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‘We are stopping youngsters from achieving their true potential’ – IT entrepreneur on how dyslexia went undiagnosed for years


Robert James Gabriel

Robert James Gabriel

Robert James Gabriel

AN IRISH IT entrepreneur who was warned he should quit school to focus on an apprenticeship after his dyslexia went undiagnosed for years has warned that talented Irish children are still falling through cracks in the education system.

Robert James Gabriel from Cork issued the warning as he said he was "deeply concerned" to read in the Irish Independent that children with special needs are still struggling to secure the class places they are entitled to.

The Blarney native - who has been stranded in Ireland by the Covid-19 lockdown with his US wife, Courtney - said he wanted to highlight the issue given his own experiences.

In one county, there were nine applications for just three places in a special support class - with one family being warned they may have to seek a school place in a different county for their autistic son.

Robert sat his Leaving Cert in 2009 - and went on to a glittering career in the IT sector, working firstly with Teamwork.com before founding his own education support service, Helperbird.

Helperbird now supports almost 400,000 weekly users hailing from over 110 countries - and Robert was listed by the influential publication, Forbes, as one of the key young software engineers within the IT sector.

His IT development makes the web more accessible and productive – offering dyslexia support as well as text-to-speech, ad removal, dictation, immersive reader, overlays and reader mode.

"My dyslexia went undiagnosed for years. My family was basically told I should drop out of (secondary) school as it was clearly not for me. They were told I should pursue a trade or maybe an apprenticeship," he said.

But Robert's mother, Marybeth, who is American, refused to accept that.

With the support of Robert's father, Jim, she repeatedly demanded that her son be given a proper education assessment – and eventually it was realised he was dyslexic.

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Once he received the dyslexia support his studies needed, it was realised he was gifted at maths and computer programming.

He went on to earn an honours degree at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT, now MTU) and began a meteoric rise within the software sector. Now, Robert has offered the services of Helperbird to Irish users free gratis.

"It is my way of saying 'thank you' to all the people here that helped me. I'm proud of being Irish and I wanted to help Irish students who found themselves in the same position as I did," he said.

Anyone who registers with Helperbird who has an Irish address, will not be charged for the services used.

Robert contacted both education officials and politicians in Ireland with the same offer to be rolled-out via primary and secondary schools but didn't even receive a reply.

"What prompted me to speak out was the realisation that what I went through over ten years ago is still happening to youngsters today. We are basically stopping youngsters from achieving their true potential."

Robert warned that the ultimate cost will be paid by the Irish economy through the avoidable loss of future entrepreneurs, inventors and business leaders.

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