THE GIFT: DYSLEXIA

by Alice Thomson

Igminae a wlrod wree the wetrtin wrod is as hrad to raed as tihs. Imagine that written word is in your first language, not a second or third. Imagine the difficulty it presents every day, how others perceive you, how exhausting it is to read, and understand. Some of you reading this won’t have to imagine. This is the world of a dyslexic.

Often people think of dyslexia as word blindness, or even attribute it to a low intelligence score. When I was a Primary School teacher I often heard people referring to dyslexia as a “nice way of calling middle-class children slow”. This attitude horrified me. Many attitudes in school staff-rooms towards learning horrified me. As a child, I remember my mother would explain out to my teachers my dyslexia at every parents evening. The same teachers, every year,  and it was always a surprise to them. As an adult and an educator, I had hoped attitudes had changed, but in my experience this is not the case.

The word ‘dyslexia’ comes from the Greek meaning ‘difficulty with words’; but there is so much more to this. Dyslexia isn’t just about struggling to read or being a slow learner. That’s not to say that a dyslexic person won’t experience these things, they will. Dyslexia can occur in anyone, regardless of back ground or ability; it occurs separately from intelligence. I do not believe dyslexia is a ‘learning disability’ or should be seen as a difficulty. A dyslexic person’s brain just works differently to a non-dyslexic’s brain. It processes information in a different way. That is the sum-total of it. It’s no better or worse; it’s different. If we start viewing it like this, we will come to realise that everyone’s way of thinking and learning is different. And dyslexics will always be ‘slow learners’ and ‘word blind’ if the teaching profession doesn’t acknowledge or accept this fact and alter teaching methods.

Dyslexia can occur in anyone, regardless of back ground or ability; it occurs separately from intelligence.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to lay the blame of slow learning on the learner and not the teacher. In the West, the dominant teaching methods rely heavily on logical-mathematical and linguistic intelligence strategies for learning. This is not only counter-intuitive to dyslexic learners, but to all learners. I wish to point out that the link refers to the national curriculum in England for Primary School, and only in the areas of English, Maths and Science are there any highlighted statutory learning aims. In addition to this, these three subjects take up 126 pages of this 200-page document; where all other subjects take up 24 pages. Dr Howard Gardner explains that there are in fact eight different intelligences, and they are a spectrum, not a number or fixed element of our psychology. By understanding these eight intelligences, teachers can start to implement effective multisensory learning environments that don’t just facilitate dyslexics learning, but all learning.

(‘Bottle of Words’ © Hannah Duncan)

The world of a dyslexic may seem grim, or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Yes, we struggle with reading, spelling, maths, our concentration is affected, we struggle to remember things, follow instructions, or articulate our understanding. On the flip side, dyslexic people often visualise well, allowing them to navigate, or creatively solve problems. Our minds are quite illustrative and I often describe it as thinking in multidimensions. I have been known to help navigate in the car having only looked at a map once before travelling. I’m very lucky — I was diagnosed at a young age — which meant I had time to develop strategies for myself that allowed me to participate in a linguistic dependent world.

I often describe it as thinking in multidimensions

Others aren’t so lucky, and to learn you are dyslexic as an adult can be particularly problematic. Not only do you have the preconceived ideas of dyslexia as I have previously discussed, you also have your own personal antipathy to your learning which will include self-loathing, as well as lack of confidence and self-efficacy. An adult diagnosis of dyslexia means a child spent their entire learning life believing themselves to be stupid. The frustration any dyslexic person feels is horrendous, but with a late diagnosis this can be amplified. It makes it particularly hard to see the ‘gift’ in the condition.

Some would say that this sort of labelling of ability is detrimental and that no one should be diagnosed. Normally, I would agree. But that is not the way the world works unfortunately. As a culture we are reliant on labels of all sorts; it’s how we navigate through the world. In terms of education, if we were to create learner=centred environments labelling wouldn’t be required; if every child was treated equally different. But this doesn’t happen. Our education system is dependent on categorising learners and that categorisation carries on after education. We must work within this system in order to get anywhere in life.

(‘Fighting with Words’ / Holism Art © Jim McCarthy)

With this in mind, I believe it is not the label that can do the damage, but the way it is used. To know you are dyslexic means you have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses, along with the cause of them. It gives you a foundation to work with. It’s not an opportunity to become complacent, it’s an opening to challenge yourself in a way that is constructive and achievable. When I was a teenager I read The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How They Can Learn by Ronald Davis. This book changed my life. It helped me to understand the way my brain works, why I think the way I do, and how I can develop stratagems to overcome the challenges it creates. I recommend this book to the point that I always have a couple of spare copies that I give to friends or loved-ones that come to me with a dyslexia diagnosis.

Featured image via Huffington Post

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