Film says more than words

3rd September 2004 at 01:00
The DK-Kid encourages ethnic minorities to talk about dyslexia and reveals there is support out there. Jerome Monahan reports

Abdul Brown is tall, athletic and popular. But when auditioning at school for film director David Freiberg, he cannot cope with the speech he must read and his stumbling performance is greeted with derision.

All looks bleak until Abdul's dance teacher Renee suggests he may be dyslexic and encourages him to get an assessment. As he starts to discover the support that is available for him, Abdul's friends rally round, lobbying Freiberg into giving him another chance. All ends well at a dance show where Abdul tops his ace performance with an impassioned plea on behalf of those with dyslexia. Cue Freiberg with a contract and promises of Hollywood stardom.

This is the plot of the DK-Kid - an energetic, music-filled video designed to raise awareness of dyslexia among ethnic minority communities in which confusion about learning disabilities is rife.

The film's writer and producer Maxine Chantel-Igbinedion says: "In most ethnic communities education is highly valued. Unfortunately, the news that a child might have dyslexia is likely to be greeted with shame. And lacking the support they need it's all too easy for children, particularly boys, to become switched off to education."

DK-Kid's launch represented the end of a long journey for Maxine who struggled with her own dyslexia during her education in Nigeria. By dint of enormous willpower, she managed to achieve academic success. Working as a journalist covering a dyslexia conference in Manchester in 2000, she woke up to the need to promote awareness of the condition in a way that was likely to appeal to a broad spectrum of young people. It was a task that was to absorb the next four years of her life.

"The film has been extremely well received whenever it has been shown - including a screening at the House of Commons in March arranged by Oona King MP," says Maxine Chantel-Igbinedio. Oona King says: "The cute middle-class white girl who can't spell is far more likely to get the early diagnosis she needs. What DK-Kid shows is that the condition can affect anyone. It also reveals the kind of stigma that those experiencing the symptoms can face."

Dr Michael Thompson was one of the pioneers in winning the disorder recognition more than 20 years ago and was happy to feature in the video as principal of East Court, one of the UK's first dyslexia-specialist schools.

"Yes, it is a fairy tale in many ways," he says, " but if the film encourages one parent or teacher to consider that dyslexia might be the reason a child is having difficulties, it will have done its job."

One flaw might be the unflattering portrait in the film of a dyslexia support group, which clearly fails to inspire Abdul Brown. "I know this might be criticised," says Maxine Chantel-Igbinedio, "but Abdul is an active boy and sitting down and chatting about his feelings would be very alien to him. It was important not to turn him into an impossibly good character."

DK-Kid is also proving popular in schools and youth groups, prompting discussions that a more conventional treatment of the subject might not have been able to do. Maxine Chantel-Igbinedio says: "Dyslexia is an invisible disability. It can leave those with it feeling so misunderstood and isolated. But they are often very skilled, as I became, at masking their feelings with a smile."

There are two VHS versions of DK-Kid: a longer more youth-oriented version; and a shorter more interview-filled edition. Both come with an accompanying booklet, pound;25. Tel: Maxine Chantel-Igbinedion, 020 8985 9443

Email: or British Dyslexia Association Contact a Family, dyslexia information CBBC, What is Dyslexia? 001747089.stm

Dyslexia Association of London

Tel: 020 7407 0900 (Tuesday-Thursday, 10-12 and 2-4) East Court School

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