What it’s like in S’pore’s mainstream school system with ADHD & dyslexia, according to a 10-year-old

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership | April 13, 11:17 am


Mothership and The Birthday Collective are in collaboration to share a selection of essays from the 2018 edition of The Birthday Book Jr.

The Birthday Book Jr is a collection of essays about Singapore by 54 children, mostly five to 13 year olds, from various walks of life.

By showcasing the diversity of young voices in Singapore, these essays also discuss our collective future as a nation.

10-year-old Kristy Seah contributed an essay, “The best I’ve done is the only way I’ve done”, sharing her experience growing up with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her essay is reproduced here:


By Kristy Seah

For all my life until I was nine, I had only been in a Singaporean school setting.

According to the doctors, I had dyslexia and ADHD. I was failing in school.

Teachers would tell me to “try harder”

Even though I tried, I felt like I couldn’t get anything right. It was hard for me to sit down. It was hard for me to read. It was even harder for me to finish my assignments.

I was overwhelmed whenever exams came around. I was always the first to finish the exam papers not because I knew all the answers but because I gave up.

I didn’t want to fail anymore because it disappointed my teachers and parents, although my parents never got really upset with me.

The teachers would tell me, “Try harder next time”, but how could I have told them that I had already tried my best? I didn’t know any better.

A year behind in international school

My parents wanted me to learn better. They went through a lot of effort to get me into an international school. Singaporean children are not allowed in such schools unless they have a very good reason to be there.

When I started grade 3 at the international school, they told me that I was a year behind all the other kids my age.

They spoke much slower and there were less children in each class so I felt less overwhelmed. I was given extra time to finish tasks and exams, which was a huge relief for me.

Nobody really understands how hard it is to complete an exam paper for someone like me.

Sometimes, you can’t just tell kids to “try harder”

When I grow up, I would like to teach kids who may not be able to learn like everyone else. I think kids need to really understand something without being rushed.

I find it easy to teach my little brother because I try to help him understand something, especially if it’s difficult for his age.

Kids need encouragement and I know how it feels to need that.

You can’t keep telling kids “Sorry, you just need to try harder next time”. Sometimes, that’s really the best they could have done.

If you happen to be in the education space and think this essay may be suitable as a resource (e.g. for English Language, General Paper or Social Studies lessons), The Birthday Collective has a new initiative, “The Birthday Workbook”, that includes discussion questions and learning activities based on The Birthday Book essays. You can sign up for its newsletter at bit.ly/TBBeduresource.

Top photo by Anastasia Dulgier via Unsplashed.

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