At 14, Matt Strawbridge is refusing to let dyslexia get the better of him – and is helping others who suffer the learning disability.
The year 10 Scots College pupil has experienced years of classroom embarrassment. "It was very frustrating trying to read and write," he says. "You knew the answer, but you just couldn't get it from your head to the page.
"It was upsetting because you felt really stupid when the teacher asked you to read out loud and you couldn't."
His mother, Cheryl, says it took a big toll on his self-esteem and the diagnosis was a step in the right direction. "I think the diagnosis is really important for him because at last he had a reason. You're not an idiot, you've just got dyslexia and learn differently."
Last year Matt decided he wanted to pass on his new positive attitude to others going through the same agonising process, so he created the website Dyslexia Potential with the help of a website developer. It includes video tutorials, learning exercises and confidence-boosting content and has almost 1000 members.
The website's success saw him win both the supreme and gold prizes at last year's Karori Youth Awards, for which he is nominated again this year.
Last month he launched a new website called TutorBook that allows students of all ages, abilities and class subjects to be tutored online via Skype. The concept is already being used by hundreds of young New Zealanders every week.
Matt has taken part in youth leadership summits in Sydney and San Diego in the past two years and his growing list of contacts includes a famous billionaire who battled with dyslexia as a kid.
"Sir Richard Branson is someone I've looked up to for a very long time and then I finally got to meet him in the flesh."
Branson invited Matt up on stage at an event he was talking at in Adelaide earlier this year, congratulated him on his work and promised to help spread the word about his website and cause.
Cheryl believes it is her son's empathy that has made him so successful. "Matt is really compassionate. He always feels other people's pain and I think that is really what's driven him. He doesn't want anyone to feel like he did in the classroom."
It is estimated that one in 10 New Zealanders has dyslexia. Matt says new technology and learning techniques have made it easier to live with and he wants to be a part of the progress. "I just want to connect with dyslexic kids to try and motivate them in the hope they will enjoy school life a bit more and not look at dyslexia as a bad thing. I don't want other dyslexic kids to feel stupid, because they're not."
Visit Matt Strawbridge's website at dyslexiapotential.com.
Matt is running a live course for dyslexic kids at the Karori Community Centre on October 11, from 9am till midday.
- The Dominion Post
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