x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Perseverance is the most important word for dyslexics

Dyslexics tell Abu Dhabi forum the importance of having children who appear to have learning difficulties tested for the condition.

Shereen Al Nowais, left, founder and chief executive of Ta’leem Centre, with Youssef Sabri and Rebecca Hawkswell during the workshop hosted by the centre in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National
Shereen Al Nowais, left, founder and chief executive of Ta’leem Centre, with Youssef Sabri and Rebecca Hawkswell during the workshop hosted by the centre in Abu Dhabi. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Growing up with a learning disability such as dyslexia is challenging, but learning to cope with it can bring “power and confidence”, people affected by the condition told an event held to promote awareness of it.

In the first gathering of its kind in the country, hosted by Ta’leem Centre, mothers were asked to identify the symptoms of dyslexia.

Youssef Sabri, 39, who has dyslexia, answered by telling attendees of the challenges that faced someone growing up unaware they had the condition.

Teachers thought he was lazy and did not give him enough attention, said Youssef, who was not diagnosed as dyslexic until he was 22.

“I always knew something was wrong,” he said. “It was discovered by total coincidence, and since I discovered it everything started going perfectly.

“Nobody understands what dyslexia is. People always thought I was odd, strange. They knew I wasn’t stupid, but they knew there was something different in me.”

At school, Youssef could not focus on the work and had poor writing and reading skills, problems he still has issues with.

“My exams did not reflect my true ability, that was the problem,” he said. “I knew the answers but didn’t know how to put them down [on paper].

“I can answer in verbal tests, but not write it down. I always had anxiety and depression, at the time, just because I didn’t know what was wrong.”

Frustrations also arose when he was unable to properly communicate his thoughts.

Youssef, who works as a facility administrator for a building company in the capital, said he had never expected to reach that stage.

“I exceeded everyone’s expectations – my bosses and my family,” he said. “When I took that job I took it for the challenge. I never knew the challenge would be that big.”

Dyslexia gave him the ability to improve his self-empowerment, he said. “God takes something from you, and He gives you something else.”

Anther speaker at the event, 32-year-old Rebecca Hawkswell, from the UK, was only five when the condition was diagnosed.

“My mother found I had a problem when I didn’t progress,” she said. “Reading with my cousins and friends, they all continued to learn and read and I was getting stuck with four-letter words.”

Rebecca said her teachers decided she was “lazy and not very clever” and ridiculed her hard work. Her mother then had her tested at a specialist centre in the UK.

“Before I had the test, I knew I had to work harder than the other kids, because I was slower,” said Rebecca.

After taking the tests, the problem was identified.

“I felt more secure with myself,” she said. “It is important to me to know why you’re not as good or as quick, why I can’t find things that are in front of me.”

With this knowledge, Rebecca focused on a different studying method, relying solely on memorisation. When this failed, she dropped out of university.

“My marks were not reflective of my abilities, and I think I just gave up,” she said.

Thinking outside of the box, she said, is a big thing for those who have dyslexia. At one point, she had read only two books – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. “I found I can’t read books unless I’ve seen the adaptation,” she said. “I take so long understanding the words that I lose the story.”

But Rebecca’s determination to prove to herself she was capable of academic success landed her a place at the prestigious University of Oxford. She now holds two master’s degrees and is thinking about registering for a PhD.

The Ta’leem Centre provides support, assessments and language tests to determine a dyslexic child’s ability level, and then devises a way to help them improve.

It also holds workshops throughout the year to help parents understand the symptoms of dyslexia and ways to deal with it.

For more information, visit taleemcentre.com.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae