What I learned at DyslexiFest

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Last Saturday, I escaped a drizzly afternoon by visiting Scotland’s first-ever dyslexia festival. The one-day event took place in The Lighthouse in Glasgow. Tucked down a wee lane, The Lighthouse is not the easiest building to find, but it is one of Glasgow’s architectural gems. It was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and it is officially Glasgow’s best cultural venue of 2019.

One of the cultural events taking place at the Lighthouse on Saturday was #DyslexiFest. This was an event put on by Dyslexia Scotland to “celebrate all things dyslexia”. There was lots of information for parents, teachers and individuals who have an interest in dyslexia.

Info tables lined the room, representing different organisations that have a role to play in supporting dyslexics. There were volunteers to chat to, a little ‘cinema’, workshops, and more free sweets and pens than you could fit in your handbag. Best of all, there was a volunteer permanently stationed at the building’s entrance to direct people to the right room – important when you consider how many dyslexics struggle with written signs, or maps, or both!

I know quite a lot about dyslexia – I have dyslexia myself, and I sometimes blog about life as a dyslexic. Even so, I learned a few new things at DyslexiFest, and now I am going to share them with you:

  • I’m not the only person who has days when they seem to be ‘extra dyslexic’! In fact, it’s very normal for difficulties to vary from day to day. It’s so common that a checklist of dyslexia signs included “some days I spell better than others”. So that’s a relief!
  • Children don’t need to have an official assessment of dyslexia to get extra help in Scottish schools. Schools are supposed to take a collaborative, needs-led approach. That means that as soon as any difficulties turn up, you can ask the school to provide extra support (if they haven’t already offered it themselves).
  • But you are entitled to ask for an assessment for your child, if you want. Because even if your child is already getting support at school, you may decide that you’d prefer to have an official assessment. For example, it could help your child to keep receiving useful support once they move on to higher education.
  • There’s a whole range of books specially designed for dyslexic readers, which you can order from any bookshop! They are not dumbed down, they just have dyslexia-friendly fonts, spacing and page colours (i.e. not dazzling white). They feature some big-name authors, too, like Alexander McCall Smith, Julia Donaldson and even Charles Dickens! They would be perfect for children (dyslexic or not) who can understand the language in their books, but struggle with reading dense pages. You can see the range here.

I came away from DyslexiFest with a big bundle of leaflets to pass on to my sister (whose 10–year-old is dyslexic). However, if you didn’t make it along and you would like to find out more about your rights and about the resources available, check out these websites:

Dyslexia Scotland (for everyone)

Addressing Dyslexia (for teachers and schools)

Dyslexia Unwrapped (for 8 to 18-year-olds)

Blog by Karen Murdarasi, guest blogger

 

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So, what do you do?

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“I don’t cut hair” Coronation Street barber David Platt said, dreamily, in a recent episode, “I shape destinies.”

Studies show that he’s got the right idea when it comes to getting job satisfaction. Some people dread being asked ‘so, what do you do?’ Rather than feel stuck in a rut, we can mentally re-frame our job so that we can love it, rather than leave it.

Part of the Bigger Picture

One famous fable relating to this involves architect and engineer Sir Christopher Wren asking three labourers what they were doing. The first said ‘I’m working’, the second said ‘I’m laying bricks’, the third exclaimed, arms upwards, ‘I’m building a cathedral’. The third of these workers saw the bigger difference their job was making and felt he was doing so much more than making a living. Not unlike the (perhaps) urban myth when President Kennedy is said to have asked a NASA janitor about his job. He told JFK, while sweeping the floor “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Do what you love

A true-life equivalent of this phenomenon was the supermarket bag-packer who had come to loathe her work. Run down and fed up, she craved a job where she could flex her social muscle and perform a role that enabled her to brighten people’s day. With help from a career coach, she realised a way to fulfill this was… to keep being a bag-packer. She saw an opportunity in her existing job that allowed her to use her key strengths, and her job satisfaction sky-rocketed from then on, as the focus of her day became, not about filling bags with groceries but about connecting with the customers she was serving, ensuring that her work, and the ways she engaged people, made their day better. Psychologist Martin Seligman highlights this example in his TED talk about finding authentic happiness.

Knowing your Strengths

But how do we get there, from loathing to loving our jobs? The secret is to know your strengths, to tap in to the things you do well, that make you feel happiest, and recognise the opportunities to put them in to play. This is something that Dyslexia Scotland’s Career Development Service explores with new clients, as career development isn’t just about getting a job, it’s about finding fulfillment, and sometimes that feeling is closer than you realise.

If you need a bit of help figuring out your top strengths, these self-understanding exercises are one way of helping you work that out.

VIA Strengths

Authentic Happiness questionnaire – available here.

What are your top strengths? How can you make the most of your top strength in your job, or even in your relationships and home life? How much happier would you feel overall applying those strengths?

Try it yourself. See what difference it makes to you. Tell us what changes you notice.

We have a drop-in career corner at DyslexiFest tomorrow (11am-1pm) where we’ll be chatting to people about making the most of their strengths.

Katie Carmichael, Career Coach

Dyslexia: Its time has come

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Creativity, problem solving, resilience: exactly the type of personal characteristics employers are looking for in an information-driven, post-industrial work environment.

When detail and minutia become challenging, we take to the higher ground and see the bigger picture. Story telling becomes a way of life when simple facts and data are difficult to absorb. Abstract thinking becomes natural when learning by rote passes us by.

So what better for the Information Generation, the social media frenzy and a workplace where automation has eliminated the grind of hard-written prose? Thank goodness for 180 characters for short and frequent message passing, and the prominence of visual media.

Does this sound like a disability? Does this sound like slow, stumbling or dim? Is this what we think when we hear ‘dyslexia’ ?

Today we understand the neuroscience, psychology and personal impact of what once was a life-sentence to deselection and under-achievement. We now have a whole suite of coping and learning strategies that allow dyslexic individuals to contribute and flourish in the modern world. The world is catching up with dyslexic strengths.

Dyslexia Scotland has developed a comprehensive programme of awareness, action and support for dyslexic individuals in Scotland.

Dyslexia Scotland is gearing up for its flagship event DyslexiFest for 2019, a launchpad in to the second year of the 2018-21 Strategic Plan which outlines a vision for a dyslexia friendlier Scotland. 

Join us. We’d love to see you there: Saturday 5 October (11am to 5pm) at The Lighthouse in Glasgow.

For more information about DyslexiFest, visit www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/dyslexifest

By Mike Gordon

Dyslexia Scotland careers mentor volunteer

Dyslexia Workshop

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July arrived and so did the sun, rain and wind, but no weather could deter from the enthusiasm and talent of the children I had the delight of sharing the Dyslexia workshop with.

As the children stepped through the door of The Barefoot Sanctuary into the workshop the energy rose up and excitement and nerves all started to bubble to the surface for the children and for myself.

The workshop was designed to explore what Dyslexia meant to each individual child and to look at the positives in being identified as Dyslexic.

Each day we started off with a high energy game, followed with a check in and then onto the art making process. The workshop closed with another high energy game, a check out, where one positive was shared from each child on how their Dyslexia had helped them that day and then a game of wink murder. The structure was to allow containment for the children’s feelings and for them to feel safe to explore and express their emotions in relation to their Dyslexia.

Dyslexia was our main focus, so where better to start than the word itself, identifying that it is just a word and it does not need to define us. Each child chose a letter and designed it how they wanted it to look, with the idea it could be anything they wished.  As pens moved across the paper voices started to become louder and stories were being shared about how each child had come to be in the group. United by their Dyslexia voices that were once quite became louder, offering stories, suggestions and ideas of how they wished to use their time in the workshops.

As I sat and witnessed the children work with their strengths, I was in awe of their ability to share their truth about their Dyslexia openly and honestly in the group. As they drew they discussed what was hard about being Dyslexic, the challenges they face in school, at home with siblings, with friends and parents. Amongst all the challenges there was clear strength and perseverance presence in the room as they continued to share ways of learning that worked for them and find the positives in being identified as being Dyslexic.

The children worked together to design new games, utilising problem solving skills and creative out of the box thinking to ensure everyone could take part. They worked together demonstrating listening skills, great communication, respect for one another as they created and drew ideas and designs for the last day expressing how they wished to bring everyone in the group together.

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In one closing circle the questions was “what is the positive in having Dyslexia?” the child stated

“If I did not have Dyslexia I would not be in this group and met everyone here and had fun”

Parents noted in response to the question ‘Do you feel working in a small group of children also identified at Dyslexic supported your child with their understanding of her own Dyslexia?

“Yes, she is proud of herself. She sees her abilities differently now and looks to problem solving rather than despondency. “

“We all really think it helped him to understand Dyslexia more and he enjoyed talking about it with other’s as its not something he would necessarily talk about with his friends.”

I feel the children grew in confidence and their understanding of their Dyslexia. Through the art making process they were able to come together and share their narratives of their Dyslexia and to be heard, witnessed and understood by one other.

I believe my Dyslexia is a gift and with all the challenges it can present I wouldn’t be without it. To be able to share a space with children who are trying to understand their Dyslexia is a privilege.  To be able create a space where they can start to explore the positives and look to their Dyslexia as a gift and not something which will hold them back.

Laura Cave-Magowan is a Dyslexia Scotland Volunteer Awareness Speaker. Laura will be at DylexiFest on Saturday 5 October in Glasgow, so you will have the opportunity chat to her more about her recent workshops.

 

 

 

Book Review: Assessment for Dyslexia and Learning Differences – A Concise Guide for Teachers and Parents by Gavin Reid and Jennie Guise

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This highly practical book is well organised, accessible and jargon free. 

Parents who are struggling to understand the Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit’s Dyslexia identification Pathway and a school’s Staged intervention and planning paperwork will find this book refreshingly informative and easy to follow.

Drs Reid and Guise are highly qualified professionals both with considerable experience in the identification, assessment and support of dyslexia and other specific learning differences across all age-groups in educational settings, ranging from primary school to University and beyond to the workplace.

In this book, they briefly explore learning differences that are so often part of dyslexia.  They consider the purpose of assessment – what parents expect to find out and how the results will be used. In chapters 4 & 5 they trace the route from identification of ‘difference’ through the process of assessment and explain differences between school-based, screening and independent assessments, explaining the need to consider strengths and cognition as well as specific issues in processing, memory and classroom attainment.

They go on to consider the impact of assessment on learning, then review some key strategies, interventions and resources that may support the learning of those who have dyslexia.  The final chapter considers the different approaches to assessment in the context of local policy and practice across the UK.

Particularly useful are the chapter summaries – without having to read the whole book, busy parents and teachers can dip in and out to find the answers to their queries. The role of parents at each stage of the assessment process is highlighted within each chapter.

Useful appendices include a glossary to explain some of the terminology that is used by professionals in reporting their findings and notes on the interpretation of an assessment report – and explains the SASC-specified[1] format and content of specialist reports.

This book will provide information and support for educational professionals using the online resources in The Dyslexia Assessment by the same authors.

This review was written by Moira Thomson MBE

[1] The UK’s SpLD Assessment Standards Committee has published guidelines that assessors are required to comply with when reporting on assessments.

Book Review – ‘How Can I Remember All That?’

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Today’s blog is a review of the book ‘How can I remember all that?” by Tracy Packium Alloway (Jessica Kingsley Publishers). It is reviewed by Sonia Edwards. 

Children identify the daily difficulties they can experience with Working Memory but often they do not understand the reason they are having difficulty.  Through Tommy, a funky character whose drawing was inspired by the author’s son, and Dr Packiam-Alloway’s writing, ‘How Can I Remember That?’ offers an easy to access explanation about Working Memory.

Working Memory is a difficulty that many dyslexics experience and being able to understand what it is and how it can be improved from the child’s perspective is inspirational.  A psychologist with over a decade of research on working memory, Dr Alloway has written about Working Memory in a manner that is straightforward and inspires confidence. 

Tommy’s voice reaches out to children, showing them that they are not alone and the difficulties they have with Working Memory are also experienced by others.   An Introduction, four chapters and some notes for Grown-Ups keep the book short.  No one will lose track of what they are reading.  The chatty writing style and Tommy’s voice make sure it is never boring and everyone can understand.  Supported by ideas such as Post-It notes and use of clear images, Dr Alloway takes a complex subject and makes it appear easy.  Importantly, the section on ‘Notes for Grown-Ups’ ensures that they can learn how to help.

Introducing Tommy, along with an explanation about long-term memory and short-term memory versus working memory develops understanding before the later detail.  While the section on ‘Working Memory in my brain’ introduces the idea of a team player.  The idea of team is important for children with working memory difficulties as they are supported by a team – parents, teachers, peers – but in the book they learn that they can also access their own team with appropriate strategies.  Confidence building and reassurance, very important elements for children who can find day to day a struggle.

Explaining why remembering things can be difficult and identifying things can be tricky in the first two chapters provides analogies with which children can identify.  We all struggle with juggling balls on occasion and can get frustrated with others when they think we are not trying when we really are. Dr Alloway and Tommy help the child to see that this is not a bad thing, it is just a part of having a working memory difficulty.

Tips for improving your working memory – Tommy’s teacher Ms Higgins is great in Chapter 3 – are achievable and developing these ideas in Chapter 4 shows you can keep on improving your working memory.  Being told doodling is okay  – who isn’t going to love the idea of telling their teacher it’s helping with concentration and learning?

The final discussion about Keep it Simple will make many teachers review their classroom.  It’s also an important message about working memory: we should all remember that techniques to help overcome aspects of the daily difficulty children experience are simple to introduce and develop. 

Sonia Edwards

Dyslexia Metaphor

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“To be dyslexic…..is to have a mind like an old fashioned champagne coupe: a very wide cup of perception supported by a narrow, fragile pipe of processing capacity.”

This lovely metaphor for explaining dyslexia is from ‘Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me’ by Kate Clancy.

A metaphor uses one thing to describe another. A Greek word, meaning ‘to carry’, it is a figure of speech that compares on thing to another, to help bring a concept to life, to make something easier to understand and relate to. It ‘carries’ an idea. It can also make a difficult concept easy to explain.

Metaphor is used by educators, coaches and storytellers to create deep and powerful shifts in understanding.

Dyslexic people often find creative concepts like metaphor work well for them, and that they can think them up quite easily, as they have a tendency to work in ‘visual modes of thought’.

For lots of neurotypical people, understanding dyslexia is really quite complex, so by using metaphor like the champagne coupe can help by making it vivid and more relatable.

Have a go at forming a metaphor to describe your understanding dyslexia to others. Let us know what you think up.

References:

  • Clanchy, K. Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me (2019)
  • Owen, N. The Magic of Metaphor (2016)
  • West, T. In the Mind’s Eye(1943)

These books are all available to borrow from Dyslexia Scotland’s resource centre.  (Please note: our resource centre is currently closed, due to our imminent office move.)

Katie Carmichael, Dyslexia Scotland’s Career Coach


I shall take off my dyslexic coat

And run away in my poetry dress

From ‘What I taught some kids and what they taught me’: About being out of place.

 

 

The Amazing Dyslexic Poetry Show

There are some negative perceptions about those with dyslexia.

Such as:-

“Lazy”,

“Stupid,”

“Won’t amount too much”

These words are all things that have been said to me.

I was aged 7 when I realised I had stories that ran around in my head and I used to daydream, acting them out.  I didn’t know why I struggled at school with writing, maths. I knew as did my sister, as we are twins that we were not able to keep up with other students in class.

I recall my primary school days and really enjoyed them, however, my frustrations and those of my sister, manifested themselves as challenging behaviour.

We were always at the headmaster’s office.  Instead of getting a right telling off, he talked us through our issues and explained things, so that the subject matter was easier to understand, at our pace of learning, and eventually we started to understand some of the most complex subjects. I have fond memories of him, as he had time to go through things with us.  Primary school was my only positive experience of education.

Secondary school was a big challenge.  It was a busier environment, as we had not passed the 11 plus.  We were placed in the bottom class, so were labelled at the age of 12, and that’s where things started to go wrong for both of us.

Inevitably, I left school at 15, with no qualifications.  I was deemed not suitable to be entered into any exams, so left on the scrap heap at just 15.  I did manage to secure a job washing up in a café on Hastings pier in Sussex.

It didn’t last long, my parents divorced, I became homeless at 18. I recall one occasion I went for an interview in a supermarket. I was told by the interviewer that I would not “amount to much”.  This left me feeling useless, hopeless, and stupid. My self-esteem already low, hit rock bottom.  It was official.  I was useless, or so I thought.

Then whilst walking in Brighton I saw a man, who looked disheveled. I thought he was homeless, he had holes in his jacket, and was carrying a plastic bag with papers bulging out of it. He looked quite distinguished, despite his appearance.

I don’t recall how we got talking, but he could tell I was dyslexic, just after a few minutes of meeting me. This rather eccentric looking man turned out to be a law professor at the University of Sussex and he mentored me.

I passed GCSEs

I passed A Levels

I went to University and studied law, obtaining a 2.1 with honours.

I had passed exams!

I qualified as a lawyer.

Not bad for someone who wouldn’t amount to much, and had been, classed as lazy, useless, and stupid.

Even though I’d managed to get some confidence back, I found myself having difficulties in my professional life, which resulted in a flood of low self- esteem and culminating in a mental breakdown but with counselling I got better.

I realised that I was not stupid, or lazy.  I could achieve and amount to whatever I wanted to do.  I could live my dreams, stories were still in my head. These stories are now published and more stories are waiting to be written.

I have won awards for my poetry and plays.

I am dyslexic that’s who I am. 

I do not have to apologise for this.

If I read slower, if I use a finger to read text, if my words are jumbled and I say things back to front or have to spell words out,  this is just who I am, a dyslexic woman!

This is why my show, making it’s debut performance at the Edinburgh fringe festival  “The Amazing Dyslexic Poetry Show” had to be written.

It’s a show that inspires you to live your dreams, showing that dyslexia is not a barrier to believing in yourself. It has a powerful message, exploring positivity and some negativity with humour, about hidden disabilities.

My show has a selection of poems on dyslexia and some on different themes.

I am dyslexic, and proud to be

Yes,

This is me!

Sam Rapp, the Dyslexic poet

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“The Amazing Dyslexic Poetry Show” The Small Hall, Lauriston Halls, EH3 9DJ; from 6th to 10th August 2019. Show starts 19:00 (More info here)

Dyslexia made me, society tried to stop me

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“You were born an original, don’t die a copy” John Mason

I recently decorated the above canvas bag. I was inspired to do this because I created something similar at Women Making It (in Glasgow Women’s Library) and also by Richard Branson’s ‘Made by Dyslexia’ campaign.

I think it is time to list some clichés used to give advice:-

          “Just be yourself

          “Think outside the box

          “We need innovative thinkers”

The thing is society and the education system “needs” or believes it needs everyone to think and learn in the same way in order to succeed. Obviously there is a need for orderly behaviour so that everyone can learn and get things done.

I think it is extremely important that every individual learns about their learning style and how their brain works (preferably as early in childhood as possible).

Let’s face it, the education system is already based on teaching the foundations first (like the alphabet and counting) before teaching reading and maths. However are these the correct foundations? If someone is unlucky enough not to learn these basics when they are “supposed to” they are disadvantaged, as all other subjects are taught through learners reading textbooks.

I only began to enjoy learning when I got to high school, when a whole array of much more complex subjects opened up to me. Although it may have helped that my parent’s persistence had finally got me “The Reading Centre” specialist help I really needed in the last few years of primary school.

Back to my bag message “Dyslexia Made Me, Society Tried To Stop Me” those first 4 to 5 years of primary school when I just couldn’t learn no matter how hard I tried definitely took their toll.

I have  achieved a BSc Honours degree. Some people may think I have had success and they may wonder why I have not carried it through to my career.

The thing is a child’s confidence and self-esteem can only take so much. Similar to some other people with dyslexia I seem to have a bit of imposter syndrome. That is, I am always concerned I will be discovered not to be “worthy” or “good enough”. I went off to primary school those first few days with no worries about learning, it was being there that gave me issues.

If society could be more open to difference (and if we could stop teaching our children that there is only one way to learn) perhaps we could ALL SHINE.

Possibly by starting from each person’s learning style we could tackle complex issues like: bullying, youth knife/gang crime, drug/alcohol misuse, prison overcrowding and homelessness.

Respect and freedom from fear could work miracles if they were only given a chance.

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland Volunteer and Member

The Case for The International Celebration of Dyslexia 

Following the announcement in May that plans for the first International Celebration of Dyslexia (ICD) are underway for August 2020 (see here for the initial article, and here for the event web page), I have pondered why such an event might be needed.  Most obviously, the scale of the proposed event invites greater capacity for a large exchange of experiences and ideas that could not only help those with dyslexia practically, but also encourage them to view the learning difference positively.  Organisers claim that the inaugural ICD is unique in that it views dyslexia as a gift to be used to the benefit of everyone, rather than the curse it is seen to be by some.

As is proven by the diverse range of celebrities that happen to have dyslexia – Sir Richard Branson, Theo Paphitis of Dragon’s Den and Molie King, formerly a member of The Saturdays – are all people in the public who have dyslexia and have been asked to contribute – it is not necessarily a barrier to great achievements.  However, an argument can be made that these success stories may appear unattainable to the general public and of course it might be that people have other, less lofty, ambitions that seem just as mountainous and unrealistic to them as a result of their dyslexia.  The wider the variety of different perspectives that you hear, the more potential there is to gain a new insight into a situation, which is all the more likely when you consider the international scope that organisers want the event to have.  Furthermore, given the ethos that organisers of the gathering are doing their upmost to promote even in the initial stages – The International Celebration of Dyslexia can hardly be described as negative – I can see even the event’s mere existence doing a great deal of good for the self-esteem of those who have dyslexia, and that’s without taking into account the positives for those who attend the event.  I would imagine that attendees may come away with greater knowledge of not just of dyslexia itself but of how exactly dyslexia can be seen as an advantage.  After all, it could be said that as no two people see something exactly the same way, attendees could leave with a new appreciation for the learning difference because while they may view it as a positive it doesn’t mean they see all the positives and may need some help to shine a light on the larger picture.

Although I have already stated that not all people see dyslexia as a good thing, I should add that this is a perfectly valid stance.  Everyone has different experiences of it depending on their circumstances and how severely they are affected.  Still, it stands to reason that regardless of the viewpoints held all those with dyslexia stand to gain something from the event, which is due to take place on 31st August 2020.  Just because some people who have dyslexia see the learning difference as a curse, it doesn’t mean that positives could not be gleaned from an event such as this one.  At the very least, the international aspect would heartily underline the fact that people with dyslexia are neither alone nor few in number.  Moreover, it would also highlight the universal nature of dyslexia and cultivate not just the strengths of the participants for their good and the good of others but strengthen the perception that dyslexia and those who have it do not need to be subjected to discrimination and stigma and that just because learning differences should be celebrated it does not mean they always are.  Never mind (just) Sir Richard, Theo and Mollie, it’s something we should all get behind, in the hope that diversity is more routinely celebrated rather than somehow misunderstood and marginalised.

Gemma Bryant, DS Blogger

If you can’t wait until August 2020, we will be holding Scotland’s first ever Dyslexia Festival – ‘DyslexiFest’ on Saturday 5 October 2019 at The Lighthouse in Glasgow. At this event, we will be celebrating and supporting all things dyslexic.  We’re currently finalising our plans, but you can see more information here. #DyslexiFest

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