Here’s one of our favorite stories. It’s a perfect metaphor for the late blooming pattern of development that is characteristic of dyslexic people. It’s been told many times and in many ways. Here’s our version.
Long ago in China, a father saw his son sitting silently on a stool, hanging his head in dejection.
“Why so low?” the father asked, placing his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
The father smiled encouragingly, then sat on a stool beside his son.
“Sometimes it is hard to continue our work when the results are slow to be seen. Yet it is only when we stay strong and do not give up that the fruits of our labor appear.
“Consider the bamboo tree. When fully grown it brushes the sky, but it takes many years for new shoots to grow. In the first year, the shoots must be watered and fertilized with great care, yet you do not see them grow. The same is true of the next year, and the next, and the next. For four years there is no sign of growth, but if you cease feeding and watering the shoots they will whither away and die. However, if you continue your work, in the fifth year the bamboo will finally begin to grow. And once it stirs it grows more quickly than any other tree—often more than a length of your forearm in a single night—until in six short weeks it is as tall as the emperor’s palace!
“So tell me,” the father said gently, “how long does it take for a bamboo tree to grow to the sky: six weeks, or five years?”
“Five years,” the boy replied, lifting his eyes.
“And so it is with you, my son. Continue with your work, and you will one day see its fruit.”
Helping dyslexic children maintain a positive and hopeful vision for the future during the long, early years when their progress is hard to see is one of our most important duties as parents and educators.
Without question, the number one problem we see preventing young people with dyslexia from discovering and taking advantage of their strengths is that they lose heart and give up on themselves before development has kicked in to the point where their talents have become apparent. Remember DA’s image of the caterpillar and the butterfly. Butterfly’s only fly once they’ve developed past their long, flightless, caterpillar stage. We must always help our children remember that they were born to fly, even before their wings begin to appear.
The developmental changes that take place in the adolescent brain often have a much greater positive impact on dyslexic children than they do even on other children. When coupled with the accumulation of life experience that is so essential for these “real world learners”, the years between 15 and 30 are typically a time of tremendous opportunity for growth for dyslexic young people. For many dyslexic people, these years of adolescence and young adulthood are the years when the talents that create their opportunities for
adult success first appear.
Tragically, only those individuals who have maintained the hope needed to watch for and nurture their budding talents are able to take advantage of this fertile period. As parents, teachers, and other caregivers, we must never lose sight of our need to help keep this hope alive.