I have a very vivid memory. It’s back at school. We’re lined up waiting to go to Geography so it was probably a Wednesday morning. My friend (who later turned into the bitch that ruined my life) turned to me and asked why I was out of lesson yesterday. I explained I was having my dyslexia testing. From behind the tall sporty, but decidedly dim, Laura said loud enough for every to hear “You’re dyslexic? That means you’re thick!”.
Another school memory was my art teacher. I had raised my hand. I explained I needed to go to my dyslexia lesson, and needed to be excused halfway through the lesson. She met my eye told me I was lying as I was “far too intelligent to be dyslexic”. So the lesson continued as usual. When I would have been five minutes late to lesson the phone in the classroom rang. My art teacher’s face flushed with embarrassment when the special ed teacher asked why I was not there. I was sent up with the excuse that I wasn’t paying attention to the time. Which we all knew was a lie, as I hate being late.
So, what is dyslexia & dyspraxia?
Well, funny thing, no one really agrees.
At one point it was a catch-all term for kids that just didn’t learn as fast as others. Similarly how ADHD was a blanket term for a wild child as well as those who actually suffered from it.
Previously, it was thought simply that those who had the double D were stupid. Hence the comments I had back at school. Then it came along that dyslexia only affected the top quarter of intelligent people ergo we ain’t stupid. I was told that our brains are just ‘wired’ differently.
The current thought, which will change in a few years, is that our brains, on the whole, are fine- if not better than- “normal” people. It’s our eyes that are the problem.
Everyone’s brains are set up to interpret a dominant and a submissive eye. If you’re right handed your dominant eye is your right and vice versa. And they work a bit like when you have two screens: you have a working one and a reference one. You do most of your work and focus on the working “dominant” eye, and use the reference/submissive, to corroborate what is going on.
Dyslexic’s brains see both screens/eyes as dominant. You can read about it in more detail on The Telegraph (yeah I know the Torygraph but I couldn’t find the original article I read and this one says the same thing).
This ocular dominance, as it’s sometimes known, also explains why dyspraxia goes hand in hand with dyslexia. Again our brains aren’t wired to accept two dominant streams of information, so judging distances and general coordination are just out of the window.
What does dyslexia and dyspraxia mean to you growing up?
Well, it’s changed as I’ve grown up.
As a little Pixie…
I was lucky to be diagnosed early. At the first primary school, I went to it was picked up early. One of the earliest signs was reading upside down. I could, and still can, read upside down which is a general one of the first signs. I was coached on a weekly basis to assist with my development.
Then we moved.
The second primary school flat out refused to recognise I was dyslexic. Why? If they did then they would have to hire someone to help me with it. So all the progression I had made earlier was down the drain. Thankfully my parents– hi Mum!– got my sister and I a tutor to get me back up to speed.
So when I got to secondary school I was a bit more of a levelling playing field.
My secondary school did take note of the fact that I’m dyslexic. I was assisted on a personal level by English teacher as well. It definitely helped as well. Even though I did get the experiences I mentioned above, generally it was positive.
My dyslexia did not stop me from being in the better sets of English, Maths, Science, and French. It was a mix of the support I had from the special ed teacher, my English teacher, and my parents. My Mum did what she could about helping me learn things, from breaking down questions differently to dealing with my temper tantrums because I was frustrated.
I was frustrated a lot.
One key thing that my parents did at about this time was to encourage my PC usage. This was back when having a PC at home was uncommon, but it was growing. Mum and Dad bought us a typing game. Now I can touch type 69-73 wmp. I’m also more at home with how PCs and tech works which have definitely helped in later life.
It was about now that I developed my general fear of stairs. Yeah, I’m scared of stairs. I remember waking up and genuinely be frightened of the stairs in my home. I was fine before but from then on they freaked me out. I had a panic attack once about having to go down spiral stairs. Turns out this is a common part of dyspraxia- do you realise how much hand to eye coordination goes into using stairs? It’s a lot. When you have very little of it the fear of falling down is real and vivid.
An example of the dyspraxia came about when as a kids sci-fi show did an episode on body swapping. Aliens coming down, cloning people and taking over their lives. Bitch who shall not be named remarked that she could spot if I had been cloned as my replacement “wouldn’t fall over enough”.
Late teenaged and early twenties
College was easier. So much easier. I’ll explain why in more detail below- but in essence, I was allowed to learn the way I learn. My feedback and general marks were very positive until the issue with above-mentioned Bitch ruined it.
My early full jobs didn’t really require my need to concentrate on screens. Or even concentrate that much, to be frank. I daydreamed through my shop floor job. Morrisons was an ok employer but they’re not exactly the Google.
I found that the gym was actually fun. Previously in PE I hated sports and everything they taught. To excel you needed coordination. Which when you’re lacking it nearly completely was just more and more frustration. However, on a treadmill or a weight machine, you don’t need it. I could put on a podcast and enjoy exercise for the first time in my life.
As you may or may not be aware of looking at black on white is more likely to give dyslexics migraines (which is another plus point for the ocular dominance theory). So now in my technical job, and my previous one, I used a mixture of changing the background of writing application app to using a CSS colour changer to keep them at bay.
I use this Content Colour Separator on Chrome. It goes into the page’s CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to change the different areas of the page to a more comfortable colour. It’s really snazzy. Unfortunately, at work, I’m having to go back to changing the display settings of my monitor to a lovely dark green. The problem with the later is that although it prevents me from getting migraines it gives other people them- and also I get a lot of questions.
Stairs still freak me out. It doesn’t help that I have a bit of an overactive imagination. When I go downstairs I can’t help but think how I’d break my neck if I’m not careful. How if I take a misstep whilst talking I’ll bite my tongue off when my face smacks something and I’ll bleed out. That I’ll knock, and possibly kill, someone else with my general clumsiness. I still fall over- a lot. It’s something I’ve just learnt to live with- my knees are always going to be scarred up somehow or another- but that’s cool.
What I alluded to earlier though is important. I’ve learnt how I learn. Dyslexics are more likely to have a higher IQ, creative, and think differently. The last bit is important. Schools are under pressure to teach as many kids as possible, so deviating from their style of teaching/learning isn’t always possible. Which generally isn’t how dyslexics learn. I do not blame schools or teachers. They’re under enough pressure as it. I blame the Governments that put them into that situation. This leads to the dreaded frustration along with the general disinterest in learning- why do something when the system is literally against you?
So parents listen to this
Your dyslexic (and possibly dyspraxic) kid is going to stick out. Don’t make it worse.
When I said earlier that the Telegraph report isn’t the one I wanted to use. It was because I wanted to show some of the comments. Things like “So if I put an eye patch on my child this will get better?” No. Just no. Didn’t you just read the article explaining it’s how their brain is set up? Once they take the patch off it’ll be just the same. Why would you do that to your child? I know you’re just trying to do the best for your child but a learning difficulty won’t just ‘go away’. Making them more of a target for bullies isn’t going to help with their learning.
Your kid is going to be frustrated. Why not give them tools to help instead of punishing them?
Like I’ve said before I’m lucky that my Mum understood what it meant. She knew what I do now- the way schools are set up to teach is not geared towards dyslexics. It’s geared towards the lowest easiest mass education possible. To learn about how to help your child. Give them the tools to exceed using their dyslexia to their advantage. Start off by finding out what kind of learner they are- try this quiz by EducationPlanner.org.
Exercise is important, but don’t put too much focus on coordination heavy activities.
I hated dance. I hated football. I hated tennis. I hated rounders. Why? I didn’t have the coordination to even get reasonably proficient. It’s the same thing as before. If you don’t want a frustrated child don’t put them in a situation where they will fail. And fail badly. To a point it is character building, but you also don’t want to put them off exercise. They’re going to be clumsy and on the whole they really can’t help it.
Why not introduce a creative activity they can enjoy?
When everyone else was playing on a recorder at my second primary school, I was using a paper one. I couldn’t get the coordination to use it down. The teacher got fed up with trying to teach me. She photocopied a learning aid showing which holes, when covered, made different notes- and told me that was my recorder. As an adult I know that is bullying and shit teaching. As a kid, I just accepted the paper one and coloured it in. We dyslexics, however, lean towards tech very easily (god bless IBM for inventing spell check). Introduced properly you may have the next Mark Zuckerberg on your hands.
Kids aren’t stupid. They know something is different, how else do you explain bullying starting so early? Accept it, and accept your child is not only different but will be frustrated. If you don’t everything will be a lot harder than it has to be.
Before you go- why did you say ‘A note from an owner’?
A kid I always say I ‘suffered from dyslexia’ and I was just thick. Now as an adult, now I understand it more, I realise I just have it. I have it like I have a weird mole. It’s there, and it’s superficial to my day to day life. It doesn’t hurt. I’m not suffering.
I’ll readily admit that I don’t have the worse case. I just think that saying, now knowing that I’m capable of, that I ‘suffer’ sounds ridiculous. I know how to work with it, and how it actually makes me work harder. An example, that crops up in interviews, is that I know my work will have mistakes in- but that means I work fast enough to get it done with time to spare to check it. Whilst those who don’t own dyslexia just float on by assuming they’re correct.
When it comes to working with other people I already know that people work differently. That people need things broken down differently and am able to do it. Whereas the people that went through school in the ‘one size’ fits all situation don’t always realise this.