Voices (ISL Stories)

Voices of Empowerment: Redefining Dyslexia 

Anna and Raphaëla at a Parent Workshop for the Neurodiversity Week in ISL

Anna and Raphaëla, two Grade 11 students, are leading a remarkable initiative called "Neurodiversity: Dyslexia Redefined." Both of them have experienced dyslexia firsthand and are passionate advocates for raising awareness and support for neurodiversity within the school community. "Dyslexia Redefined" is more than just a project; it's a sustained effort within ISL's Service Learning program, passed on to younger students as its leaders graduate. Through activities like presentations, posters, and engaging with teachers, Anna and Raphaëla are reshaping perceptions and providing support for neurodiverse individuals. Let's get to know their project better through a conversation with them. 

Could you please introduce yourself briefly before we start discussing your project?

Anna: My name's Anna. I'm in 11th Grade. I am 17 years old and I come from Ireland. I've been at ISL since fourth grade. And since eighth grade, I have been more open about my neurodiversity and wanting to share more with others.

Raphaëla: I am Raphaëla, also 17. I've been in ISL since first grade. And just like Anna, since eighth grade, I've also been more in touch and open about my dyslexia.

Could you briefly describe your project, "Neurodiversity: Dyslexia redefined"? What is its goal and highlights? How did you join the project?

Raphaëla: We joined "Dyslexia Redefined" in eighth grade; it was a club led by two 11th-graders, to spread awareness.

Anna: Initially, our activities were small - posters, presentations to teachers - advocating for equal opportunities in class.

At ISL Community Action Fair, talking to 5th Graders

Raphaëla: When the leaders graduated, we became the unofficial leaders. We took over naturally. We both had really negative experiences growing up with dyslexia. So we decided that we really wanted to spread  awareness and help other children who could potentially have it and just be too scared to talk about it. So now we're the leaders and our club has grown. 

Anna: Now, we focus on spreading awareness through presentations not only to students but also to teachers, staff, and parents, aiming for future growth.

What is dyslexia for you? 

Raphaëla: Dyslexia impacts everyone in different ways. For me, it's the struggle of understanding certain things and a higher difficulty of reading and writing.

Anna: I would say the same. However, with help, my reading has become better. When I read, the letters become bigger or smaller or just become more blurred. Not in the sense that I need glasses, but in the sense that my brain just can't pick it up. And spelling is something I struggle with my dyslexia. I don't want to say it's challenging to live with, but it's hard. It's hard on yourself, especially when you're younger and everyone else around you can read very fast or can spell the simplest of words, and you can't do that. So dyslexia for me, is hard.

Raphaëla: A big misconception about dyslexia is that it makes you stupider or that something's wrong in your brain. Nothing's wrong. It's just we learn differently. Even if we might not take the same path to get an answer, we can just take a different path. It might take longer, but we'll get the same answer.

What motivated you to focus on dyslexia within the framework of neurodiversity for your service learning project? It's clearly a very personal project for both of you and you want to raise awareness. Would you like to add anything else?

Anna: I originally joined the club wanting to talk more about my dyslexia and show teachers how they can help me personally but then later in 9th and 10th grade, I found out I also had dyscalculia. So now with our cohort, we also want to spread more awareness on dyscalculia because dyslexia is well known, but dyscalculia isn't. 

Raphaëla: Similar to Anna, before ISL, I came from a school that wasn't very open and didn't really understand what dyslexia was. So I was bullied heavily. When I was younger, I hated school. I hated everything. It was really bad. When I came to Luxembourg, the immense amount of support that was given to me was quite different. Especially for my parents, they wanted to stay here because their daughter had this opportunity. When I joined the club, what I wanted was to spread awareness and target mostly younger children, because I would have really liked to have somebody older telling me "This is okay, and it'll stick with you but that's not the end of the world. You're going to be fine." That's my goal, to be able to reach out to a younger audience so they can understand they're not alone.

Throughout your service learning project, what are some key lessons or insights you've gained about neurodiversity and dyslexia? A moment that you realized you never considered a specific aspect before?

Raphaëla: When we first joined, for me, it was really a hit that, "oh my God, the leaders of the club were older, and they still had problem with spelling and writing just like me." So that comforted me a little bit. I realized that I was not alone.

Anna: I would say the same. Also when we talk to the younger students in the Lower School, realizing how open they are to talk about their diversity and how accepting they are was relieving. It's such a change from how we were. It really opened my mind that it's nothing to be ashamed of and that everyone's different in a way. 

What were some of the key challenges you faced during the project?

Raphaëla: Preparing our presentations, our slides without spelling mistakes. [laughs]

Anna: We had to have a lot of people check our spelling. Also time was a constraint. 

Raphaëla: At the end of the day we are high school students, and we have to fulfil our school commitments. We are trying to meet every grade in Lower School. We are making presentations to parents and staff. It is a lot.

Moving forward, do you have any plans to continue or expand upon this project?

Raphaëla: We're working with Mr. Benedict to potentially have a Safe Zone training for neurodiversity for anyone who wants to join.

Anna: We're working on doing a TEDx, and we really just want to build on from that in the future.

Raphaëla: We also think of changing the name of our club next year to "Neurodiversity Redefined" or something a bit more inclusive. So we could branch out and talk about more things.

What do you hope the broader school community will take away from your project during Neurodiversity Week?

Anna: What I really hope the broader school community takes away from our project during Neurodiversity Week is the importance of open communication and understanding. It's about feeling comfortable talking to people your age, being open about your experiences, and feeling empowered to approach your teachers when something isn't working. I want teachers to know that it's absolutely okay to ask neurodivergent students if they need any adjustments or accommodations. When teachers take the time to listen and implement suggestions, it creates a sense of comfort and inclusivity in the classroom environment.

Raphaëla: To me, it would be... this is going to sound a little cliché, but if you're passionate enough about something, you can absolutely make a difference. We started with making tiny posters, tiny things on the walls that probably no one saw. And then as our confidence grew, we started reaching out to more people. And now we're planning on doing a TEDx Talk for the whole world to see. That really shows if you're passionate about something that you really, really want to spread awareness about, you can. It's possible.

Anna: You shouldn't let what other people say deter you from doing what you want.

Raphaëla: Because in the end, you'll find out that there's probably more people like you that think the same way.

Anna: People are maybe just waiting on that one person, for someone to come up and speak up so that they can come and speak up.

Anna and Raphaëla's project is not merely a club or initiative; it's a commitment passed on to younger students as its leaders graduate. Their journey shows us the importance of understanding and embracing neurodiversity, not as a limitation but as a unique way of learning and experiencing the world.

As they continue to expand their project and explore new avenues for awareness, we thank them for their courage in sharing their experiences and insights, and advocating for change. By speaking up and taking action, they are not only making a difference within their school community but also inspiring others to embrace diversity and empathy.