Johanna Therese, who is dyslexic, shares how she coped with the PSLE


Johanna
Johanna Therese, 12, seen here with her parents, Mr and Mrs Rala. Despite being dyslexic, Johanna scored well enough to be eligible for the Normal Academic stream in secondary school.

By Jared Ng

Johanna Therese often has to read a question several times for fear of misunderstanding it, and struggles with Mathematics.

“I found it hard to keep up in class because the teachers went too fast,” said Johanna, who is dyslexic.


Dyslexia is a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols. Different people are affected to varying degrees.


At its worst, Johanna, 12, described seeing words “dance around”, leaving her exasperated.


Despite these challenges, Johanna scored well enough in her PSLE examinations to be eligible for the Normal Academic stream in secondary school.


Johanna told CatholicNews she began experiencing difficulty keeping up in classes when she started primary school, however she was only diagnosed with dyslexia in Primary 4.


Recalling the experience, Mrs Fatima Rala, Johanna’s mum, shared that “it was hard to accept at first, but we [Johanna’s family] moved on and supported her even more.”


Johanna persevered through Primary 4 and 5 before her school, St Anthony’s Canossian Primary, suggested she be streamed into the foundation level for Primary 6.


The foundation level involves subject-based banding which provides flexibility for a student by offering the option of a combination of standard and foundation subjects, depending on his or her strengths.


It allows the student to build up the fundamentals in certain subjects that he or she needs more support in.


“It was easier to keep up in class and I had more time to finish up my work,” said Johanna.


During the final weeks leading to the PSLE, Johanna shared that she would wake up at 4am to revise before leaving for school.


A method Johanna used to help her in her studies involved breaking down words into their component syllables.


While she still had trouble understanding certain concepts, Johanna had the support of her classmates, her school, staff from the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, her family – who are Filipino – and her parish, the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.


When she had trouble understanding a question at home, Johanna would often call her classmates to seek guidance.


“They would explain it to me slowly and eventually I was able to answer the question,” Johanna beamed.


During her weekly visits to the Dyslexia Association of Singapore in Woodlands, Johanna would receive additional help with her school work from staff members.


In class, her form teacher Madam Hannizah would often take extra time to explain concepts to Johanna.


“She struggled with her math and reading but she never gave up. She has this resilience about her in wanting to solve problems herself instead of simply waiting for the answer,” Madam Hannizah told CatholicNews.


At home, Mrs Rala encouraged Johanna whenever she saw that her daughter was feeling down or frustrated. Sharing that she would “sometimes find Johanna crying about her studies”, Mrs Rala would reassure her daughter of the family’s support and love.


In their parish, simple actions such as offering up prayers for students taking their major exams during Mass motivated and comforted Johanna. The church library also provided a place for her to study.


Now that her exams are over, Johanna uses her free time to learn the guitar as well as look after the younger kids in a church community her mum is involved in.


Her advice to other kids who might be going through a similar situation: “Don’t give up, because life is more than an exam.”


Mrs Rala had this advice for parents who may be in a similar situation: “All kids have their own unique characteristics. Always be there to support them no matter what.”

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