Dyslexia Awareness Week 1-7 October 2018
1st October 2018
A LONG WAY TO GO
Aidan Milner is one of the lucky ones. He has severe dyslexia and dyscalculia – massive struggles with reading, writing and maths. Yet he has managed to graduate with a Masters Degree in Geology and now works as an engineering geologist – a feat he never dreamed possible as a kid.
Labelled lazy, Aidan’s primary school teachers told him he simply needed to try harder and stop misbehaving. Understandably, Aidan suffered severe anxiety. Fortunately he had proactive parents who could afford a diagnostic assessment to figure out what was going on, and then specialised one-on-one tuition to arm Aidan with the strategies he needed to learn successfully.
Many thousands of others with dyslexia do not have that privilege and fall through the cracks, never learning to read or write properly. As a result, they may have difficulty holding down jobs and can be immensely frustrated, suffering from very low self-esteem or even depression. It is estimated dyslexia affects one in ten people and studies show at least 50 per cent of prison inmates have dyslexia.
Giving all children a level playing field with access to support is critical. Last week the government announced a Disability and Learning Support Action Plan to better support struggling students like Aidan. The fine details have yet to be determined but after years of clamour for change, families with dyslexic children are hopeful this is finally a move in the right direction.
There is also a growing awareness that dyslexia can have a flip side – some even call it a gift. Progressive schools such as Kapiti College now run what they call ‘neuro-diversity’ classes where students are encouraged to own and embrace their dyslexia. Given the right support, people with dyslexia often flourish as adults in their chosen careers. The arts, design, IT and business worlds are packed with super smart, creative, dyslexic minds that can see things in the ‘big picture’ and ‘outside the box’.
Dyslexia Awareness Week is a reminder that we need to celebrate and support these diverse learners. We have certainly come a long way since the existence of dyslexia was formally recognised by the Ministry of Education in 2007. However, we still have a long way to go.
By SPELD NZ Executive Officer Jeremy Drummond
SPELD NZ is a not-for-profit provider of support for people with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. For nearly 50 years, it has offered diagnostic assessment, specialised one-on-one tuition, training, advice and advocacy throughout New Zealand.
MORE ON AIDAN’S JOURNEY
Aidan’s academic success has also taken a lot of grit, access to special accommodations and some clever strategies to enable him to thrive in spite of his severe learning disabilities. In his own words, here is more on his amazing journey.
It was extremely humbling graduating and reflecting on how most of my teachers viewed dyslexia and how wrong they were. It just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover. It also goes to show that one-on-one specialist teaching works very well for people like me.
I was formally diagnosed with severe dyslexia and dyscalculia when I was 10 years old. Despite my diagnosis, my primary school teachers still thought they knew best and refused to believe that I was dyslexic. They said I was in fact just a lazy kid who needed to try harder and to stop misbehaving in class. I was given numerous detentions for not completing work. It was clear that the school system on its own wouldn’t be of any help. So we turned to SPELD. I don’t think I would have made it through without the help of my tutors.
At school I also had trouble with anything and everything to do with maths. This included things as basic as recalling my home phone number. As a kid I was terrified of getting lost and not being able to call home. Maths was put on the back burner as my spelling and reading alone were enough to make anyone tear their hair out. But eventually I began working one-on-one with a maths tutor and had much better results.
Most people would think that transitioning from high school to university would be a big challenge. However it was manageable thanks to the fantastic support of the disability services team at Victoria University. Unlike school, university also felt like a safe place to say that you have dyslexia. Most of my lecturers had some kind of dyslexia and those that didn’t, fully understood how it worked.
Dealing with dyslexia in the workplace means using the same skills I learned while I was studying. I have assistive text-to -speech software to help me read documents on the computer. In the field, I’m up front with people on site about my dyslexia and dyscalculia. I explain that recording numbers is not my strong point and let them know how I work around this issue and how they could help. Everyone has responded well. They respect someone who’s up front and offers a solution.