The Waterford Dyslexia Group is striving to raise awareness of dyslexia and to help those living with the learning difficulty.
Last week was European Dyslexia Awareness Week which aimed to raise awareness of dyslexia and the experiences of those affected by it.Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty affecting the acquisition of fluent and accurate reading and spelling skills. It is characterised by cognitive difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, and speed of retrieval of information from long-term memory. Dyslexic difficulties can range from mild to severe and affect approximately 10 per cent of the population. According to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI), people with dyslexia may experience greater stress and frustration as they endeavour to learn, resulting in heightened anxiety, particularly in relation to literacy acquisition. The DAI was founded in 1972 and works with and for people affected by dyslexia, by providing information, offering appropriate support services, engaging in advocacy and raising awareness of dyslexia.
The DAI, which is a membership-based association currently representing over 1,500 families and individuals all over Ireland and has a nationwide network of workshops offering local community-based services throughout Ireland, marked Dyslexia Awareness Week by holding a briefing session on Wednesday last October 9th in Leinster House.Here in Waterford, a local group is active all year round in striving to raise awareness of dyslexia and aims to help those who are living with the learning difficulty.
Waterford Dyslexia Group
Mari Carmen Postigo, who resides in Tramore, is Chairperson of the Waterford Dyslexia Group.
Originally from Spain, she has lived in Waterford since 2001. Her daughter was diagnosed as being dyslexia in November 2016 aged seven. While her daughter’s school has always been very supportive, Mari Carmen says they can only do so much. Mari Carmen embarked on a quest to ensure there are greater supports in place for children with dyslexia. Spurred on by her frustration and a quest to obtain more knowledge about dyslexia, she formed the Waterford Dyslexia Group in 2017.One of the group’s initial aims was to establish specific workshops for children with dyslexia which would be available outside of school hours and operate as an addition to mainstream schoolwork.
Now, she is delighted that specialised classes/workshops are being provided every Wednesday evening from 5pm-7pm at Newtown School in Waterford and proving to be very successful.
Currently, there are 30 students availing of these classes from both primary and second level.
Operating as an independent entity to schools, the workshops are under the umbrella of the DAI and follow their guidelines in relation to what is covered. Mari Carmen explained that the aim is to offer additional support and to encourage self-directed learning. Participants do not need to have been diagnosed with dyslexia to attend the classes. “All we need to know is that the teacher has said that support is recommended,” explained Mari Carmen.
The classes also cater for children with dyscalculia which is a difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic.Literacy and numeracy are the priorities during the classes, but other topics are also covered. Mari Carmen has seen how her daughter has benefited from the “sense of community” which is created and has also observed the vast benefits which are created for all who participate in the classes.“There is a huge strength and empowerment in coming together as they realise that they are not on their own,” she explained.
The students take a break at the midway point and Mari Carmen says many can be seen “skipping from one class to the next”. “There is a huge difference in their self-confidence,” she says. Mari Carmen says it’s important to remove the stigma surrounding dyslexia (which she believes still exists) and to remove the misconceptions which can be caused by a lack of knowledge.
“There aren’t enough resources within the school system and there is still a lack of understanding amongst the wider public,” she says.She points out that dyslexia is not as uncommon as some may think. Pablo Picasso was dyslexic, and Steven Spielberg has often spoken about his battle with dyslexia and how he struggled through school.Others on the long list of luminaries who are dyslexic include Whoopi Goldberg and Keira Knightley.
Funding and Support
The Waterford Dyslexia Group has held a number of fundraising events and have applied for various grants.The group is currently seeking funding to make the classes more accessible for everyone and Mari Carmen would like to see funding provided so that this is possible.
There is some support on offer from the DAI, and the group have been able to reduce the costs of the workshops from €35 to €30. However, Mari Carmen believes the cost remains a barrier to access for some people. “We would like everyone to know that they are welcome,” she said.
At Leinster House last week, the DAI presented the experiences of people with dyslexia in Ireland and released new findings from a large survey of parents, teachers and adults with dyslexia which was conducted in September.The findings of the survey highlight some of the mental health, educational and financial implications of dyslexia, especially when it goes unidentified and unsupported.The average estimated cost related to managing dyslexia has increased by over 8 per cent compared to 2017 figures, with the average cost now coming in at €1,334 per year.
Commenting on the findings, CEO of the DAI Rosie Bissett said: “The financial cost of supporting a child with dyslexia is putting a real financial strain on families. As dyslexia is hereditary many families have more than one child with dyslexia, therefore this figure can double or triple for them. In light of this, it is no surprise that 62 per cent of people in our latest survey said that there are supports and resources that they have identified that they think could help them or their child that they simply cannot access due to the expense. No family should have to worry about the cost implications of their child’s disability.”
Another finding from the survey is that only 5 per cent of people are satisfied with the level of support being provided by the government when it comes to assisting families or individuals dealing with dyslexia. “People are very dissatisfied with the level of support from the State,” continued Rosie Bissett.“While we welcome the opportunity to speak in Leinster House, we hope that it creates a conversation around the level of support people with dyslexia receive. Our members feel that their children are receiving the bare minimum support in school – if any. This needs to change. All the evidence shows that early intervention and support for young people with dyslexia makes a huge difference educationally and emotionally and is also more cost effective in the long run.”
The survey highlights the level of impact that dyslexia can have on a person’s mental health. 97 per cent of respondents stated that dyslexia can have a negative effect on mental health, especially if it is unsupported and not identified. Amy Smyth, Advocacy and Information Coordinator, said: “Dyslexia is still something that is uttered in hushed tones. Whispered. Literacy difficulties are something that people are still often ashamed of. We are trying to break that cycle of shame. Young people with dyslexia often report feeling that they are lazy, stupid and unable to learn. This is not good enough in 2019. Our education system needs to support young people with dyslexia, not only educationally but also emotionally.”
Commenting on the importance of the awareness week, Rosie Bissett added: “People with dyslexia bring real personal strengths and add neurodiversity to our schools, workplaces and communities. They have a right to have their needs identified early and should be able to access appropriate supports. While our education system has made advances in some areas, our research clearly shows that there is much more to be done.”The DAI is a registered charity and its membership includes teachers, psychologists and other professionals.
On Friday October 18th, Bank of Ireland on The Quay in Waterford will showcase the creative work of local students with dyslexia at a special ‘workbench’ event from 10am to 4pm.
Mari Carmen explains that the aim is to highlight the students’ experiences of growing up with dyslexia and to give them the opportunity to come up with an explanation of what it is to have dyslexia. The creative pieces will include art as well as writing. Books will also be on display, there will be tea and coffee available and the group hope to fundraise also. Having the event in the bank is appropriate, as in an era when more and more banking services are now online, people with learning difficulties can find such changes an overload, according to Mari Carmen.
“It’s important that people are aware that we all think differently and that some people just need an extra support,” she says.
The Waterford Dyslexia Group are very grateful to Newtown School for their support and all who have helped the group in any way. Mari Carmen thanked all the parents for their continued support and fundraising efforts, especially Lorna Lemon, and also thanked co-ordinator Miriam Byrne. “It’s a team effort, there are a lot of people involved,” she says.
She thanked Waterford Library Service, especially Tramore Library and Loreta Kinsella and says the group couldn’t have made such progress without their support. The Waterford Dyslexia Group holds regular coffee mornings in Tramore Library to offer support for parents in an informal setting. The next such event takes place on Tuesday October 22nd at 11am and all are welcome to attend.
The Waterford Dyslexia Group welcomed guest speakers in January 2018 when aiming to establish themselves and would also like to host more speakers in the future. With such an enthusiastic and committed group of people involved, the Waterford Dyslexia Group will undoubtedly continue to enhance the lives of those living with dyslexia in the locality.
For more information on the Waterford Dyslexia Group visit their Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 089-4596614.