What is it like to have dyslexia? My story by the Dyslexic Mum

I appeared on the Unique Eye Dyslexia podcast in 2023, with Steve McCue. Below is the transcript from the interview. Where I speak about my experiences of growing-up with dyslexia and what inspired me to start Dyslexia Mum.

Dyslexia Primary School Days

I would like to introduce myself. My name is Collette Costello and I am the dyslexic Mum.

So the word dyslexia, I had never even heard of this word until I was 20. Words like dyslexia, neurodiversity, learning difficulties, just weren't taught about when I was a child. I'm from a very working class background and children that couldn't focus and mis-behaved were labelled as troublemakers at primary school. I was one of these troublemaker children, but I wasn't horrible and nasty. I just found it really difficult to concentrate in class. I didn't understand most of the time what was going on. And if you are in a classroom, imagine you are a child. It's like the teacher is sometimes speaking a foreign language that you can't understand. So, you know, it's, it's going to be boring and a child is just going to start messing about. Which is what I did a lot of the time.  

It did affect me. At primary school teachers were quite horrible to me. They called me lazy. Children in the class also called me thick, and I was seen as being that child that the other children's parents didn't want their child to be friends with.

What would happen when I was about eight years old, I would go into class and sometimes the teacher would just look at me. I wouldn't even have done anything and I would be sent to stand in the corridor. Now, for a child that has issues like dyslexia and always likes to be busy and on the go, being forced to stand for hours in a corridor with absolutely nothing to do, isn't really going to help their anxiety and help them concentrate more.

Dyslexia High School Days

When I got to high school, things were a lot different because I was in a bigger school and I was surrounded by lots of children that had learning difficulties aswell. Obviously, again, nobody's knew they had learning difficulties, but at last I wasn't the one that was just the troublemaker. There was a lot of other children who struggled too. So I kind of blended in bit more in at high school and I found that there were other subjects like arts. I excelled in art and loved painting. So for me, I was in my absolute element and that did help to build my confidence. Also there were other subjects like science, which is very, very practical, and they would often demonstrate stuff and we could get involved. So in a strange way, even though science is seen as being a more difficult subject, I actually found it alot easier than learning to read and write.  

My Child Showing Signs of Dyslexia

So what made me start Dyslexic Mum then? Well, when I had my little girl, I started to think she was dyslexic when she was only two years old. I could really see the difference between her and of her children at like the baby and toddler groups. We would go to the groups and she would be really hyper and she'd be running round, shouting and snatching toys off of her children. At home I struggled to get her to interact with me, so I found it really hard to get her to concentrate on tasks for a long time. Making me start to wonder if she's got dyslexia, because her behaviour did remind me a lot of me when I was a child.

Struggling at School

So when she started school, age four, I did start to look a lot more into dyslexia.  She did start to show the signs of dyslexia more, in the fact that she was struggling to learn how to read and write. There was things like when she did write, she would mirror write letters and she just couldn't remember the name of letters. So I would go through the words of the alphabet with her every night and she just wouldn't be able to remember them. When she, moved up a year, when she was five and six. Again, it was really obvious the difference between her level and the level off children in her class. There were children in her class that were nearly six and they could read and write simple things. They could write stories, they could write their own names, they could write birthday cards. And at this point, my little girl was struggling to even read or write simple two, three letter words. I realised that I needed to get her help.

Starting Dyslexia Mum

I knew there was only so much the school could do. Yet I did ask them for help. They tried to help as much as they could. But because she wasn't age seven and she couldn't have the formal assessment, there was only so much support that they could offer. That was when Dyslexic Mum was born. I went away and I started to look really into dyslexia. And what I found really interesting was that dyslexia isn't just about reading and writing, it is about behaviour aswell. It's about not being able to concentrate and that sometimes hyper behaviour, can be caused by a child being anxious, more than anything. Because you can imagine for a child to be in a class struggling, falling behind, it can cause a lot of anxiety and it can affect their self-confidence. So I looked at activities that I could do with her at home. Including actvities to help with school work and to also help the whole dyslexic child. With everything from building confidence, to getting organised and managing emotions.

Building Confidence Dyslexia

We did things to build her confidence. So we would do stuff like, create a self-esteem collage. Where we would write down all the things that she was good at. Obviously she couldn't write, so we would draw pictures or cut pictures out of magazines. I also tried different things to help with her motivation, to get her to practice her reading from school. Every week we would do things like have a reward chart and if she did five minutes reading each day, we would tick it off on the chart. Then on a Friday we would have a family popcorn night as a reward. We get a little bowl, fill it with popcorn and a few little snacks, like sweets and chocolates. We allow her to choose which film we're going to watch and she really enjoys that.

There are other ways, if you want your child to be more focused on healthy eating, if you prefer not to use food as a reward. There are other things like just making a homemade certificate or giving them a treat, such as a trip to the local museum, which is free. Or even just going to the playground. Because what dyslexic children do value more than anything is spending time with their parents or carers and to feel valued. And it is that one-to-one support that really helps them.

Backed by Scientific Research

When coming up with these activities, I did lots of research. I am a trained teacher, so I looked a lot at educational materials teachers would use. Including level PhD research. I also started a Facebook group to support other parents/carers like me, of dyslexic children. I enjoy running the group I can answer all the educational questions that parents/carers have, about getting their child help for dyslexia at school. And when you are outside the education system, it can be very difficult to understand this complicated system. The group has now grown into a supportive community, where parents/carers of dyslexic children, answer each other's questions and share their stories.

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