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.

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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.

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.

Dyslexia and parenthood

A wonderful Insight in to dyslexia and parenthood from Julie McNeil, wife of Paul McNeil  one of our fantastic ambassadors

Books, reading, developing your child’s imagination and sense of creativity were about as fundamental to my approach in parenting as things come.

Paul, my husband who is Dyslexic, embraced this and we both read to our son Shea from a very young age – weeks old.

It is no surprise then that some of his first words were lines from his favourite stories and his language skills were pretty advanced for his age.

Unsurprisingly, for as long as I can remember he has loved books.

As he got older Paul would build dens (Dad’s dens were always better than Mum’s apparently) and the two of them would read together inside.
Shea loved the way his dad told stories as he was so animated and always added a sense of excitement or drama to the story.

I loved seeing his eyes light up and his imagination growing day by day. He loved to act out things he had heard about in books.

As Shea got older and was trying to understand his world he would often ask adults to “tell (him) a story about” this was Shea’s way of asking adults to explain something he didn’t understand.

Shea is all about the questions.

Laterally, Shea started pre school. The stories have moved on. The words are harder.

The other night when I was reading to him before bed he said “no mummy it’s Mr Kark not Krank, you always read it wrong. Daddy knows his name” now, I know it’s “Krank” but I am caught between wanting to read the right words to my young impressionable son and a real sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards my husband. For some reason I don’t want Shea to know his dad struggles with words…. I am not sure why. I know that day will come very soon where Shea will understand that adults struggle too. We don’t know everything, we are not always right and we all have our own difficulties/ disabilities or just things we struggle with in life. But to Shea at 3 we still have all the answers.

Paul is our hero. He never shies away from the difficulties he faces. I hear him spelling out words and learning about phonics because he knows it is important to Shea and he knows it’s important to me. I also appreciate how exhausting it must be for him.

Reading will always be something I value and something I will encourage in both my children but what Paul has shown me first hand is that passion, imagination and time are what lights the fire in children.

Shea begs his dad to take him to bed when he is home early enough from work because Paul tells him “a story in my mouth” instead of a book. You see Paul’s imagination is second to none (in fact second only to Shea’s) and is a very hard act for a Mum with a pile of Julia Donaldson stories to follow.

It’s funny how I thought it would be my role to encourage reading, imagination and creativity in my children when Paul and his amazing, wonderful, creative, Dyslexic brain surprises and amazes me once again.

I know things will get harder for Paul as the children grow and, who knows, maybe the children will be dyslexic too. What I do know is that the skills that Paul has had to develop to cope with his Dyslexia (creativity/ adaptability/ thinking on your feet) mean that Paul was much better prepared for the challenges of parenthood and it is a joy to see Shea lapping it up!!

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At what point do children become aware that mummy/ daddy are dyslexic and how should you to talk to them about it? And are there any useful books/resources to help them understand?

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.

If – poems about Dyslexia

We have been sent these wonderful poems by a very talented lady and we think they sum things up very well.

We hope that you enjoy them half as much as we have.

If you can cope with amazing talent coupled with absolute inability,

And face both with the same attitude;

If you can trust your talent when all around you want to focus on your disability,

But understand the world turns on the printed word;

Or listen to misguided authority figures claim you are rubbish, but never pass the hate on,

And don’t get too big for your boots, nor use your verbal talents too much:

Yours will be achievement and self esteem

And what’s more you’ll be a Dyslexic, my child!

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s “IF” poem 

If you can affect every brain cell, but make them work as one,

Or affect such a small part of life, but still be so disabling;

If you can be disarmed sometimes, but still resurge with such vigor,

If you allow for talent and ability to shine through, but never too easily;

If you can fill the everyday literate minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of stressed out panic,

Yours is my brain and most things in it,

And what’s more you are Dyslexia, my froe!

(froe; means friend/foe)

Lost in Translation

It was never my intention to write anything remotely like a sequel to my Lost for Words? blog, however it later occurred to me that, as a result of some dyslexics having trouble with sarcasm, tone of voice and phrases that are not meant to be taken literally, spoken English, particularly in the UK, can be as much of a minefield as written English.

Consider the table below:

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Source: dailymail.co.uk

Furthermore, that is far from an exhaustive list, both in terms of phrases and their meanings.

For example, “You really need to consider…” followed by anything that concerns other people can be UK speak for “I think my opinion is better than yours but I’m too polite to say so.”

Any sentence starting with “I’d rather you didn’t…” means “you had better not” as opposed “just because X says they’d prefer if I didn’t do Y doesn’t mean I can’t.”

And beware of someone who describes a film as “interesting.”  It usually means they hated it.

Most people learn the oddities of UK polite speak (for lack of a better phrase) through experience, but given the tendency of some dyslexics to take what people say at face value, there is a danger that such situations could be lost on them.

Think about the large variety of circumstances that require social interaction, both with those we know and strangers, while remembering that dyslexia is a processing disorder where those with the condition can have just as much trouble interpreting the meaning behind spoken words as well as what is written down.

Now think of the potential consequences.

I remember “I would suggest” being a favourite phrase among university tutors.  In the context of academia, if a tutor suggests something, it’s usually to benefit of the student and their grades, so it gets done without a second thought.  But dyslexics just starting out on the University journey may not necessarily know that, as they may see it as exactly what it appears to be: a mere suggestion, and their grades could suffer as a result.

I’m sure “I’d rather you didn’t” has been the war-cry of parents of young people everywhere and teenagers have discovered the true meaning to their cost when the misinterpretation results in them being grounded.

And don’t get me started on the potential dangers of using “with all due respect” (or any variation thereof) in the workplace….

As dyslexics may have a bigger issue with navigating this battlefield than their non-dyslexic counterparts, it could be argued that if this particular part of the English language poses a problem for them, it should be taught in classrooms, especially as polite speak seems to be unique to the UK.

Better to teach children of the UK the idiosyncrasies of their native language at a young age, than for them to potentially remain ignorant and risk losing out and causing themselves unnecessary grief as they grow up.

 

Lost for Words?

Lost for Words

 

Recently The Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter known as the OED in the interest of brevity) has added around one thousand new words to its online lexicon.

 

Some of the new entries include selfie (a photo taken on a smartphone of yourself that is usually uploaded to a social networking site) phablet (apparently used to describe a smartphone with a bigger screen) double denim (wearing two items of denim clothing together, jeans and denim jacket for instance) and babymoon (a holiday taken by expectant parents prior to the birth of a child or the time during which the family bond).

 

While the majority of us may find this mildly irritating at best, there is potential for dyslexics to find the inclusion of new words a real problem, particularly considering the tome is updated four times a year.

 

Take selfie for example. Surely using the words portrait photograph is sufficient. Just because the picture is taken with a different purpose in mind does not necessarily mean it needs its own word to distinguish it from a perfectly good pre-existing definition. The same goes for babymoon, what is the problem with using pre-existing words to explain what someone is doing rather than boiling it down to one for the sake of being trendy? And as for phablet, what is achieved by amalgamating two words to create an offshoot of something that is already in existence?

 

It is quite clear, and perfectly normal, that as the world evolves language should, and indeed does, change with it. That is not an issue. In having so many words specifically within the OED, unique problems arise due to how widely this particular dictionary is used.

 

While I am not bemoaning the evolution of language and accept that popular culture influences it, where will it stop? Given nobody knows when the world will cease to exist, in theory we have an infinite amount of time during which language will change and grow.

 

But if every single new word that is created ends up in the dictionary (OED assures us this isn’t the case despite the fact it might feel like it), are we not losing sight of a couple of things, particularly for dyslexic people?

 

One, the ever-increasing number of new words and definitions will exacerbate the processing difficulties that dyslexic people experience. Two, given the hardships dyslexics encounter with literacy, should responsibility not lie with the compilers of the OED to make the world of words easier to navigate by asking themselves if particular words really need to be in the dictionary? Because sometimes less is more. If you use too many words the ones that actually matter get lost, become meaningless and lose their power. And doesn’t that go against what the OED is trying to encourage given that they produce dictionaries that are ultimately used to expand our minds?

 

Maybe the OED needs to realise that expanding people’s minds should not involve cramming them full of unnecessary nonsense words which would only be to the detriment of the English language and those who speak it, none more so than the 10% of the UK population affected by dyslexia.

What’s in a name

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Having dyslexia can be frustrating; people don’t always understand it, they make assumptions, make jokes (ok, so most of which I actually find quite funny) and there are things that take longer or more effort to do.

Often, for many of us, it has negative connotations attached to it. This is especially true if you had to struggle for a long time before your difficulties were recognised. However, once you have been diagnosed/ identified everything falls into place, right?

Does being given the ‘label’ dyslexic help?

Often, people talk about the moment they are diagnosed as “everything falling into place” or “like a weight being lifted off their shoulders”.

But what does this really mean?

When I was diagnosed/ identified, it was just that, like everything falling into place, I could finally put a name to my frustrations and stop self diagnosing some of my symptoms/traits like poor short term memory or believing the negative things that had been said or implied over the years.

But, a diagnosis/identification wasn’t enough! I had questions and I wanted to ‘fix’ it….

There is no fix, we all know that, but there are ways of making life easier.

So, I now had to unpick my dyslexia, work out what my strengths and weaknesses were, what was actually part of my dyslexia and what was just my dizziness or clumsiness.

I had to work out what were the coping strategies that were going to work for me. This is a slow process, it takes time, effort, it’s frustrating, there is a lot of trial and error and I think, you are never fully done; every day is a school day!

I wasn’t diagnosed/ identified until I was in my mid 20s and as I was in further education, I got a lot of help to get me through my course and many of my techniques came from that, but it was only through working with Dyslexia Scotland 4 years after I was diagnosed/ identified that I really started to understand my dyslexia. I began to understand what it means and what is available, knowing other people who are dyslexic and how their traits differ from mine all really helped me.

So what’s in a name? Well nothing really, putting a name to it isn’t the end of the story, knowing you’re dyslexic is helpful and like everything falling into place, but it is only in truly understanding your dyslexia that you can start to move on from the frustration, begin to make your dyslexia work for you. Playing to your strengths and not dwelling on your weaknesses.

Finding my way has never been easy!

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I am not very good at directions, many people might think this is a gender thing, as the jokes go, women and directions and all that nonsense.

But for me it goes deeper than that, I even get lost on a well travelled path and getting from A to B can be a bit of a nightmare.

Now, not everyone is like this, my sibling, who is also dyslexic, has a mind for directions like a London cabbie.

They can pinpoint how every street connects, how you get to your destination in the shortest possible time, even in places they may have only been to once or twice.

They have even memorised all the bus numbers and routes. No matter where you want to go in the city, they can tell you the best way to get there.

Pretty amazing skill I’d say.

I, on the other hand, do not have a clue.

I have lived in my City for many, many years and when I was a teenager spent most of my life in the city centre, travelling around with friends. Yet, I still don’t know the street or area names and if people give me directions to follow or an area to get to, I’d be lost!

Driving is a whole other ball game. Trying to read the possible options on the board on the lead up to a junction or a roundabout in enough time for you to make a safe and conscious decision can be difficult.

I have, however, got 2 secret weapons up my sleeve to prevent me from spending my life going round in circles and turning up late.

The first is simply, the maps app on my phone.

I can’t read a paper map, I have tried to learn so many times but I just can’t relate what I read or see on the paper to what I am seeing around me.

I love all the different apps you can get now, there is an app for everything and so many of them make my life much easier. I make full use of the maps app with sat nav features. I use it in the car all the time and even when I am walking around – turning off the speaking function of course!

My second weapon is land marking, I am not sure how many people do this but, it really helps me get around.

Land marking is exactly what it says on the tin.

I look for little memorable things around the area I am in, to help me get to my destination and find my way back. This can be anything, but most of the time I look for shops, restaurants and interesting buildings that I know I will remember the next time I see them.

This enables me to create a virtual picture map in my mind, connecting everything together and helping me to get from A to B.

I still couldn’t tell you the names of the streets or areas in my city and would definitely get you lost if I gave you directions. But now, in most cases, I can get to where I am going without getting lost.