I have had this post sitting in my drafts folder since 2007. Every now and then I would take it out, noodle around a little, then put it back because it just wasn’t right. I touched on it briefly, but never went into more detail (though I strongly urge you to go through the comments on that post, because they make some interesting points).
At the Gathering recently, I got talking with a sort-of-sister-in-law (one of my sister-in-law’s sisters to be precise) about how her eldest was doing at school. He’s a bright kid. Funny. Interested in how things work. But his teachers said he might have dyslexia, and not surprisingly it had really knocked his confidence, so they were working to get him back up and running, and she asked if there was anything age-appropriate I could recommend him to show him he wasn’t alone (Maggot Moon was top of the list).
And this is what prompted me to finally publish what I have been trying to say for so many years.
Firstly, a little background
Dyslexia affects around 10% of the British population, and each of those is affected to differing degrees. The brain of a person with dyslexia works differently to others – not better or worse – just different. It is a bit like a motorcar and a motorcycle: they are both powerful vehicles to get you to your destination, but they need different skills to ‘drive’ them. Each person has to work out, through trial and error, what coping mechanisms work best for them.
And this is a little snap shot of how it affects me.
This morning I tried to spell ache, a-k-e. For a fraction of a moment I couldn’t see why spell check had underlined it in wiggly red. I have never in my LIFE tried to spell it that way before. But this morning, my brain had to grasp at the rarely reliable phonetic method because I had a momentary fritz.
It has been this way since I started school. One memorable report card said “her spelling raises the eyebrows”, and my handwriting wasn’t much better. But no one ever even thought to say “dyslexia” because I read VERY WELL indeed and was in the top set for everything. I didn’t fit the profile. And I taught myself tricks, to watch out for words I couldn’t spell, and to memorise how they SHOULD be spelt. My spelling might have been shocking, but I got better very quickly once I was told how a particular word should be spelled (and I am not going to admit to how I just spelled “spelled”).
To this day I cannot spell business without sounding it out in my head busy-ness. Management (which autocorrect just fixed for me, by the way) is man-ag-e-ment.
All of this never held me back because, honestly, I thought this was how everyone did it. “I before E except after C” made no sense to me because every single word has to be fixed in my brain. Standard patterns and tips that made sense to my classmates didn’t help me in the slightest.
“Separately” is another word I cannot get right no matter how hard I try. I just cannot seem to get my head to spell a word that sounds like “sepEERRate” as “sepARRRRate”. Though I might have finally found the key to the word – pirates.
I love writing and reading but I cannot play scrabble or anagrams because a word is a singular entity to me. It isn’t made up of letters that can be mixed up, taken apart, and put back together again in another order. I love word searches however, because I am looking for a pattern I recognise that is buried in a jumble – which is essentially how I see all language.
Numbers, though, are still my nemesis. Numbers dance on the page and don’t stay where they should be. Numbers are incomprehensible. Bizarrely, I quite liked algebra – make numbers into letters and – ah-ha! I know how to conquer letters! It often takes me three or four times to dial a number correctly, which is a problem when I have to dial five or six people I don’t know on a daily basis. I say in my brain “I want to press three” and I press 9 or 7. It is worse when I am tired or on a phone I am not used to. Adding things up on a calculator can be interesting. If I try it three times, I’ll almost certainly get three different answers.
As for writing down phone numbers… Oh, that is sheer hell! I will say back to you “0207…” But will write down “0270…” On particularly bad days I will even read it back to you as “0207…” There is no fix for that.
I have to say I have made my peace with the written word. I enjoy the written word. I can’t read aloud well at all – I stumble and stutter and that is a whole other post – but I love stories. I blog. I write stories. And I have made myself a career in publishing… You can’t get much wordier than that! In no way has any of this stopped me doing things I enjoy. Would my schooling have been easier if it had been recognised at the time? Who knows – I can’t exactly claim it was hard for me. I am very, very lucky, because my particular quirks haven’t impacted my life to any significant degree. I have worked with people where that is sadly not the case. Yet it is sometimes as easy as printing forms on yellow/off white paper. Or voice-to-text software. A smile and understanding goes further than you could possibly imagine.
If you’re curious, go to the Dyslexia Checklist (what we used to use when I was doing social work) and work through the list. Answer “yes” more than nine times, and you could have a dyslexia-type problem.
For the record, I’m currently rocking a 15.
(Please note, this is NOT an official diagnostic tool. It is just a simple screening test we could administer easily in prisons. If you think you/a child might have a problem, go to your GP, the school, or the British Dyslexia Association for proper assistance).