When I was 11, I cheated on a spelling test. Our teacher was on the warpath, and anyone who failed the test was going to be in serious trouble. I'd done my best to learn the spellings – but my brain just wasn't wired that way. To me, the list of words was a jumble of random letters that swam about on the page.
So I cheated. My friend Lorna who had helped me revise for the test on the bus that morning shifted her body in the chair next to mine so that I could easily see her paper. She gave me an encouraging glance. I bit my lip and for the first and last time in my life, I cheated.
Predictably, our ferocious teacher caught me stealing Lorna's answers. And boy, did she let me have it. I was made to stand in front of the class to repeat the test orally. Knowing I would fail, she made me spell out each word on the list as my classmates jeered my obvious idiocy. She called me stupid and lazy and joked hat I had a brain like a sieve. I was crushed.
What I didn't know back then, was that there was a good reason that the letters swam about on the page. I was neither stupid or lazy, I was dyslexic.
Dyslexia is a learning difference that affects as much as 10 per cent of the population. It impacts some of us more than others and can show up in different ways. Most dyslexics report difficulty with reading and writing and many of us have a hard time with spelling.
Sadly, although we know a lot more about dyslexia than we used to, the education system hasn't moved on much at all. In fact, my experience of being made to feel like an idiot is common amongst dyslexic children.
State and national dyslexia support groups want to change that. They want to raise awareness and create change across Australia. The Make it a Red Letter Day competition 2016 and 2017 encouraged children with diagnosed or suspected dyslexia to write a heartfelt letter to someone they believed could influence change, such as a politician, teacher, principal or celebrity.
They deliberately used the colour red because many of us have negative associations of our work being corrected in red pen (I vividly remember reading words like 'lazy!' in my margins). Now dyslexic kids can take the colour back.
The campaign encouraged everyone who is touched by dyslexia - parents, siblings, teachers and tutors - to also write their own red letters to help show all sides of living with dyslexia. Over 100 children submitted letters along with poignant letters from parents who have witnessed their child struggling.
The letters have been collated online and make for emotional reading. (Link to My Red Letter)
Ten-year-old Dylan writes: "I found my written work hard and when I didn't do my work the teacher thought I was naughty because I could answer questions well when speaking.
"If I did not know what to do they left me and made me try and do the work at lunch so I could not play. They weren't kind to me and at times would shout at me."
Likewise, nine-year-old Callie writes: "Sometimes other kids tease me because I can't write very good. I cant (sic) read as well as the other kids. I feel upset when I have to talk in front of other people.”
Many dyslexic children have a tough time at school, but there are some easy solutions that would drastically improve life.
Jodi Clements, president of the Australian Dyslexia Association (ADA), says that better awareness for schools and teachers would be a good starting point. "With the right kind of teaching and support, students with dyslexia can learn and succeed. Many individuals with dyslexia when understood and supported can go on to do amazing things," she says.
I also believe that dyslexic children can help to raise awareness. By recognising dyslexia as a difference, not a curse, they can show the world that they are just as bright as their peers. I wrote My Red Letter to a family friend, 10-year-old Tommy. I've left my spelling uncorrected – because I want to show dyslexic kids that even professional writers make mistakes.