Ann Hu, a director, moved from China to the US to help her daughter with her dyslexia.
Their story inspired her movie "Confetti."
This is her story, as told to Kelly Burch.
When my daughter Michelle was 3 years old, her Chinese teacher took me aside. "Your daughter likely has dyslexia," she told me.
I paused. I had gone to college in the United States and had a thriving career in consulting afterward. I made award-winning films in English. But at that moment, my fluency wasn't enough to understand what the teacher was saying.
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" I asked the teacher.
This time, her face froze. "It means she'll need special attention," she finally said.
Searching for answers
After speaking with Michelle's teacher, I tried to find more answers, but it was impossible. It was the mid-2000s, and internet access was restricted in China. Even if I'd had the entire web at my fingertips I would have struggled, because dyslexia is not well known in China.
When Michelle turned 6, she enrolled in public school. Some kids in Michelle's class could write 5,000 Chinese characters, but my daughter couldn't write her name.
I decided to pour all my resources into helping Michelle. She went to school each day and met with tutors each afternoon, sometimes until 11 p.m. It didn't seem to make a difference. Michelle's classmates were making fun of her. Her teachers were powerless to help, because they didn't understand dyslexia either. We were miserable, and I knew I had to do something about it.
Emigrating in search of a better education
Michelle had been born in the United States, and we were both US citizens. I had taken her to China as a baby because it was important to me that she learn Chinese and be raised in my culture. I figured she could move to the United States for high school or college, once her Chinese roots were well established.
Michelle's dyslexia changed that plan. When she was 7, we moved back to New York.
At first our problems were compounded. Michelle spoke the language, but it was Beijing English, not New York English. Her teachers had difficulty distinguishing which of her challenges were language-related and which were because of her learning disability.
Eventually I learned more about special education in the United States and was able to get Michelle into a school where she thrived. Today she's a confident, happy teenager who just started her sophomore year.
Learning disabilities in China versus the US
My experience with the American school system taught me that the US doesn't have the cure for dyslexia, as I had hoped. However, we do have a society that talks openly about learning differences and is willing to help kids learn in the way that works for them.
That's what's missing in China. There's a total lack of awareness about learning disabilities. I was once asked if dyslexia is contagious. Because people don't understand learning differences, children with them are stigmatized and marginalized. Soon they disappear from the mainstream education system.
The Chinese value education above all else. Raising Michelle has shown me that my culture needs to focus on more than just the volume of knowledge that we give our children; we need to make sure they are creative and confident too.
Why I share my story
Navigating learning disabilities can be daunting for any parent. My experience was compounded by my culture. I had to navigate an unfamiliar school system to get Michelle the support she needed, while also learning about a new concept and examining cultural ideas of what it means to be a successful student and a successful parent.
After 16 years of parenting Michelle, I've realized that dyslexia isn't a curse, it's a gift. People with different styles of learning have strengths that I can only dream of. I've watched my daughter blossom into a self-assured young woman who loves to interact with the world around her.
Ann Hu is the director of the film "Confetti," which is based on Michelle's story.
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