Dyslexia survey with Kayla Steicke
What is your job and how are you involved with Dyslexia?
I am a writer, a dyslexic, Australian Children’s Laureate and 2015 Senior Australian of the Year. I am also the patron of several associations that help with reading problems, as well as a psychology background that has helped me evaluate programs that work. I am also the author of I Spy a Great Reader, written to help parents and teachers recognise and help with reading problems.
How would you define Dyslexia?
This is controversial, and many experts try to limit the term for their own speciality. Literally, it just means a reading problem, where the ability to read is less than ability in other areas would suggest. A dyslexic had problems only with literacy, and sometimes numeracy and forms of coordination.
Sometimes this can be overcome or at least greatly helped with coordination or visual exercises, or by verbal focusing programs, but this is not always the case.
What strengths are found in Dyslexia?
There are hundreds of reasons why someone may be dyslexic, and each of them have their own problems and strengths. The form I have means that even though it is difficult to read single words, or a form, or find my way out of a car park, or tell left from right, I read extraordinarily quickly as long as it is in a suitable form, and process information quickly too.
You can’t generalise, but as studies for road accident victims or those without eyesight have shown, usually the brain compensates in some way for problems in others.
To be honest, I am not sure that ‘dyslexia’ really exists, or rather, that it is necessarily a problem. It doesn’t exist in ideographic languages like Mandarin.
I suspect that instead of thinking of dyslexia as a reading problem, we should instead see it as a teaching challenge, to change our methods of teaching so that every child learns to read with the methods best suited to them. On the other hand, that would still see me unable to navigate out of a car park.
What difficulties and challenges do Dyslexics have?
That depends on the form of their dyslexia: it can be verbal, visual, or cordinational. But all share the problem of education systems that have a too narrow range o ways to teach reading; too little training in literacy methods for teachers; and the two great literacy myths; that ‘they’ll catch up next year and when the young person doesn’t, ‘ they are unteachable’. Every young person has a right to be taught to read using the most suitable methods for them, and regular feedback and personal one-on-one evaluation as with the MultiLit program.
What areas do you find Dyslexics to be gifted in?
It’s dangerous to generalise here. Dyslexia is too broad a term to say all dyslexics have the same problems or the same gifts. Some dyslexics have become brilliant business leaders, like Dick Smith; many become extraordinary musicians or artists . I have all the artistic ability of a cane toad, but believe that without my dyslexia I could neither write as well, nor process information as quickly.
Dyslexia isn’t like the flu, where you can look under a microscope and say ‘yes, I can see the flu virus. You have the flu!'
Dyslexia just means that you’re not learning to read as fast as you should given your other abilities. A young person may get 60% in their exams, but is so bright they should be getting 99%. Others may not be able to pass their exams at all, but with a few months of the correct tuition and help, have caught up years of missing out. And still others may find they need years to catch up on those years.
Not every dyslexic is a genius, but some are. But some dyslexics are slow learners too- but even slower with literacy.
The most important thing though: everyone can read, even if it must be by braille or other methods. Everyone has the right to be taught to read. We should no be focusing on ‘kids’ problems’ but on the teaching challenges, because as has been demonstrated so many times: with the right teaching methods, no child should be let behind.
My Red Letter
To read more letters from other people with Dyslexia, have a look at the incredible work of the My Red Letter team, here.
DSF Literacy and Clinical Services (The Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation of WA)