The Debauchery of Disparaging Dyslexia

I came across an article last year that concerned itself with the subject of IQ tests.  While reading the piece, I noted the author’s statement that dyslexia can disappear with disappointment, particularly as it was made without the qualification that it was their opinion.  While everyone is entitled to voice their own beliefs, it angered me further still that the claim was, it seems to me at least, made without any evidence whatsoever.

It is often the nature of opinion pieces that they may not be backed up with hard facts, and given that such articles are merely platforms for people to express their thoughts and feelings, that’s fine.  However, I felt the need to write something in the hope that people might pause for a second and give a thought to how such statements may make people who have dyslexia feel.

To say dyslexia disappears does damage to a great number of people.  Not only does it trivialise the struggles faced by people with dyslexia, but it also belittles the efforts made by parents, teachers and outside agencies in helping people with dyslexia realise their potential.  On a related note, how can you expect an individual with dyslexia to realise their potential when it is possible that they will see no point in trying to improve their abilities if their desire to see it disappear (I use the word “possible” because not all people with dyslexia feel this way) is reinforced by external influences, such as the media as is the case in this instance?  Additionally, saying that dyslexia can disappear risks wrecking the self-esteem of an individual with dyslexia as it undermines the legitimisation of the condition that can hamper so many.  By trying to undermine dyslexia, there is a real possibility that comments such as the one that was made will reiterate the mistaken belief that to have dyslexia makes an individual unintelligent and worthless or that it is merely an excuse to be lazy and underachieve.  Not only can such remarks have an adverse effect on those who go on to internalise them, but it is also irresponsible and mean-spirited to say such things when impressionable minds could be seeing it and believing that it to be true because the author has been published, which does nothing for the public perception of the condition.

Bearing in mind that I have made clear my belief that everyone should be able to express themselves, you may wonder what my issue with the aforementioned article is.  All the difficulties that can potentially arise from saying dyslexia can disappear could do so as result of the author choosing to present their opinion as fact.  Although this can be debated, I believe that it is wrong for the individual to not have made clear that it was merely their opinion they were voicing.  Had they done this, there would be no reason for this blog as their belief would have been clear and as a result unable to be disputed as, despite the fact that many people may disagree with them, there is no harm in stating your opinion as long as people know that that is what it is.  It is as a result of not doing this that the possible problems I mentioned previously could materialise for the words of the author could be taken to heart by many and have far-reaching consequences.

Advertisements

The Power of Words

glasses-143762_640I seem to be coming across lots of article about the importance of language recently.   Whether it be people expressing annoyance at the word selfie (which was voted the most annoying word of the year according to Lake Superior State University, but there are numerous similar articles that claim whatever is the most galling word), conveying their supposed irritation at the overuse of perfectly fine words such as passion, robust and iconic or demonstrating the significance of the changing meaning of the word geek, which was declared the word of the year by Collins English Dictionary due to the fact it is now used to describe anyone who is deemed to be an expert in something, people seem to have lots to say about words.

This is all subjective of course, something that is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that the word selfie appears on both the overused and most annoying words of the year lists, but has been given the accolade of being the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year.

When it is merely opinion and is nothing more than a bit of harmless fun, you can be forgiven for questioning why all of this frivolity is notable enough to appear in a Dyslexia Scotland blog.  Words, whether you love or hate certain ones, have power.  Power to help or hinder, enrage or console, deflate or inspire.

It might be of little surprise, then, that scientists have recently found that reading can have a profound impact on the brain.  Although reading is not the be all and end all (and it has to be remembered that in the technological age, books can be accessed in a variety of ways, such as an audiobook or ebook,) the findings highlight some of the reasons it is important for dyslexics not to struggle with this task unnecessarily.  While I don’t personally agree with how the researchers phrased it (apparently reading a good book creates “muscle memory” in the reader which causes them to emulate the traits of fictional characters, as well as the decisions they make), it is true that a novel that gets under the skin of the reader has the potential to inspire them by giving them access to someone who they can relate to or a role model who they can look up to.

This is why it was disappointing, although not surprising, to come across an article in support of Ruth Rendall’s claims that reading is now “a minority activity.”  Although this could be seen by some as a pity for a variety of reasons – the lack of escapism that can be a great benefit to the sanity of some individuals is the main one that springs to mind – people must remember that to engage in reading as a pastime is a choice and if people do not want to read during their leisure time they should not be judged for wanting to do something else, just as the reading choices of those who do wish to read for pleasure should not be scrutinised (for more on that, see my blog entitled Reading Snobbery).

Think for a minute about people who may have chosen, particularly with it being a new year, to join a gym and get fit.  If they are judged for being a bit out of shape, it’s not going to encourage them to better their fitness levels.  In fact, they may stop attending all together and be in a worse state than they otherwise would have been.

Is the same not true of people with dyslexia who struggle to read, and may struggle further still as a result of societal attitudes towards books?  While I agree with Ruth Rendall’s assessment that people read less nowadays than previously, there are reasons for that.  Not only is there more choice in terms of entertainment (on a related note, although you don’t see as many people reading books on public transport, what about Kindles?), but advances in technology have, while increasing communication, led people to be less patient in terms of waiting for correspondence and so people have busier lives and perhaps have less time to read than they otherwise would have had.

Once again, no mention is made of the significant proportion of the UK population – one in ten to be exact – who have dyslexia and consequently have problems with reading.  If anyone was to imply that it is disappointing that Britons are no longer ashamed to admit they do not voluntarily read fiction, as has been suggested by another author, to someone who has dyslexia, how do you think that would make them feel?

There is no need for people with dyslexia to feel ashamed of having the condition, and I see no reason why anyone should feel ashamed for not having a particular hobby, in the same way it is unusual, although perfectly acceptable, to be female and be a football enthusiast.  The difference is, however, that issues with reading are synonymous with dyslexia, a learning difficulty that occurs through no fault of the individual who has it, and by making reading out to be of paramount importance you risk alienating and discriminating against people who have dyslexia.

As I have stated previously, words have power: I ask you to be conscious of the ones you use.  It might make a world of difference to an individual who has dyslexia.

Facebook and Literacy

Photo by mkhmarketing

Photo by mkhmarketing

According to recent research conducted by Booked, a magazine for UK schools, 70% of headteachers believe that Facebook and Twitter has adversely affected the literacy of young people.  To be fair to them, the examples that are used to back up this claim are not without merit:

“I wont to work wiv you’re  company.”

Another example the research cites is applicants deeming it appropriate to put xs (as in kisses) at the end of their applications when applying for jobs.

While the last example is something that is blatantly inappropriate, the first one throws up several interesting points.  Firstly “wont,” though outdated now, is an example of a word that is in itself correct, but lacking the right context, which would be something like the following:

It was Harry’s wont to go for a run before breakfast.

This is the case as wont is another word for habit, practice or custom.  Similarly, although “you’re” is correct when used as a contraction of you are, the company to which the person in the above sentence is referring will belong to someone and so your would be the correct word to use here.  Crucially, these are examples of two errors that would not be picked up by a spellchecker.

While some young people (actually people in general) may just use text speak to be lazy (something that “wiv” is but one example of), this research makes no mention of either the benefits literacy can attribute to social media or those who have genuine difficulties with spelling, reading and writing.

Given that literacy problems are such a big part of what it means to have dyslexia, it does the pupil/teacher relationship no favours when accusations of idleness are thrown about with no consideration for those that may have a significant and undeniable problem in this area through no fault of their own.  By not acknowledging people with dyslexia (or those that may be struggling on undiagnosed), such research risks stigmatising faultless young people.

Another error that was singled out was the difference between to, too, and two.  But there is also the difference between affect and effect, practice and practise, of and off, elicit and illicit, there, their and they’re…I could go on.  The point is, so much of the English language has two (or sometimes more!) words that sound the same and yet mean completely different things.  Therefore, not only can people with dyslexia have great difficulty learning to read, write and spell words, but they also sometimes encounter problems learning the correct context in which to use them.

The research made no allowances for simply being human either.  Yes, people should proof-read what they write and not rely on spellcheckers or other people to point inaccuracies out to them, but we all make mistakes, no-one can ever be perfect.  While I can understand the importance of presenting yourself in the best light when it comes to applying for jobs, why does an individual’s Facebook account have to be word perfect and grammatically sound 100% of the time?

As I have stated previously, nothing is mentioned with regards to technology advancing literacy.  Facebook now has a built-in spellchecker that will alert you to an error in the same way Microsoft Word does.  I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but being made aware of a mistake encourages me to correct it – to ensure I am easily understood by those with whom I am conversing if nothing else.  If Facebook does this, is it not a good thing?

What’s happening while that’s going on?  It could be anything at all; recommending great reads, finding an informative link, helping someone out with an academic quandary, offering a frustrated individual the chance to vent when things go wrong and a platform to shout from the rooftops when something great has happened.  I’ve seen all these things occur as a Facebook user, probably because it is the most accessible platform to use in order to say something to people we know en masse.  When this can be so much more problematic for individuals who have dyslexia, the last thing they need is for social media to be vilified.

It also seems a tad convenient to blame social media – a faceless entity that can’t answer back – for falling literacy standards when it is also considered that England is the only developed nation where children are deemed to be worse at mathematics and reading than their grandparents.  When such a bold and distressing claim is made, it is too simplistic to besmirch social media and not make other correlations.  What about the constantly changing curriculum?  A possible over-reliance on certain authors and texts?  Class sizes?  Teacher education and standards of teaching?

In short, while social media may have its faults, it is not fair to blame it for falling literacy standards without also acknowledging all the good it does.  Social media has its place in teaching literacy just as books do and there is no reason why they can’t harmoniously co-exist.

The article about the research in question can be found here:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2507642/Facebook-Twitter-harm-pupils-literacy-claim-headmasters.html

What Gaps Exist?

Following the recent news that Michael Morpurgo has written the first book in a series that is being published with the intention of making it easier for dyslexic parents to read to their children, I was surprised that, as the volunteer Resource Centre Manager for Dyslexia Scotland, I hadn’t realised that such a big gap in the market existed.  While it makes sense that everything that can be done to make reading easier for those who struggle with it should be, this is not something I had previously thought about.  In my defence, I’m neither dyslexic nor a parent and therefore had no reason to.

That having been said, it has caused me to ponder what other resources could be developed and used by dyslexics.  While I have seen books that explain what dyslexia is to children of various ages, for instance, I have seen none written from the point of view of a dyslexic parent.  Similarly, while there are books detailing how teachers can assist dyslexic pupils, as far as I’m aware there is nothing out there written from the perspective of a dyslexic teacher.

These are, of course, just two examples and it is probable that those who have experience of the condition can think of many more.  Getting back to the matter at hand, though, the fact that the idea for a series of books aimed at dyslexic parents and their children came about after Barrington Stoke were approached by a man who faced difficulty reading to his child poses an interesting point.  If something so worthwhile can occur through a simple conversation, what could a more frequent dialogue between dyslexics and official bodies, such as Government organisations and publishers to name but two, achieve?    On a related note in terms of resources, what would dyslexics like to see produced?  Given the gap that has been closed as a result of one man’s plight (although it is doubtless many other dyslexic parents will have also faced this issue) it stands to reason that many more barriers may well be overcome with open communication lines, which is why roundtable events, feedback and social media are so important – in giving dyslexics and those who help them a variety of ways to communicate you are not only making them feel more comfortable but giving them various ways in which to express themselves.  In doing so, a clearer idea is gained with regards to what support and resources dyslexics need.

In this instance, books that are accessible to dyslexic parents benefit more than just them and their children.  While it is true that they will improve the self-esteem of the parents and ensure that their children are not denied a love of books, reading and all the things that come with it (knowledge, empathy and a more imaginative mind were just three things that came into my head as I was writing), it benefits the wider world too.  For if dyslexics are given the ability to read to their children, does it not stand to reason that having this opportunity may make them want to overcome the difficulties they may face as a result of their dyslexia and become more productive in the workplace as a result of their improved literacy, for example?  Would being read to from a young age possibly make it easier and more enjoyable for youngsters to learn to read and consequently value education more?  While the definitive answers to these questions cannot ever be known, I cannot see a negative outcome to such a worthwhile endeavour.  Let’s hope Michael’s book, called All I Said Was, is the start of a new phenomenon: parents having a way in which to read to their children without being hindered by dyslexia.

All I Said Was by Michael Morpurgo and Itch, Scritch, Scratch by Eleanor Updale, books that have been created to enable dyslexic parents to read to their children, will be published in March 2014 by Barrington Stoke.

Reading Snobbery

A friend of mine was having a rant on Facebook last night because someone who was a complete stranger to her had taken it upon themselves to berate her for reading a gossip magazine (you know, something like Hello! or Closer).  It wasn’t as simple as decrying her choice of reading either; the individual made the assumption that as she was reading such a thing, she had to have issues with confidence and self-image, so I get the impression the discussion got quite personal.

Although my first thought was the obvious one of “Who do people think they are to make such aspersions about total strangers?” it later got me thinking about how dyslexics might feel should a similar situation happen to them and what the potential consequences of such an occurrence might be.

When an individual makes a disparaging remark, no thought is given to the circumstances of the recipient of the disdainful comment, or what such words might cause them to internalise, regardless of whether or not there is any substance to the both what was said or the subsequent thoughts the receiver might have in relation to it.  While some people might say it’s easier to live by the adage of if you haven’t anything nice to say don’t say anything at all, it isn’t always as simple as that.

In the instance of grouping children by reading ability, they quickly learn who are deemed the struggling readers, by the size of the lowest set of nothing else – because lower ability groups need to be smaller so that the children who need the extra support get it.  But still, I remember being appalled and hurt when a child (by this point someone old enough to know better than to say such a thing) felt the need to tell me that we would be reading better and harder books were it not for me – I later moved from the bottom to the top reading stream so her nastiness was just that and her comment bore no weight in the long run – but even in primary school children are taught to associate certain types of books – those that are shorter in length, for example – with a decreased level of intelligence.

Why does this have to be the case?  As has been proven countless times dyslexics can be whoever they want to be – I certainly didn’t know Jamie Oliver and Keira Knightly (to name but two) were dyslexic before I started volunteering here.  That being said, when book snobbery begins in primary schools, why is it a surprise that it is rife among the British general public?  Why do popular book series’ that appeal to the young and older people alike, such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, have to have separate covers for children and adults?  If you enjoy reading, it shouldn’t matter how the content is dressed up, whether it be a front cover of a book or the medium within which the book is contained, whether it’s a gossip magazine, an audio book or an encyclopaedia.

Nor should the content of your preferred reading material be judged.  Although I don’t read an awful lot of it personally, chick lit such as the recently released Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy gets an awful lot of bad press.  Actually, it’s more that the women that choose to read them sometimes get seen as having nothing between the ears, because it’s not seen as intellectual.  At the opposite end of the scale, science fiction and fantasy fans are seen as nerds, and those that prefer books thought of as high brow classics – I’m thinking along the lines of Jane Austen here –  could be deemed old-fashioned.  My point is, everyone has different interests, the same way that people have different levels of proficiency with regards to reading.  As a result, no-one should be condemned because of their personal tastes or abilities.  The consequences of having something as inconsequential as what a person chooses to read being belittled and mocked could be far-reaching, not only affecting their educational development and self-esteem, but ultimately their willingness and ability to reach their full potential.

While I don’t think anyone would argue with me about the fact that reading snobbery needs to be combated, less clear is how this should be done, although educational intervention is key to change societal attitudes.  I’m not saying that setting by ability needs to be eradicated, that does have its place as they can be of great benefit to children.  However, it still needs to be made clear that along with the support that these teaching methodologies provide, children also need to be taught that life is about more than being put in a particular group or being given a specific label.  It’s about making the correct choices for yourself so you can aspire to be exactly what you want to be and nobody has the right to make anyone – child or adult, dyslexic or non-dyslexic, feel as if they cannot achieve that because of what they choose to read.

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.

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?

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. 

Beyond Words: What does it Mean?

Beyond the surface

Beyond the surface

There are many battles dyslexics face due to misconceptions about the condition.

I have to confess, that before I started volunteering with Dyslexia Scotland, I was one of the probable masses of people who think that dyslexia only affects literacy.

In truth, it’s so much more than that – which was what this year’s conference, that took place on Saturday, was trying to highlight.

Not only does dyslexia affect short term memory, but it also hinders time management, organisation and note-taking, and that’s just me talking in the most simple and broad of terms.

However,  it’s not just the difficulties that dyslexics face that are misreported.  All too often, having the disorder means that people are written off, when in fact it has been argued that because of the way the dyslexic brain works they are better than non-dyslexics at visualisation, seeing things as a whole and practical and creative tasks.

So not only is the full extent of the condition obscured, but the strengths that it is believed to create go unnoticed.

But it’s not even really about that.  Strengths.  Challenges.  Ultimately just abstract words.  It’s about seeing the person as a whole, for the individual they are.  So when we say beyond words, that’s what we’re talking about.  See the person, not merely a surmountable problem.