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The Story of One Dyslexia and Lots of Elephants

About two years ago, my eldest son Kfir started the first grade of school. We were very excited, and the wonderful school Kfir went to each morning filled my heart with the feeling that my son was growing and studying. Kfir started the first grade and was happy, and so was I. Already in the middle of the school year, after Kfir had quickly mastered the letters of the alphabet and the numbers, I felt that Kfir was not reading as well as I expected him to read. Everything went slowly, everything was irritating, and everything was stuck. I decided to let go. Not to disturb, not to pressurize, as long as he was happy, and perhaps he would learn to read a little later…

Kfir continued studying, acquiring knowledge, growing and enjoying school, but he was not able to read. At one stage I thought that we as parents might be missing his dyslexia or something similar, but the teachers calmed me down and explained that it was immaturity and a rich internal world that occupied him. They advised me to let him develop at his own pace. This was what I did. And Kfir did not read. With time he started to write. His writing was large, but pleasant, and he started writing words and sentences.

At the end of the first grade, when he received his report card, Kfir told me, “I am stupid, I don’t know how to read, all my friends can already read and I can hardly recognize letters”. We decided to find a teacher to work with him on reading during the summer vacation. Kfir agreed. Each day he practiced reading, but his reading did not improve and with time he even stopped writing. My heart was filled with sadness seeing his great efforts and small success, and I was worried because there was a whole world out there for words Kfir was not exposed to, so I started reading out to him articles, stories and children’s magazines. After three months we stopped working with the private teacher, who recommended having a didactic evaluation, and noted that it may be immaturity.

We moved to a new home. Kfir started studying in a democratic school. At this democratic school Kfir continued to acquire knowledge, learning, experience, mathematics, art, nature and the wish to know more. He did all this while avoiding activities connected to reading. Kfir guided himself to those places where he felt sure of success.

And then… a friend of a friend of a friend recommended a book called The Gift of Dyslexia. The name appealed to me and encouraged me, and already that day I bought the book and read it quickly. I contacted the Center for Dyslexia Correction, where they believe that dyslexia is a gift, and told them about Kfir’s difficulties, my pain and anxieties. From that moment on, I started a journey of one month, a short journey but one of the longest and most instructive in my life. I went on this journey together with Kfir, his dyslexia, Judith Schwarcz, four turtles, and if I have the number right, more than one thousand elephants.

It is hard to explain this journey to find the gift of dyslexia, but as a person who deals with computers every day, I can compare this journey to “deleting” basic distortions in the mastery of reading and writing, “inputting” skills that were forgotten along the way, and “constructing” language parts that were never available to Kfir.
In this journey we rode elephants from all over the world, played with Kosh balls, fed turtles, were angry, laughed, roared, danced, sculpted, drew. We were together. We separated. We went and returned. And finally… we found a gift. We found the “gift of dyslexia”. Kfir knows how to read and write. He chooses when and how to ride elephants from all over the world in his imagination, and when to read about them in a book…

Thank you, Judith Schwarcz, for your professionalism, humanity, maternalism, friendship and faith.

Galit Itzhaki Shimshon – a mother.

Once upon a time there were turtles, elephants and penguins

1. Once upon a time there were four turtles who lived in the home of a woman named Judith. Judith’s turtles lived quietly in a small pond in her green garden. The four turtles had known each other since they were born, and had always enjoyed playing together in the water. Diving into the depths, rising quickly and sticking their little heads out of the water. Judith’s turtles especially enjoyed coming out of the pond when nobody was around and sunbathing. Judith loved her turtles very much. She fed them, kept the water in the pond just right – not too hot and not too cold, and clean (turtles don’t like dirty water, because then they can’t see anything).

2. Once upon a time there was a woman called Judith who lived in a nice home. A house with a garden, a pond of turtles, and a penguin at the entrance that looked almost real. In Judith’s house there were lots of interesting things, because Judith was a woman who loved traveling around the world. Judith loved bringing back souvenirs from the places she visited, and especially miniatures of elephants. In Judith’s living room there was a cabinet with glass doors, and in it were lots of miniature elephants. I did not count them, but there seemed to me to be no less than a thousand. Each elephant had a story. Each elephant came from a different place, and some elephants were given to Judith by friends who knew she loved elephants. There was an elephant from India, an elephant from Spain, an elephant from Greece and an elephant from Eilat. There were elephants made of china, banana skin, glass, metal, plastic and even cloth.

3. Once upon a time there was a boy who did not know how to read. This boy had blue eyes and golden curls. One day the boy came to the house of Judith who loved elephants, raised four turtles and had an almost real penguin at the entrance. This boy who did not know how to read watched how Judith’s turtles dived and floated, and got to know all the elephants, even the smallest of them. The boy sat in Judith’s lovely house and thought: “I am not a turtle. So I can’t live in the turtles’ pool and sunbathe”. The boy sat in Judith’s lovely house and thought: “I am not an elephant. So I can’t live in the Judith’s glass cabinet with all the thousand elephants”. The boy sat in Judith’s lovely house and thought that Judith had a really lovely house.

4. Once upon a time there was a blue-eyed, golden-curled boy. This boy knew a lot and wanted to get to know the whole world. All the animals, the wild jungles, the high Rockies, the frozen lakes. A boy who wanted to know everything but didn’t know how to read. And he tried. And he didn’t succeed. Then he tried for a few days to be like the turtles, but he wasn’t interested in diving and sunbathing all day. So he tried to be an elephant in the glass cabinet, but all the elephants were silent and serious, and he wasn’t satisfied. And he was sad, and he thought he was stupid, and thought he would never be able to do all the things he really loved properly and thoroughly.

5. Once upon a time there was a blue-eyed, golden-curled boy who asked Judith to teach him how to read. And Judith, who had only learned how to read a few days earlier herself, agreed. She sat with the boy and taught him how to use his fingers and the pencil. How to use his eyes and his memory. She taught him how to be focused when he could see everything at once, and she taught him to stop the blurring of his vision and to prevent the words from jumping on the page and confusing his thoughts. The boy was not certain it would work. He found it difficult to learn. He found it very difficult to believe that he was capable, and sometimes he even wept. When he found it very difficult, Judith invited him to visit the turtles, and he saw with them quietly and told them that he was making a great effort. The turtles looked at him quietly, but understood. When he found it even more difficult, he went into the living room and looked at the elephants in the glass cabinet, and told them how hard he was trying, and told them he felt stupid. All the elephants, even the smallest ones, listened to him quietly, but understood. Each time they listened to him and understood him, he went back to Judith and studied more and more with her.

6. Once upon a time there was a boy who didn’t know how to read, and now he can.

7. Once upon a time there was a woman called Judith, who had a penguin at the entrance to her home, a penguin that looked almost real. A black and white penguin that usually lives in Alaska.

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