Kirsteen Britten

Former International Model and
Davis Dyslexia Programme Facilitator

When did you first realise that you had a different way of thinking?
My first week at school. I realised that the other kids could get it and I couldn’t. At the time, I didn’t really understand that I had a different thinking style, and that made me feel dumb. I thought something was wrong with me.

How did you get involved in modelling?
I had a passion for travelling and was lucky enough to be 6 ft tall, slim and with the right look for that era. I entered the Miss Canterbury competition and won it. That gave me the experience working with cameras and on a catwalk. I then furthered my career overseas; London, New York, Paris.

What are the main work challenges that you have had to overcome?
When I travelled overseas, I still felt that I couldn’t read. I really learnt to read in the real world when I was in London, when I needed to use an A to Z to find my way around. I protected myself from anyone knowing that I couldn’t read well. A former boyfriend gave me a rabbit, and I’d get the newspaper to line the cage. The International Herald Tribute would contain snippets of New Zealand, and that really started me reading.    

When I had my children, I always carried with me a list of numbers in my chequebook – I could write the actual numbers, but couldn’t spell them out alphabetically. I just didn’t want to be exposed. Any pressure and I would go blank. It wasn’t until my early 40s that I went back to school to try and overcome my learning difficulties. Only then was I emotionally at a place where could ask for help. The Davis Dyslexia programme gave me an understanding of my natural learning process. I didn’t feel dumb anymore, and found there was something I could do about it. It brought meaningful change in my life – it opened all these doors that I had kept shut most of my life.

What do you think are some of the positives and negatives of dyslexia?
Being able to see the big picture. It’s very useful when I’m organising events, I can see how something will work before it’s even done. You also have visual and spatial awareness. There’s great sensitivity, and the artistic creative side is very strong in me.

As for the negatives, that came from the confusion with symbols. As a child I’d feel confused, embarrassed, and that would lead into a spiral of low self worth. I had no understanding of how I could learn and support my learning style. I was limiting my own life while on the surface appearing very confident.

What advice would you give young New Zealanders who are dyslexic?
They need to understand that there’s nothing wrong with them. They have a gift – an alternative way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to get help. There are ways for them to reach their full potential in life. For me, it was the Davis programme. It changed my life and my children’s lives as well. It has made such a difference that I am now a Davis programme facilitator.

Click here to return.