Sunday, May 02, 2010
Schools failing the disability test
REGULARS to Dominic Dimattina's cafe in Malvern East would never guess that its gregarious owner has grappled with comprehension and memory problems throughout his life.
For years this young man has masked his confusion with a broad smile, countering any irritation that might arise at his lack of understanding with a strong work ethic and a friendly demeanour.
Mr Dimattina's parents knew he had a learning difficulty of some kind from an early age. His mother, who had three older children, realised there was something wrong when he did not start speaking until age five. "If I was the eldest, I don't think she would have known there was a problem," he says.
His mother realised that her son had to be taught to express himself and often did not understand what he was told. But, as is often the case, this was not picked up by his teachers in early primary school.
Mr Dimattina's sociable nature helped him to get by for years, but by secondary school it was clear that he was struggling to comprehend the work and what was expected in class. He dropped out of school in year 10, aiming to become a builder's apprentice.
This was not to be. He worked for two builders but became depressed after finding himself unable to cope. "It wasn't the employers' fault," he says. "It was my fault because I couldn't handle the instructions and everything happening at once."
Mr Dimattina has found he can manage running his cafe because he can work in a logical way and the tasks are repetitive. He urges young people who feel defeated by their learning disability not to give up, but instead to find good role models. "It's OK to be you, and there is a future for you out there," he says.
Mandy Brent, the president of SPELD, a not-for-profit organisation providing support for dyslexia and other learning difficulties, attributes Mr Dimattina's success in building his own business to his tenacity and strong support and encouragement from his family. "That was a wonderful outcome," she says.
Many adolescents do not fare so well, dropping out of high school because their dyslexia or learning difficulty has not been identified. Even if it is recognised, the school is often unable to meet the students' needs for a more individualised program and for mentoring. Such students find language learning difficult, whether it is understanding and using spoken language or learning to read, write and spell.
"Language-learning difficulties occur despite the fact that the students are capable in many other areas of learning and life," says Ms Brent, a speech pathologist. "It is largely a result of the way the brain organises, sequences and stores language, and its sounds, word and sentence meanings. Some students cannot remember and understand instructions as well as others. Some students do not know the meaning of as many words as others and struggle to put their ideas on paper."
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