Aaron’s journey with dyslexia
By Kusumanjalee Thilakarathna
Photos Krishan Kariyawasam
Today the Little Stars spotlight shines on a kid with extraordinary talents and courage – 12-year-old Aaron Wijayasekara was diagnosed with dyslexia a couple of years back. Recently he released a video on his YouTube channel titled ‘Aaron’s journey with Dyslexia,’ opening up about his condition to raise awareness. He wants to educate the nation on what dyslexia is and why teachers and parents must learn more about it. In an interview with Little Stars, Aaron said: “Parents and teachers must be patient with children with dyslexia. Don’t put too much pressure on them. Instead, be patient and give them lots of love and support.”
Can you introduce yourself to us?
I’m Aaron Wijayasekara. I am 12 years old. I am from Pannipitiya. I solve the Rubik’s cube, I like to play with Lego. I do graphic design. I play my ukulele, I like to collect stamps and learn about stamps. I play chess and badminton. I also like to do photography. I have a pet dog, its name is Toby. Toby is nine months old now, he is a golden retriever and a Labrador mix. I have an elder brother and a younger sister. I used to go to school but now I am home-schooled.
It’s a great initiative you have taken to open up about your journey with dyslexia. What can you share with us about your journey?
I couldn’t learn all the letters of the alphabet – I couldn’t remember them. Learning the vowels and sounds too was difficult for me. Since I had difficulties like this since I was very young, my parents thought I might have dyslexia. Then I got an official diagnosis that I had dyslexia and that it was pretty bad. I was a little upset to hear that and also felt a bit low after the diagnosis.
Can you tell us what it is like to have dyslexia?
Someone who has dyslexia will have problems with reading and writing and even identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. For some it’s difficult and for some it’s impossible. But it’s not because they are not smart. School exams can be very hard for them. I remember how difficult exams were for me. Sometimes when I couldn’t understand what was in the paper I used to write random letters as answers.
What encouraged you to be open about your condition and tell the world about the issue?
Even though a lot of people have dyslexia, they don’t know about it and they never get help. A person with dyslexia does not see what’s wrong. It’s not something visible that everybody can know. Sometimes parents and teachers don’t accept the condition and put too much pressure on us. This is why I thought that it would help others too if I became open about this condition.
Has being open about dyslexia changed your life in any way?
Yes, a lot. I don’t feel like I can’t do stuff anymore. It’s a bit easier when everyone knows.
How was your school experience before you received an official diagnosis?
It was really bad in the nursery because I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was mainly sitting and waiting there trying to understand all the letters and worksheets we were doing in nursery. We did a lot of letter writing and even three- to four-letter words in nursery. I met a good teacher in Grade 1 and she made school an interesting place for me. In Grade 2 I started playing chess and in Grade 3 I started playing badminton. I represented school in chess for the inter-international school chess tournaments and took part in many other individual chess tournaments. I played for inter-branch badminton tournaments too.
There are many kids like you in schools who may not have an official diagnosis or support. Do you have any advice for a child who is struggling?
Just be yourself. Don’t let not being able to read or write stop you from doing what you like. Don’t take offence about what others may say to you. Seek advice from those who love you.
Do you have any messages for teachers and parents?
If there are children who struggle to read or write in class, don’t push them too hard; don’t make them stand in the class and read out loud; don’t compare them with other students or label them.
Most of the time in my class I had to stand up to read. I didn’t want anyone to know my condition. So when the teacher asked me to stand I used to become a bit stubborn and sit and wait. Although at home I was supported and accepted, I didn’t feel the same at school. Since there was a lot of reading and writing involved even in the nursery, it was all a very bad experience for me. I used to be very confused and very angry about having to be at school sometimes.
Let’s talk about your many talents and hobbies. Can you tell us your favourite activity?
I can’t tell you one but I can tell you about five. I love almost all of them alike. Top on the list is solving the Rubik’s cube, baking, making Lego MOCs (my own creations), studying stamps, and doing magic.
You also said that you enjoy training Toby. What tricks have you taught Toby so far?
We started training when he was just three months old. I have taught him to sit, lie down, shake, stay, and high five, and he is learning to dance now. I watch a lot of YouTube videos on how to train dogs and I use that knowledge to train him.
You can solve the Rubik’s cube within 30 seconds. How did you master this skill?
My brother showed me the beginner’s method of solving the Rubik’s cube which consists of around five algorithms and I got interested. I watched a lot of YouTube videos on solving cubes and now I know more than 80 algorithms to solve this. Sometimes I tend to get fidgety and solving the Rubik’s cube helps me a lot in controlling that. It also makes me feel as if I can achieve something. I also try the 4×4 cube and more complicated versions of it. I started learning this less than a year ago.
What do you bake?
I bake brownies, buns, rolls, doughnuts, cakes, and doggie treats. I have been interested in learning how to cook since I was very young and the first thing I learnt to cook was waffles. I was only seven years old. Then I learnt to make pancakes and I was fascinated by baking and was encouraged to bake when I saw cooking shows on TV. When I get an idea to bake, I usually go on YouTube and learn how it’s done.
How is the feedback from your family about your baking?
Good. I love to bake. They love to eat what I bake.
Although you say you have difficulty reading, one of your hobbies is reading. You also said you are writing stories. Could you tell us abut that?
I use audiobooks. I read around 75 books last year. I first started with the Secret Seven books. I love Enid Blyton books and I have read all the Harry Potter books.
Recently I found a way to write my own stories and grammar check and edit them although I can’t write. I use Google docs and some other apps.
Could you tell us about your stamp collection too?
My father has been collecting stamps for the last 35+ years. Recently I got his stamp collection and I started sorting through them. My interest grew as I sorted them so I started studying them. I scan the stamps and see what they are. I use an app. I use YouTube to find out the story behind them.
Finally, tell us how you learnt to do magic?
A magician, Magic Tony, came to my birthday party three years ago from France. He gave me a deck of cards as a gift. He got me interested in magic and ever since then I have been using YouTube to learn how to do magic with the cards. We recently found out that he is also dyslexic. He is a physics professor and he does magic as a charity.
What do you want to do in the future?
I still haven’t decided that exactly, but I know I am interested in business. I am a very good negotiator when it comes to playing monopoly as well in my other dealings with my family, especially with my elder brother and younger sister.