Matt Strawbridge, 19, of Dyslexia Potential. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

Matt Strawbridge says his early schooling years were tough, and that’s why he’s putting his efforts into making them more bearable for others.

“I’m dyslexic and going through school wasn’t particularly easy. I just don’t want any dyslexic kid to feel like I did growing up.”

Now the 19-year-old is helping kids all over New Zealand turn dyslexia into their “superpower”.

Dyslexia affects an estimated one in 10 Kiwis.

Strawbridge, who is from Wellington, will be in Masterton for the Learning Disabilities Association of New Zealand conference launch on Friday evening at the Copthorne Hotel, in Solway.

The conference will take place over the weekend at the same venue.

Strawbridge will speak about his journey – from when he was diagnosed with dyslexia, to starting his own website at age 13.

His website, Dyslexia Potential, features tutorials, learning exercises, and confidence-boosting content for other Kiwis struggling to read and write.

That effort had him named a finalist for the Young New Zealander of the Year award in 2015.

Now he is expanding his team to create innovative educational computer programmes, which are being embraced by schools in New Zealand. The programmes have also attracted interest from Australia.

“I knew I wanted to do something about it, and my first thought was to write a book, but then I thought, ‘Well I’m dyslexic and these poor kids are dyslexic, so that’s a terrible idea’.

“I went back to the drawing board and gave it another crack.”

He began making videos for children and parents to watch together “so they were both on the same page”.

He put these up for free on the internet, attracting about 60,000 viewers.

Then he began running workshops.

“I was like, ‘Oh man, there’s so many people going through this’.

“I was getting so many emails with workshop suggestions, so I decided to . . . bring them all together so they didn’t feel like they were the only ones going through it.”

He said there was “crazy demand out there” for support for dyslexics.

“The users [of his programmes] pretty much tell me what they need, and I go out and make it and get the best people on board, so we can offer that support.”

These included an in-depth 10-week programme for families, and a similar programme, designed for use in schools, which has received national publicity and is about to be picked up in Sydney.

He said teaching children to read and write was not the goal of his work.

“I do some basic techniques around that, but what I am improving in these kids is their self-esteem, and their understanding of their strengths and how they should learn.

“These kids have given up on themselves, they’ve given up on learning, and it doesn’t matter how much more you throw at them, it’s a waste.”

His parents had spent “hundreds of dollars” on tutoring, which he could not engage with and ultimately led him to believe he was “stupid”.

He would never call dyslexia a disability, because “it’s simply just a difference” in how one processes information.

“It just means we have to do things differently than everyone else in terms of learning.”

LDANZ co-ordinator Pauline Shaw said there needed to be more public awareness around learning difficulties, with dyslexics being “unusually insightful” and able to “think outside the box”.