During September and October 2016, the Make it a Red Letter Day campaign was launched in Australia to encourage children and adults to pen ...

Making Red Ripples - Lewis' Adventure

19:53:00 Dyslexia Australia 0 Comments

During September and October 2016, the Make it a Red Letter Day campaign was launched in Australia to encourage children and adults to pen a Red Letter about dyslexia  to help raise awareness and influence change. People were encouraged to write a Red Letter about dyslexia to a Politician, School Principal, Teacher, the Media or a person they felt may have an influence in creating change for dyslexia. These letters were to be heartfelt and tell the receiver about the struggles that are faced every day by dyslexic learners, asking for change at a school, state and national level.

One of the champions of the campaign has been David Pescud of Sailors with disABILITIES, who offered a prize of a sailing adventure for a Red Letter that tells the story of ‘Triumph over Adversity’.

To begin with here are some excerpts of David’s own Red Letter;

“I should start by introducing myself, my name is David Pescud and at aged eighteen I was diagnosed with dyslexia. At the time I did not know what it was and I certainly was not going to ask anybody.  This was 1965 and it was a different world.

I am writing this so that people might understand through my story, what it is like to be different. What it is like to be ridiculed by ones school teachers, peers and pretty well everybody. Not occasionally, but every day and when they are not ridiculing you, you are doing it to yourself. In my day at school the method of teaching literacy to a dyslexic was to cane you. Of course, we do not do that anymore. We have found much more subtle ways of making someone feel inadequate and different.

If we consider what do we know works for us as human beings, the short answer is that positive experience over negative experience will generally make a more rounded well-adjusted human being. Well if it is so obvious why do we continue to send our children to schools that are incapable of dealing with a whole host of differences?  Because at the end of the day that’s what dyslexia is, it’s a difference not a disability.

I think schools should prepare us for our future to go into the world as young adults, with tools that are appropriate to our needs whatever they may be. The first thing we need is confidence, optimism and an ability to think I can. There are too many unnecessarily damaged souls in our society. At Sailors with disABILITIES we deal with these problems on a daily basis. We see bright young enthusiastic faces that do not believe in themselves. They did once, before they attended school but they don’t now.”

To read David’s Red Letter in full please go to http://www.myredletter.com.au/2016/10/david-pescuds-red-letter.html

At the end of the campaign one letter in particular stood out as a story of ‘Triumph over Adversity’. The letter was from Lewis Squadrito aged 16, and was written to both the Department of Education and the Catholic Education Commission in Australia.

I am dyslexic. I am currently in Year 11 at a Catholic School in New South Wales. My entire schooling has been an absolute nightmare. In my primary school years I couldn’t read. If you can’t read, you cannot participate fully in any subject. I always felt different from my peers. I was the butt of a lot of teasing and bullied frequently. My teachers did not know what was going on with me. They did not understand me at all. I became invisible in the classroom. If I was quiet, hopefully no one would notice me. If they didn’t notice me they wouldn’t ask me any questions. I endured the Reading Recovery Program which does not work for dyslexic learners. I was taken out of class constantly and made to work on programs which did not work for me. I developed severe anxiety around going to school. I was a broken child.

It was my mum who pursued answers and even when I was identified as dyslexic, the teachers were not convinced dyslexia was even real. It’s hard to hear that it doesn’t exist when you are living with it every day. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t spell, I couldn’t write and I was in year 6.

It was my mum who taught me how to read, how to spell and how to write not school. She educated herself on how to best help me.
High school has not been any better. The difference is, I will now stand up and advocate for myself but this has taken years to be able to do. I still have difficulty accessing the curriculum and demonstrating my knowledge. I am entitled to provisions, but do I always get them........NO! During assessment time the school needs to constantly be reminded to give me my provisions. Sometimes they forget, sometimes when they do remember, I am given the wrong exam question etc.

A couple of my teachers have been supportive and understanding, but then a new year rolls around and the same set of problems occur. Most of the teachers I have had have had no idea of what dyslexia is or how to teach me. A sub-teacher strikes fear into the heart of any dyslexic learner. Information about kids with learning differences such as dyslexia are not passed on, so again, leaving me exposed and open to bullying from both students and teachers. Dyslexia is invisible so it is easily forgotten. The fear of being called out to answer a question or worse still, to read aloud in class, is a real everyday fear.

My family are my biggest supporters. My mum has been my fiercest advocate. She has had to fight for my rights and my provisions. She is the one who finds audio books for me so I can access the curriculum. She has been bullied herself by teachers but will not stop fighting for me. I have worked harder than most kids. I have basically gone to school and been home schooled all at the same time. I have done extra programs for years with my mums help to be able to read, spell and write. I am smart. I know that now, but for years I did not. I did not understand why my peers could do easily the things I found to be the hardest. You are made to feel stupid, worthless and so much shame. I am now finishing Year 11 and about to begin Year 12. I still suffer anxiety around my learning.

I will get my HSC, but not because of the school system but rather in spite of it. I cannot wait to finish school and find my place in the world where I will be treated with respect. If it wasn’t for my mum, I still may not be able to read and write. I say shame on the education system. This has to change, dyslexic kids deserve so much better. Thank you for reading my letter. 

Yours sincerely, Lewis Squadrito Age 16

Once Lewis’ letter was chosen as the Recipient of the Triumph over Adversity Prize, wheels were put in motion for he and his family to meet with David Pescud and enjoy the Sailors with disABILITIES experience on Sydney Harbour. 

Lewis’ family which consists of Lewis, his sister Emily and parents Vicki and Scott met David Pescud and his wife Deb at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia at Darling Point, they enjoyed a late lunch and long chat where Lewis and David spoke about their challenges with dyslexia how they could make a difference for others experiencing the same difficulties.

The family boarded the yacht at 5pm and cruised out on Sydney Harbour to take part in a Twilight Racing Event. With a crew of 10 plus Lewis’ family on board they raced! David and the crew put Lewis to work, using the capstan winch to tension the boom on the main sail. David let Lewis skipper the yacht and taught him how to block the competing boats. Lewis skippered the yacht across the finish line in third place.

David and his crew made the family feel very welcome, David kept them entertained with stories and Lewis’ family said they were genuine, caring and compassionate people. Lewis’ Mum Vicki says that ‘this was extremely empowering for Lewis, he has had a tough time and this was so good for him, and he has found a new mentor in David.’

The Make it a Red Letter Day Organising Committee, would like to thank David, Deb and all at SWD! And a special thank you to the Squadrito family for allowing us to share this story.

Victoria, Maree, Carolyn, Heidi, Belinda, Jen, Sarah, Anita & Julie
Make it a Red Letter Day Committee 2016.