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Greer Berry 05:00, Jan 19 2020

Mikalah​ McAloon isn't dumb.

Despite being told that she wouldn't succeed throughout her education, her family relationship with dyslexia has meant that McAloon knows better than that.

The 25-year-old bubbly Manawatū farm girl, who has dyslexia, was once told by a teacher that she would never pass any NCEA levels, let alone get a chance at university.

But the mother-of-one has pushed back at those labels, which saw her disconnect from a schooling system she says let her down in more ways than one.

"Mum got me tested when I was about 7, but that didn't really make much of a difference. I didn't have the best experiences."

Teachers didn't know how to deal with McAloon, who appeared disinterested and distracted from learning.

"I wasn't really interested in school. I was there for sports mainly," she says, laughing, adding that the hockey turf was her preferred place during her teen years.

"I used to hide it a lot. I was ashamed. I remember others getting picked on."

It wasn't that she didn't want to learn, she just had trouble understanding letters and words, and her concentration levels meant often information wouldn't be retained easily.

"I don't really see words moving. There's just something wrong there."

Speech-wise she struggled to say words such as "thumb", and she would get mixed up with letters like d and b, and g and j.

"I can't concentrate properly. If I read a book, I get halfway through a page and then I have to go back and start again because it just has not gone through."

McAloon struggles to describe how dyslexia manifests for her, which makes sense because, to her, it is her own version of normal.

"I sound words out, but it doesn't come to me the way it should."

From a young age she had always been aware of dyslexia – her brothers and father have also lived with it.

"Dad just said: 'Prove everyone wrong, that's all you can do', so that's pretty much what I did."

McAloon said she also gained support from her brother who, despite his difficulty with reading, has a double degree and works in viticulture.

So far, she has completed a computer graphic design degree from Waikato University as well as an agri-business diploma.

Although McAloon wasn't interested in her degree topic, she said she pursued it "just to prove the teacher wrong again".

"I'd love to go back and tell her what I've done."

McAloon employed a number of techniques, many involving technology, to assist her with her studies and day-to-day life.

She uses the microphone on her phone to sound out words she's not familiar with, and uses audiobooks and reader-writers to assist her during exams and with written work.

And despite the extra work required for her to further her education, McAloon remains steadfast in her goals of wanting to go further in farming – a family passion.

She's also committed to supporting her newborn daughter's future education and said if she too has dyslexia, she hopes she will have the extra support she missed.

"I'm going to be putting her into everything I can so she doesn't have that pressure on her at school," she said.

"I wish I had a bit more support from schools. 

"We learn differently and teachers just need to find that way, alter their way sometimes, and not just throw you to the bloody side all the time."

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