By Roger Childs

Experiences bad and good

We can probably all recall students at school who were clever, creative and intelligent, but for some reason struggled with reading, writing and spelling. Sadly over the years thousands who have had dyslexia have been misunderstood and not helped. Mike’s brother was bullied and strapped by the school principal and his father, a successful horticulturalist from Te Horo, would often get people to write out cheques for him because “I don’t have my glasses with me”.

However, in the roughly 10% of the world’s population who are dyslexic there have been scores of remarkable success stories – Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, Daniel Radcliffe, Magic Johnson and Bill Gates – to  name a few. Bill Gates has said: “I failed in exams in some of my subjects; my friend passed them all. Now he is an engineer at Microsoft, and I own Microsoft.” 

In his book Mike provides a number of case studies of New Zealanders who have taken up the challenges of dyslexia and become successful craftspeople, business owners, entertainers and entrepreneurs. People like Richard Taylor of Weta Workshops and “Mad Butcher” Peter Leitch.

Unfortunately New Zealand, unlike the United Kingdom and parts of the United States, does not have a great record of identifying and assisting people with dyslexia. However, the Kapiti Coast is a beacon of hope. School like Kapiti College, Paraparaumu College and Kena Kena School have effective programmes in supporting children with dyslexia.

But overall in New Zealand there is no legislative framework that covers dyslexia. Amazing!

Goals, impact and using hidden talents

Some of the goals of Mike’s book are to 

  • celebrate dyslexia and those who have it
  • raise awareness of the reality that it is a difference and not a disability
  • acknowledge the hidden talents that tens of thousands of dyslexics have
  • help people with dyslexia understand and cope with the challenges
  • give advice to employers, teachers and institutions on how to approach the issues and provide support.

Mike’s hope is that people will use the book for information, inspiration, reference and reflection.

In the New Zealand work force there are possibly 350,000 who are dyslexic and unfortunately it is largely an invisible and unacknowledged condition. As Oxford University researcher Olivia Williamson observes: People don’t care about what they cannot see. 

Some of the effects of undiagnosed dyslexia include:

  • under-achievement
  • truancy
  • depression, low self-esteem and anxiety
  • increased mental illness
  • increased criminal activity
  • low productivity
  • more work-place accidents.

The downside mainly relates to problems with reading, writing and spelling. 

 Eevr gte ltters mScied up wehn Raednig?

Phonological decoding refers to the common issue of trying to make the link between groups of letters and sounds. For many it’s huge problem – When I read, words moved round the page or had shadows round them. says Rachel Van Gorp. She went on to open a gym and like so many she made use of the wide range of talents that dyslexics have – building things, solving problems, creative thinking, imagination, ambition, curiosity, persistence – to  enjoy a successful and satisfying life.  

There are many case studies scattered through the book of people taking up the challenges and achieving great things.

An excellent user-friendly book

Congratulations You Have Dyslexia, Great Minds Think Differently is a very appealing and readable book. The font size is 13 and the page background colours vary but the main one is cream. There are plenty of colour diagrams, photographs and case studies, and there are regular sections devoted to reflection.  

The author covers a huge range of topics related to the subject – upsides and downsides, telltale signs, the neuroscience, related conditions like autism and ADHD, the history, developments overseas, how dyslexics can take charge of their lives, how schools and employers can help, reforms that need to be made, where to go for assistance.

Probably most important of all, Mike’s book is going some way towards achieving Richard Branson’s hope: It’s time we lost the stigma around dyslexia. It’s not a disadvantage, it’s just a different way of thinking.

Mike Styles comes from a teaching background – horticulture was a specialty – and later became involved in adult education teaching literacy and numeracy and was involved in Primary Industry Training. The more he worked with adults the more aware he became of the issues of dyslexia and how it was holding back tens of thousands of people. He has carried out research projects, attended conferences and lectured overseas.

If you wish to buy his book, and I strongly recommend it, contact Mike at  Better still, come and hear him in person and buy the book at the Kapiti Historical Society session at 7.30pm on Tuesday 12 July at the Kapiti Uniting Church Hall.