One in ten people have a condition called dyslexia. In addition, there are related neuro-diverse conditions that occur in another 5% of Kiwis.
We can summarise the current situation in New Zealand with a simple equation:
Dyslexia + dysteachia = disability
– where Dysteachia = ineffective education
And the result of that bad maths is that Aotearoa New Zealand is wasting a valuable resource and 500,000 Kiwis are not getting a fair go
* In Australia, the equivalent figure is 2.5 million Aussies.
These Kiwis have been shortchanged by the education system and prematurely judged to have less than ideal levels of intelligence. Our education workforce does not have the skills to recognize dyslexic/neurodiverse learners. Nor does it have the strategies to provide them with an adequate education. Children with dyslexia grow up to be adults with dyslexia. Sadly, the legacy of a poor start often stays with dyslexic people for their whole life
The ultimate frustration is that dyslexic people are clever but just not with text. Almost all have other skills and talents that are being ignored, because educational judgements are made solely on people’s ability to read, write, and spell.
In layperson’s language we are turning capable people into disabled people because of the way our society relates to them.
Successive governments here in New Zealand have ignored dyslexia and related neurodiverse conditions, but the rest of the world has moved on. Leading corporates have joined the dots and realized that neurodiverse people think differently and thinking differently is a good thing. Dyslexic/neurodiverse adults are known to have many creative skills that are in high demand in the workplace. Dyslexia is often linked with creativity, problem solving, visual, spatial, and 3-D intelligence as well as great empathy and entrepreneurial skills. There is a reason that Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, and Richard Branson are all multi-millionaires. Their different thinking has given them a competitive advantage.
Meanwhile in New Zealand business leaders complain of a shortage of labour and skills, while an underutilized resource is sitting under their noses. A long-term issue facing New Zealand is our low workplace productivity. No country can be fully productive when a valuable resource is sitting unused or under utilized
The result of our ignorant approach is:
- Many people with dyslexia drop out of school early.
- Most underachieve in the workplace
- Many dyslexic people end up in prison
- Many have mental health issues.
- Many do not get jobs in the first place
We do not have an accurate fix on New Zealand numbers because the government does not gather statistics about dyslexia and/or other neurodiverse conditions. Any data we have for kiwis are extrapolated from international data. Government agencies, even education ones are largely ignorant about the challenges of dyslexia. The Human Rights Commission is largely silent on neurodiversity/dyslexia and the government cannot tell us what the economic cost is of unidentified and unsupported dyslexia/neurodiversity to the New Zealand economy.
The ultimate frustration is that the problem is not overly difficult or expensive to fix.
Once our mindset is changed from “ dyslexia is a bad thing” to dyslexia is a difference that we can celebrate for mutual benefit”, the rest is simple.
There is some amazing technology that can assist with reading, writing, and spelling, and the price of that technology is dropping rapidly. Providing some training for team leaders, line managers and supervisors would help manage people who think differently.
Neurodiversity/dyslexia are poorly understood, even by those who have the conditions themselves. There is a big need for a public education program to inform the public about what dyslexia/neurodiversity are. The media could play a big part with this – but sadly the media is currently part of the problem, not the solution
Enlightened government policies and a progressive mindset can change the equation to: –
Dyslexia + good instruction = creative kiwis.
That is good maths!
The story of Lisa
Lisa is currently in prison. Her crime? Lisa was caught multiple times driving without a licence. A judge finally tired of her court appearances and jailed her. Lisa is a good person. I worry that prison will likely change her, and not in a good way.
Lisa has significant dyslexia. She is a great driver, but she could not pass the theory test to secure her licence. She has driven since she was 12 years of age – illegally of course. Her aim is to drive big rigs.
Lisa will have a criminal record when she comes out of prison. Meantime the country is crying out for heavy transport drivers. With only a little effort Lisa could have been contributing to the economy, instead of clogging up the prison system. A jurisdiction that understood dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions would have picked up Lisa’s dyslexia while she was at school. It wasn’t until Lisa reached adulthood and in prison that her dyslexia was identified. Our prisons are filled with people like Lisa with unidentified dyslexia.
Lisa deserves better, and New Zealand Inc. deserves better as well