From Dunce to a Degree; Education Experts Have Made Great Strides in the Teaching of Dyslexic Children, but Understanding of the Condition Has Been a Long Time Coming. Birmingham Youth Worker Antonio Farruggia Tells DAVID JONES How He Conquered His Dyslexia to Gain a Degree

Birmingham Evening Mail (England), April 16, 2001 | Go to article overview

From Dunce to a Degree; Education Experts Have Made Great Strides in the Teaching of Dyslexic Children, but Understanding of the Condition Has Been a Long Time Coming. Birmingham Youth Worker Antonio Farruggia Tells DAVID JONES How He Conquered His Dyslexia to Gain a Degree


Byline: David Jones

I WAS in my first year at school when I first realised I had difficulty reading.

At the age of four, the other kids were already progressing more quickly than I was. The first problem I remember was not being able to tell the difference between 'ch', 'sh' and 'th' when I read them on the page.

Of course, I was too young to say anything and there was very little awareness of dyslexia in those days so I was just left to struggle - and that was just the beginning of my problems.

My dad is Sicilian and, when I was five or six, I went over to Sicily in the summer holiday where I spent six weeks speaking nothing but Italian.

When I came back I refused to speak English, so the teacher made me a dunce's cap and told me to stand in the corner. It was incredibly cruel and even after all these years I still clearly remember standing there crying while all the other children laughed at me.

With that kind of treatment, it didn't take long for me to lose interest in school completely.

By the time I sat the entrance exam for secondary school, I'd stopped trying altogether. I was messing about all the time and getting into fights. I think a lot of it was out of sheer frustration because, looking back, I know I wasn't stupid at all.

But the prospect of having to read out loud in class would fill me with terror.

I would start messing about in the hope that I would get thrown out - anything to avoid having to read.

On the few occasions I did have to read to the class, it was a nightmare. I would be okay for a sentence or so then I'd stumble and I would feel myself starting to panic, which just made it worse.

Then my vision would go blurry and the words would start jumping around the page.

All the time I could hear the other children getting restless or giggling - it was so humiliating.

Of course, the teachers went through all the traditional options to try and get me to improve. I was sent to an educational psychologist and it didn't take long for them to stick me in the remedial group.

It didn't help my reading and writing, but they were an amazing bunch of kids.

We were all stuck with this label that we weren't as clever as the other kids but it seemed everyone in that class was good at general knowledge, quizzes and so on.

It seems clear now that it wasn't the kids who were failing - it was the education system that was failing them.

Looking back, I reckon there must have been a lot of dyslexic kids in that group, but there just wasn't enough awareness of dyslexia to realise the type of specialised teaching we needed.

Eventually I left school with no qualifications and very low self-esteem. I was a complete rogue really, always getting into trouble, drifting from one labouring job to another.

Fortunately, there was one teacher who took an interest in me in my final year at school and got me into weight-lifting.

He suggested that I go along to the Birmingham City Amateur Boxing Club, so I did and I immediately found somewhere that I felt I was wanted.

I started going regularly, working out on the weights and helping the youngsters who used the gym. It really gave me a sense of self-worth and the feeling I had something to offer.

If it hadn't been for the club, I could easily have ended up in prison. …

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From Dunce to a Degree; Education Experts Have Made Great Strides in the Teaching of Dyslexic Children, but Understanding of the Condition Has Been a Long Time Coming. Birmingham Youth Worker Antonio Farruggia Tells DAVID JONES How He Conquered His Dyslexia to Gain a Degree
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