The Bristol Evening Post , October 31, 2005
Dyslexic academic Antonio Farruggia-Bochnak has made the leap from dunce to doctor. Now he wants to help others overcome the condition which proved such a handicap in his childhood. TOM HENRY reports on the self-help dyslexia website he has set up with his brother.
When he was young, Antonio Farruggia-Bochnak was labeled a dunce by a teacher who placed a cone on his head with a large ‘D’ scrawled on it, and made him stand in a corner for three days.
His crime? To fail to keep up with his class during a reading lesson. While others were forging ahead in the literary stakes, Antonio was still on ‘Peter and Jane’ books. He could barely spell his name and he was ten years old. While still in short trousers he had been written off by an education system which couldn’t understand why he couldn’t understand.
Overcoming the odds: Antonio Farruggia-Bochnak has set up a website to help people with dyslexia
Fast forward 30 years and Birmingham-born Antonio is coming to the end of a PhD study into dyslexia., the condition he suffers from and which was barely recognised in mainstream education until relatively recently.
From dunce to doctor is quite a leap, but it is one which Antonio has been determined to make since he pulled himself back from what was turning into a life of crime and violence – and realised he had more to offer than he ever thought.
Now he wants to share the skills and knowledge he has built up through years of study with other dyslexic people and with his younger brother, Alessandro, he has set up a website to do that. It was called previously: beesthewrongwayround.com [now known as DyslexicBrian.com] and the name will be familiar to dyslexics who are often asked ‘do you get your b’s the wrong way round?’
“It’s also a bit ungrammatical” laughs Antonio.”I think it should be ‘bees the wrong way around’. Typical dyslexic eh? Maybe it’s because i’m from Birmingham. We’d never say ‘around’, always ’round’.
Such technicalities might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but they do to Antonio. He has had to work hard to achieve what many of us take for granted -basic literacy and numeracy – and he’s determined that others should succeed where he once struggled.
The website which Antonio runs from an office in the Fishponds Trading Estate has been in the development stage for about six months and now, in its fourth version it has finally gone live.
Beesthewrongwayround.com is a highly-comprehensive source of information, both for dyslexics and non-dyslexics, and as well as sections detailing his own and other responses to the condition, the website offers paid one-to -one tuition for those who need real-time help and support via means of a webcam.
“We’ve done a test of this method,”says Antonio, “and it’s worked very well indeed. You can be anywhere in the world and if you are dyslexic and struggling with something- an essay or a dissertation or whatever it may be -we can help you. Dyslexic students in the UK can pay for support or tuition using their DSA (Disabled Student’s Allowance) and this is something we’re keen to promote.
“Of course, there’s no substitute for face-to-face tuition in the same room and the website is not going to replace that, but there are many people out there who for one reason or another can’t access the kind of specialist support they need, which is a sham. This is where we come in.”
Antonio knows how it feels to be confronted with what seems an enormous and frightening pool of words. When he was completing his first degree, the worry of writing essay sand dissertations used to cause him to loose sleep.
“I found it very hard to express myself,” he said, “and just couldn’t get my head around simple things like paraphrasing or quotes or references.
“I had a real understanding of the subject I was writing about and i really wanted to express something about it, but couldn’t get it out.”
In his youth Antonio had joined a boxing gym and the coach there became a mentor to hi, encouraging and supporting him through difficult times. Now, Antonio sees himself in that role, coaching and nurturing those people with dyslexia who feel like he did when confronted by words.
“I have a lot of empathy with other dyslexic people,” he said, “because I’ve been through it. And believe me, if I can learn to read and write and study for a PhD, anyone can.”
In addition to running [Dyslexia Support Service], Antonio is also keen to take his skills out on the road. He is looking for a venue, either a school, college, university building or a youth and community centre, in which he could facilitate a discussion group for dyslexic people, students, parents of dyslexic children or anyone else with an interest in the subject. He says there would be no charge for this; it is his way of sharing his knowledge and experience.
He also wants to become involved in the training of dyslexic employees on behalf of companies, and is already working with one company, HL Training in Fishponds, to help train forklift drivers who feel that their levels of literacy and numeracy may act as a barrier when they seek future employment.
“I’d be very keen to work with other training providers or companies to help them deliver a better service to dyslectics,” he said.
“As the research for my PhD has progressed I’ve become so much more aware of my own dyslexia,” said Antonio, “and I’ve come up with a seven-stage overview of how an individual first becomes aware of their literacy and numeracy difficulties to the stage where they have accepted it and are not frightened to deal with it.
“It’s a long process – it took me more than 20 years -but I’ve got there. And so can others, if they’ve got the determination to do it.”
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