Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Indigo solves the Pzulze


Earlier this week I was thrilled to launch a book about dyslexia. As a National Ambassador for the Year of Reading have spent the past twelve months telling anyone who would listen that they must read. That all reading matters, regardless of what you read, as long as you read. Blogs matter, magazines matter and even the sports pages, I’m told, matter. But in every conversation I had, to every audience addressed in all parts of the country, it was under the assumption that people could read, largely without effort. That many were already readers to some degree, but that the National Year of Reading would inspire them to read more, to encourage their family members and friends to read more, and that we would as Australians collectively, increasingly appreciate the value of reading in our lives every day.

When I read Indigo Wallace-Knight’s story Indigo Solves the Pzulze, I realised that while my role as an Ambassador this year was an important, and valid one, it did not take into account those with dyslexia who, rather than sharing the common joyful experience of reading, often experience a troublesome one. An experience which could at times lead to not only low levels of self-esteem and loneliness, but also bullying from those who are inconsiderate, unkind, and largely uneducated.

As an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador for many years, I have long been conscious of a whole group of Australians in our poorest areas, not only without access to beautiful resource like Indigo Solves the Puzlze, but also without the skills to read such books because of their own low literacy levels. The causes of illiteracy in remote Indigenous communities range from English being spoken as a second, third or fourth language, to
the fact that in remote communities there are no libraries as we know them here in the city. There are often no books in homes and in many instances a child might not even hold a book before going to school. Alarmingly, 70% of Indigenous children in remote communities suffer from chronic Otitis Media, a serious middle ear disease that can cause permanent hearing loss and inhibit language and literacy development.

We have a question that we pose to audiences when we talk about the Indigenous literacy. And that is: Can you imagine a world without books? Most of us can’t. But today, I could pose a different question, can you a imagine a world where instead of seeing words that formed sentences, you saw, ‘jumbled shapes’ – just like Indigo mentions in her story.

For those of us who may take our reading ability for granted, take a minute to think about that. Every time you went to read a sentence or word all you saw was jumbled shapes.

When we talk about literacy, many of us immediately think of our capacity to read books. And the joy that book bring into our lives. They can help us to escape to another country, galaxy and time. They can inform, engage and educate us. They can hold a mirror up to who we are as individuals and as a nation.

But literacy is far more basic than that. The ability to read keeps us safe because it allows us to read warning signs, to read directions of where to go and where not to go. It helps us read labels on products that we eat, or shouldn’t eat. Not being able to read means we rely on other people to make decisions for us often in key areas of our lives. I can’t think of anything more disempowering than that.

The development of English literacy skills is important for the life opportunities of Indigenous children and youth generally. Literacy provides them with 'the necessary skills to interact within mainstream society and avail themselves of the broadest range of civic, social, educational and employment possibilities'. (Mellor and Corrigan, 2004)

Indigo Solves the Pzulze was a gentle reminder to me of those in our society who do not necessarily enjoy all that they should, all that they could were they appropriately assisted with their literacy development.

Her story at school as a ten-year-old highlights just one of the literacy challenges in kids especially in girls – and we know that quite often the focus is on for boys.

Indigo’s own experience as documented here in text by Wendy Fitzgerald and vivid illustrations by 17 year old Sophie Norsa, shows that there is also practical support for young people with literacy challenges associated with dyslexia. Knowing there is someone to help make it easier, no doubt will put many young minds – and those of parents – to rest.

Most importantly I think Indigo’s story makes it clear that dyslexia does not equal dumb and it does not effect the way one plays sport, dances, maintains friendships or carries out other every day activities. The story also flags that even famous people have dyslexia and so I went to and found the names of some of the many talented and accomplished individuals who are dyslexic, or who have traits associated with dyslexia or related learning styles. 


Some of you may be surprised to learn they include Albert Einstein, Orlando Bloom, Harry Belafonte, Andy Warhol, William Yates, Stephen Spielberg, and Sir Richard Branson – I’d be hitting him up for some money!


I’d applaud Indigo for taking her scarring bullying experience and turning it into a positive one, not only for herself, but also for others like her, of which there are many, not only here in Australia but around the world. I’m grateful that the Indigo Express Fund partners with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence to deliver literacy assessments and tutoring for Indigenous young people.

I urge you all to buy multiple copies Indigo Solves the Pzuzle  today for Christmas presents!

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