Thoughts on dyslexia

Our tours across Scotland in the Dyslexia Van have resulted in quite a few funny moments, sat nav frustrations and of course a huge variety of visitors to the van. So many people came to chat to us when they saw the van because they had a ‘connection’ to dyslexia, or were just curious. Often it’s been tourists – we’ve had (dyslexic!) fishermen from England, a retired teacher from Norway and an American couple who took information for their niece who lives in Glasgow as they thought she might be dyslexic. One woman on a stop-off from her cruise ship to Stornoway even abandoned her hour long visit of the town in favour of listening to one of our talks!

On our last trip to Argyll and Bute we were waiting in the sunshine for our ferry from Tarbert to Portavadie and a gentleman approached us. “Dyslexia, eh? Do you want to hear my joke about dyslexia?”

IMG_3168 (2)

It’s at times like this, or when someone makes what they think is a witty quip, that I sometimes wonder why people think it’s appropriate, or if they really think about the possible impact of their comments. I’m not dyslexic myself and none of the people with dyslexia that I’ve ever met is po-faced or lacks a sense of humour about dyslexia. But I also know that dyslexia can be a struggle and hold people back if they don’t get the right support and that the reality can be far from a joke.

Our next magazine is all about Dyslexia and Adults and we’d love to hear your thoughts about things that people say about dyslexia and how they affect you. Is it easy enough to join in on the jokes or does it hurt at times? Or have there been things that someone said to you that have had a lasting impact, either good or bad? Please email sharon@dyslexiascotland.org.uk with your thoughts.

Now, have you heard the one about the tobogganist and the tobacconist? (I’ll bet you have.)

Lena Gillies, Dyslexia Scotland

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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.

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.

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!!!    

What will I do now?

When I left school, I literally had no idea what I was going to do. When I was growing up, I wanted to do everything, be a writer, a singer, an actress, an artist and for a while I wrote poems, but, the longest standing aspiration was a fashion designer.

I began school well, but soon, my difficulties crept in and I went from doing well, to near bottom of the class. I never really understood why and neither, it seemed did my teachers.

Now I am not work shy and I worked my @*£ off to try and be the best that I could be, but, I never got there. Often my reports said …. is a lovely child to have in class, but they always said the same thing, not trying hard enough, could do better etc etc, all I wanted to scream was ‘ I am, I try really hard’

By the time I got to standard grade I had something to prove, I wanted to show everyone that I was trying hard enough, so in my 3rd year mock exams, I studied really hard and actually got reasonable grades. However, by the time it got to my 4th year mocks my grades were shocking and the teachers began to write me off. This made me all the more determined to do well in the actual exams so I got my head down and did not too badly.

I was determined to stay until 6 year at school and attempt to get some highers, I loved art and wanted to go on to study to be a fashion designer but after missing out on higher art due to written work I began to give up on the idea. I tried again in 6th year to get some highers: English and Advanced Higher Art (I was able to take it even although I failed my higher, due to artistic ability). Nevertheless pressure from the school to leave because it would be beneficial to me and still having no support to address my issues I left school with no highers and a conclusion that I was not the academic type!!

I went to work in an office after school, I had no real idea what I wanted to do, but, I thought getting some administration skills under my belt could help. My first job proved fruitful and after a year of working as an office junior I moved up within the organisation to a position that offered career prospects. However, I was never really settled and wanted more.

After working for a while in a few different jobs, I made the decision to try and get back into education; I wanted to do something that I really enjoyed. I applied to college to do a foundation course in fashion design with a view to going on to study fashion Marketing.

Then, I found out I was pregnant and as fashion is a difficult industry to work in with no guarantee of jobs, I knew I needed to do something else. When my little one was 5 months old I applied to college to do a course in communications, I combined all of my passions and all the things I was good at and found something that fitted me really well.

College was like a breath of fresh air and I applied the same work ethic as I had always tried in school, the difference was, I had the support that I needed and the tutors took the time to explain the concepts and ideas in a way that suited your learning style. I found myself helping my classmates to understand, ensuring that no one fell behind and for the first time I was doing well, this was a fantastic feeling.

Don’t get me wrong it was hard; I was studying full time, with my difficulties and a baby to look after, there were tears, late nights and times when I wanted to give up, but I had a clear goal in mind and would do anything to achieve it. After 2 years and 2 good qualifications, I was given an unconditional offer to university.

I honestly thought I would never see the day, me at university…. there must be some mistake! I was so happy.

I went immediately to the learning support when I started, to see what help I could get. I knew that I could do better than I did at school and my grades at college proved that. As college did not require much essay writing and the course was continually assessed with a practical project at the end instead of exams, I knew that University was going to be a whole different ball game.

I was assessed and identified as dyslexic; I was given an education package which listed all the help I was going to get and University, while no walk in the park was a complete eye opener. I loved it and came out at the other side tireder, older and with a slightly different take on the world. However, I had some fantastic experiences; I was much smarter and more socially conscious. I now have a good understanding that I could do anything that I put my mind to and a really good mark in an amazing honours degree to prove it.

I am so glad that I didn’t listen to myself when I thought I was ‘not the academic type’, determination and a willingness to succeed was the most important thing for me, it was not that I couldn’t learn it was that I was not being taught right.

This is what I tell everyone one who needs to hear it. Don’t give up, whether it’s is educational, vocational or just in general the world is your oyster, it’s all about finding the thing that spurs you on.

There is no one size fits all approach to learning and because you don’t excel in one way doesn’t mean you will never get to where you want to be. Even if you don’t get everything you hoped for when you leave school, there are options available to you. It may take you a little longer than your peers to get there, but in the end it is the journey and what you learn along the way that really counts.

Let your inner star shine

Let your inner star shine

What’s your experience? Has your school experience made you think you can’t achieve something?

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.

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. 

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?