LIVING WITH INVISIBLE DISABILITIES

I not stupid - I have dyslexia

Dr Richard Kwok (seated), with his daughter Kwok Fuyu. Dr Kwok was regarded as stupid in school, but discovered he was dyslexic later in life. He is now Chief Technology Officer at Singapore Technologies Kinetics.
Dr Richard Kwok (seated), with his daughter Kwok Fuyu. Dr Kwok was regarded as stupid in school, but discovered he was dyslexic later in life. He is now Chief Technology Officer at Singapore Technologies Kinetics. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Today, 59-year-old Dr Richard Kwok is a successful engineer with a doctorate, happy marriage and two children.

Such is his acumen that the Chief Technology Officer at Singapore Technologies Kinetics guides PhD candidates.

Yet, as a youngster, he was regarded as stupid by teachers, parents and neighbours because he could not keep up in class.

Copying notes from teachers' blackboards was especially difficult.

"I had to copy word by word, instead of sentence by sentence," says Dr Kwok.

  • Dyslexia

    NUMBER AFFECTED

    An estimated 10 per cent of any population are likely to have dyslexia; 4 per cent of cases are severe enough to warrant intervention.

    NATURE OF DISABILITY

    Difficulties with language learning and cognition. It primarily affects the skills in accurate and fluent reading and spelling. Characteristic features are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and processing speed.

    There may also be difficulties in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia.

    TREATMENT/SUPPORT

    The Dyslexia Association of Singapore has psychologists, speech and language therapists and educational therapists. It offers screening, psychological assessments and specialist teaching to children between six and 17 years old. Tests are also offered to pre-school children.

    RESOURCES

    www.das.org.sg

    e-mail: info@das.org.sg

It turns out that Dr Kwok suffers from dyslexia, a learning disorder in which it is difficult to make sense of the written word, among other aspects.

Remarkably, Dr Kwok found this out only later in life, when one of his sons - Kwok Ting Yu, now 20 - was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2000. "He told us that the words moved about when he tried to read them," says Dr Kwok. "After my son's diagnosis, I realised that I faced similar problems and found out that I am dyslexic too."

His son did not have to struggle alone like he did. After his diagnosis, the young Mr Kwok received intervention training at the Dyslexia Association of Singapore, which helped him pick up reading skills. Now, he is studying actuarial science - a discipline that applies mathematical and statistical methods to assess risk in, for example, insurance - at Monash University in Australia.

Such early intervention, Dr Kwok says, is crucial for young children who might think they are stupid.

"Every child, every individual likes to have positive reinforcement, instead of people thinking that they are not smart."

Dr Kwok says that his own diagnosis, and how his life has turned out despite the disorder, has had a positive impact on his son.

"Knowing that I can cope gives my son a more positive outlook in life. It is important to keep looking on the positive side," says Dr Kwok.

He admits that it was actually a relief to learn he was dyslexic, and that he was indeed not "stupid", as everyone had thought.

Of his struggles at school, he recalls: "It was quite demoralising. Your parents, neighbours - they think that you'll definitely not make it."

To catch up with his schoolmates, Dr Kwok put in long hours, doing night classes and came up with his own studying techniques.

Through sketching out concepts and mind maps, Dr Kwok trained himself to memorise information.

"It was out of determination. I had to learn how to cope and develop methodologies. We have problems memorising certain things, but we do have our strengths. We visualise things better," he says.

In secondary school, although his results were not good enough for admittance, he appealed to the principal to take pure physics, chemistry and additional mathematics.

He was allowed to do so - but only if he could pass the exams on his own without school tutelage.

With night classes and notes borrowed from his classmates, Dr Kwok managed to do just that.

This taught him the value of collaboration and persistence, he says, which has helped him in the workplace. He notes:"Until today I cannot memorise the multiplication table", and he has trouble spelling.

Asked what kept him working hard when many would have given up, Dr Kwok says with a smile: "Everybody thought that I was not so clever, but I thought that I was not so bad."

Kok Xing Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'I not stupid - I have dyslexia'. Print Edition | Subscribe