Elliot Jones was 12-years-old when he finally got diagnosed with dyslexia but instead of treating it as a learning difficulty, he sees it as a superpower.

“If someone offered me, you know, a magic pill that would…take away my dyslexia, I would never on Earth take that,” he says. 

The now 18-year-old has become an advocate for dyslexia and has been nominated for young New Zealander of the Year for his push to transform the way people think about the condition. 

Jones has always been really positive about his diagnosis because it helps him look at situations creatively.

“I kind of take the view that you know, dyslexia brings you small negatives, but dyslexia is a real strength,” he told Re: News.

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that often impacts how a person reads, writes or spells. Other symptoms include developing speech late and taking time to learn new words.

According to figures from SPELD NZ, about 10%-20% of our population is dyslexic.

“It is a lifelong condition, and, and it will never, it will never go away. And it affects all ages, you don't grow out of it,” says SPELD NZ Executive Officer Jeremy Drummond.

“So when you think about the population of New Zealand, that is quite a substantial number of people in New Zealand who are affected by dyslexia, and what resources are there to help those with dyslexia?”

‘An equity issue’

A big part of accessing support is getting diagnosed, but a diagnosis for dyslexia can be expensive. 

“To have a diagnostic assessment through SPELD New Zealand, it could cost up to $1,000,” Drummond says. 

It gets even pricier if you go elsewhere. “If you have a diagnostic assessment done outside New Zealand either commercially or through private practitioners, it could be at around $2000 or more dollars,” she told Re: News.

The most recent figures for SPELD NZ assessments are from 2021 and Pākehā made up the overwhelming majority of those who were assessed, while Māori made up just over 3%.

Guy Pope-Mayell from the Dyslexia Foundation says it’s becoming an equity issue.

“In the higher decile schools, you tend to get more assessments being done within the school and in the lower detail schools, you have less assessments being done,” he says.

“So but what happens also is in the higher decile schools, parents tend to get the assessments done because they can afford it.”

The issue is not just in schoolyards and workplaces but in prisons too. About 50%-60% of New Zealand’s prisoners are likely to be dyslexic, according to the Dyslexia Foundation. 

“There is an over-representation of individuals with neurodisabilities in both adult and youth justice systems,” its website says.

School, support and solutions

Pope-Mayell says dyslexia is severely under-resourced in New Zealand and classrooms are a good place to start offering support. 

“Teachers need to understand they need more training, we need teachers who are trained better, so they have the ability to identify, and then they need to know what to do about it,” he says. 

Drummond also thinks dyslexia support should start at the new entrance level when children start learning how to read and write.

“If the new entrance and the early years at primary school were taught to read using a structured literacy approach, which is based on sound, phonemic and phonological awareness, then that would be the biggest support that you could give to a dyslexic person.”

Elliot Jones was diagnosed while still at school and wants to shine a light on the advantages there are to having dyslexia.

In his final year at high school, the Whanganui teenager made a documentary called Unlocking Potential: A Documentary on the Superpowers of Dyslexic thinking.  

He interviewed some really successful New Zealanders like founder of Wēta Workshop Sir Richard Taylor, and Crusaders (and soon to be All Blacks) coach Scott Roberston, who have the condition. 

They all described the ways in which dyslexia helped them approach situations with a different take and has ultimately been a key ingredient to their success.

“I wish for kids in New Zealand to, you know, when they find out they have dyslexia, not to kind of be downcast and say, ‘I have dyslexia’. I want them to be like ‘I have dyslexia’, it's something you should be proud of, it's something you should be excited to have,” he says.

“So I think that’s what New Zealand should strive for, to embrace dyslexia and seek out people with dyslexia to have on your team because that’s going to help New Zealand and your team succeed and thrive.”

To get in touch with the author of this article, email Teahi@renews.co.nz

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