People with dyslexia exist across genders, socioeconomic statuses, races, ethnicities, and intelligence levels. –White Paper produced for the Government of California

By Roger Childs

About 10% of the world’s population have dyslexia

If 500,000 Kiwis had Monkeypox that would be big news in the mainstream media. How about the reality of half a million New Zealanders with dyslexia?

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 tens of thousands who have had dyslexia have been misunderstood and not helped. Mike Styles, author of Congratulations – You have dyslexia! Great minds think differently, had a dyslexic brother who 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, been supported and become successful craftspeople, business owners, entertainers and entrepreneurs. People like Richard Taylor of Weta Workshops and “Mad Butcher” Peter Leitch.

New Zealand is not doing well

Unfortunately New Zealand, unlike the United Kingdom, Singapore and parts of the United States, does not have a great record of acknowledging and assisting people with dyslexia. 

There is a huge downside to not identifying the importance of dyslexia in our communities, and failing to offer cheap or free diagnosis to parents and individuals:

  • under-achievement
  • truancy
  • depression, low self-esteem and anxiety
  • increased mental illness
  • increased criminal activity
  • low productivity
  • more work-place accidents
  • unrealized potential on a massive scale.

In New Zealand there is no legislative framework that covers dyslexia.

 Dyslexia/Neurodiversity does not seem to be linked to any political ideology and none of the major parties has a policy.  The only concrete step forward were made by NZ First – when Tracey Martin was Associate Minister of Education.

Mike Styles’ research shows that “Government agencies themselves are among the most ignorant about matters relating to neurodiversity/dyslexia.  This includes government agencies who should be very aware – because neurodiversity/dyslexia impacts directly on their areas of responsibility.  I refer to the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Business. Innovation and Employment, Education Review Authority, New Zealand Qualifications Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development.  Sadly, it is a matter -“They don’t know what they don’t know, and they don’t seem to want to know”.  Interestingly, Corrections is possibly the most progressive government agency, with the Tertiary Education Commission a close second.”

Up until 2007 the Ministry of Education did not even acknowledge that dyslexia existed! Their  view at that time was that problems with reading, writing and speaking could be fixed by “Reading Recovery”. However, that programme is not suitable for dyslexic children. In 2007 The Ministry did at last accept that dyslexia is real but didn’t let other government agencies know about its new position!                                                                                                                                                   

Many schools, businesses and trade organization do a great job supporting dyslexics, but at the national level there is there is no specific legislation that covers dyslexia! Consequently there are no specific government policies to support funding the tens of thousands of children who have dyslexia. 

There are a number of individual schools and colleges who are on to the challenge. The Kapiti Coast is a beacon of hope. Schools like Kapiti College, Paraparaumu College and Kena Kena School have effective programs in supporting children with dyslexia.

What’s happening overseas?

Plenty of research is being done and estimates of social and economic costs are being made.

  • According to a 2017 report on school quality by The Economic Impact of Dyslexia in Australia organisation, a 5% increase in cognitive capacity could contribute $12-26 billion to Australia’s GDP. 
  • The Boston Consulting Group looked at the economic cost to the State of California. They estimated that in a year the cost was $US 12 billion and $US 1 trillion! over the next 60 years.
  • In Canada According to Dyslexia Canada and the International Dyslexia Association: -… a 1% increase in the national literacy rate = $32 billion in economic growth annually.  (Bearing in mind that the chief cause of low adult literacy rates in undiagnosed and unsupported dyslexia.)

New Zealand has never tried to collect this sort of information. The Department of Statistics does not gather data on dyslexia or other neuro-diverse conditions. If it did, the findings would show a huge social and economic cost.