Scrutinizing Success by Gemma Bryant

If you are familiar with the work of Dyslexia Scotland in any way, shape or form, you will have heard the aim of the organisation a hundred times: Encourage and enable people with dyslexia, regardless of their age and abilities, to reach their potential.  All too often, though, we forget that people not only do this in a variety of ways, but in order for potential to be realised, each person has to work differently.  This is why the approach of the Head Teacher of Barrowford Primary School in Nelson, Lancashire last summer was so refreshing.

She went to great lengths to tell children who were receiving KS2 results that there are a great many ways in which a person is “smart,” whether that be because of the good qualities they display, the hobbies in which they partake or the experiences gained from travelling.  Now, I’m not saying that academic test results are unimportant.  Far from it.  However, the Head Teacher was correct in stating that results are not “everything” and that everyone is “unique.”  Not everyone is bright in the academic sense, but they are successful in other ways.

While it is true that academia carries weight in the education system, not being the top of the class does not mean that people cannot be successful, something that those with dyslexia would do well to remember.  Jamie Oliver has stated that the first book he read from start to finish was Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (released in 2009) and his difficulties with reading haven’t stopped him being successful at doing something he appears to love and get lots of money out of!

Conversely, just because someone is dyslexic doesn’t mean they can’t be good at jobs that are thought of, at least by some, as being for non-dyslexic people.  For instance, some people seem to balk at the thought of dyslexic teachers and lecturers.  While I personally have no idea why (various disabilities are present in classrooms on a daily basis, why should this not also extend to teachers who, as well as being good at their jobs, can truly empathise with their pupils?), some people see dyslexia as something that makes reading and writing so difficult that dyslexia is seen as insurmountable, rather than something that, granted, needs strategies, perseverance and hard work, but can still be overcome.

Then there is the fact that some people see dyslexia as a gift for it allows people to see things differently from those who do not have it.  For example, I have heard stories of dyslexic engineers who can see the problem without having to take machinery apart, something they attribute to the way that dyslexia has affected their brain.

So, not only are people different, but dyslexia can also be viewed in a multitude of ways.  Dyslexic or not, though, an individual is just that: an individual.  Each individual person has their own strengths and weaknesses that cannot, and should not, be measured by exam results.  Well done to the Head Teacher of Barrowford Primary School for highlighting this significant issue, the importance of which can never be underestimated.

Dyslexia Slipping Through the (Inter)Net? Not Anymore Hopefully! by Gemma Bryant

I have what I like to think of as a blog bank, a document that contains questions I ask myself about dyslexia and links to articles that provoke thoughts that are relevant to discuss here.  Top of that list for a long time (because more pressing things have got in the way) was a blog on a survey that was conducted last summer about how, as a result of social media and reality TV, one in four British people think that Britain is a nation of over-sharers.  Although in some instances the survey is correct (I don’t need to see what people are eating for dinner or have scores of people commenting on the aftermath of the Lucy Beale storyline in EastEnders on Facebook), the new everything must be shared mentality may be good for some things.  Important things.

While some people may have thought it ill-advised and tasteless, there is no denying that Jade Goody’s decision to fight cervical cancer in the public eye raised awareness of the disease, she herself of course having become famous as a result of Big Brother.  More recently, Katie Price’s stint in the house has led to a discussion about the provision of resources allocated to children with additional support needs, following her admission that her disabled son’s Harvey’s transport to and from school is not something she pays for despite her considerable wealth.  While in no way related to dyslexia, the stories of these two women do teach us something relevant:  Very few subjects are taboo anymore.

While dyslexia isn’t in itself taboo in the sense that it is now well understood and openly discussed, what is more taboo, despite the number of successful people in the public eye that happen to have it, is seeing dyslexia as something that does not define an individual.  As a consequence, people with the condition still may have trouble articulating not only what they find difficult but also how it makes them feel and how these things combined impact upon their daily lives.  In short, there is a massive difference between understanding what dyslexia is and being understanding about dyslexia.

Before volunteering here, I had no idea that Jamie Oliver and Keira Knightley have dyslexia.  I’ve only recently found out that Jennifer Aniston has it too.  While it is great that people with dyslexia have role models that they can relate to, let me put it another way:  If it doesn’t concern us why should we know?  How would we know for certain unless someone told us?  We wouldn’t.  While that is exactly as it should be, it is doubtless that continued misconceptions about the condition, as well as the lack of empathy some people seem to have towards it, discourage people from talking about their experiences of it.  Anything that can reverse such feelings, whether that be talking via an internet platform as opposed to face-to-face or relating their feelings to the experiences of another person (reality TV sob stories were also blamed for the erosion of Britain’s so-called stiff upper lip), is surely a good thing.  I’m not saying that people need to broadcast their innermost thoughts and feelings on dyslexia to the world in the style of Jeremy Kyle, but why does stoicism have to be seen as a good thing all the time?  Why does it have to be one extreme or the other?  Stoicism versus over-sharing?  I’d rather be over-sharing than overbearing.  Because by criticising those who you deem to be over-sharing, you may be the overbearing force that discourages them from speaking out about dyslexia.  What would that achieve?