‘Think Differently’

Dyslexia isn’t the obvious inspiration point for a collection of interior fabrics, yet for our final degree project we were encouraged to choose a subject close to our hearts, and learning how to support our daughter through school with dyslexia remains exactly that.

‘Think Differently’ was my title, reflecting both how a dyslexic mind operates and to encourage a wider viewpoint regarding dyslexia in general.  I wanted my collection to stand alone aesthetically, yet dig a bit deeper and the designs tell a story.

Dyslexia Scotland was an obvious starting point for my research, as well as many other inspirational organisations all working to promote a similar message.  Visual research and developments naturally started with imagery such as the brain and brain cells, yet 6 weeks into a 16 week project I was going nowhere, until, I too started ‘thinking differently’ about my approach.  Revisiting my research I started to develop abstract visuals representing the 1:10 known to be dyslexic and thankfully the creativity began.  The next ‘eureka’ moment came in week 8 after watching ‘The Big Picture – Rethinking Dyslexia’, screened by Creative Stirling and Dyslexia Scotland. One comment, ‘crack the code’, immediately conjured up one of my 1:10 designs featuring dots and dashes and I couldn’t wait to get home and write ‘dyslexia’ in Morse Code.

After experimenting with various Morse Code ‘messages’ regarding dyslexia I chose to have a design which told both sides of the story.  The negative design read ‘dyslexia – a learning disability’ and the positive design read ‘dyslexia – a gift in life’, and so it grew from there.

Colour is all important and having researched the psychology of colour I adopted strong lime greens, and oranges which represent energy, enthusiasm and excitement; emotions I felt strongly that anyone with dyslexia who can crack their own code can enjoy. The choice of grey was a ‘happy accident’ – discovered when I quickly printed off some design ideas in black and white in the absence of a colour printer and it was decided that soft grey provided a good contrast. Unusual colours for anyone’s home I agree, although a final degree project is thankfully a chance to choose ‘concept’ over ‘commercial’.

I continued to develop designs that featured the Morse Code and 1:10 concepts and after many developments and samples I eventually settled on 4 designs I was ready to get digitally printed, leaving me to work on the designs I wanted to hand screen print.  At the same time I was learning how to screen print, navigate Photoshop and also sourcing furniture, fabrics, paints, dyes to create the final collection and equally thinking how I was going present my designs in the context of the interiors market.

The final deadline loomed and it was done, a curtain panel featuring a hand screen printed design embellished with hand embroidery accenting the morse code message, 2 digitally printed upholstered chairs, a hand printed side table and 4 cushion designs featuring both digital and hand printed designs with various stitch embellishments.  I was delighted with how the collection developed and how well it was received, and even more delighted to get a pass with distinction.

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All images and designs : © Caron Ironside 2013 All rights reserved

What will I do now?

When I left school, I literally had no idea what I was going to do. When I was growing up, I wanted to do everything, be a writer, a singer, an actress, an artist and for a while I wrote poems, but, the longest standing aspiration was a fashion designer.

I began school well, but soon, my difficulties crept in and I went from doing well, to near bottom of the class. I never really understood why and neither, it seemed did my teachers.

Now I am not work shy and I worked my @*£ off to try and be the best that I could be, but, I never got there. Often my reports said …. is a lovely child to have in class, but they always said the same thing, not trying hard enough, could do better etc etc, all I wanted to scream was ‘ I am, I try really hard’

By the time I got to standard grade I had something to prove, I wanted to show everyone that I was trying hard enough, so in my 3rd year mock exams, I studied really hard and actually got reasonable grades. However, by the time it got to my 4th year mocks my grades were shocking and the teachers began to write me off. This made me all the more determined to do well in the actual exams so I got my head down and did not too badly.

I was determined to stay until 6 year at school and attempt to get some highers, I loved art and wanted to go on to study to be a fashion designer but after missing out on higher art due to written work I began to give up on the idea. I tried again in 6th year to get some highers: English and Advanced Higher Art (I was able to take it even although I failed my higher, due to artistic ability). Nevertheless pressure from the school to leave because it would be beneficial to me and still having no support to address my issues I left school with no highers and a conclusion that I was not the academic type!!

I went to work in an office after school, I had no real idea what I wanted to do, but, I thought getting some administration skills under my belt could help. My first job proved fruitful and after a year of working as an office junior I moved up within the organisation to a position that offered career prospects. However, I was never really settled and wanted more.

After working for a while in a few different jobs, I made the decision to try and get back into education; I wanted to do something that I really enjoyed. I applied to college to do a foundation course in fashion design with a view to going on to study fashion Marketing.

Then, I found out I was pregnant and as fashion is a difficult industry to work in with no guarantee of jobs, I knew I needed to do something else. When my little one was 5 months old I applied to college to do a course in communications, I combined all of my passions and all the things I was good at and found something that fitted me really well.

College was like a breath of fresh air and I applied the same work ethic as I had always tried in school, the difference was, I had the support that I needed and the tutors took the time to explain the concepts and ideas in a way that suited your learning style. I found myself helping my classmates to understand, ensuring that no one fell behind and for the first time I was doing well, this was a fantastic feeling.

Don’t get me wrong it was hard; I was studying full time, with my difficulties and a baby to look after, there were tears, late nights and times when I wanted to give up, but I had a clear goal in mind and would do anything to achieve it. After 2 years and 2 good qualifications, I was given an unconditional offer to university.

I honestly thought I would never see the day, me at university…. there must be some mistake! I was so happy.

I went immediately to the learning support when I started, to see what help I could get. I knew that I could do better than I did at school and my grades at college proved that. As college did not require much essay writing and the course was continually assessed with a practical project at the end instead of exams, I knew that University was going to be a whole different ball game.

I was assessed and identified as dyslexic; I was given an education package which listed all the help I was going to get and University, while no walk in the park was a complete eye opener. I loved it and came out at the other side tireder, older and with a slightly different take on the world. However, I had some fantastic experiences; I was much smarter and more socially conscious. I now have a good understanding that I could do anything that I put my mind to and a really good mark in an amazing honours degree to prove it.

I am so glad that I didn’t listen to myself when I thought I was ‘not the academic type’, determination and a willingness to succeed was the most important thing for me, it was not that I couldn’t learn it was that I was not being taught right.

This is what I tell everyone one who needs to hear it. Don’t give up, whether it’s is educational, vocational or just in general the world is your oyster, it’s all about finding the thing that spurs you on.

There is no one size fits all approach to learning and because you don’t excel in one way doesn’t mean you will never get to where you want to be. Even if you don’t get everything you hoped for when you leave school, there are options available to you. It may take you a little longer than your peers to get there, but in the end it is the journey and what you learn along the way that really counts.

Let your inner star shine

Let your inner star shine

What’s your experience? Has your school experience made you think you can’t achieve something?

Life Skills Learned at University

While it is true that University is not for everyone and that those with dyslexia will find it more difficult than those that don’t have the condition, I don’t think enough is made of the invaluable life skills a university education can teach you, particularly in light of some of the problems dyslexics are known to experience.  Given recent research, (ironically published by Disney to mark the release of Monsters University) that compiled a list of fifty life skills that University teaches people, the benefits are clear, as can be seen from the list below:


BUDGETS, BOLOGNESE AND BLAGGING: THE 50 LIFE SKILLS LEARNED AT UNI

1.             Budgeting and prioritising 26.          Writing footnotes
2.             Living with others 27.          Looking for a job
3.             Doing a weekly food shop 28.          Setting up the internet
4.             Paying bills 29.          Blagging essays
5.             Studying independently 30.          Being a good team player
6.             Managing money 31.          That fridges don’t clean themselves
7.             Making friends 32.          Using fridge space effectively
8.             Navigate your way around 33.          Making sure the house is locked
9.             House / flat hunting 34.          Playing pool / pub games
10.          Socialising with all sorts of people 35.          Saving energy
11.          Registering at the doctor or dentist 36.          Blagging ‘group discussions’
12.          Turning up to lectures at the right time 37.          Getting to lectures off campus
13.          Appreciating home 38.          Using top up gas or electric key
14.          Supermarket shopping 39.          General DIY
15.          Coping without mum and dad 40.          How to use the bus
16.          Skim reading long books 41.          Setting up a television
17.          Pulling an all-night study session 42.          Which dishes aren’t microwaveable
18.          Being considerate to housemates 43.          Sorting out the boiler
19.          Using a washing machine 44.          Sorting recycling
20.          Going three nights with no sleep 45.          Building flat-pack furniture
21.          Making spaghetti Bolognese 46.          Making scrambled egg
22.          Using the library 47.          Fire safety
23.          Socialising in big groups 48.          How to re-use takeaway containers
24.          Cleaning 49.          How to turn on the cooker or grill
25.          The effectiveness of a good nap 50.          You can’t eat mould

Source: www. dailymail.co.uk

While some of these so-called skills are merely common sense (is it not obvious eating mould is a bad idea?), others are invaluable lessons that help people in their daily lives.  Learning to be a team player, for example, means that in the world of employment you are not going to struggle to work as part of a team.  It is also true that you don’t have to go to University in order to gain knowledge about the things on the above list, and indeed can and should learn them in other circumstances.

However, University, due to the nature of academic institutions and often there distance from family, means that it is uniquely placed to embed some of the more practical and work-orientated aspects of the list into the skill-set of participants.  Let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to ask for a bit of parental help when faced with problems in their flat, whether those concern cooking, the washing machine or some other calamity that seems like the end of the world at the time?  And while socialising with different kinds of people does not seem to be a hardship to most people, it might be that things like learning to skim read, timekeeping and prioritising tasks are arduous things for someone with dyslexia.

Whatever the specific issues an individual with dyslexia encounters, there is one thing University guarantees, particularly for those who choose to live away from home: you are forced to be independent like you never have been before and potentially face demons that you would not have been given the chance to face so completely were it not for the University environment.  Although it’s scary, it’s also liberating (once you get over the fear).

While it isn’t for everyone, there is no denying that it is a very particular situation, given the focus placed on independent study and self-reliance in general.  At home, you have parents or guardians, while at school you have teachers and in the workplace colleagues who are on hand should any problems arise.  Conversely, within the structure of the University environment, you are essentially on your own unless otherwise directed, be it by a lecturer or to a seminar.  But I think that needs to be embraced.  Because with self-reliance comes resilience, the likes of which I believe you cannot know unless you are forced to stand on your own two feet.  In my opinion at least, nothing forces you to do that like University does.

Thinking Outside the Box on the Box

As Seen on TV??

As Seen on TV??

 

In a recent blog, I stated that a disadvantage of film and television over books was that everything has already been decided for the viewer, whereas books let the reader make decisions in their own heads.  However, what in one way appears to be a curse can in another way appear to be a blessing.  For although the print medium can encourage people to use their imaginations and think for themselves, there are some things that only the visual form can achieve.  Number one, flesh and blood people, fictitious as they are, are a lot easier to relate to than incorporeal individuals.  This is where the worlds explored in television and film can be a great vehicle to motivate and inspire others.  So why then, given the prevalence of dyslexia in the UK, is this not reflected more in movies or TV?

For those that argue that it would be futile as it would not create the drama demanded by modern audiences and those that finance the creative industries, that’s the point: dyslexia doesn’t have to.  People need to understand this en masse, whether they have it, know someone who does or even just for their own general knowledge.  And film and television, far-reaching as it is, is the perfect way to demonstrate this.

I’m not going to lie –  CBBC’s decision to develop a television show on the Hank Zipzer series of books (about a mischievous boy who happens to have dyslexia) is a great one, if long overdue.  But it would be equally problematic for this one character to become the definitive representation of young people with dyslexia.

Another (possibly even more welcome?) approach would be to integrate an individual’s dyslexia into the plot, but not let it dominate it.  Here’s an example from Doctor Who:

The Doctor:  We need to be ready for whatever’s coming up.  I need a map…

Elliott:  I can’t do the words.  I’m dyslexic.

The Doctor:  Oh, that’s all right, I can’t make a decent meringue.  Draw like your life depends on it, Elliott…

And later on:

The Doctor:  Look at that!  Perfect! Dyslexia never stopped Da Vinci or Einstein, it’s not stopping you.

I really like this dialogue, which takes place (in typical Doctor Who fashion), just as The Doctor, his companions and some innocent bystanders are preparing to save the Earth from a race of aliens that think of humans as vermin.  Not only does it reveal that Elliott is dyslexic, but it demonstrates a way in which he can be of use in the crisis, which is later reaffirmed when disaster is averted.  Although Elliott’s map didn’t single-handedly save the day, it didn’t need to.  The point had been made: Dyslexia should neither stop someone from doing something, nor does it have to dictate their lives, as is illustrated in this story.  However, Elliott, who only appeared in the series for two episodes, is the only example I can currently find of a dyslexic person on British television, which is odd considering how common it is in the UK.

True, there is Percy Jackson from the recently released films, as well as Ryder Lynn from Glee, but neither of these characters seem particularly accessible.  Percy started off life as a character in a series of fictional novels, hardly the best medium for dyslexics to access, and Glee is only available in Britain on Sky 1, meaning that less people are able to watch it now than was the case when it was first broadcast on Channel 4.  Not to mention that both these examples are American, and all the examples cited are children and young people.

Let me be clear.  Any positive role models for dyslexics are undoubtedly a fantastic thing that needs to be encouraged.  However, there is always more that can be done.  I find it odd that – to my knowledge at least – there are no dyslexic adults in British soap operas given 1 in 10 people in the UK are affected by it.  After all, they are supposed to represent real life, and if Doctor Who – which is as blatantly science-fiction as you can get – can do it, other television series in the UK – be it in soaps or anything else – can and should follow suit.

Note:  The Doctor Who episodes that the character of Elliott appeared in are called The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood.  Both were written by Chris Chibnall.

My Story (My submission to Dyspla’s Monsters, Mavericks and Mothers Festival)

A fantastic blog that explains the battle that Dyslexics face sometimes quite nicely.

doreenjank

Find out more about the festival at http://www.dysthelexi.com/dyspla-2013/

(1.)      My story.

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(2.) A young girl is trapped.

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(3.) By her Dyslexia monster!!!

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Painted at Café Ceramico (East Kilbride).

(4.) Especially at School!!!

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(5.) Her mother (and father) came to the rescue.

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(6.) They helped her find her own (maverick?) path.

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(7.) She found and prised open her hidden boxes of talent.

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Painted at Café Ceramico (East Kilbride) and Glitter and Glue (East Kilbride).

(8.) Life became liveable, as she grew older.

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(9.) She gained qualifications and manages to be employed (for the most part).

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(10.) However sometimes she needs a wee bit of magic: and out-of-this-world out-of-the-box thinking …..

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Painted at Café Ceramico (East Kilbride).

(11.) to get through some of the harder parts of her life.

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(12.) When her dyslexia monster is only too ready to jump back out to make her feel trapped once again!!!

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A story by any other structure would teach the same….

Picture by Susana Fernandez

Picture by Susana Fernandez

Having highlighted the importance of reading in my previous blog entry, I feel that I can safely argue the other side of the coin without being hounded.

Because the sad fact is, it is more than just dyslexia that can hinder someone’s reading ability and their fondness of books.  What they are forced to read, most notably in schools can also have a huge impact, which of course is even truer in the case of dyslexics given their difficulties with the act of reading.

I remember hating Shakespeare at school, something that was borne out of the archaic language and compounded by the fact that;

  1. We studied five of his plays in five years in English.
  2. The inflexible layout and structure of the textbooks, which implied that the compiler could somehow already know the words that were deemed a challenge for teenagers to understand when in fact Shakespeare was far from that easy to grasp.  Furthermore, the text of the plays were always laid out on the left hand side pages, while the dictionary definitions the author deemed necessary were on the right, breaking up the text so much that it was horrendously jarring.  And this is coming from a non-dyslexic.

I think my little anecdote demonstrates two things.  Firstly, ramming a particular author down the throat of a child only guarantees that they will hate that author forevermore.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly in the context of Dyslexia Awareness Week, teaching with a one size fits all mentality is doomed to result in complete failure, particularly when no effort is made to relate the texts and themes contained therein to the lives of students.

Another anecdote:

I remember sitting watching West Side Story in a Drama class, thinking the department were scraping the barrel in terms of their film selection as the end of term was drawing near.  It turns out we were going on to study Romeo and Juliet and they wanted to show us that the themes covered within it weren’t exclusive to Shakespeare and were relevant today.

They succeeded, but I remember being less than thrilled about having to study another Shakespeare play.  It was only after I voluntarily picked up a copy of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses that I fully understood why the story of Romeo and Juliet is timeless.  Although primarily a love story centred around a class war, it could as easily apply in a variety of circumstances as is illustrated in Blackman’s book which is set in a world where white people are treated as an inferior race compared to their black counterparts.  Without giving the plot away, the comparisons between this book and Shakespeare are undeniable (without being strikingly obvious) and yet are posed in such a way that young people can relate to the story.  So significant was its effect on me that it has been my favourite book since I first read it eleven years ago (despite the fact I still hate Shakespeare).

Of course, I’m not saying that people don’t have to do things they don’t want to just because they are dyslexic, merely that if they are unnecessarily forced to read something they risk becoming alienated and further disengaged with reading and learning in general.  And it is not as if, as I have hopefully illustrated, that key themes in books for example cannot be conveyed in a variety of ways.  This Dyslexia Awareness Week one of the questions that needs to be asked is that as no two people learn something in the same way, why are countless children taught in the same way with no consideration of the adverse effects that it could possibly have on them later in life?

A blue ribbon for Dyslexia Awareness Week

Show Your Support with a Blue Twibbon

Show Your Support with a Blue Twibbon

Everyone talks about time flying by but it really doesn’t feel like a year since we were organising last year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week at Dyslexia Scotland.  The theme this year is ‘Dyslexia: beyond words’ which we hope will help people learn that dyslexia is not just about problems with reading and writing.

The highlight of the week is a campaign led by our Young Person’s Ambassador Ellie, who is 13.  Her idea last year to have a blue ribbon to show support for greater understanding of dyslexia has been rolled out across Scotland this year with nearly 20,000 ribbons in schools, libraries, community centres and workplaces.  Demand for the ribbons has been huge, especially from schools, many of which are organising special events to highlight the skills and abilities of their dyslexic pupils.  Even if people can’t get hold of a ribbon there’s an online Twibbon that can be attached to Facebook and Twitter profiles.

We love the fact that there’s such a demand for the ribbons, especially from children and young people with dyslexia.  Our last members magazine, ‘Dyslexia Voice’, was made up entirely of contributions by and for young people with dyslexia.  We were inundated with stories, articles, drawings, poems, points of views from young people all over Scotland.  And what was their message?  Well, yes, many had really struggled with dyslexia.  They had found teachers who didn’t help them the way they wanted, feelings of being different and even friends who they were scared to tell that they were dyslexic.

But there were also stories about how these barriers had been overcome and a real desire to share these experiences with other young people to show that dyslexia isn’t all bad. So, if you see someone wearing a blue ribbon this week, you’ll know that they are showing support for the 1 in 10 people in Scotland who has dyslexia.  Like our members and branches across Scotland, like all of our supporters and ambassadors, like the partners who help us spread the word, everyone involved will be working together.  They will be working to highlight the things that need to change so that dyslexia is better identified and supported in schools; that places like colleges, workplaces, and public services are more dyslexia-friendly; and that people with dyslexia of all ages can reach their full potential with the right support.

So why not check out all the great things taking place across Scotland during Dyslexia Awareness Week and join in.

Dyslexia Awareness Week 2013: Making People Aware of the Importance of Reading

Earlier today, I stumbled across an extremely well written article regarding the importance of libraries, books and reading.  The writer was author Neil Gaiman, who gave the annual Reading Agency lecture (Reading Agency being an organisation that, according to Gaiman, exists to give equal opportunities to all by helping everyone become able readers).

In the lecture, he spoke about why books are so vital.  You may wonder why this merits repeating, but in the context of Dyslexia Awareness Week, I think it is no bad thing to remind ourselves of a couple of simple facts:

It is estimated that 1 in 10  people in the UK have dyslexia.

A significant part of this condition means that those who have it find it difficult to read.

So what is it that they are being denied as a result of this?  Or, to put it another way, why is reading essential?

One, reading introduces people to new words that arm them with new ways in which to express themselves that leads to a greater understanding of themselves and other people.  On a related note, this increased understanding lets people make sense of the world around them generally not just at work or school, but even in just having a conversation with friends.  The more words we know, the more nuances we can make, meaning that we can understand people better.  Consequently, this makes it easier to empathise with others and to be more engaged with society.

I’m not just talking about understanding what’s going on in, for example, Game of Thrones, either.

As much as people find a book easier to digest when they can relate to the character (aged eight I chose the first book that I read for pleasure on the basis that the character and I had the same name) it is not possible to identify with everyone you read about.  However, the more you read, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, the more knowledge you have about situations you may one day encounter.

For those books that have no bearing on real life whatsoever, well, that’s true escapism.  Who doesn’t deserve that?  And even if they don’t happen to have anything in common with reality at first glance, it doesn’t mean they can’t.  For example, nobody is going to meet a wizard like Harry Potter, but perhaps they will need to have the courage in the face of adversity that Harry so often displayed.

“Oh but why not watch the film?  Kids will prefer that anyway!”  I hear you cry.

Here’s the thing.  With film and TV, the colours, sights and sounds are there to be seen already, it’s someone else’s world, not yours that can be imagined and explored in your head.

When you come out of the book and back into the real world, you are better for it (provided you haven’t been forced to read it) regardless of the initial intention.  Not only that, but for so many reasons, knowledge is power.  Empowering dyslexics is even more important than it would be for others when you consider that they often feel powerless as result of the struggles they face.  If a dyslexic is encouraged to read and finds a good book then maybe being dyslexic won’t be so scary anymore, which is why an organisation like Barrington Stoke, and indeed literacy in general, is so crucial.

Neil Gaiman conveys the general importance of literacy much better than me,  check out a transcription of the lecture.