Disabled (10) Learns to Read and Write in 60 Days

After a long battle and many tears, Sonja (10) from Brits reads aloud to prove that she can now read.

The Department of Education said it’s not possible. VIRGINIA KEPPLER reports.

This article (translated) appeared in Beeld on 7 April 1995.

“Mom, why can’t I read?” Sonja Conradie (10) wanted to know after hearing her younger sister, Marna (9), read and seeing her write.

Sonja, who suffered brain damage after contracting meningitis and encephalitis as a baby, could not understand why her younger sister was able to read and write while she was not.

But within 60 days this vivacious girl learned to read and write and can’t get enough of this newfound blessing. “I am so glad that I can now read and write,” Sonja said. She looks like a normal child, her disability not visible.

Sonja now loves writing so much that all the books at home, even telephone books and diaries, are used to write on.

Since Sonja has learned to read and write the relationship between her and her sister is also much better. Sonja no longer feels ashamed, said Mrs Elna van Rensburg, her mother.

Although Sonja had been to several schools for disabled children, she failed to learn to read and write. It made her self-conscious and caused her to be reluctant to go to school.

“In November the Department of Education wrote us a letter and said that Sonja is exempted from school attendance. The department said she would never be able to read and write,” said Mr Herman van Rensburg, Sonja’s stepfather.

“I got together three other farmers in my neighborhood, who also had children with learning problems, and proposed that we change one of my barns into a classroom, and that we try to teach our children ourselves.

“Mr Deon van Zyl, principal of Sanddrift Primary School in the Brits district, offered us a classroom on condition that we ourselves employ a teacher and pay her salary.”

Mrs Ansie Compaan, one of the parents, agreed to teach the children. According to Mr Van Rensburg the only problem at the time was a syllabus that the children could follow.

“It is then that one of the farmers referred us to Dr Jan Strydom at the Centre for Dyslexia in Pretoria. He has developed a technique to help children with learning problems to concentrate and in this way learn to read and write.”

Mr van Rensburg said Dr Strydom, for example, uses coloured blocks, which he shows to the children for a certain time, and then they have to build a replica of what they have seen.

And today all four children, just like other schoolchildren, read fluently from their gr. 1 reading books.

Although Sonja is slightly paralyzed on the right side, she loves to play guitar and to sing.

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