Teenager Matthew Strawbridge spreads the word on ‘powers’

ROLE MODEL: Inspiring other dyslexics has earned 15-year-old Matthew Strawbridge a Young New Zealander of the Year nomination.

Teenager Matthew Strawbridge is using his “dyslexic superpowers” to build a business empire and help others harness their own potential.

The 15-year-old Scots College student is 2015’s youngest finalist in the Young New Zealander of the Year awards, to be announced on February 25.

He was shortlisted last year for a Young Wellingtonian of the Year award, and was that night offered an on-the-spot internship by Xero chief executive Rod Drury.

He was at first dismayed to realise he had dyslexia aged 6. Kindergarten had been a breeze with its hands-on play, but at school words swam on the page, and writing was an uphill battle.

“I felt really stupid the whole time, which really sucked,” he said.

“I didn’t really want to tell teachers that I couldn’t do it. That didn’t sit well with me. In your mind it didn’t seem like there was anything you couldn’t do.”

Soon, however, he realised that his dyslexia had advantages, such as creative thinking and a thirst to find better solutions to problems.

“Everyone initially was like, ‘let’s fix this kid’. I was like, ‘hold up’. In some areas I’m good, I want to use my good areas, and excel in those.”

English is now Matthew’s best subject, with the help of a reader-writer. He and his father invented fun ways to learn spelling, using playdough or throwing a ball back and forth.

Aged 13, Matthew founded his first business, an education and inspiration website named “Dyslexia Potential”. He began running workshops to inspire dyslexic children to think of their condition as gifting them superpowers, much like blind people might have a heightened sense of smell. “It’s turning my struggle into a bit of a success.

“When I was that little kid I thought everything was impossible. The simplest task was the biggest task. I wish I could go back and change my whole world.”

Now Matthew is launching a career as a leadership mentor, and has run workshops for audiences of 130 people in Wellington and Auckland. He has travelled to global youth leadership summits, and is training in neurolinguistic programming. “After seeing what an impact I can have on dyslexic kids, I’ve started to think, ‘Why can’t I do that for everyone?’ “

The money he makes is reinvested in his business, but he aims to make a living from his work. “I’m not out there to make a profit, but if I was doing it for free it wouldn’t be sustainable.”

Wellington mother Susan Bates said Matthew’s workshops changed her dyslexic son’s life.

“In the space of an afternoon, it transformed his thinking from being embarrassed to be dyslexic and seeing it as a disadvantage, to seeing it in a different light, as a special club.”

Seeing a successful dyslexic role model was inspiring to her 11-year-old, she said.

“It was just amazing to see the smile on his face. It’s made a measurable difference to my son’s life.”