Dean de Vries remembers how other children laughed at him in Grade 4. And the teachers had little patience with him, except for one. She noticed that in class he knew the work but when writing tests he knew nothing.
“I couldn’t read the question or understand it,” says 16-year-old Dean.
Anneke van der Merwe, his teacher at Meridian Curro, sounded the alarm.
Dean was tested, found to be dyslexic, went for therapy and, within a few months, his marks improved.
“Eight years later, his visual, cognitive skills have improved tremendously,” says his mother, Caval De Vries. “He still stresses and becomes anxious with exams, but he knows how to hold himself.
October is recognised worldwide as Dyslexia Awareness Month.
Hannelie Brönner, a remedial teacher and head of Durbanville-based Edublox, a system of cognitive exercises aimed at building a strong and solid foundation for learning, believes every child should have access to dyslexia-friendly teaching methods.
She says a Yale study found one out of five people suffer from dyslexia. “Many of them go undiagnosed. Dyslexia is a learning disability with varying levels of poor word, spelling and decoding abilities,” she says.
Reversing letters and numbers, spelling difficulties, sometimes reading from right to left, Surita Cillië, of Stellenberg says the description fits the profile of her youngest daughter Rebecca, 10, who could not read by Grade 2.
“With therapy three times a week and home-schooling, Rebecca is now a confident girl who dreams of becoming a vet or a teacher,” she says.
Rebecca’s sister, Elizabeth, 13, was also diagnosed with dyslexia, but it’s a milder form than her sister’s. The girls’ brother, Daniel, is in Grade 2 and is not dyslexic.
Durbanville educational specialist Susan du Plessis says dyslexia runs in families. Parents with dyslexia are very likely to have children with dyslexia.
Twelve-year old Theron Lategan says he wasn’t enjoying school, and it showed in his marks: he was getting less than 50% in exams.
“I felt shy and scared because I was doing badly at school work.”
Now, after getting therapy for his dyslexia, he is scoring 80 to 100%.
“The progress is insane,” says his mother, Louise Lategan. “It’s been a long road with lots of tears and emotion and sometimes denial. It made me look at myself and ask what did I do wrong, but then I looked for a way forward.”
Asher Carter, 12, was struggling to read in Grade 1 at Boston Primary School in Bellville. He had to repeat Grade 2 but still made no progress. “He had a good memory and could recite whole books but still couldn’t read,” says his mother, Tammy Carter. “With diagnosis, therapy and home-schooling his progress has improved.”
“We’re lucky to afford this. There’s nothing like this in mainstream education. The cost of therapy is out of the range with lots of kids falling through the cracks in the system,” she says.
Daniël Kruger, 11, struggled with reading and writing at El Shaddai Christian School. “We knew he is very clever, but his marks didn’t show it,” says his mother, Marelise Kruger. “When he was diagnosed dyslexic, he went through lots of therapy and psychological education tests and is now doing very well.”
Ms Du Plessis says schools need to be doing more to pick up dyslexia as early as possible.
“I believe we should be using more curriculum based / achievement tests to identify reading disorders such as dyslexia. It’s important to pick it up early, from age 4, to prevent academic and emotional problems. People with dyslexia are succeeding all the time in just about any and every profession you can think of.”