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Zara’s journey

Told by her mum, Kristy

Zara is 11 years old and is diagnosed with Autism and dyslexia. Right at the beginning we never picked up on anything but that changed once she started struggling in school.

At school, she was fine but had learning difficulties so she was put into a reading program which was for kindy and year 1 students.

When she was in year 1, The government put in a program for children who were struggling to read and they picked Zara to be a part of this funded reading program. When the principal told me this, I was so upset because none of my other kids had to do this. But the school said that not everyone gets to be a part of the program and they thought Zara would benefit from it so we accepted it. Once the program had completed, they contacted me asking if Zara could be in their documentary because she had done so well. I was so proud that she progressed.

On the day they filmed, there were quite a few of us in the room but I didn’t think that would affect Zara. When they started filming the lesson, it took forever. I was sitting there thinking, is this how Zara usually reads? She was struggling. Before we left, her teacher grabbed me and said “I don’t want you to think that is how Zara usually is”. I was relieved because that session wasn’t that great.

But I asked Zara how she thought it went and I could see it all over her face.

She just started crying and Zara doesn’t cry in front of people. She said, “it was too much mum, you guys were all staring at me.”

Part of me realized that she was just overwhelmed, but her not being able to function in a room full of people was odd. But again I just thought it was her being nervous so I didn’t think anything of it.

They did another filming and we weren’t invited to it but that went well apparently so we were happy.

By year 3, she was still struggling and I thought it was because I was working so I started meeting up with teachers and getting more involved. However, Zara began to not like school anymore because I realised the teachers were not engaging with her.

We had meetings with the school so I thought we were all on the same page and they were making sure her programs were better suited to her capabilities.

Year 4 came but the learning difficulties just continued.

Sometimes we would walk home from school and I would ask her how the day went.
She would say, “it’s ok, we had some tests”.
I know she struggles so I would ask her if it was a bit hard for her.
She would say “no, but I couldn’t see the board because it changes colours sometimes”.
I was really surprised and that’s when we realised something was up.

Zara was seeing an external psychologist for something different who said that our school can run assessments to see if anything is going on. So I reached out and they did run assessments and provided me with reports. However, they never spoke to me about it so I didn’t pay much attention to it because if there were red flags, I thought the school would let me know.

Coming towards the end of the year, I spoke to Zara’s teacher again and told her Zara’s not coping in the classroom because of her constantly leaving for her reading program.
(We didn’t know but the reading program was only for kindy and year 1’s. Zara was in year 4). Her teacher snapped and said she should be able to cope. I didn’t know what to do anymore because she had high school soon, she lost interest in school and her self esteem was bad.

I started working at home with her reading and writing and we would have a great rhythm. But then 2 weeks would pass and I would sit and listen to her read and started to realise when I withdrew the support, she would go backwards.

And then covid happened so I was teaching her from home. I was explaining a concept of a storm brewing and we talked about the smells, what it looks like and so on. That took us over an hour.
I asked her how she was finding school.
She said, “mum, I have no idea what they do at school”.
I said that’s ok she just needs more explanation.

During covid, I noticed when Zara would see a lot of words on a page, she would just slump over. I could see it all over her face but I needed to get a little tough with her because I knew she had to get the work done. I tried to make it easier for her so I would read and she would listen. But she would slide down the chair and lose interest.

I asked her what was going on and slowly the tears started to roll down her face. I sat there for 10 minutes trying to get her to talk to me so I could figure out what to do.
She wouldn’t speak to me so I called my husband and said something’s wrong. That’s when I pulled out all of the reports and saw all of the red flags that we didn’t notice.

So I booked in another external assessment but the waiting list was so long. I spoke to someone there and said that I couldn’t wait. Zara’s 11 years old and we don’t have time anymore to wait. They were so helpful and agreed to see Zara. At this point, I was thinking it’s dyslexia and nothing major.

After the assessment, they said that Zara has autism. I was in shock. They said that girls are like chameleons, they can mask it well. So many things made sense after the diagnosis, like her fears and her quiet nature. My first reaction was to cry but I told Zara it’s not because of her. I was just very overwhelmed. When I explained it to her she just listened and I was very open with her.

Once we knew and started to understand it better, she released this negative energy that she thought was her fault. Now, Zara works with an MSL learner who is also a qualified teacher and she has figured out how to help Zara fill in her gaps. She has come such a long way and is finally progressing with her reading and schoolwork and we couldn’t be more thankful for the teacher.

Zara has also opened up to me a lot more now because she’s finding it easier to express herself. We’ve all seen a major change in her. I had a conversation with her teacher last Friday and she said Zara is doing so well and her confidence is amazing. Zara asked me what her teacher said and when I told her, she looked at me and said,
“This year I’m smart.”