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.

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?

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.

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.

Volunteering!! What is it good for….,

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I’m not too sure what others think, but before I started volunteering with Dyslexia Scotland I didn’t really think of it as something young people did other than if they happened to have spare time, or needed it for CV purposes. Sure, it looks good on the CV, but it offers so much more than that.

I really think it’s the best way to learn and grow, and not primarily because you are helping other people, although that’s always a good thing. In my experience, it’s not so much about what you learn (although that’s obviously important too) but the way in which you are able to do it. Because it’s on a voluntary basis, nobody expects you to know everything there is to know about what it is you’re doing (in my case, organising and helping to re-launch Dyslexia Scotland’s Resource Centre – watch this space for more details about that).

To me, the confidence you are given by knowing you are helping others while developing your skills and consequently growing as a person is second to none. Given the state of the UK job market today, it has never been more important to be self-assured.

In a world where exam systems are measured by grades and outcomes and workplaces are driven by targets and timescales, its refreshing to have an avenue where young people can learn the value of saying “You know what? I might have difficulty with X or have never done Y, but that’s OK, and I’m a better person having attempted it.” Because realising you are never going to get everything right all the time and making mistakes is OK is, in my opinion, part of being truly confident. In fact, I would say that its life’s most important lesson. Nothing teaches it better than volunteering.

Maybe it’s because even just by talking to other people, you realise that nobody is perfect (yes, even in that seemingly flawless work environment). Perhaps it’s the fact that, even when you’re learning new skills and might be a bit of a novice or a little apprehensive, you’re still doing great things.

That’s the unique thing that volunteering teaches younger people. Because, as much as some people wouldn’t like to admit it, we don’t have as much life experience compared to the older generations. Not only is volunteering a brilliant way to gain that experience and the confidence that comes with it, but you’re a saner person for having done it that way. At least, I’d like to think so.

Was Walt Disney dyslexic?

Walt Disney

Walt Disney

On 17 July 1955, Disneyland opened in California.

I was going to tweet our followers on this anniversary and make a link to Walt Disney’s dyslexia. I was planning to go on to talk about the strengths that dyslexic people have and Dyslexia Scotland’s leaflet about Famous people with dyslexia.

But I thought I’d better just check the facts first.

Just as well I did.

It turns out that, according to Dave Smith, Director of Walt Disney Archives, ‘There is no indication anywhere in Walt’s history that he ever had dyslexia’.  So, although Walt Disney is ‘remembered’ for his dyslexia on numerous internet sites as being an excellent role model, he actually wasn’t dyslexic.

To read more about his ‘non dyslexia’, have a look at the full article

So, there may well be a number of famous people who are ‘assumed’ or falsely claimed to be dyslexic.
But a more serious problem is that there are still far too many children, young people and adults whose dyslexia is not identified (and therefore supported) when it should be.

This can lead to frustration, low motivation and stress, as well as overall severe low self-esteem at not reaching their potential. Early intervention is crucial.

The top reason for people calling Dyslexia Scotland’s Helpline is to find out about assessment – click on the Assessment section of our website to learn more about what is involved: http://bit.ly/1bI3A7L