Her older brother was diagnosed with dyslexia in primary school, so Emily Yap’s parents encouraged her to get tested for the learning disability when they saw her struggling as well.
But she put it off for a long time, thanks to a teacher’s comment to a dyslexic classmate.
“She told my friend that ‘dyslexia is an excuse for people who don’t want to work hard’”, Emily, 21, tells The Pride.
“I was greatly affected by what she said. I didn’t want the same labels given to me.”
At that time, Emily was struggling with Chinese, English and Maths.
She explains: “Reading was difficult. The spaces between sentences confused me; I would accidentally skip sentences, or join them up wrongly. I had to read with a ruler. I also had difficulties with speech, and would have awkward pauses between words. I was so quiet that one friend actually asked me if I was mute!”
What hurt the most was the assumptions the teachers had about her poor grades.
“None of my teachers suspected I had learning difficulties. They just thought I was lazy and playful. They complained to my parents that I wasn’t putting in enough effort. It felt like a personal attack, because they had no idea how hard I was working every day, and even more on the weekends.”
The criticisms took a toll on her self-esteem. “When people assume things about you without trying to understand you, it hurts.”
And she had to deal with the frustration of not getting the grades even though she put in the hard work. “I’m not stupid, I’m intelligent. Why can’t I just get the grades?” she remembers thinking.
Her grandfather would encourage her and help her with schoolwork. “He would say, ‘It’s OK if other people put in 100% effort, you put in 110% effort.’”
After PSLE, Emily was posted to the Normal Academic stream. In Secondary 1, she came to terms with her condition, got a diagnosis and started attending classes at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS).
She says: “For me to accept help, I had to be ready to accept the disability first.”
The DAS classes taught her new ways to read. “I had a very happy and positive teacher, Ms Phoebe, and she gave me the motivation to keep trying,” Emily recalls.
Emily’s grandfather, who didn’t understand what dyslexia was at first, saw how DAS was helping her in her studies. “My grandfather would tell his friends, my granddaughter is like a flower in different seasons. In the right time, the flower will bloom beautifully in the springtime.”
He was right.
Emily’s grades improved to As and Bs, allowing her a promotion to the Express steam in Sec 3. And she enrolled in Nursing at Ngee Ann Polytechnic after her O levels.
“Dyslexia taught me to have empathy for others” – Emily Yap
It was at Ngee Ann Polytechnic that she started seeing real progress, as she could pursue her true passion.
She says: “My grandmother was a nurse, and I’ve always looked up to her. She’s the sweetest and most thoughtful person I’ve ever met.”
Emily maintained a 3.8 poly GPA and earned a spot on the Director’s List in 2017.
She says that her dyslexia played an important role in steering her towards a profession that emphasises compassion and empathy.
“Struggling with dyslexia has taught me to have empathy. It helps me understand that sick people are not frustrated with me but with their condition.”
This year, Emily will graduate with an honours degree in Nursing, and will join Alexandra Hospital.
Today, Emily has even found the joy of reading for pleasure, reading classics like Charles Dickens with her mum.
Emily has also set up art classes for the students as a way to connect with those younger than herself with the same disability. “I feel so fortunate for having received the right intervention and I know it’s not easy growing up with dyslexia. I just don’t want them to feel alone in this journey.”
All these achievements got her awarded DAS’s Young Achiever award in 2018, an award given to outstanding alumni.
DAS is marking its 30th anniversary this year and, as part of its “Embrace Dyslexia” movement launched in 2014, has been debunking misconceptions about the condition, encouraging people with dyslexia to embrace their learning differences and calling on organisations to take greater action in supporting the community.
Dyslexia showed him his true talents
Despite studying hard, Ho Wei Rui and his twin brother, Song Rui, used to get single-digit scores in all subjects when they started primary school.
Their parents suspected something amiss and got them tested for learning disabilities in Primary 1.
The twins were diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and started attending classes at DAS.
DAS lessons always felt like “fun tuition classes”, Wen Rui tells The Pride. Class sizes were small, with a maximum of four students, and they would read using phonics and play games.
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However, it took many years for Wei Rui to fully understand his dyslexia.
His grades improved throughout his 11 years of therapy with DAS, but were distinctly better for Math and Science.
The turning point came when Wei Rui enrolled in Singapore Polytechnic’s Engineering Systems course.
Wei Rui tells The Pride: “I realised that I learn best through hands-on projects, and I’m a visual person. I like to move around when I do things, it helps me focus because I have ADHD, and polytechnic project work suits me.
“I’m not the kind that can sit down and read a whole textbook!”
He had to devise memory techniques to help him remember technical terms, but it was still easier than anything he learned before. In fact, Wei Rui realised his dyslexia therapy had trained him to break things down into steps.
“Finally, I was studying a subject that I was really interested in,” he says, adding that he even tutored his peers.
“I went from someone who was not able to read and write to passing my PSLE, N-level and O-level examinations and then being successful in polytechnic. Now, I have been offered a place in the Singapore University of Technology and Design to study engineering systems,” said Wei Rui, 21, who will complete his National Service next year.
“Dyslexia was a blessing in disguise because it showed me what I was really good at” – Ho Wei Rui
Wei Rui, who was awarded DAS’ Young Achiever Award in 2020, credits his supportive parents for not pressuring him and Song Rui to do well at school.
“They are not like typical Asian ‘tiger parents’. Knowing our disability, they never questioned our poor grades, but instead looked for ways to overcome it.”
He is also grateful to his brother, who has taken an almost identical academic path. Song Rui has a spot at Singapore Institute of Technology to study Electrical Systems Engineering next year.
“It helped that we had each other. We cope differently and our symptoms are slightly different, but we can still help each other.”
To anyone who has been diagnosed with dyslexia, Wei Rui says: “Don’t give up on yourself; dyslexia is a challenge that you can overcome. It could be a blessing in disguise and help you find out what you are good at, just like it did for me.”
She skated her way out of dyslexia
When she was 5, Amelia Chua’s parents signed her up for a reading programme to help her read. But after just five lessons, the teacher asked her parents to pull her out because she was so disruptive.
It was only after her pre-school principal advised her parents to screen her for dyslexia that the turning point came.
“For the longest time, I could not even pronounce the word ‘dyslexia’ or understand exactly what it was,” said Amelia, now 15 and studying at Anglo-Chinese School (International).
She took part in DAS classes for six years during primary school, where she not only learned to read and spell but also developed a love for writing.
However, writing compositions in primary school was difficult due to the grading requirements, with its focus on spelling and grammar.
Amelia found her groove in Primary 4 when her Methodist Girls’ School English teacher recognised her love for writing and nominated her for the Young Authors Scheme, where each participant had to produce a book of at least 3,000 words.
So she wrote about a sport she discovered when she was 8 years old – speed skating.
Entitled Full Speed Ahead, the story is about a girl speed skater who saves the day with her special powers of teleportation.
“I discovered speed skating when I watched the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014,” Amelia says.
She was so fascinated with it that she pleaded with her parents to let her learn the sport, training five to six days a week, two hours a day.
Today, she is a competitive speed skater, setting new international records in her age group. In 2019, Amelia represented Singapore in the Asian Cup Short Track Speed Skating in China, and won Junior D Ladies 500m Silver medal and Junior D Ladies 777m Bronze medal.
“Finishing the race, regardless of what happens, is more important” – Amelia Chua
Skating, like her academic journey, has been full of ups and downs as well.
“There were a few times when I didn’t achieve what I wanted to at a competition,” Amelia said. But her time at DAS taught her to be mentally stronger and persevere in her sport.
Although speed skating has given Amelia a boost of self-confidence, she does occasionally get affected by hurtful comments from peers.
“While I was badly affected initially, I am trying my best not to dwell on it. I am grateful for all the support I have from my family and friends. I hope that people can be kind to others despite their differences.”
During her acceptance speech when she won the Young Achiever Award in 2019, Amelia shared her mantra: “In everything you do, you may fall and you will face challenges, but no matter what happens, pick yourself up and finish the race.”