International dyslexia links with a laptop

6th July 2001 at 01:00
An 11-year-old boy's website has gained a global following among his fellow dyslexics. Chris Fautley reports

When Barnaby Blackburn searched the internet for help with his dyslexia he did not find many sites; and those he did come across were, in his opinion, not that good. So he decided to create his own.

Barnaby, 11, a student at St Bede's Preparatory School in Eastbourne, had already learned about website design at an after-school club; and he was no stranger to computers as he uses a laptop in some lessons and has completed a touch-typing course. So while friends were planning websites about favourite footballers and cartoon characters, Barnaby was developing a site which, he says, will "help other dyslexics who have the same problems as me".

www.iamdyslexic.com is a website of great candour and variety, entirely of Barnaby's making, where he reveals how he has tackled dyslexia as well as offering the chance for fellow dyslexics, parents and teachers to share their thoughts and experiences.

Barnaby's English teacher, Sally Collins says: "It's amazing. It's great because nobody has gone in and corrected the spelling mistakes he makes." She believes this is important for other dyslexic children who are reading it - simply because it demonstrates that here is somebody who is "quite happy to go international and not be afraid to make spelling mistakes".

She says: "As an English teacher I find the website very interesting because it gives me much more of an insight into what's going on with dyslexic children than I might gain by trying to talk to them. These children are freely talking to each other. It's been very helpful."

The site has more than a dozen sections covering issues as diverse as computers, typing, Barnaby's life story, Good amp; Bad ("Things I find easy, things I find hard"), and quizzes.

Barnaby works on the site for several hours each week and the content is regularly updated. For example, in the Books section he has explained how he found Listening Books, a charity that lends out tapes.

He has been asked to help with research into dyslexia, (interactive experiments have appeared on the site), and to try new merchandise, which he reviews in the Products section.

Barnaby's endeavours have reached huge audiences - he has had e-mails from all over the world. Check out the mnemonics that have been sent to him in the Spelling section, his favourite.

Sally Collins says: "It highlights for me that there is an awful lot out there that still needs to be done if people from all over the world are still contacting this sort of lifeline."

The site's popularity has also made an impression on Peter Barclay, head of ICT at St Bede's. "It's one thing having a website, but if nobody knows where it is it's pointless," he says, adding that publicity is the key area in which Barnaby and his family have done so well. (A short news item on local television led to a deluge of e-mails.) The publicity has also benefited Barnaby, says Janet Jenion, head of learning support at the school, with whom Barnaby has a weekly 40-minute session on spelling. It has shown him that "it's OK to be dyslexic, that actually it's not a big thing".

Barnaby is surprised by the site's success and some of the e-mails he has received, especially from children who say they are having problems with their teachers. He says he has done his best to reassure them.

St Bede's head, Christopher Pyemont, says: "He has put a lot of work into it. He thoroughly enjoys it and it's done him a huge amount of good." Barnaby's spelling and confidence have been helped enormously.

The site makes compulsive reading and is, above all, fun. It also demonstrates the power of the web, having put Barnaby in touch with a huge number of people, which could not have been achieved by other means, says Sally Collins. She says it has given him the confidence to know that there are children all over the world in a similar boat. "It's rather like having a club," she says.

* E-mail Barnaby via his website at www.iamdyslexic.com He is particularly keen to receive hints and tips for his spelling page

* St Bede's School: www.stbedes.e-sussex.sch.uk

* Listening Books, 12 Lant Street, London SE1 1QH. Tel: 0207 407 9417.

E-mail: info@listening-books.org.uk Web: www.listening-books.org.uk

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