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Matteo Pirro’s Story
Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up
is what makes it permanent. So says Marilyn vox Savant, who
according to the Guinness Book of Records, her 190 IQ ranked the highest in the
world in the 1980s. Although succinct and to the point, many of us find it
difficult to live by those words. A failed marriage, losing a job, or the death
of a loved one can quickly turn into a crutch that can send an individual
spiraling into an abyss they have difficulty climbing out of. That is what
makes Matteo Pirro's story so inspiring; he is a 10 year-old who innately
grasps that a setback is not an excuse to throw in the towel.
Matteo's mother, Marie-Jo Demers, describes her son, who has dyslexia, dysorthographia, and dyscalculia as an enthusiastic, happy child who struggles with a learning disability that makes it difficult for him to write, recognize words and decode mathematics. “He grasps well, and his grades are solid, but he works so much harder than his classmates that he often tires himself out. He's like a right-handed person attempting to write with his left hand,” explains Demers.
When Matteo was asked what issues confounded him the most at school, he answered, "Everything." Then after a moment of reflection, added, "Mostly reading, writing, paying attention and having to sit still for so long."
For Demers, who also struggles with dyslexia, she is well aware of how trying some of the difficulties both Matteo and his younger brother Luca, who is dealing with dysphasia, face. But unlike Luca, who manages to do well in school, it was difficult for her watch Matteo struggling with concepts others quickly pick up.
“Back when I was a child, I wondered, despite excelling at poetry, science and computers, why I struggled with spelling and memorization of math tables, and it was difficult not to let that fact affect my confidence. Even today with all the heightened awareness about such conditions, it still has an impact on a child's self-esteem,” says Demers. “So, I remind my kids, all that time, how smart they are, encouraging them not to become frustrated because they learn differently.”
Like many people with dyslexia, Matteo is very creative. Demers says that he has many ideas for inventions and that he loves art and painting. Although those attributes are important parts of an education, Demers believes that the school system's rigidness doesn't lend itself enough to Matteo's strengths. “That's why we pulled him out of school last year. He was exhausted trying to keep up with the other students. So Ivano (Matteo's father), Matteo and I came to the conclusion that it would be better to teach him at home.”
As a consequence, Matteo managed to grasp some of the fundamental concepts that were holding him back and catch up with his peers. “So there is another way of doing things that make it easier for him,” Demers says.
When questioned how homeschooling made a difference improving his reading and math skills, Matteo said that he discovered a new way of learning that was different than writing notes in a book and taking tests. Matteo attributed his newfound confidence to his mother. "When I was struggling with learning certain things, she was very patient and helpful and would always say, 'you've got this!' It has given me the courage to trust in myself and try," he says.
This past school year Matteo returned to school to join his classmates. It was his choice, Demers says, because he wants to ‘be like everyone else’.
Matteo's mother understands that building a winning attitude is essential to her son's development. So when he expressed an interest in swimming, he received encouragement. “Swimming and being physical releases dopamine, ensuring that his mood remains positive,” explains Demers. His newfound confidence doesn't stem from improved physical fitness alone. “It's done wonders for his math skills. When his coach asks him to swim 100 meters, he has to divide the length of the pool into 100. And because he is passionate about swimming it motivates him to calculate the solution,” says Demers.
Matteo began swimming at the Laval Swim Club, as a novice, last year. In the period since, he has achieved his Provincial Development time standards. “Right now he swims three days a week. Four days would be the ideal, but with the extra time he needs for homework, it might be taxing him more than he should be pushed,” explain Demers.
"I feel free when I'm in the water," Matteo says. "I also like racing in the pool and winning. It makes me feel good about myself." He says that swimming has taught him to never give up. Competitive swimming, he admits, is hard work. "But I know I have the strength to go through practices and it makes me feel proud getting better and faster!"
Now that the ten-year-old recognizes that obstacles are surmountable, he can see how a correct attitude ensures that setbacks are only temporary. It is a life lesson taught to him by his mother, for which he will be forever grateful.
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