Entry ID:  062 Name:  Alexander Age:  14 Recipient:  The Hon. James Merlino, The Hon. Simon Birmingham, The Hon. Tanya Plibersek Alexan...

062 - Alexander's Red Letter

17:50:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

Entry ID: 062
Name: Alexander
Age: 14
Recipient: The Hon. James Merlino, The Hon. Simon Birmingham, The Hon. Tanya Plibersek

Alexander's mum has provided a typed version of his letter below.

My Red Letter:- My Dyslexic Journey

Dear Hon James Merlino,

Ever since I can remember I loved stories and books. I had my very own library at home, I would never go to sleep unless I had lots of stories read to me. I loved to tell stories. In Kinder I was the best story teller. All the other kids loved to hear my stories. When I finally turned five I was bursting at the seams. I couldn’t wait to start school, to learn to read, to write my stories.  But when I started school, that was when everything changed, when I changed.

The teachers didn’t understand why it took me so long to learn to write my name, why I couldn’t remember the months of the year. My grade one teacher was very mean. She got angry at me all the time. It took me so long to copy words off the white board into my book. I wasn’t allowed to eat my lunch till I finished my work. Sometimes my teacher would not let the other children at my table have lunch till I finished my work. this made the other kids get angry at me and call me names like dumb and stupid. Soon I had no friends. I started to believe that I was dumb and stupid. I stopped wanting to go to school and every day I would get sick with a stomach ache. I cried all the time. I became anxious and very scared to try and learn anything. I was only 6 years old. This happened even though I had special tests that told the school and my teacher that I had problems learning. 

I am lucky because my mum understood and believed in me. She always tells me that I am smart. I told my mum that I had to go to another school and we did. I did grade 1 again, which caused other problems, but it was the right thing to do. I was lucky because my grade one teacher at my new school believed in me, and told my mum that the most important thing for me was to love learning again. With her and my mums help, I slowly started to regain my confidence.  

I had more tests and was given the diagnosis of dyslexia (SLD). Although my new primary school was better, nothing extra was ever put in place to help me learn to read or write, despite my mum trying to give the teachers ideas about how I could do my school work more easily. They just would tell my mum and me that it didn’t matter that I couldn’t spell or write, because computers would be my solution in the future. This didn’t help me then or now. I felt so embarrassed about my handwriting I tried to hide my work from the other kids. The teachers didn’t let me use a computer to do my work, despite my mum asking. When the class got to use the computers we just used them to do research or PowerPoints, so we didn’t really even learn to use them properly, or learn to touch type. At first I would ask the other kids how to spell stuff, but I stopped when they started to laugh at me for not knowing how to spell simple words. The teachers would tell me I needed to concentrate more so that I would be able to write clearly and remember how to spell words. They didn’t understand that I might be able to learn how to spell a word for a spelling test, but I would forget it the next day. The teachers didn’t understand how hard and tiring it was just for me to write a few sentences. 

One teacher told my mum and me that all I needed was more discipline and structure. He didn’t understand that the more worried I got, the more anxious I got, the more I would find ways to avoid doing my work, like needing to go to the toilet, or sharpening my pencil. Sometimes it felt like some of the teachers didn’t believe that dyslexia existed. I remember one teacher thought it was all my mums fault, because she was wanted me to be super smart, and she needed to accept that I was just going to be a slow, below average kid. Those teachers didn’t understand that I wanted so badly to learn to read. I wanted to learn to write the stories and thoughts that were in my mind. I just wanted to be the same as the other kids, and just be a kid.

My mum knew this and said that she wouldn’t give up on me. So I didn’t give up either. But it cost us, and still costs us, a lot of money to get help, to get tests done, to get special computer programs and other technologies. It cost me a lot of time and energy. I often didn’t get to go to friend’s house for a play because I had to go to tutoring or occupational therapy or speech therapy. Sometimes I had to wake up early to do computer programs. I would get very tired and sometimes I would cry – sometimes so did my mum. But I persevered and I learnt to read.

Now I am in High school in year 8. And again I am lucky. This year the teachers at my school are good and believe in me. Like my mum, they all think I’m smart. I have an individual learning plan now; this helps the teachers to understand that I learn differently. Not all the teachers get it or remember the things they need to do to help me, but I am getting more confident in reminding them. Sometimes the lessons go too fast, and I can’t write everything down, but the teachers are getting use to me getting up and taking photos of what they write on the board. I don’t know if I will ever remember my times tables off by heart, but when my maths teacher gives me extra time to complete my tests, I can get them almost all correct. My Humanities teacher has given me several of my CATs (compulsory assessment tasks) orally. When I’m tested this way, I can do really well. The year 8 manager is also my English teacher. When I feel overwhelmed by my school work, she talks to all my teachers and works out what are the most important things for me to do and then we work out a timetable and due dates and this helps me to regain control of my learning.   

I am very proud that I have learnt to read – and yes my bedroom is still full of books and I still have my own library. I can’t read them all yet, but I hold onto them as they remind me of the hope of what I am working towards. Reading text books is always much more difficult. The words in them are harder for me to predict or to decode. I still can’t write legibly and this is not just a problem for my teachers, but also for me. Even when I write notes down, I struggle to even read my own hand writing. It also makes me feel embarrassed. I am now finally being taught how to spell in the way that kids with dyslexia should be taught, I see a speech therapist and she is helping me. 

Despite all of this, it still isn’t easy. I still have to work twice as hard as my friends. They can get to finish their work in class and their homework doesn’t take them long. It takes me a very long time. So it still feels that I am always doing school work. And I feel exhausted all the time. Sometimes I still feel overwhelmed and sometimes I feel sad. Sometimes I feel frustrated and angry because I just want to be free from this and be a kid. 

My school tries to help but I am not eligible for any funding so I can’t the specific help I need. My school doesn’t have money for assistive technologies or other programs that can help a kid with dyslexia, a kid like me. My school doesn’t even have electronic smart boards! So all the things that I have to do because of my dyslexia, we have to do privately. I want to do VCE but I have been told that despite my dyslexic diagnosis, I have to have more comprehensive testing that the school can’t do just to have a chance that I will be allowed to have some accommodations. These tests are not cheap. And then I feel guilty that my mum has to work so hard to try and earn enough money to give me a chance to learn and to reach my dreams. I try not to think about this because it makes me feel anxious.  

You see I love learning. I feel inspired when I think about the amazing things I can learn and the vast possibilities of things I can become. But in the end it is not me nor my school that will stop me, it is the education system and the lack of funding that will fail me and other children who have dyslexia. We need to have all schools fitted with assistive technologies and programs that help kids with dyslexia learn, not just for those who can afford it. We need to have specialist come to our schools, we need to have a screening and funded intervention program like the program that is provided for kids with autism. And the help needs to be there in primary school and in high school. 

Hon James Merino, I am lucky because I have a mum, friends, and teachers who believe in me and will fight for me. I love to learn and I won’t give up. But it is still very, very hard. What makes me feel the saddest though, is when I think about the children and teenagers with dyslexia that don’t have a parent like mine, or teachers like mine. Who have no one that is fighting for them. They have dreams and hopes too. But unless we fix up the education system and provide adequate funding for all kids with dyslexia – then we have lost these kids. We have lost so much potential. Somewhere in that group there may be an author, a scientist, an actor, or most importantly, a person that can grow up and learn that the world is a good and caring place and that they are valued and have a chance to be the best they can be.

Thank you for reading my letter.

14 years old