Perspective

A wonderful blog by doreenjank.

I have just seen “The Big Picture” documentary film; which reminded me of how important different viewpoints, understanding and perspectives of a learning difference can be. I don’t want to say anymore as I would like you to watch the film; and not just take away my interpretation.

Also whilst volunteering in the office I realised why I always made mistakes (as a child) with the small functional words when reading (which had my parents pulling their hair out). I heard the following description of dyslexia. Dyslexics can’t make mental pictures of the functional words in the same way as they can with a word like ‘car’. And that dyslexics don’t have the innate skills to learn to read (i.e. associating sounds with letters).

 Perspective

*Everyone has their own

    Influenced by:-

        > Emotional intelligence

        > Up bringing

        > Present environment (both home and work)

        > Education

        > Abilities/inabilities and their perception of these (which in turn may be influenced by others views about how valuable their talents are).

        > Physical health

        > Understanding of others

        > Willingness to learn/listen

        > Ability/willingness to use imagination. How much reflective thought one engages in.

 Use/misuse of perspective within teamwork 

*  A team can achieve almost anything, if there are enough different viewpoints; but each individual must be able to relinquish at least some of their opinion to allow for others to be incorporated.

* Each individual must be respected enough (but not too much) for their views to be heard and considered.

* People must achieve, the extremely difficult task of listening/understanding and co-operating with others views (into a larger plan): whilst also being able to articulate their own views in a way, that each individual (or at least the majority of the people) in the group can comprehend.

 Given all that has been said above how-on-earth can anyone (or even a group of people) create a single resource that everyone will find useful. I’ve been thinking about this; since I saw that there was to be round table event, to discuss the creation of a adult toolkit, on the Dyslexia Scotland’s Facebook page (which is extremely interesting and has right up-to-date info).

Some people really relate to words and others to pictures/symbols; what works for one individual may not work  for others (even for those within the group of individuals who have been labelled as dyslexic). Even within the category of those who relate to a picture/symbol there may be different reactions to the same icon, and individuals may even interpret the meaning differently. The english language and its usage (along with many other languages, I’m sure) is living and evolving so much that all but the most basic functional words like: a, the and at are subject to different interpretations (either wider or narrower than any dictionary definition, which themselves may not entirely agree). Once (or if) a toolkit (for example) has been created how can everyone in a country, region or place be made aware of its existence. We have a wonderful choice of media these days, how could any one advert , cover them all. And if that’s not enough colour-schemes are likely to be beyond contentious.

 But then again where would we be if none of us had any perspective!!!    

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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?

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.

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.