Octavia Spencer. Whoopi Goldberg. Steve Jobs. Carol Moseley Braun. Kendrick Meek. Steven Spielberg. Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey. Tom Cruise. If any of these names look familiar it is probably for the feats they have been able to achieve. No one would look at these names and think dyslexia. And yet it is the one thing that ties them together.
Following Part 1 of our dyslexia demystified series, I thought it important to not only highlight diagnosis and accommodation tips, but show that dyslexic people can be anything they want to be. I chatted with three individuals all diagnosed with dyslexia, but living their absolute best life. These stories are meant to show that every dyslexic’s journey is different. The possibilities of destination however, are limitless.
Joel Kigozi is a trainer with Special Olympics Uganda. He works with children with learning disabilities including dyslexia, autism, Down Syndrome and cerebral palsy training them in all kinds of sports. He graduated from Kyambogo University with a degree in Social Work and Social Administration. He is passionate about making sure people across Uganda receive adequate information and assistance for their children with disabilities.
“I was first diagnosed by Dr. Njuki in 2005. I was at Seeta Boarding School then and the deputy headmaster read about Dr. Njuki and his work with dyslexia in the newspapers. With my school performance continuously deteriorating, he advised my mother to take me for the screening test and I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I enrolled in Dr. Njuki’s school, Centre for Lifelong Learning (CELL) for the rest of my primary education (Primary 7). I needed to be in a space where my condition was understood; CELL was that space. After sitting my Primary Leaving Exams, I was fortunate enough to be at a place where I could get back into regular school and I joined Lubiri Secondary School for my secondary. I went on to study Social Work and Social Administration at university which heavily influences the work I do today.
My biggest issue has always been spellings. Of course today with the leaps in technology I have been able to find my way around it. My dyslexia also presented as difficulty in expressing myself through writing. I would be confident with the concepts in my head but pronouncing words correctly and in turn writing out clear and concise thoughts was a little difficult.
For me what helped me a lot was self acceptance. I accepted the fact that there was a problem and I set out to find the best version of myself despite it. On campus I was able to get through because of really good friends. There was no accommodation for dyslexia but I have always been very honest about my condition and I have been blessed with helpful friends. I have shared notes and read and discussed information I would not have been able to otherwise process.
In Uganda our biggest problem is stigmatisation. Children with learning disabilities like dyslexia are so ostracised! It’s worrying. Here in Kampala it is an issue but in the rural areas even more so. We still have teachers that will try to ‘beat the stupidity’ out of these children. People are abandoning these children, associating the condition with witchcraft.
A lot of the times it is lack of awareness. People do not understand these disabilities. We need to find ways to make sure the information is reaching the grass roots; the grandmother, unable to read, raising a dyslexic grandson with no access to the internet, the parents raising their dyslexic daughter with no TV in their house. How can we make sure the information is reaching these people? If dyslexia is affecting 20 per cent of Uganda’s population, it must be only five per cent of that that are here in Kampala. How are the other 15 per cent receiving help?
Another thing to look at here are the teachers that are teaching in these schools. How many of them know what dyslexia is and can identify it in a child? Are they being equipped with this information before they go and start teaching? I attended a seminar last year organised by Build Tomorrow and half the speakers they brought to speak knew very little to nothing on intellectual disability education. And these were the people they were presenting as authorities.
Yet another problem is the fact that the centres and specialised schools are very few and are only accessible to the privileged. How do those that can not afford receive help?
As a country, we have a long way to go. My heart beats for these children, but sometimes it is easy to lose hope. Our governing bodies need to wake up and realise how vast the need is when it comes to the disabilities. We can help these children thrive. We just need to put in the work.”