My strategies for success
Labelled lazy by teachers, Aidan Milner struggled through school. However he thrived at university despite severe dyslexia and dyscalculia. He explains why.
I was formally diagnosed with severe dyslexia and dyscalculia when I was 10 years old. My assessment report also pointed out that I showed signs of severe anxiety which was not a surprise. Despite my diagnosis, school still thought they knew best and refused to believe that I was dyslexic. They said I was in fact just a lazy kid who needed to try harder and to stop misbehaving in class. I was given numerous detentions for not completing work. It was clear that the school system on its own wouldn’t be of any help. So we turned to SPELD. They were amazing. I don’t think I would have made it through without the help of my tutors.
At school I also had trouble with anything and everything to do with maths. This included things as basic as recalling my home phone number. As a kid I was terrified of getting lost and not being able to call home. Maths was put on the back burner as my spelling and reading alone were enough to make anyone tear their hair out. But eventually I began working one-on-one with a maths tutor and had much better results.
Most people would think that transitioning from high school to university would be a big challenge. However it was manageable thanks to the fantastic support of the disability services team at Victoria University. They scheduled catch up meetings throughout the first term when I was finding my feet. Other learning support included workshops, essay proof reading sessions and reader writers with subject knowledge for my exams and tests. My PhD student friends helped proof read my work. I also had a great computer programme called Read and Write Gold which read my essays, pdf documents and web pages. Once I had the software, I found my essay grades went from Cs to As – it was a massive help. Unlike school, university felt like a safe place to say that you have dyslexia. Most of my lecturers had some kind of dyslexia and those that didn’t, fully understood how it works.
In terms of maths, I always needed someone to double check what I did. In lectures when graphs or equations were shown, I was just lost and glazed over so that was something I needed to keep track of. I also found it tricky to remember the geological ages, which could be a bit of an issue for events such as ice ages and major eruptions.
Another challenge has been my job as a volunteer with Wellington Free Ambulance. It involves loads of numbers and words. I have to read blood pressures and oxygen sats backwards. One way I have learned to cope is to say everything aloud so the other ambulance officers can pick up on it. The paperwork can be a bit scary. It’s always embarrassing filling it out in front of patients when they can see my bad spelling. I have a notebook of key medical words which helps.
Eventually I graduated with my Master of Science with second class first division honours in Geology and I now have a job as an engineering geologist. The 10 year old me would never have thought this was possible!
It was extremely humbling graduating and reflecting on how my teachers viewed dyslexia and how wrong they all were. It just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. It also goes to show that one-on-one specialist teaching works very well for people like me.
Watch Aidan talk to SPELD NZ’s conference about his amazing learning journey: