In the 1970s young children who could not speak or comprehend clearly were quickly labeled. There was little literature and few options for families, who often were left with a diagnosis of ‘slow’, ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’.
In the mid 70s, at the age of three, Andrew Fildes was not speaking and despite hearing tests showing no problem, he had difficulty understanding what others were saying.
Frequent tantrums, constant touching and lining up of certain objects, repetitive questioning, and an inability to establish friendships drove young Andrew’s life and confounded his parents.
Over the years newer terms emerged – ‘language delay’, ‘language disorder, ‘dysphasia’, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Language Learning Disability (LLD).
With the technical issues around learning to be circumvented, Andrew encountered many more unanticipated challenges. Being seriously bullied led to ongoing mental health struggles, anxiety, depression and battles with suicide. He credits creative and physical elements such as music, the band, drama, and sport in helping him overcome many of the tribulations that he faced – a not uncommon scenario for LLD sufferers in managing daily challenges at school and in their lives.
With unfailing support and dedication from his mother, and after attending specialised language units, extensive speech therapy and a specialist program, Andrew improved drastically and successfully completed Year 11 of the VCE in 1990.
Despite some academic challenges, Andrew had an outstanding history of achievement throughout his school years and later completing two TAFE courses in Business and Hospitality. He received numerous awards for excellence in Community Service and his accomplishments are described in the book Rudy and Friends in Chapter Two, Striving for Excellence - The Andrew Fildes Story.
Andrew’s greatest academic achievement however, was that he fought and won to overcome his Language Learning Disability. Despite some difficulty still with reading, writing, and spelling, he has an interesting and fulfilling job as a Cargo Freight Broker Bookings Manager. It requires a high level of oral communication skills, excellent organisation and planning, and requires that his excellent ability with numbers and knowledge of geography to track movements of freights across the globe and is responsible for ensuring cargo arrives safely at its destinations around the world.
In 1994, Andrew came across the film Rudy (Tri Star pictures) based on the life of Rudy Ruettiger - a man with a Language Learning Disability, who never gave up on his dream to play football (grid iron) for the University of Notre Dame.
This gave Andrew the inspiration and the courage to establish the Andrew Dean Fildes Foundation in 1996 to provide services for people throughout Australia with LLDs as SHINE. Ruettiger became patron of the new foundation, together with actor Sean Astin who portrayed Rudy in the film.
Andrew’s dream is ensure that every child in Australia, their families and teachers have the resources to overcome Language-Learning Disabilities. A regular speaker, his talks inform, promote, inspire and seek funding, which aim to build community awareness of LLDs, the Foundation, its goals and programs. More than 20,000 people have heard in speak at Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, university graduation ceremonies and international conferences throughout Victoria and Australia.
Almost everyone can relate to Andrew’s story of frustration, anxiety, challenges and triumph by never giving up. Almost everyone has, or has known someone, with similar obstacles. For over 20 years he has dedicated his life to the Foundation and its work. Most importantly, he has provided inspiration and real assistance to change the life of thousands of families, and continues to do so.