Mai-Linn Holdt

I really depend on my DAISY books. They allow me to quickly review and replay text prior to tests, a feature my classmates envy.

Mai-Linn Holdt wearing a Bunad, a traditional Norwegian folk costume Mai-Linn Holdt's story is about the development of a "lost" little girl during her early school years, to a grown-up teenager taking responsibility and now organising training for other kids. Her story is both encouraging and inspiring. She finished her high school exams this year with excellent results, thanks to her hard work and access to DAISY textbooks. Mai-Linn has struggled with dyslexia. Her father, Hans-Christian, said that it has been quite a struggle, with many tears at times. Mai-Linn was born in China and adopted by the Holdts at the age of one. This is her story.

My name is Mai-Linn. I'm a 17 year old girl with dyslexia and I live in Norway. My dyslexia was diagnosed when I was 10. Thinking back at my first primary school years, my memory is nothing but a white cloud – with one exception – the breaks between lessons. I loved to play, climb high and run fast. The breaks really made me come alive. Back in the classroom I understood little of what the teacher said and would soon escaped back into my daydreams – the white cloud.

I was in the 6th grade when my parents took me to a lady who had many years of experience helping people with reading disabilities. After three weeks I managed to read my first sentence. Her approach started with the very building blocks and slowly combined those into words. Even if I knew the letters and the alphabet, I saw no logic in how they could form words that were expressed so differently from the sounds of the individual characters. At the age of 11 I slowly started to read. My growing interest in sports quickly wiped out the memory of frustrating hours in the classroom. Football gave me speed and strength while karate taught me the precision and calmness I needed to cope with the frustrating days at school.

Mai-Linn holding her dog LinusMy parents had already noticed my language difficulties when I was in the kindergarten. They frequently discussed their worries with the teachers during my first years at school. The answer was that this was quite normal and they "need not worry, some children just need more time". It was only after they insisted on an evaluation by the municipal training specialist, that dyslexia was diagnosed.

All of my homework involved my parents just as much as it involved me. They spent hours reading my books aloud and helping out with my writing. In the 5th grade they discovered that most of my books were available in the DAISY format. This was a service originally set up for people who are blind, but later it was also made available to pupils with dyslexia. As the school had to pay a substantial fee to buy the additional book format, it took some effort and time to get all the DAISY books I needed.

However, getting the DAISY books wasn't yet heaven after all. The books had to be played on a PC with software that didn't always work. The next two years were a frustrating struggle with books or a PC that did not work properly. The hopes I had of doing my own homework started to break down. My parents still spent hours with me getting through the lessons and my self-esteem was dropping.

With properly made DAISY books and a new DAISY player, things started to work. However, I still wanted my parents to read the books and to guide me in all sorts of homework. I had grown addicted to all their help and I just didn't want to stand on my own feet again. Finally, they decided not to read for me anymore, which forced me to start reading my DAISY books to find the answers to the homework questions. I was still keen to please my teacher with well done work and slowly realised that I had to take responsibility for my own schoolwork.

Mai-Linn and Arne Kyrkjebö speaking at the educational conference with screen presenting one of the slides from Mai-Linn's presentation; held in Kyoto Japan, February 2009I'm now finalizing my second year of high school and I really depended on my DAISY books. They allow me to be independent and do my homework without assistance. They also let me "read" fast and thus complete my work in reasonable time. DAISY books allow me to quickly review and replay text prior to tests, a feature my classmates envy. The result on my scores at school over the last 3 to 4 years has shown a remarkable improvement.

Should I have a wish for the future, it would be that a clever writer makes a foreign language book (like English) designed specifically with people who have dyslexia in mind. Learning a foreign language for me really is to start learning to read all over again. So while DAISY is perfect for reading "information" subjects in your mother tongue, it's of little help when it comes to learning a totally new language. That book would probably have to use the same method as the one that helped me learn to read – starting with the simplest building blocks of the language and combining them successively into simple words, and with "over-learning" with lots of repetitions and speaking exercises.

By now, it's about time for me to admit that my father has helped me write this story in English.

My parents soon joined the Dyslexia Organisation in Norway. It's an important resource centre especially for families who have children with dyslexia. The organisation arranges seminars on topics like the rights of pupils, managing self-esteem, availability of useful computer software, the dyslexia-friendly school, as well as giving homework support, youth meetings etc. Today I'm a youth representative at both the national and local level, and arranging courses for youth in the use of computer programmes.

Mai-Linn standing in the foreground, with a temple in the background, Japan, 2009 Knowledge of helpful computer programmes is scarce amongst teachers. I'm therefore often invited by schools to demonstrate the most frequently used applications useful for dyslexic kids. Another request has been to tell teachers the story of having dyslexia. In the summer of 2008, when I was 15, I was asked to speak at an international meeting in Oslo. It turned out to be a DAISY Consortium meeting. Fortunately for me, people from the DAISY Consortium taped the event and had it translated into Japanese. One day before Christmas the telephone rang with an invitation from the President of the Consortium, Mr. Hiroshi Kawamura, to come to Kyoto, Japan to tell my story at an educational conference. It was the best Christmas present I could have! For me, my struggle with dyslexia suddenly turned into an opportunity.

My wish is really that kids with reading disorders no longer experience a childhood with low self-esteem, and as long as DAISY technology is available, it is possible. Dyslexia should be recognised as a disability and the kids be given early access to DAISY textbooks to motivate them and allow them take charge of their own situation. If it's true that kids with dyslexia develop smarter and more innovative ways for solving problems, then this is the time to get us through school with our heads held high, ready to deliver creative solutions to future employers around the world. The cost of DAISY support today is but a fraction of the future cost to society of a lost intelligent and creative mind.

Editor's Note: During the last 7 months Mai-Linn has been very active:

  • lecturing at a local data course in Alta, Finnmark in January
  • organizing by herself a 3-days data course in March with 20 kids attending
  • meeting with the Minister of Education in April to promote increased use of DAISY books in schools
  • financing another data course to be held in the fall for kids with dyslexia

Mai-Linn will also be a speaker at a DAISY conference that will be held in Oslo this August (arranged by the Norwegian Library of Talking Books and Braille – NLB).

Mai-Linn Holdt, featured on Norway's TV2 News, 2010Hans-Christian Holdt, Mai-Linn's father (who helped her to write her story in English for the DAISY Planet) summed up their trip to the conference in Kyoto as follows: "It was a memorable week of meeting people, visiting historic places and finally meeting kids at the conference and proudly giving her speech. To me, as her father, it seemed like the opportunity of going to Japan to speak, outweighed all the struggle she had had over her 10 years at school. Today hard work and DAISY books have resulted in grades she formerly only could dream of." Mai-Linn's story is well received, wherever she tells it.
Photo credit: courtesy of TV2 in Norway

Earlier in June Mai-Linn was interviewed and featured on the Norwegian national television news regarding a proposal to cut state spending for computers for pupils with dyslexia. Also appearing in this newscast was the leader of the opposition party and the Minister of Education. A video of the national news broadcast is available online – it is of course completely in Norwegian.