We live in more ‘dyslexia aware’ times. We must be grateful for this, but not complacent. Only when every child’s learning needs are assessed and the appropriate teaching strategies for each child are identified and in place can we say that the rights of the dyslexic child have been recognised.
Part of the increase in dyslexia awareness has been due to the number of dyslexic adults who have ‘come out’ about their dyslexia. The impact of dyslexics in the public eye who talk about their dyslexia must not be underestimated. Susan Hampshire’s book Susan’s Story: an autobiographical account of my struggle with words was trailblazing. (The cover, and the cover page of the book, had each ‘S’ inverted, like it would have been in Susan’s handwriting.) Also significant was the Kara Tointon TV documentary Don’t Call Me Stupid. Both Susan Hampshire and Kara Tointon discussed the humiliation they felt during their schooldays, their yearning to be able to read ‘just like everyone else’, and in detail how as adult actresses they tackled reading their scripts and learning their lines. Charley Boorman used press interest in his and Ewan MacGregor’s epic motorcycle journey from London to New York, via Europe and Asia, to talk about his dyslexia. And it’s always good to listen to Henry Winkler, ‘The Fonz’, when he mentions his dyslexia and we learn of his work supporting and encouraging young dyslexics.
Moreover, in a blog published by Dyslexia Scotland, I shall not forget the profile maintained and the huge amount of work done for dyslexics by our President, Sir Jackie Stewart.
But, I have to say that I’m always slightly uncomfortable when the names of Sir Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein are mentioned in lists of ‘famous dyslexics’. Both certainly had difficult times at school, and although it is known that Einstein was slow in learning to speak and learning to read, neither Einstein nor Churchill had, or could have had, today’s assessments for dyslexia. These lists of ‘dyslexics from history’ must always be suspect, but I have to say that being dyslexic, every so often I hear something or read something about someone that makes me think, ‘Hmmmm. Was he, or she, dyslexic?’ Two examples come to mind. The comedian Tony Hancock used to confuse ‘left’ and ‘right’. His producer Eddie Joffe once said, “When he got out of a lift he’d inevitably go the wrong way, even if he’d been in the lift umpteen times before. An almost infallible method of finding one’s way in an unfamiliar place was to take the opposite direction to the one chosen by Tony.” Then, just like Susan Hampshire and Kara Tointon, Hancock had terrible difficulty learning his lines. Could he have been dyslexic?
A few weeks ago, after watching the documentary programmes about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Big Horn on BBC Alba, I delved into some biographies of the man. Custer, it turns out, was not the perfect student at his military academy; far from it. He fooled about a lot and struggled to graduate, often just scraping a pass in his examinations. His writing was strewn with errors, he mixed his metaphors and confused singular and plural. After he was married, and had to write reports and articles, he always asked his wife Libbie to read them before he sent them off. I do wonder whether George Armstrong Custer was dyslexic…
Vin Arthey, Guest blogger