Matthias was diagnosed with dyslexia in primary school. He survived Singapore's demanding education system and went on to graduate with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. Feeling lost at one point as to what he should do after completing his National Service, he decided to give a shot at metal fabrication, a trade he was exposed to at a young age by his parents. Besides working in the family business, Matthias also founded Baremetalco, a business with a focus on creative and artistic metal fabrication.
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Matthias Yong and I am 25 years old. I am a second generation, and probably one of the youngest metal fabricators, in Singapore. My parents are in the business of fabricating stainless steel kitchen equipment/industrial metal fabrications and I work full time in the family business. I also have a company which I set up about two years ago, called Baremetalco, that focuses on creative and artistic metal fabrication. I went through the Singapore education system, completed my N level, then graduated with a Diploma in Mechanical Engineering.
When did you first know that you have dyslexia and how was it brought up or the circumstance that led to the knowledge of your condition?
I cannot remember when I first knew I was dyslexic but I have the impression it was my P1 English teacher who told my parents I had learning difficulties and recommended that they sent me to DAS. I just thought I was slower and had to attend ‘special tuition’ at DAS. It was not until I was much older, between my upper secondary and polytechnic period, where I got curious about why I was different from other children, and started finding out more about the condition.
What was going to school like for you? What did you like/dislike about our education system from a dyslexic’s perspective?
Our education system is too academically focused. Opportunities are given based on grades. As I was always borderline in my studies, I did not get to choose what I wanted to study/do. Needless to say, school was hard for me, especially during lower primary, where I struggled with simple tasks like ordering food. I remember ordering from the same stall every day because I was scared or did not know how to order from other stalls. In class, I would get stressed out from reading a passage or writing the answer on the board as it would usually end up with my classmates laughing at my silly mistakes.
What kind of help or intervention did you receive for your dyslexia and what role did your parents/teachers play in supporting/encouraging you in that journey?
My parents enrolled me at DAS and I was there until I finished secondary school. Being exempted from taking a second language also helped, as well as having 15 minutes extra time during examinations. In my secondary school, there was a special needs teacher/counsellor whom I could turn to to talk about the problems and struggles I faced.
When did you start developing an interest in metal work and how did it begin?
My interest developed about three years ago. Although I have been helping out at my parents’ workshop during the school holidays since young, I did not quite enjoy it. Maybe my parents had in mind to equip me with a skill since I was not doing well academically and thought it might be useful.
In the last year of my diploma course when I knew that I did not do well enough to qualify for university, I felt lost. During my National Service days, I had time to think and reflect on what I wanted to do. Many people advised me to do what I am good at, so I decided to give metal fabrication a shot.
Dyslexics are known to be creative and have great perceptual talent. I understand you are into creative and artistic metal fabrication. What is it like for you when you are creating? What goes on in your mind, if you can describe for us? And what is your vision for Baremetalco?
Sheet metal fabrication is very similar to origami. In my creation process, I see the end product and I can rotate the object in different directions, much like what you see in those computer-aided designs. Sometimes I have to have an exploded view, where everything comes apart and I have to think of how to make and fit each part together. It is like pre-planning and walking through the process before actually getting down to doing it. I am not sure if it is my dyslexia but I can visualise things better and faster and I find that it benefited me a lot. Especially in customised fabrication where I am always creating something different each time.
My immediate focus for Baremetalco is sustainability. As I work in the family business, I begin to see the problems and issues the manufacturing/fabrication industry faces in Singapore. I started to think of ways to differentiate ourselves from others and how to continue operating in Singapore’s environment as more and more workshops are closing down. That was when Baremetalco was born. I realised that the more complicated it is to fabricate something, the better positioned we are in getting the job.
Although you are out of the education system, does dyslexia still affect you in any way, whether in your work environment or interactions with others? What are some of the struggles you still have to deal with?
One of my struggles is articulating my thoughts and expressing myself. Sometimes, what I said do not even sound right when I think about it. As for work, thankfully we express a lot through sketches and drawings. I still have self-esteem issue because of my earlier years of being dyslexic. I tend to be quieter, even now.
Do you think dyslexics are often misunderstood by others and what would you say to people who do not understand what being dyslexic is like?
I disclosed that I am dyslexic to friends only recently. I do not think they are bothered or see it as an issue but this was not the case when I was younger, where I would be made fun of and laughed at. Looking back, I would tell my classmates that we are a bit slower in learning, that is why we made those silly mistakes. I feel that who I am now is partly the effect of those past experiences I went through when younger, such as self-esteem issue. Tried as I might (my friends used to tell me to be more open), sometimes I find that my friends still do not understand my challenges.
Lastly, any words of encouragement or advice to give to our parents and dyslexic children?
While academic is important, I hope that parents can help their children discover what they are good at, their strengths and support them, help them develop further. I know the circumstances are different for each one but seeing how stressful our children have to go through in their academic pursuits, I would definitely encourage parents to find avenues to nurture their children’s creativity. I was fortunate that my parents exposed me to what they were doing since young. In similar ways, let your children explore and expose them.
To the children, do not let your grades define who you are. Try to pick up something you are good at, like a skill, along the way.
Do you know that dyslexia is also known by other names such as auditory processing disorder, orthographic processing difficulties, visual processing disorder or phonemic awareness deficit? What dyslexia is called often depends on the specialist carrying out the testing and the extent of their knowledge about dyslexia.
Have you ever wondered how dyslexia develops? This was one of the burning questions I have when I was researching on ways to help my daughter. I found the answer in Ron Davis' book, The Gift of Dyslexia.
The symptoms of dyslexia that we see in our children (omitting or skipping words or lines, substituting words, inconsistent spelling, ignoring or omitting punctuation marks, difficulty making certain speech sounds, poor sense of direction, problem with balance and coordination, frequent loss of train of thought, difficulty getting the sequence of thoughts down, etc) stem from their confusion with letters, common sight words, speech sounds, punctuation marks as well as math symbols and numerals.
When they reach their threshold for confusion, false sensory perceptions kick in which affect their vision, hearing, balance/coordination and sense of time, which then translates to mistakes.
Dyslexia is a big umbrella that covers different areas of weaknesses. It's not difficult to see intervention programmes or tools that are developed to target a specific area, depending on what that specialist's specialisation is, but what the child needs is a holistic approach to resolve the root cause of dyslexia.
An explainer video based on the book, The Gift of Dyslexia by Ron Davis which explains how dyslexia develops, signs to look for and solutions that help.
What is this gift that dyslexics have? Why must they be taught the way they think? What is causing them confusion that leads to the mistakes they make when reading or writing?
Many of us probably don’t take a second look at the psychological report after we received it from the educational or clinical psychologist, or we find that there are too many technical jargons in there that are beyond our comprehension.
How do we make sense of the FSIQ, what’s my child’s abilities in the areas of verbal reasoning, visual spatial, fluid reasoning, working memory and processing speed? Is my child evaluated using the WISC-V IQ test? How do I read the results?
I mentioned before that for a dyslexia diagnosis, a child’s IQ needs to be at least average. However, a below average IQ may not necessarily indicate the absence of a learning disability. Looking at the subtests would more meaningfully help us interpret the result. Ron Davis was labelled as “uneducatably mentally retarded” at the age of 12 but was later discovered to have an extremely high IQ of 137.
Here is an article that helps us understand IQ test scores. It’s important for us to know not just where our kids stand intellectually, but also what are their strengths and weaknesses. There are links to other articles at the end which provide additional reading materials if you are interested to know more.
The majority of children could tackle a question like this with ease. However, to those children with dyslexia, they may stumble over such question. Why is that so?
Dyslexics tend to think primarily in pictures and images as opposed to words. When they encounter certain symbols (and all words are symbols), they get confused by those whose meaning they cannot picture. These are often high frequency words that we use a lot of in the English language, such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘by’, ‘to’, etc. When they cannot begin to think with that word in picture, they do not know how to make sense of a sentence.
So in the example question above, a dyslexic may be confused by the word ‘from’. The child may be able to recognise and pronounce the word ‘from’ when he sees it, but he does not know the meaning and so he does not know what he needs to do to begin to solve the question.
After much drilling and repetition to no avail to help the child understand the question, the child is then told by a well-meaning parent or tutor that whenever he sees such questions, he just needs to take the bigger number and minus the smaller number. By doing so, the child is taught rote learning, rather than have real understanding or true mastery of the subject.
If we could acknowledge the child’s picture thinking style, we can help the child master the meaning of ‘from’ and let him create a picture of what it means. According to the American Heritage Children’s Dictionary, ‘from’ means beginning at, starting with. Once the child understands the meaning, he can now picture what the question is asking him to do.
Subtract 79 from 139 means that he has to begin at, start with (ie from) 139, and then minus or take away 79, in order to derive at the answer. Visually, he would be able to put 139 down on paper, followed by the minus sign and 79 below 139 and then do his workings to get to the answer.
By extension, a dyslexic child very often can’t do problem sums not because he does not have the skill to do arithmetic, but because he does not understand what the question is asking of him in the first place, as he can’t think with some of the words that are in the question.
More than 30 years ago, Ron Davis had it figured out that dyslexia is not something complex but rather, it is a compound of simple factors that can be resolved step by step.
He explained that dyslexia is actually a product of a dyslexic’s picture thinking style, their ability to see things 3-dimensionally and their unique way of reacting to the feeling of confusion when they see symbols that they do not recognise (and all words are symbols). Because of these 3 factors at work, dyslexics encounter the difficulties we see in them when learning to read, write and spell.
This video illustrates what picture thinking vs word thinking is like and why dyslexics do not seem to recognise the same word which they learnt just seconds ago and as a result, produced mistakes in their reading, writing and spelling. It’s only by understanding this then can we tackle the root of the problem.
Ron said that once we remove the reason why a problem exists, the problem ceases to exist. How simple and logical is that? Once I understood Ron’s explanation, I knew instinctively that he had the right solution and I did not hesitate to put my daughter through the Davis intervention programme.
Chef Khaled suffered a lot as a kid growing up in Egypt, especially in school. Not knowing that he is dyslexic, he was frequently beaten by his teachers for not doing well and was called stupid and other names by family and friends. That dealt a huge blow to his self-esteem. Not until he was diagnosed with dyslexia a few years ago did he figure out an explanation for what happened to him as a child.
Chef Khaled was very supportive when I approached him to share his story. He said that if what he went through could serve as an encouragement to someone, he would be more than honored to do so. You can also check out his restaurant at Wheelock Place and meet the man himself!
Could you share with us a bit of your background, where did you come from and what brought you to Singapore?
I was from Egypt. For the past 17 years, I have been working as a chef overseas and have travelled to about 19 countries. My last assignment was at the Four Seasons in Mumbai and Maldives. I met my Singaporean wife in Seychelles and in 2010, relocated to Singapore to work at the Shangri-La Hotel. Three years ago, I started my own restaurant called Pistachio, specialising in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. I am also an Ayurvedic chef.
I understand you did not know you were dyslexic until you were tested a few years ago, is that right? Could you tell us how that happened?
In 2012, I saw a doctor at Raffles Hospital for depression. Subsequently, I was transferred to another doctor who started asking me very detailed questions. After the three-hour session, I was told that I was dyslexic and that the cause for my depression could possibly stem from my dyslexia. To think that I merely went in for a depression consultation and came out with a severely dyslexia diagnosis! But it explains many of the issues I am facing.
Can you recall how studying was like for you when you were younger?
It was terrible. I got tortured in school. I disliked going to school since I was five, as I was afraid of getting beaten by the teachers, especially during exams. So I would run away. I never dared show my dad my exam result. I would hide the papers and tried to duplicate his signature. I even had to resort to paying the teachers in order to stop them from beating me.
I was getting frustrated in school because my other classmates were doing well. For me, I had to rely on memorisation and visualisation in order to be able to answer the questions. At a young age, I was not sure why I was like that. Was I really stupid? Nobody knew about dyslexia then. I struggled the most with Arabic and Mathematics but surprisingly, English was my best subject. I was also very good at drawing and painting.
How did your family and friends treat you?
I was humiliated by my family. They said I was stupid, playful, did not study and so on. As for friends, they did not care. They probably thought that I was stupid and did not mix with me. I was lonely in school. I did not have friends. I could not answer the teachers’ questions and I did not know what was going on in class. I was very scared. I just hid in one corner and kept to myself.
I have some adult dyslexic followers on my Dyslexia Support Group Facebook page, some of whom have not been diagnosed but suspected they may be dyslexic. They have their fair share of struggles at work. Could you share with us what are your struggles as a working adult?
Working in 5-star hotels means I had to take care of the paperwork, in addition to cooking. I had to conduct briefings in the morning, take notes and communicate with the different departments such as accounts and sales. As head of department, I also needed to communicate with suppliers from different countries through emails. This was the toughest part for me, reading and replying emails. It would take me a long time. What takes someone 10 minutes may take me an hour or more.
When speaking to me, I may appear to be looking at you but in my mind, I may be wondering what is going on in the kitchen. And often, people misunderstand us as being rude or impolite, as we may appear to be not listening. Given our curious mind, I am always looking around, especially when I am in the kitchen. I may suddenly hear a noise and tell a staff to go inside the chiller and check if the fan is working. Or I may smell someone overcooking the garlic. All these can distract me from whatever I am doing at that point in time.
Did you know that cooking was your passion and how did you discover your love for it?
After I completed my secondary school education, I enrolled in an agricultural school, firstly because my grades were not good and secondly, my family did not have the financial means to send me for other courses. My father had kidney failure then and was hospitalised. I was the eldest of four children and had to work to support the family.
I had a neighbour at that time who could not bear the thought of me going to an agricultural school, as it was for the gangsters and drug addicts. Instead, she enrolled me in the first culinary school in Egypt and told me she would pay for all the expenses for the three-year programme, which I am very grateful for. So I successfully passed the interviews and exams and was accepted into the school.
In that three years, my self-esteem went up. I love doing hands-on things and cooking works for me. In my first year of culinary school, when I saw the teachers cooking tasty meals and plating the food nicely, I told myself I wanted to be like them. I started picking up skills in choosing ingredients, using the different equipment, preparing and plating the food. My passion started developing from there and I found myself good at cooking. I considered myself successful as a chef.
As you know, dyslexics have many strengths, most notably, they are known for their creativity and imagination. What goes through your mind when you are creating a dish? Did your creativity and imagination have a big part to play in the cooking process?
Definitely. My imagination and creativity helped me a lot. I did very well in culinary school. As a trainee chef, I was given the chance to cook for the government.
When I create a dish, I put myself in the shoes of a customer. I think about whether the food tastes and looks good, is it healthy, will it benefit the customers and will they give positive feedback. These are all my considerations when I am creating a dish.
I understand you are an Ayurvedic chef and that you help people through food. I believe not many know what Ayurveda is. Could you tell us more?
Ayurveda means Science of Life. It is an Indian medical system that dates back more than 3000 years. Since young, I have always like healthy cooking. When I became a chef, I was given an opportunity to study Ayurveda in India which led me to create Ayurvedic cuisine subsequently. Ayurveda is very scientific. It looks at the root cause of an illness or disease and I help to rebuild a person’s health through the food they eat.
Being the owner of a restaurant, would you consider hiring someone who is dyslexic? Do you think there is discrimination in the society in general towards someone who has special needs?
I have no problem hiring dyslexics because I know how to work with them. There will inevitably be discrimination in society, especially if people do not know about the challenges that come with certain condition.
For example, when I was working in the hotels, nobody knew I was dyslexic. Whenever we had meetings, I sometimes did not understand their questions and might give an incoherent reply. That made people wonder if that was just the way I was or was it because of my dyslexia.
Hence I would make it a point to tell people that if I make a mistake, please excuse me because I am dyslexic. I prefer to let people know rather than let it be the cause of any misunderstanding. I also do not wish people to misjudge me.
Lastly, do you have any advice for our parents on how they can better communicate with or relate to their dyslexic children?
Parents need to always encourage and support their children if they want them to do well. Also, do not call them stupid. Even if the parents do not mean it, we take it very seriously. We are very sensitive.
We recognise dyslexia by the challenges it presents, but we must not forget its strengths. Dyslexics have the ability to think in pictures, perceive multi-dimensionally (using all senses) and experience thought as reality. They have vivid imaginations and heightened awareness of the environment. They are highly intuitive, insightful and more curious than average. Most importantly, they have the primary ability to alter and create perceptions, which make them very creative people.
Ron Davis, the man behind the Davis Dyslexia Correction Programme, taught himself to read at the age of 38. Thanks to him, his unique and revolutionary approach has helped many dyslexics learn to read and to overcome other difficulties associated with it. Read more about the history of the Davis methods and what sets Davis apart. Dr. Angela L. Gonzales, a pediatrician and licensed Davis facilitator also shared about the Davis Dyslexia Correction Programme in the video.
Working memory plays a big part in our cognitive functioning. Simply put, working memory is ‘memory in action’. We use that all the time on a daily basis.
This video explains what working memory is and the correlation between low working memory and dyslexia.