagnosis?

Melanie Brethour 13:34
Well, it’s interesting. I know some parents who didn’t tell their child that they were dyslexic, and I really had a hard time understanding why. I just remember when my husband and I were like, ‘Okay, he has a diagnosis of dyslexia and a few other things too’. He had a mild language disorder and inattentive ADD. So he had a lot going on for an eight year old little guy. And he was severely dyslexic to the point where a simple three-letter word, he would have to decode but my son has an amazing spatial intelligence, and he makes movie mosaics out of Rubik’s cubes. And he is an amazing, I don’t even know how he does it. We just watch him explore. And yet he has such a hard time just reading a simple little word. And so we really celebrated his strengths. And we celebrated the strength, we said, ‘Benjamin, you know, your brain is amazing. You can do all these amazing things with these Rubik’s Cubes. But your brain works differently because, you know, he processes language and leading differently’. And when we told them, we showed a fantastic video from the British Dyslexia Association, and it’s called Seeing Dyselxia Differently. It’s a two to three minute video and it was Benjamin to a T. It just explained dyslexia so well. And we showed him that video. And after he said it, it blew away my husband, I laughed afterwards he goes, ‘I’m the chosen one’. And we go, ‘Well, you’re not quite the chosen one’. [LAUGHS] But my husband and I built it up that, you know, you have this amazing brain. You have dyslexia, it’s your superpower, even.

And we see that hashtag a lot: #DyslexiaIsMySuperpower. Because a lot of people are saying that, you know, dyslexic has amazing skills, a lot of entrepreneurs are dyslexic, you know, Richard Branson, so many amazing people say that they’re dyslexic. So there’s even a book called The Dyslexic Advantage as well. So when we told Benjamin, I felt like it was a weight off his shoulders in the sense that he knew why reading was so hard, and that he has also this amazing strength. So I would just say to parents, it’s so important to give them that reason why they’re having such difficulty, because they often think, you know, they’re maybe not intelligent, or stupid. And when we told him, it was almost like a weight lifted off his shoulders, it is hard for him still, it’s hard for us, it’s a really, I call it our dyslexic journey, even though I’m not dyslexic. For him, it’s been a struggle, and I just told him that, you know, you’re gonna always have to try a little bit harder, but you’re really resilient in there. So perseverance as well.

Ludo Millar 16:37
That is such a fantastic bank of resources you’ve drawn upon there, Melanie, I mean, it’s clear that you have done a great amount of reading and watching and consuming of the kind of literature around dyslexia. You said you were fascinated in professional development – we love to hear that around here. That’s what we’re all about. And Julia Silver, the Founder of Qualified Tutor, she always talks about how, when she was pregnant, and when she was having her children, she was just reading about pregnancy and childhood, and she was going to classes and she was, you know, levelling up as a mother. And I think that the fact that that applies to all areas of life is really powerful. And I think you are the greatest demonstration, Melanie, of someone seeing what is around them, seeing the hand that life has played them and really diving into that and jumping in with both feet and learning about it and helping others who are in the same situation. It’s incredibly impressive and very, very heartwarming. So you know, Melanie mentioned there that Seeing Dyslexia Differently video and that helped Benjamin change the way he saw himself and The Dyslexic Advantage, the book that was released, both of those resources will be in the show notes on whatever podcasting app that you’re listening on. So, do follow up after this. Because if this is the first time you’ve thought about dyslexia in this way, then let this be the start of the journey, not kind of, you know, I’ve listened to this one podcast, and that’s me done. And on that same theme, Melanie, both for those listeners out there for who, you know, understanding dyslexia is new to them. And also for those who feel they know about dyslexia, including myself, I feel like I know a lot more about dyslexia than I did two years ago, when I first started this podcast. But what are some of the common misconceptions around dyslexia that you still see in society today?

Melanie Brethour 18:38
Well, I think it’s, a lot of the times, you know, they’re not motivated, they’re lazy. And, you know, I read something the other day that their brains are working five times harder than anybody doing the same literacy task as them. And I can see that because I don’t know about you but if I was really not great at something, and I had to do it over and over and over again, it would be hard to be motivated to do that. It’d be hard to keep pushing through. But when you’re in, you know, your little eight year old, nine year old, 11 year old, you have to be reading and writing every single day. And I want teachers especially to know that they’re trying their best when I say that I worked with him. And you know, we did spelling tests. And on a side note, because you know, one song, by the way, but are randomly just random words that you have to remember for the week. We would be spending so much time during the week like, that would be incredible. And here we get 0/10 which breaks your heart because it’s not about lack of effort or trying, it’s just the brains processes it differently. And I think a lot of people think, you know, seeing letters backwards, I get that question a lot. ‘Oh, do they have dyslexia? They’re reversing their letters, playing with the P or Q’. And it’s really about that, let’s look at a Grade Three or Grade Four student who has dyslexia. They’re not proficient readers, they’re not proficient writers, they’re actually like mimicking a Grade One student who’s just learning how to write and read. So if you see that, it’s just because they haven’t, I guess, permanently mapped into their brain that this is the letter D or B, and I don’t know, if you’ve seen that poster, it’s pretty neat that, you know, you take a picture of a chair and you’re turning the chair over, it’s still a chair, and you turn it the other way, it’s still a chair, and it’s still a chair. So these kids just need explicit instruction as to, and lots of repetitions for, you know, to say that this is the formation with the formation of D. But in their head, it looks all the same, to turn it around, right. And just my number one thing, that is celebrate their strengths. As I said, you know, that’s what we did with my son, Benjamin. If no one had ever given him that Rubik’s Cube, you would never have known he was able to do this amazing thing. And maybe he’s a musician as well and got to get on with guitar, but I have no musical talent whatsoever.

Ludo Millar 21:18
That’s your next professional development. [LAUGHS]

Melanie Brethour 21:21
Yeah, and I think if you’re a teacher, you know, celebrate their strengths as well, find out what they’re good at. And, and there’s a lot of misconceptions, I’m trying to think of what else but, you know, definitely just their brain. It’s a language-based disorder. And it affects many areas, and no two dyslexics are the same, they have so many different strengths. And as you said, The Dyslexic Advantage, that’s a fantastic book as well. That was one of the first ones I read, too, and Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz was a great read, too, if you ever, you know, want to learn more about dyslexia.

Ludo Millar 22:03
I certainly do, if you’re talking to me, Melanie, and if you’re talking to our audience, I’m sure many of them do, too. So there’s another resource to go and check out: Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. So, Melanie, there’s so much to go off here. And I think you’re just starting to give people an idea of what to look out for. Because for many of those in our listener base, you know, they will be independent tutors, or private tutors, who may find themselves working with a child with dyslexia or may have, you know, actively sought to work in that space. So I think it’s really key to understand these misconceptions, because firstly, misconceptions are so prevalent, and they get shared around because they seem to fit, they seem to make sense. But actually, we need to work doubly as hard to ensure that those misconceptions are understood and are reversed. And I think that that lazy, that idea that children with dyslexia are lazy is, is probably the core, the most common example of what being dyslexic means. And that’s really been worked hard on and I think that’s probably, you know, the prime example of a misconception of dyslexia.

So, it’s amazing to hear about those other ones. And also to be aware that their brains are working much harder when it comes to some of those things that neurotypical students find very easy, like reading a book or reading a Maths question. So yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. I want to ask as well, what’s next for you? What’s next for Melanie Brethour?

Melanie Brethour 23:49
Well, I’m hoping to be able to do more. Whether it’s a podcast or so I am actually going to be doing a presentation with all the resource teachers at my school board about dyslexia and the science of reading. And I’m hoping that the message is going to go to them and you’re going to share it with your school. And slowly and you know, over time, people will learn more about dyslexia and what these kids need in terms of the right intervention and early intervention. I went on Twitter for the first time and that seems to be a fantastic space for you know, all about literacy and dyslexia too. And I’m hoping that my Decoding Dyslexic Facebook page will be come a little bit maybe more impactful as other Decoding Dyslexia is in the States and the other provinces as well.

I just want change. I want, as I said, you do better when you know better and I just need to get that message out. I had no clue about any of this a few years ago, and that’s my goal is to spread awareness and get the message out that, you know, one in five, it really depends on the organisation, but most of the times it’s one in five, and we have the students in our classrooms, as adults, there are adults in every workplace that have dyslexia as well. And we just have to support them in whatever way we can. So that’s my, what I’m hoping to, my name will be out there in terms of spreading awareness as much as I can.

Ludo Millar 25:38
Awesome. We;; taking part in your first podcast is hopefully a great step for that. So if you’re listening to this, and you want to join in Melanie’s project in spreading the awareness of dyslexia, then you have two primary ways to do that. The first is to head to facebook.com/decodingdyslexiaquebec. And you can get to know Melanie now and I’m sure the other members of that community and you can share this podcast, share it to anyone who you think may not know about dyslexia, but perhaps should or anyone who is is actively seeking out more resources around dyslexia. So please do share this podcast and please do if you’d like a head to ratethispodcast.com/QualifiedTutorPodcast to leave a little review for the show, leave a review for Melanie, because Melanie will be a podcasting star within the next two to five years and you can say you saw her first on the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Melanie, your son Benjamin has just got home. I will not take up any more time. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a really thorough conversation around dyslexia. And I hope you enjoyed it.

Melanie Brethour 26:58
I did, I’m gonna listen to it, for sure. And I’ll be my own critic, but I was a little nervous, but I’m sure you’re going to edit it well.

Ludo Millar 27:10
I will. Listeners, you’ve got the advantage of listening to the final cut. But no, it’s really amazing to hear this. And I think that’s part of why I’m so lucky to host this podcast is to speak to people that you may only know halfway across the world based in Quebec, while we’re here in London, you know, that’s amazing what we’ve been allowed to do over the past two years. And so we shall have you back on soon, Melanie, but very much keep in touch within the Community and obviously in your Facebook group. And we’ll see all of you listeners for the next episode. Thank you so much for listening and cheerio.

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Ludo Millar

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re a regular listener of this podcast, or you’ve just stumbled across it, join the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group within the Qualified Tutor Community. To stay up to date with our latest news offers workshops and of course, simply to meet other tutors like you, whatever your level is as a tutor, our training courses will be the next step in your professional development. Visit qualified tutor.org/training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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