From the moment Ali Fullick's son Callum started school, she saw his thirst for life and his outgoing personality diminish.
"I would pick him up from school, and his face would be like thunder. He would come home angry, frustrated and would not share the reason why with me," says Ali.
"As a mother, I would let him have downtime, something to eat and then I would ask him to join me at the table to do his home learning before dinner. Well, that was when the battle started at home. He would sit there and wait and almost blankly refuse to partake in any homework.
"At that time, I thought he was just being awkward and defiant. These battles were daily, and trying to do homework was something I dreaded on a daily basis but continued because that's what good parents do, right? His teachers told me he was falling behind, and I was getting to be at my wit's end."
Ali tried changing schools to better fit what she thought was Callum's style of learning. Although it helped a little for a while, he was still not academically progressing.
"I felt I had to be a very proactive parent to advocate for him in many areas as I felt he was becoming very misunderstood, as he came across as a behavioural child. He would avoid school work in any way he could. He would also wriggle constantly if he was asked to sit for long periods.
"He was often asked to stay behind to complete his work as he was much slower to write from the board and process information. Deep down, I knew that it was his inner frustrations and finding his needs were not met that he displayed out of character behaviours.
"At the time, I didn't know what to do to help him. It then became my mission to speak for him, advocate for him, so that one day, he could do it for himself."
Ali's journey then began. She became a teacher aide at the local college, where she met a lady who was teaching a student.
That lady was a SPELD NZ teacher who came into schools during the school day to support children with learning differences. Ali was interested in getting this same support for her son.
SPELD NZ is a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in assisting people with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities (SLD). Dyslexia is a learning difficulty in reading that can make it difficult to read at a good pace and without mistakes and can also affect spelling and writing.
The charity provides diagnostic assessment and tuition for individuals of all ages with SLD so they can manage their disability and develop literacy and numeracy skills.
Ali says a quick phone call to SPELD NZ, and she was on her way to getting her son's needs met.
"I quickly became aware that they acknowledged and honed in on his strengths and taught to his weaknesses. From there, I didn't look back. His confidence grew, and the 'old Callum' was emerging again."
"My own interest grew in how his brain functioned as it was evident that his older siblings did not seem to learn in quite the same way. They just picked it up, and I'd ask why.
"So, my journey began where I took myself off to the University of Waikato to become a teacher. From there, I enrolled in the SPELD NZ training. It was here that the pieces of the puzzle started to connect for me of how Callum's brain was wired and how to accommodate him.
"I often felt with Callum, and now with the children I teach, they can sometimes have low self-esteem because they compare themselves against others around them.
"It's about making them feel confident that they can succeed and believe in themselves. Once you have that, you can start rebuilding those blocks from the foundations."
SPELD NZ takes sequential, cumulative steps, individual to the child's needs – taking students from the point of what they already know and sequentially building onward and upward from there.
With the help and support of SPELD NZ and a proactive mother, Callum was able to achieve NCEA Level 1 at the age of 16 years old and is now working and living his dream on the ski fields currently in Australia. He loves his life and is following his passions.
Ali says that children with dyslexia/dyslexic traits have many strengths that can take them far in life beyond the typical classroom setting.
"Callum's strengths were evident at a young age - his verbal skills, spatial awareness, creative mind and being an 'out of the box thinker'.
"These strengths meant that now he is out in the big wide world, his employers love him because he can relate to people really well, problem solve with ease and share his innovative ideas.
"It's these skills and strengths that sometimes do not get the value they deserve, yet these strengths are such an asset in my son's adult life. In regards to reading and writing, he has learnt the effective strategies to now independently support himself."
Ali is now a Structured Literacy Specialist teacher at Greenpark School and is SPELD NZ teaching a couple of days a week so she can help children and their families like others did for her son.
She finds her work the most rewarding career she has experienced and loves everything about it.
"The learning journey can sometimes affect the whole family in a variety of ways. Working alongside these families as they begin their journey, giving guidance and support tailored to their child's needs and as time passes, listening and observing progress is so enriching for the child, family and myself.
"The excitement and motivation after working with a child for a period of time, not only from the student but from the proud family members, is a major component of why I do what I do."
Ali says that supporting children through SPELD NZ has a snowball effect.
"Yes, it is helping children individually, but that is going to go on and help out our community in the long run with children having more confidence and being able to excel in school and then in their careers."
"SPELD NZ has been around for more than 50 years and has helped thousands of people, young and adult, over that time.
"It's an amazing community that want to do the right thing for our children for the future, with only the child and the family's best interest at heart. SPELD NZ provides the opportunities to learn the specific skills children need to reach their full potential.
"If you are at all concerned that your child might have a learning difficulty, head over to the SPELD website, and there you can complete a quick checklist or contact the SPELD NZ office – they will answer any queries you have.
"Be proactive, talk to their teacher at school regularly, and advocate for your child. Remember, your child has strengths that need to be nurtured and celebrated. Children progress forward at different rates, yet they still finish the race."
TECT recently funded SPELD NZ's Tauranga operations for the first time this year, with $10,000 in funding going towards the Financial Assistance Scheme for low-income families, equipment for a library project upgrade, and operating costs.
Sue Radcliffe is the Fundraising Administrator for SPELD NZ. She says TECT's contribution to their work is important as it ensures their assessments and programmes are accessible to low-income families.
"The Financial Assistance subsidies means we can help families would not be able to afford help otherwise. It costs $650 for a diagnostic assessment, which for low-income families can be out of reach.
"We charge a membership of $100 a year and $50 for low-income families. Some of our low-income families even have to pay this amount in instalments as money is so tight.
"As dyslexia has a genetic component, some of our parents are also dyslexic and trapped in low paying jobs or benefit dependent. Educating their children can break this 'familial cycle of poverty'.
"TECT's help ensures SPELD NZ can keep membership fees affordable as the real cost per family to provide the level of service that we do is approximately $430 per member. So, as you can imagine having a funder who is prepared to help with a contribution to fixed operating costs is extremely valuable to the sustainability of SPELD NZ services in Tauranga."
"We were running very low on funds in Tauranga, so for me as a fundraiser, it is a huge relief to receive our first grant from TECT."
To learn more about SPELD NZ, visit https://www.speld.org.nz/.