Overcoming the Obstacles


As a 12-year-old, Nick Calder struggled to write. But SPELD NZ teaching helped him learn to work around his dyslexia and dysgraphia. He’s recently moved to China, learnt a new language and is doing his master’s degree in Mandarin. He shares his inspiring story.

“I always struggled with getting things down on paper. I knew from a young age that my spelling, writing speed and legibility weren’t as good as they should be. I had the most difficulty during high school. At that time computers were not widespread in the classroom so I still had to write most assignments by hand.

I would see my brother and sister writing and compare their work to my own. Needless to say, the comparison was less than flattering. I think the funniest memory was of me aged 22 and my father at the age of 49, comparing the legibility of our hand writing to my 9-year-old brother’s. My father and I looked at each other, laughed and said, ‘Well, we won’t be doing that again, will we?’

“I first went to SPELD when I was 12. After having a full diagnostic assessment, I finally understood that my issues were very specific and my wonderful SPELD tutor, Iris Hambling, taught me coping strategies. These have become second nature now, and to this day I see any academic issue through this lens. How can I work around the issue I have or learn more efficiently?

“After leaving school, I studied political science and economics at the University of Auckland. I got help from the University’s Disability Services department. They would arrange note-takers for me – this was before laptops were as portable as they are today – and organise any special conditions required for tests or exams. They also encouraged me to go to Student Services seminars on essay writing and reading, which helped me make my essay writing more formal and coherent. Thanks to this support, I graduated with a BA in Political Science, and a Postgraduate Diploma (with Merit) in Political Science.

“Last year, I decided on a radical change. I moved to China and I’m currently living in the city of Xuzhou in Jiangsu province, where I have been studying Mandarin in preparation for my Master of Public Administration degree.   All classes are in Mandarin.

To this day, I still use the tools my SPELD tutor taught me – they are lifelong coping skills.

“Before I moved to China I knew absolutely no Mandarin whatsoever, but five months after I arrived, I completed my Chinese proficiency exam, the HSK4, which is required to enter university. The HSK4 is a vocabulary of at least 1200 Hanzi (characters) and involves reading, writing and listening.  The biggest challenge for me has been the grammar and writing the characters with my terribly dyspraxic handwriting. Fortunately, there aren’t many different sounds in Chinese, just tonal differences, so writing on a computer can be quite easy. Also, reading Chinese doesn’t require you to sound things out, just to remember the meaning of each character.“There is very little awareness of dyslexia in China. Most people here have never heard of it, or they just think it means you’re bad at reading. Generally speaking, you are not allowed any special conditions at university in China, which is why I entered my studies here at the master’s level where there are no exams. Instead, everything is based on written essays, which are much easier for me to cope with.

“My dyslexia and dyspraxia mean I still face many challenges.  I always have to proofread my work and edit heavily from my original writing style. This can be challenging and frustrating at times, as I truly love research.  Without that first assessment by SPELD and all the help since, I don’t know if I could have achieved the way I have. To this day, I still use the tools my SPELD tutor taught me – they are lifelong coping skills