So…Why does dyslexia lure?

November 3, 2010 3 comments

So, the first entry on my first blog.  I think I’m supposed to talk about why I’m doing this, what my world view is and how often I’ll be updating.  Well, the truth is that earlier tonight, I found myself leaving a comment on a blog (here).  It’s not often I feel the urge to write in public (hence the Twitter account that listens more than it talks), but today I found my comment getting longer and longer.  It soon became clear that I was not posting a comment, I was sharing my own views in full.  This felt a little rude, like the shouty person at work who always takes over any conversation.  So instead I thought I’d post my own blog as a comment.  I may or may not post again.  Only time will tell, but let us be clear.  If more posts are to come, this will not be a dyslexia blog, it will be a “me” blog.  And so onto my comments:

There are no prizes for guessing that I’m dyslexic.  I could go on to tell you all about the usual stories.  These include:

-There appeared to be “no such thing” in the late 70’s / early 80’s
-The self-destructive “why am I so stupid?” question
-My Mum being called in to middle school to be told that the teachers were suddenly very confused by my average to poor performance because an IQ test had shown me to be in the top 5% of the population.
-Dignosis aged 13 (by chance), but zero support / assistance there after
-Various stages of anger / denial / acceptance etc etc etc
-My Mum’s present day regret that she “didn’t do enough” (a view I don’t share)

I could go on with this line.  But I’m not going to.  Instead, here’s the stuff that I find interesting:

Firstly, I do not consider myself to “have dyslexia”.  I prefer to say that “I am dyslexic”.  I’m not too sure if this is scientifically or grammatically correct, but it is actually quite important to me.  Why?  Well my simplistic understanding of dyslexia (and how it affects me) is that I am not ill or “incorrectly wired”.  The way I process and store information is different and my physical co-ordination is somewhat off balance (right-handed, right footed, left eyed, left eared and can’t write or draw neatly).  These things make me different from many people, but who is not different?  Who is it in this world that is 100% average?  But to come back to my point, I am not ill with dyslexia and I do not wish to be cured of it.  I am just differently wired (aren’t we all?)

So we’ve established that I am dyslexic.  Yes, it’s a pain in the arse, but why do I not want to be “cured” of this vile affliction?  Let’s start where the paradox started.  Poor school performance, but a very good IQ test result.  In the real world, I’d hate to talk my intelligence level (it would be just crass).  But this isn’t the real world …it’s the interweb.  As far as I understand the research, an above average intelligence is a very common component of dyslexia.  I have an above average intelligence, and that is a component of me being dyslexic.  I would never wish to reduce my intelligence, so why should I seek to lose my dyslexic features (baby and bath water etc).  I work in the IT sector, and I love that type of work.  I can’t explain it better than telling you that I love logical structures.  Logic is beautiful to me, and I truly believe that the best solution to a logic problem is always the elegant solution.  I was gob-smacked when I realised that not everyone thinks a solution to an IT problem could posses the property of elegance.  I believe that love of logic (and therefore love of computing) is just another “symptom”.

So, back to my schooling.  The reason I did not do well at school is not because I wasn’t capable of good performance, but rather I just wasn’t capable of utilising my talents.  As I’ve already said, I’m just wired a little different.  The problem is that I don’t fit the standard model, so the standard teaching model (at the time) did not help me.  I don’t seek to blame my teachers, it’s just the way things were.  If I’d been taught alternative strategies and techniques I’m sure I would have done much better.  But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.  I’m not bitter about that.  But there is something about my schooling that I do regret, and that is subject choice.  There was very little scope for me to choose what interested me at school, and I felt an overwhelming desire to choose the subjects that others (teachers and parents) thought were best for me.

English Literature.  English. Bloody. Literature.  Everyone thought this was a good call.  I could barely write.  I had no concept of spelling and grammar.  I was incredibly slow at reading.  I couldn’t pronounce long words.  My vocabulary was appalling.  What shall we do with this person?  Hmmm…We’ll make him read Shakespeare and poetry.  Poetry!!!  Never mind looking for hidden meaning….all forms of written material were hidden to me!  Anyway, it was a disaster.  Lots of “He’s a lovely lad but….” and “He just can’t seem to get things down on paper…..” and of course the classic (when addressing my sister in front of a full class room “Ah…Here come’s you’re illiterate brother” (OK, maybe I’m a little bitter, but not much).  My point is, it’s all about potential.  Everyone seems to want to “fix” people who are dyslexic.  If I could turn back time and wave a magic piece of technology, I wouldn’t “fix” me, I’d just make sure I studied the right subjects in the right way.

But it wasn’t all bad.  I also studied (and almost failed) typing.  Yes, it was a bad result (grade E), but it saved my life.  I’m not too sure how all this went down, but basically I thought that computers would take over everything, and that in the future (you know way off in the future, like in the year 2000 or something) everyone would need to know how to type.  So I chose typing, and somehow everyone let me (I really don’t know why, but I’m glad I did).  The disastrous result was due to a very basic error.  I thought “Typing…..they teach me to type in only 2 years”.  The reality was being taught to type in several months, then learning how to format a letter, how to take a memo, how to structure an address label, how read while typing, how to hyphenate words for nice formating….you can see where this is going can’t you?  But still, I did learn how to fling my fingers around without too much thought.

Why am I telling you about typing?  Well it saved my life.  I don’t wish to think about the place I would be if I could not type.  But I can type, well, sort of.  An RSA typist would have a fit watching me use the same hand to press both the shift key and the letter at the same time.  In contrast my boss thinks it’s some sort of VooDoo, and envies my emense talent.  But its not about creating documents quickly.  For me typing has freed me from myself.  When I write on a piece fo paper I get very frustrated.  I cannot write with beautiful looping shapes like I see other people do.  On more than one occasion in my adult life I have been brought close to tears just because the thing I’m writing looks horrid (think about writing a note to your lover, or a card for a funeral….and then think about it written in some shitty scrawl).  Typing freed me from that (mostly).  But it goes beyond just being able to produce something that can be read without sophisticated translation services.

Typing frees my mind.  When I draw lines and loops on a sheet of paper, it often feels like my whole being is urging the pen to go some direction that will both make sense, and be pretty.  I don’t actually know where the pen should be going, I just rely on things working out roughly right.  When I fling my fingers around the keyboard, I don’t need to think about it.  They just run about hitting the correct bits of plastic.  Some days I even stop and think about where the letters are, and I’m not too sure.  I don’t know how, but it just works.  So my fingers are flying about the place doing their own thing.  That leave my brain sitting there looking for something to do…and suddently I express myself.  The words flow, the message is thought about, the structure is planned, and my life is saved.  Don’t ever underestimate how important it is to have the basic tools of expression.  I don’t mean sophisticated language and prose.  I mean the basic tools of getting something written such as pen / paper / AMD Athlon X2 4GB 17in laptop.

This has been quite a serious sounding blog, but life shouldn’t be taken seriously (it’s just a big logical joke really).  I cannot possibly comment for other people who are dyslexic, but in my head, there is pretty much my own constant comedy show running.  I mix things up when I read.  I mix up the words, I swap letters in adjacent words, or even split sentences in half and swap them over.  As me to read the same thing again and again, and I’ll swear to you I’m reading it correctly….then the real words / sentence will leap to the fore and shout “Ha Ha!!! You’re an arsehole”.  But that’s fine because I get to stand in the middle of Leeds and stare at building hoardings announcing that FCUK are coming soon (in 10ft high letters).  Most people do a double take.  I just stand there trying to work out if a graffiti artist has done a really professional job of the letters, or if some young advertising exec is about to get arrested for foul language.  I also get to stand in the shops at Christmas giggling to myself because they’re selling little men with pointy ears, and pointy hats and long rope legs that dangle over the edge of your bookcase.  They call them “Shelf Sitting Elves”.  I read them as something entirely different.  So don’t pity me…I’ve got the best jokes in the world, and only I get to understand them.  OK, maybe best jokes in the world is going a bit far, but they’re still just for me.

So, everyone.  Please fight the good fight.  Increase the awareness, lookout for issues in your own children, don’t accept normal model education for every last child.  But please, don’t try to cure anyone of their dyslexia, just help them gain the tools that will allow them to fulfill their potential.  The rest is up to them…just like everyone else.

Thanks for reading such a random blog.

P.S. I’m 36 and have just completed a level 4 (university level) qualification.  I have my graduation ceremony in about 10 days time.  My work was graded by a tough but fair tutor.  I got bloody good grades.  Nobody else did.  So, Ms Richards, the “illiterate brother” simply says “screw you – I beat the system”.

P.P.S. Don’t stop telling dyslexia jokes.  People seem to think I’ll find them offensive, when in fact they are probably funnier to me than most people.

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