Dr Jia Jia: Having dyslexia doesn’t make you dumb

Singapore YouTube star Dr Jia Jia is a boy on mission ― he wants you to know dyslexia’s a gift…

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Dyslexics are people who face difficulty reading, writing or spelling. At least, this is the official definition given by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS). But talk to Singapore’s youngest YouTube star, Dr Jia Jia, and you’ll likely get a very different definition.

Enthuses Dr Jia Jia, actually named Chua Jin Sen, a cheerful bespectacled Primary 4 Maha Bodhi student, “People who have dyslexia are special in their own unique way ― it’s like a gift. But many people struggle with it and it can be hard at first, but it will get better in the end.”

Chances are, you’ll probably have heard of famous dyslexics like the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, actor Tom Cruise and billionaire Richard Branson.

Dr Jia Jia’s mum — who only wants to be known as Mrs Chua — first discovered that her then 5-year-old son had the condition back in preschool, when she and her hubby was called in to speak with her son’s teachers. “We had a feeling that they had something serious to tell us and both my husband and I were actually thinking it was going to be only good words.”

“I was in disbelief. He is a very smart boy and I just could not accept the news at that time ― his father was also shocked.”

To their dismay, the teacher told her that she noticed Dr Jia Jia was struggling in class. He had trouble recognising letters and couldn’t write his name. Chua says, “[Jin Sen] was so street smart that when the teacher instructed them to write their names on the top of the [activity sheet], he will look around and try to locate his water bottle, [which] was labelled with his name.” The teacher noticed on multiple occasions that he was trying to imitate the words.

Initially saddened by news of her son’s learning condition, Chua recalls weeping at the dining table. She explains, “I was in disbelief. He is a very smart boy and I just could not accept the news at that time ― his father was also shocked.” Dr Jia Jia gives his take on the challenges of being a dyslexic:

We saw the YouTube video you did on dyslexia, called My TGIF. Are there any plans to make it into a movie? How did you come up with the idea?

Dr Jia Jia Yes, we might make it to a movie. As you can see, there’re a lot of people outside struggling as dyslexics. Their dads and mums think they are stupid. But they are not. Just because they have dyslexia doesn’t mean they are dumb. They keep [punishing] their kids and calling them names but they don’t know that their kids are dyslexic.

Some dyslexics have problems with languages, others have problems with maths. How about you, which subjects are the toughest?

Dr Jia Jia English, when I was in Primary 1 and 2, I found it was very difficult. Chinese was difficult too. After primary three, English was easier but I still had trouble differentiating the nouns, adverbs and the adjectives. For mathematics, it was okay for me from Primary 1 till last year. Now, I find myself struggling a bit. For Chinese, I can speak it well but I am bad at remembering, writing and recognising the words.

Find out the one thing Dr Jia Jia wants to change about school…