Perhaps nothing has shaped my life more than my dyslexia. Growing up in Tasmania, a small island south of the Australian mainland, my condition was not formally diagnosed until I was 10 years old. Until then I had suffered learning difficulties that resulted in my enrollment in a special needs school called St Michael’s and at times receiving corporal punishment for "stupidity" and "laziness."
What I have learned as an adult is that the inability to read easily or well is not related to intelligence. But because reading and intelligence are thought by most people to be linked, obviously intelligent children, who have difficulties reading, are a paradox. Yet some research shows that one in five people will have dyslexia. This percentage is virtually the highest among all neuro-cognitive disorders.
“Treatments” for dyslexia have varied widely over the years as the condition was beginning to be understood. For example, in the 1920s “eye training” was popular because people believed that the inability to understand words on a page was the result of a visual problem. In my case, teachers clearly believed that I was at fault for my own illness, thus deserving of harsh punishment. In fact, dyslexia, which is a problem with language processing, cannot be “cured,” and dyslexic children become dyslexic adults.
That said, recent cutting-edge research shows have dyslexic people perceive the written word differently, but also may excel at spatial reasoning, interconnected thinking, and display amazing creativity. Further, because dyslexics must learn other methods for understanding, they are often strong problem solvers, and engage in entrepreneurial thinking.
In my case threw myself with gusto into sport and became a fiercely competitive player of football and cricket. Sports were an oasis for me, a place where I could succeed and feel pleasure in learning. To this day I’m passionate about cricket and follow the Carlton Football Club of Victoria with unwavering loyalty.
Educators often see that dyslexic students often have excellent knowledge and ideas, but are simply unable to express those adequately on paper. Thus accommodations are tremendously important if students are going to successfully demonstrate what they have learned succeed. Getting those accommodations can be very difficult and many parents and students are told that dyslexia is not recognized by their school system. I was fortunate to be a trailblazer in this area. Finishing senior school at Geelong Grammar I became the second student in Australia to be allowed to dictate answers to my final exams, thus my knowledge was truly on display
In college my inability to spell made my academic progress difficult. I was however strong with numbers and completed a degree in accounting from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
Although I’ve made gradual improvements and now enjoy reading for leisure, over the course of my career I’ve made many mistakes that have caused me much embarrassment and feelings of inadequacy. I still make basic spelling errors that I feel let me down, and small things can be difficult for me. It is very important to me that I help others understand the condition, and help those who suffer from it see that they can live tremendously successful lives.
In the 1990’s I gave several speeches at conferences about living with dyslexia and ever since I’ve nursed an ambition to help others with the condition. My goal is to eventually build a foundation to help dyslexic underprivileged children as I feel deeply how great the challenges are for dyslexics and how little it is still understood by the broader community.