Dyslexia: Changing things for the 1 in 10
We would like to see every child that needs to be assessed for dyslexia, dyspraxia and other specific learning differences to be assessed regardless of family income. Assessments usually cost several hundred dollars and for some families, that is money they just do not have.
So that is why we have partnered with SPELD New Zealand. 10% from the proceeds of every calendar we sell will go to SPELD New Zealand to set up a fund so that eventually every child in New Zealand that needs to be assessed to see if they have a specific learning difference.
What we would really like, more than people buying the calendars is other business people with specific learning differences jumping on board, so that we can make this dream a reality.
Approximately, 10% of the population has a specific learning different such as dyslexia. Unfortunately, many people don't get the assessment, which would allow them to get the specific help that they need.
Many people find the figure of 10% scarcely believable. This is in part due to a misunderstanding about what dyslexia and other specific learning differences are. As with many things dyslexia and other specific learning differences exist on a continuum from severe to moderate.
It is often something that causes people to sit in silence, often with a feeling of shame in the world that it is awash in the written word. While much of the focus is on literacy and learning, specific learning differences affect much more than just reading and writing.
It can and does affect short-term memory, it can also affect verbal processing speeds (how quickly someone processes verbal information and responds to it).
I myself, have dyslexia and dyspraxia. I would describe these as to being towards the severe end of the spectrum. The assessments that I had done showed that in some of the exercises conducted as part of the testing I placed over three and four standard deviations from the mean (in other words, well inside the 1st percentile). In one case there was even an exercise I couldn't start, let alone complete.
It is important to emphasise there were some exercises where I did slightly better but when your high point of the assessment is a score ranking you somewhere in the early 20s, as a percentile ranking, for a particular exercise, it provides some kind of indication as to how severe it is.
This is not to say I cannot read, rather it is a long and painful process. I much prefer newspapers and magazines to books (with talking books who really needs a hard copy anyway). Since leaving high school I've only read two or three books from cover to cover.
Due to my dyspraxia, I have very poor coordination and spatial skills. This means I don't drive and I've never been able to ride a bicycle, despite a lot of practice and bruises! For that matter, I can't do somersaults and I tie up my shoelaces back to front.
School was not a fun place for me. Early on, I had a teacher who thought repeatedly hitting me over the hand with a ruler would make me a better reader. Later on in high school I had one teacher who mimicked me stuttering and mangling pronunciation in front of the rest of the class, and another, who decided not marking my work for half a year would be really helpful.
I know what it is like to repeat a year and get a lower mark in the second year for particular subject. Going down from 35% to 32% (well it was actually scaled from 27% to 32%) for year 13 English. I also know it is like to leave exam papers empty simply because you run out of time to complete the exams (anywhere from 20 to 40% of the exam left unanswered) due to my dyslexia and dyspraxia slowing me down.
But dyslexia and dyspraxia, and other specific learning differences come with one major positive. They leave you endowed with amazing creativity and problem-solving skills. And if you somehow make it through the other side they also leave you with unparalleled resilience and determination.
The only thing is, many people don't make it through the other side, and this needs to change.
Despite this, I'm one of the lucky ones. Having a master’s degree from the London School of Economics means at the very least no one questions your intellect, and this puts me in a position to challenge people’s misconceptions about specific learning differences.
If you’re wondering how someone with significant specific learning differences ended up with a master’s degree; I dared to dream, then backed it up with really, really hard work (occasionally I would dry wrench when studying).