Irish exemptions: Dyslexics are not ‘cheats’ or trying to ‘game the system’

Opinion: Students with dyslexia have real reasons to be exempt from the study of Irish

I am a loud dyslexic. I have been dyslexic for all my 28 years, but I have only been a loud one for some of that time.

Maybe I am a loud dyslexic because of my job as information and advocacy coordinator for the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI).

However, recent weeks have made me reflect on why I speak about my learning difficulties, why I feel so strongly that people with hidden disabilities need to shout about them, and why we must fight so hard to be heard.

Earlier this month, information reached us via The Irish Times that the Department of Education was reviewing rules around how students can access an Exemption from the compulsory study of Irish.


This was disappointingly accompanied by reports that people with dyslexia are apparently ‘gaming’ the system and unfairly accessing this accommodation.

The narrative that people with invisible disabilities are somehow ‘cheating’ is shocking and worryingly prevalent.

Anecdotal tales of psychologists routinely handing out exemptions from Irish are not only offensive but also ignore key truths about Dyslexia and the real and harmful impact that it can have on the lives of children and adults who are living with it.


This narrative serves to diminish the struggles of people who have no physical signs of their difficulties. It discourages us from standing up for ourselves. It helps to make us feel that the help that we need and deserve somehow makes us ‘cheats’. It services to keep us quiet and ashamed.

I work with children with dyslexia as young as nine years old who are taunted with slurs such as ‘faker’ when they leave Irish class or go for extra tuition. Kids feel comfortable bullying other children like this because we have made it ok to do so.

We have created this environment, and I fear that sustained scaremongering about ‘cheats’ will only create a worse school atmosphere for our young people.

Access to an appropriate education is a basic human right for everyone and that includes people with Dyslexia.

The voices of people with dyslexia should be central to any review process from the very beginning stages. We are disappointed that has not been the case thus far.

Too long have dyslexic people in Ireland lived with the consequences of rules and criteria that they had no hand in creating and not surprisingly, it is these very same systems which are failing them. Apparently, the disability rights battle cry of 'nothing about us without us' has fallen on deaf ears when it comes to hidden disabilities.

Our assoication has been asking for many years that the Irish Exemption guidance be reviewed. It is vital that in the forthcoming consultation process group such as ours be included as the voice of people with dyslexia.

For those who care to know the facts, we can explain how dyslexia creates an exponential challenge of having to learn two reading and writing codes.


We can explain how relieving a child of this mandatory requirement lessens the burden of learning, reduces huge stress and anxiety, and allows maximum progress in one language.

We can also again explain how this does not preclude future second or third language learning.

For those who want to know how to develop better criteria, and respect the human rights of people with dyslexia, please listen.

Listen to an adult dyslexic who fell through the cracks of a broken education system.

Listen to a parent of a dyslexic child who is at breaking point from anxiety. Listen to a wise nine-year-old with dyslexia who already feels the sting of inequality.

You might even listen to a loud dyslexic who has managed to make it through. The key would be to listen to us.

Just listen.

Amy Smyth is information and advocacy coordinator for the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (DAI)