Dyslexia and Art School

Dyslexia is a common distinction of the creative individual, with many young people attending art college falling into similar statistics as follows.

At Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design research by Dr Steffart found that three-quarters of the 360 art foundation students assessed have a form of dyslexia. Dr Steffart designed a series of six tests of verbal, written and spatial ability for the students. Their intellectual and visual spatial skills were at a superior level – but they had many problems with reading, writing and spelling. Independent

We know that this can cause great barriers to some subjects but you would imagine that art and design would be an area that if you were struggling with dyslexia then things would be much easier.

However, I work with students in my role at Portfolio Oomph supporting them making an application to art college or creative courses at University. One thing that has struck me, in the last 8 years since the inception of the colleges/unis using a digital portfolio to assess a student’s skills and creative capabilities, how much the organisational ability that is affected by dyslexia can really disadvantage a student.

The creation of a digital portfolio is a digitising of a student’s portfolio (drawings, paintings, sculptures etc) and arranging it to clearly demonstrate the creative process. Each college, and sometimes each course, has differing guidelines on how many images they require. They request your images categorised into research / development, final outcomes and often context (the artists and designers you are inspired by and your influences). The pixel size is limited as is the file size and type, to 200kb or 1mb of .jpeg format.

If you’re bamboozled by this, you’d not be alone.

For some courses the digital portfolio is the first part of the selection process and if they rank highly here, they will be called for interview. Other colleges use only the digital portfolio (along with their UCAS application) to select potential students.

Furthermore, many courses ask for a 500 word statement in addition to the UCAS statement, which is yet another challenge to write concisely and succinctly with passion and relevancy for their subject and college.

Art college is not just about painting pictures these days, has it ever been? More and more there is an expectation that the student’s application imbues an intellectual ability via the portfolio, UCAS statement, 500 word statement and interview. As Dr Steffart’s research defines, creative students can be intellectually gifted and their art can be the vehicle. However, if they struggle to organise and prepare sufficiently this can be critical.

So, to summarise, some courses have a 4 tier selection process requiring sustained organisation, time management and planning over a period of approx. 7 months.

The competition for creative courses is high and it’s because of this that I established Portfolio Oomph, an online hub to practically support students in all aspects of making applications to creative further and higher education.

Making a plan and being organised, thinking ahead from September about what each college requires, deadlines, content etc. is a good start to the year when you’re applying. Ensuring that you have a personal interest in your idea/themes is essential so that you can more easily express your commitment and passion for it. Use­­ the colleges’ language when talking about ‘trying things out’, ‘making mistakes’ (which are important parts of the creative process and need to be celebrated!) use research, development etc.

Finally, like most things, there is help and support out there if you seek it.

 Written by: Julie Read is the founder of Portfolio Oomph 

Dyslexia, Mental Health and Stigma

Dyslexia is not a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect one’s mental health and it can often lead to a mental illness, like depression or anxiety, because of the ripple effect dyslexia can have on one’s whole life – from brain processing, to self-esteem, to work, to independence and isolation. However, the words ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ still carry a lot of stigma. So, if you’re finding the label dyslexia stigmatising, it’s likely you’ll also hate any other labels, especially relating to your mental health.

Well, here’s my opinion: Having mental health difficulties is no less stigmatising than having physical health problems. It’s all part of being part of this world.

  • Let’s look at asthma. You get medicine for that when needed. You avoid certain environments, pets, or hill walking, to not provoke an asthma attack. You get regular check-ups. You talk openly about it. You even write it down on forms, declaring it without a second thought. It’s perfectly fine. You can’t help it. You were born that way. Your body isn’t functioning like people without asthma but that’s ok.
  • If you break a leg, you get a cast on it. You avoid mountain climbing and running etc. People will ask you openly what happened and you’ll answer as keenly. You get help and support – maybe even a physio. You know you’re currently limited in how you can live your life, but it doesn’t define you.
  • You’re off sick with the flu. You’ve been to the doctor; they prescribed rest and fluids. You stay off work. You tell your manager – you even throw in an extra cough for emphasis. You moan to anyone who’ll listen because a bit of extra pity feels good. You binge watch TV and stay in bed all day. People tell you to relax and offer their help. You might even get your meals served in bed. It’s nice.
  • You can’t get out of bed because you’re feeling depressed. You watch TV but then feel guilty. You don’t want to tell your manager the real reason you can’t come into work. You don’t tell your friends either because you did once, and was told to ‘get over it’. Why are you even depressed, you ask yourself? Life’s good. What do you have to be upset about? Ok, so you did have that ‘thing’ the other day where you were put on the spot and you couldn’t read what you were asked or write what you were supposed to. It reminds you of the other children laughing at you at school. It wasn’t fine. It made you feel lonely. You’ve been told you have dyslexia. It’s not nice. You don’t want to declare it on forms. You feel you should somehow be able to overcome it, unlike asthma. It defines you, unlike a broken leg.

Why is a broken body acceptable? Why is breaking your leg ok, but struggling with your mind because you were born that way, not? How do we hope to change the stigma if we do it to ourselves?

I have dyslexia and am currently trying to find out if I also have dyspraxia. I found these terms very stigmatising once, until I realised it explained all the things about me that I hadn’t been able to understand; the things I had criticised myself for – and instead of stigmatised I felt freed. It was a release. After all, the many names I’d called myself throughout the years were labels too, like ‘stupid’ or ‘clumsy’. However, all the self-doubts I’d had growing up, led to low self-esteem and spells of depression.

I still get anxious when I’m asked to read out loud, but instead of letting that anxiety build, I just say I don’t want to as I’m dyslexic and that’s that. I also say whenever it comes up that I have depression and what I’ve found is that every time I’m honest – instead of pushing people away or feeling ashamed – other people feel braver and say they have problems too. My honesty, instead of isolating me, brings me closer to others. My openness about my struggles breeds inclusion instead of exclusion. That doesn’t mean everyone ‘gets it’ or accepts it – there are still judgemental people out there and there always will be – but it’s not about being accepted by others anymore; it’s about being accepted by myself and I now do, which has taken away from my sense of stigma.

Terese Smith – guest blogger

_______________________________________________________________

I found these TED Talks very inspirational and helpful. Maybe you will too:

Emotional first aid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2hc2FLOdhI

Vulnerability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Shame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0

Thank you for reading and I hope you found this post interesting. What’s your experience of stigma? Have you seen examples of – or experienced – how dyslexia can lead to other mental health problems? Any advice on how to cope and feel better? Please comment below.

A film about dyslexia made by dyslexic people…

I have dyslexia and this issue is very close to me since I live with it on a daily basis.  I feel strongly about telling the story of dyslexia in the form of film and I think it’s an ideal way to portray the experience.

We’ve been planning and developing the idea of making a film about dyslexia now for a year. We have decided to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds to make this important film.

I volunteer with Dyslexia Scotland and help manage their YouTube channel. Over this time I have met and interviewed many people with dyslexia. I have been blown away by the stories and the amazing people I have met over the last two years.

I feel I’ve been working my whole life to this point. I’ve been heavily affected by dyslexia my whole life, and after being involved with Dyslexia Scotland, I have realized I’m one of so many children, adults, youths, elderly, mothers, fathers, teachers, footballers and scientists living with dyslexia.

Back to the film! Issue-based documentaries are very effective at telling the story to a large audience and with the rise of the internet and platforms such as YouTube and Facebook; it has never been easier to distribute stories in an engaging way to target groups of people.

We will make this film to let people know what it feels like emotionally and physically to live with dyslexia, we will tell personal stories. The crew and people involved in the production of this film are dyslexic and this will add to the authenticity of the film.

Please go to our funding page to find out more about how you can help us make this important film, contribute and/or get involved. Please click on the link below:

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dyslexia-film-video/x/15500667#/

Trevor Thomson

Media Professional and Dyslexia Scotland Volunteer

Guest blog: Pupil Inclusion Network Scotland

Educational inclusion and the poverty-related attainment gap are given a lot of focus. It’s often said we have some of the best legislation, policy and guidance to help us take on such challenges. We probably do. However, when you are in the job of supporting so-called vulnerable, marginalised or excluded children and young people with learning or schooling it feels hard going on the ground. When you are a parent or carer struggling to keep your child motivated and engaged with learning, when it seems little about the system is on your (or your child’s) side it can be frustrating – no, exhausting.

The real challenge then seems not to develop more policy, but to act to tackle the practical day-to-day embodiments of inequality and exclusion. It’s what we do to really make a difference that matters. This is where PINS hope to come in. The Pupil Inclusion Network Scotland (PINS) is a national network funded by the Scottish Government. The network operates online and our interests range from the early years through to post school learning. It’s a network for professionals working in any capacity with children and young people as learners – we are particularly interested in connecting with workers from community and voluntary sector agencies who make up about half of our 1300 members.

In a recent PINS blog educationalist David Cameron hit the nail on the head when he recognised that when it comes to inclusion there doesn’t seem to be a plan. What he proposed was that there should be more commitment to learners and less to slogans, with a range of provision to meet a spectrum of need. If PINS is to be of use as a network then it needs to both connect those involved in education with what’s good about what we do, and then also pose some challenges that point in the direction of making it better. Our focus then is on keeping practitioners informed and being a critical friend when it comes to Scottish Government and other public bodies.

Practically, PINS members receive monthly e updates, membership is free, individuals join via the link from the home page. The rallying cry is – come join us! http://pinscotland.org/

Colin Morrison

Follow us on twitter @PINScotland

The best laid plans…

[Disclaimer: I am dyspraxic, but planning and organisation can be issues for people with dyspraxia and dyslexia.]

Planning ahead is difficult for me – there, I’ve said it! Some people might be surprised to hear me say this, as they’d say that I’m quite an organised person. However, it is something that I have to work very hard at and I have many strategies in place to help me.

I have a previous work colleague to thank for some of the strategies that I use today. She was a very organised PA to a Director and sat down with me to try to help me with some strategies, as I was feeling very overwhelmed with my workload at that time.  These strategies included:

  1. using coloured folders with the days of the week and ‘week commencing…’ folders. So, rather than feeling overwhelmed with all my workload, using the folders to put upcoming tasks into. These would release me from the anxiety that I had so much to do and didn’t know where to start – I didn’t need to worry about these tasks until that day/week.
  2. using my outlook calendar to plan my ongoing work and development tasks;
  3. to only use my Outlook calendar rather than a paper diary and Outlook. Using both had meant that I kept forgetting to update one or the other and double-booking or missing meetings.

These strategies seem to have worked for me for the past few years. However, the best laid plans don’t always work, as real life gets in the way. I get quite anxious when an unexpected task or project lands on my desk.  If it’s an urgent task like information for a report, then I need to stop my planned work to do the urgent task, which I know many people would understand in the circumstances. However, the difficulty for me is getting back on track with the outstanding task, after completing the urgent task.

I analysed my actions in a similar situation that occurred recently. I had a couple of big development tasks to do that week where I needed to analyse and make decisions, as they impacted on upcoming work and meetings. However, I was asked to provide some information for a report that had a quick deadline. After procrastinating with a recycling task (why?!), I managed to complete the task before the deadline (much to my surprise). However, I then found it difficult to get my head back into the mindspace to analyse the collated information and make decisions. I think that the cartoon below (by Erin Human) illustrates this situation exactly:tendril-theory

When you have planning difficulties, I feel that it’s very important to have an understanding and supportive manager. I’ve been fairly lucky in my working life as most of my managers have been very supportive.  I did have one manager in the past who micro-managed me and my planning and organisation difficulties made working with her very difficult. She and I were very similar in a lot of ways, but she couldn’t understand what I was doing with my time. I spent a lot of time in her office, justifying the time that I’d taken to complete a task or report. To be fair, though, at that time neither of us knew that I was dyspraxic.

I only discovered that I was dyspraxic in 2015, so I’m still learning about the way that it impacts on my planning and organisation. I’m lucky now that I have a very supportive and understanding manager.  I do still find planning and organisation tricky, but the difference now is that I can be kinder to myself when plans do go awry.

Helen (Volunteers Manager)

 

Death of a dyslexic journalist

The death of the Sunday Times journalist, AA Gill, has been in the news recently because he was an amazingly eloquent writer. He had a wonderful ability to describe situations using a prolific number of adjectives and similes.  But he should also be remembered for his severe dyslexia. He was born in Edinburgh but when his parents moved south he was sent to a “progressive” school in the south. This was the early 1960s and despite it being allegedly progressive he was labelled stupid and eventually he just “checked out”. After a period of alcoholism and unsuitable jobs, he took up cooking which led to teaching and to one of his students asking him to write an article on food for a magazine. The rest is history, as he became a well known restaurant critic – but such was his unique style of writing that he wrote on any subject which interested him.

An extract from his obituary in his own Sunday Times: “It still took him three weeks to read a novel and he could not spell. ‘I couldn’t tell you what an adjective is’ he once said, ‘people tell me over and over again but it just refuses to go in’. Menus presented a challenge. ‘I read hugely, just very slowly’. He wrote in his own form without paragraphs or capital letters and then dictated all his copy”. The Sunday Times employed a copytaker for him throughout his journalistic career. His last article was written in hospital with the help of his copytaker who described the draft of the article, “the computer was filled with runic-looking words muddled by his dyslexia”. The article was published on the day of his death and was about the compassionate care he had received from the NHS. In his true descriptive style he described his extensive cancer as “the full English breakfast”.

Extract from an article written by Jeremy Clarkson about his friend Adrian Gill, published in Sunday Times 18/12/2016:

“He died last weekend, leaving us with a body of work that beggars belief. It beggars belief partly because he didn’t start writing until he was 38 but mostly because of his profound dyslexia. He’d have had a better chance of getting his letters in the right order if he’d lobbed a tin of alphabet soup into a ceiling fan. He’d often text me to say where we were having lunch and I’d have to use a Turing decoder to work out what the bloody hell he meant. “Twersy”, for instance, was “the Wolseley”.

The way Adrian dealt with this was a lesson to all sufferers today. History was his favourite subject at school but he always got a bad mark, so he asked his teacher why. You’re one of the best in class, said the teacher, but you’ve got a problem with your writing. Adrian decided angrily that he didn’t have the problem; the teacher did. And he vowed ever afterwards to make it someone else’s problem, not his own. Adrian struggled, too, with reading. It would take him half an hour to read the inscription on a statue or a war memorial, which is something he did a lot, and yet somehow he knew everything about everything.”

Susie Agnew, Dyslexia Scotland Board Member

Learning new words

At high school, the scheme I learned French through was dyslexia-friendly. Here’s how.

  1. It was multi-sensory
  2. It presented the learning material in a context
  3. It involved overlearning
  4. It involved diagnostic tests
  5. It was exciting and enjoyable

These dyslexia-friendly aspects of my school French scheme are just as useful to me now as they were back then. I use them along with some other ideas to learn new words in English. This is how I learn new words then.

1)    I hear new words and write them down

  • I listen to audiobooks. (Books give language a context). Whenever I hear a word I don’t know, I write it down on a sheet of paper
  • When I have filled up one sheet I start a new one. I number the sheets
  • I use felt tip pens to write each word in a different colour. This helps me remember the words. I also enjoy the sensory aspects of writing with felt tips pens: the feel, the sound, and the colours

2)    I find the meanings, and record them in writing and audio  

  • As soon as I can, I look up my words in a pocket dictionary
  • I write down each word’s meaning on the sheet
  • I find it exciting to discover a word’s meaning – it’s like unearthing treasure
  • I also make an audio recording of each word sheet

3)    I find images and create flashcards

  • I search online for images of each word
  • I create a flashcard for each word, using a table in Word
  • Each flashcard has on it a word and its corresponding image. I also add the number of whichever word sheet the word is on, for reference

4)    I learn the words

  • I look at the flashcards on my computer
  • I hide the words by selecting the words column then formatting the font as ‘hidden’. I look at each picture and say its word
  • Then I unhide the words column, and hide the pictures column. I use WordTalk to listen to the words one at a time. When I hear each word, I envision the image that goes with it
  • I read my current words of the day sheet at odd moments, silently and out loud. I also sing, clap, dance and act the words
  • I listen to the audio recordings of my word sheets

 

5)   I test my learning

 

Once a fortnight, I record a test on my digital audio recorder. For each word, I say the word and ask for the meaning, or vice versa. I download the recording onto my computer. The next day, I play the test on my computer and speak my answers. I audio record it. Then I listen and check my answers with the word sheets. I tick off the words I’ve learned and carry forward any I haven’t into the next fortnight.

Other tools for learning new words

(This paragraph references software that I as a dyslexic individual find helpful, or that others have recommended to me. This does not equate to Dyslexia Scotland endorsing these resources).

  • To look up words by speaking them, and hear them spelt out:
  1. On a computer – Google Chrome’s ‘search by voice’ feature (Click on the microphone icon in the search bar. Then say ‘spell’ followed by the word you wish to find);
  2. On an iPad or iPhone – Siri;
  3. On an Android device – Easy Speak Pro (compatible with The Scottish Voice)
  • To create audio-visual flashcards:
  1. An e-book App – see https://alifelessordinaryds.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/dyslexia-stories-8

 

By an adult member of Dyslexia Scotland

Is dyslexia a good label?

On Thursday 10th November 2016 as part of Dyslexia Awareness Week, Dyslexia Scotland asked the following on Facebook –

Is being identified as dyslexic a ‘label’?

And is that good or bad?

Tell us what you think?”

To which I replied –

I would much rather be labelled Dyslexic, than labelled: Stupid (Not Working To The Best Of My Ability), Lazy and/or any of the other negative labels that are often given to dyslexics before they are given a ‘label’ of dyslexia. The dyslexia label is a GIFT. It’s just a shame that by the time most of us get it, we are trying to wrap it around what remains of our shattered self-esteem.

The above inspired my creative side to create:

doreen_jigsaw

I would call it a drawing, if it wasn’t for the fact I used stencils (because my hand just won’t draw what’s in my head if I try to draw it freehand. I think I have many dyspraxic tendencies (I was an extremely clumsy child, and although I’ve gotten much better, I am never sure how co-ordinated I will be from one moment to the next).

In this case I think stencilling works to this piece’s advantage due to the fact the fairy’s body is in pieces and stitched together with the remains of her self-belief. Her wings (which would ordinarily be the most ethereal part of her) are the most cohesive and effective due to the fact she identifies herself as dyslexic. And her internal dialogue can now take on a much more positive note.

I drew the background as jigsaw puzzle pieces because whilst volunteering at this year’s Education Conference, I really enjoyed Dr Rob Long’s keynote speech. One of his Powerpoint slides, which illustrated a child’s abilities, behaviours and emotions as a jigsaw of different ages; i.e. a 12-year-old dyslexic child may have a reading age of 7, but a spatial awareness age of 14 or higher.

Another talk (“Seeing Words – The Art of Visual Communication”) I heard recently was from Alex at the Glasgow Adult Network. Before I write anymore please see:-

I’m not going to explain this one, please just contemplate the visual for a few moments.

doreen_bird

I would now like to give a response to Sarah Entine’s “read me differently” film. I feel I have reached a stage in my life, where I am sick of being a star and trying to fit into a cuboidal box. I am fed up of the negative labels given to me by a society that dislikes my marvellous star points breaking out of the box.

Sarah Entine’s salvation appeared to be in discovering her creativity through a flower arranging job, which led to her finding the courage to go back and study her masters degree and became a social work professional (working in an occupational / activity-based psychologist type role). I hope to soon find my individual path to greatness. And fly away, through my true colours to my one moment in time to be all that I want to be.

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland Volunteer and Member

 

Parent-School Partnership

Our son was diagnosed as dyslexic two years ago, when he was eight. Since then he has been receiving tuition outside school hours, in addition to the support he receives in school. His tutor mentioned that another child she taught had set up a Dyslexic ‘club’ at school; somewhere the emphasis was on socialising and not school work. We thought this was a great idea and would be helpful in boosting our son’s confidence, by showing him that he is not the only one who is dyslexic in the school.

We suggested the group to the school, although at first they were not sure how this would work. Under the supervision of a teacher, it was agreed the club would meet once a week over a lunchtime, as a trial.  This started last year and approximately ten children attended the group each week. Feedback from the children told us that they felt relieved to see that they were not the only child struggling with dyslexia in the school. One child’s response when joining the group was “you mean I’m not the only one?”.  My son said to me “mum there are some really clever people there too from p7!” The children, with the help of the teacher, got together and produced a PowerPoint presentation of Dyslexia and how it affects them.  They then presented this to the parents of the group one evening.   They used bullet points and pictures to help them and avoided using lots of writing and long words.  This presentation gave the children confidence and a sense of comradery.  The club was well attended, however when it was a sunny day the teacher noticed attendance dwindled.  Therefore, it was agreed with the input of the children, that it would move to once a week during morning break.  They felt that it was good to continue with the club, however didn’t want to miss out on playing with their friends outside during the lunch break.

At the same time, the Headteacher at the school set up a parent’s support group. This was a trial group also, to see if coming together to share ideas and difficulties would benefit those of us supporting a dyslexic child. The group met four times last year. Like the children, it was great to meet other parents who are experiencing difficulties helping their child with school work and life in general with dyslexia.  The Headteacher and club teacher were also present to give their input and receive feedback from parents.

In the future, we hope to produce a school leaflet for children and parents, explaining a bit about dyslexia and the help they can receive. We also hope to have guest speakers both at the children’s and adult groups, who can inspire and give strategies and advice to us all on managing life and work with dyslexia.

Both clubs are still in their infancy, however we feel we have taken a step forward in raising awareness in the school community about dyslexia. Most important of all, the children enjoy socialising and realising they are not alone, which is a great confidence boost.

Lorna Murray – guest blogger

 

The invisible superhero

Dyslexia is hardly a superpower – in fact it’s a ‘specific learning difficulty’. But this ‘difficulty’ seems to have a strange way of making people better at some things. Dyslexia often co-exists with high levels of:

  • creativity
  • intuition
  • interpersonal skills
  • perseverance and determination.

Look at Pablo Picasso, who never amounted to much in school but came up with a bold new artistic vision. Or Richard Branson, whose business acumen more than overcame his academic difficulties. These are only two names on a long list of dyslexic high achievers.

It’s not that being gifted causes dyslexia, of course. Nor is it proof of a genetic connection between dyslexia and creativity, the way blonde hair and blue eyes often go together. It could be that having a brain that’s wired differently gives you different abilities. Or it could be that struggling with everyday tasks like reading, writing and coordination simply pushes dyslexics to compensate. We use skills that aren’t hampered by our unusual brain wiring to make up for the ones that are. That sounds like a good thing – and it is. But unfortunately it can cause problems of its own, because dyslexia’s real superpower is invisibility.

I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was in my teens. It probably didn’t help that I’m hardly a ‘classic case’; I was (and am) a voracious reader. My spelling may have been, let’s say, idiosyncratic, but my writing was fine for my age. Everything was fine for my age, in fact, and that was the problem. Unless a child is failing in something, their difficulties may not be picked up. It’s easy to see ‘careless’ or ‘rushed’ work by a child who is doing fine when it’s actually painstaking work by a child who is struggling to keep up. That label of ‘careless’ was the bane of my school life until a teacher who was trained in dyslexia finally saw the mismatch between my spoken ability and my written work.

After that I got extra time in exams and natty purple glasses to stop lines jumping around. I was also taught techniques to help me overcome my poor memory and spelling. They were so effective that I am now an excellent proofreader, and people are impressed by how well I remember names! But if I hadn’t been diagnosed, perhaps I would simply believe that I was ‘careless’, always letting myself down.

Some people believe that dyslexia is a ‘gift’. I’m not sure that I agree with them. I had a friend at Scotland’s top university who could not write without a voice-operated computer. That didn’t seem like a gift. My younger sister can never fully enjoy a book because reading is such hard work. To me, who inhales books, that doesn’t look like a gift. When I break another glass, or have to stare at a road sign to figure out which way it’s pointing, that doesn’t feel like a gift. But when I can effortlessly make connections that most people miss, or ‘see’ the past behind present-day places, that does feel like a gift. And perhaps I wouldn’t have these abilities without my dyslexic wiring. Dyslexia may not be a gift, but it comes bearing gifts.

Karen Murdarasi, guest blogger

You can see more blogs from Karen here: www.kcmurdarasi.com