A different way of thinking
This is a photo of me and my daddy I am 4 years old and have just completed my first day at school.
I have always had a love of books and being read to by my parents is something I have always cherished. But although I love reading, I’m not a natural reader. Reading and writing has always been something I have struggled with. Words seemingly jumbling up and moving around on the page. When I write even spell checker and predictive text struggle sometimes to work out my crazy spellings.
The reason for this is dyslexia. This week (3rd – 9th October) is dyslexia awareness week. So I’m going to tell you about what it’s like to grow up as a child with this particular affliction and how it has shaped me as an adult, as best I can.
Now I’m going to be very honest with you, although I’m not ashamed of my label, let’s face it I’m in pretty good company, I know very little about dyslexia, other than how it affects me on a personal level. I don’t need or want to know the whys. I just want to find a way of making it work for me.
As a child growing up in the 80’s with dyslexia it wasn’t easy, for a very long time I believed I was ‘thick’ and ‘stupid’, why wouldn’t I? Kids in my class told me I was often enough, so it must be true, surely they would know? I was very aware that when I read, I read a lot slower (I still do) that I would sometimes have to read the same paragraph or page several times for it to make any sense to me (I still do this too). My writing was slow (somethings never change!) I would get letters muddled up like my B’s and D’s and M’s and W’s (I don’t do this so much now) or the right letters in the wrong order (I still do this – a lot!) and let’s not talk about my spelling.
In my mums loft are lots of my old school books and also those of my younger brother, our ‘My News’ books, was something we would write in on a Monday morning, we would write about what we had done over the weekend and then draw an accompanying picture. In my book my news would be something like this,
My News Monday 19th September 1988
I ment swimming with my daddy it was colb.
(spelling mistakes are as I would have written them)
Where as one of my class mates might have written something like this
My News Monday 19th September 1988
I went swimming with my daddy it was cold. After we went out for lunch. We went to wimpy I had a cheese burger and milkshake and an ice cream it was nice. The next day we visited my grandma she had made me a yellow jumper.
As you can see my out put isn’t anywhere near the quality or quantity of the other children in my class and I was always very aware of this. If my teacher had asked me to tell her what I had done that weekend verbally, I would have told her about all the amazing things we had done and the places we went to, but as soon as you put that glaringly stark white piece of paper in front of me and a pencil in my hand I would try so hard but the words wouldn’t come, there was so much to think about.My brain would go in to overdrive, I needed to copy the date off of the board – don’t forget to underline it. Now what did you do? Well you can’t say that, how would you spell it? Just say you went swimming you can spell that. I still do this now, although my spelling has somewhat improved its still not great, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve re-written lines and even whole chunks of text in emails, texts, tweets and online conversations because I just couldn’t spell a word that I wanted use. Or the ‘arguments’ I have when I have been trying to spell something and my phone wants to change it to something seemingly (to me anyway) random. I spell phonetically (cheers for the spelling spell checker!) but as good as spell checker and prodictive text can be, it doesn’t always get what I’m trying to say! I have now got over the shame of having to ask the kids or Siri how to spell a word, as a child I hated asking for help especially having to ask my little brother – it was embarrassing to say the least.
My mum took the decision when I was first ‘diagnosed’ (I’m not sure that that’s the right word but right now I can’t think of anything better.) to have me statemented this meant that I would get extra support in class, that extra support came in the form of Mrs Denis. For 2hrs a week I would get to go and sit in the staff room with Mrs Denis (a retired teacher) and she would help me with anything I had been struggling with that week (and we would eat biscuits!) she taught me funny ways of remembering how some words are spelt or when they are used, like there or their, which I still use today. It was around this time that it was found that I didn’t have a dominant eye, this was treated with a pair of the NHS’s finest peach glasses with a patched out lense – talk about kicking a kid when she’s down!
I’m sure the decision to have me statemented wasn’t an easy one for my mum, it must be one of the hardest things she had to do. Dyslexia is such a big label to put on a small child. although at the time, in the moment I probably wouldn’t have agreed with her decision, on reflection I 100% back my mum, and any other parent in that position. I think this decision was made easier for my mum when I was bringing spellings home to learn, that I had copied down from the board in class incorrectly. What hope did I have of learning to spell if my weekly spelling weren’t even spelt right in the first place?
At the age of 15 I was set a challenge by my dad that would change my way of thinking and my personal expectation – forever
The year was 1996, Trainspotting was the film release (at least it was for me) of the year. It was a dark, drug filled film set in a very gray looking Scotland, staring a very young Ewan Mcgreggor. Although I didn’t see it when it was first released I had the CD soundtrack, you couldn’t avoid underworlds – born slippy that summer. I also had a copy of the book on which the film was based. The challenge I was set was to read the first page of the novel Trainspotting, if I could do that my dad would give me £10, my dad was confident that his money was safe as he had tried and hadn’t been able to get passed the the first line. The reason for this, if you have never read this book is that Trainspotting was written phonetically! I read that first page hell, I read the whole book! At last someone else who’s brain thought the same way as mine! I had to read it with a Scottish accent, but I could read it. Although I never got the £10 from my dad, but I got something else that day, confidence that I could achieve anything I wanted to, here was a man, Irvin Welsh, who had the same label as me, his brain had the same way of thinking and writing as me. Not only had he written a book, he had had that book published in its original form and that book had then been made into a successful film – dear I say it – an iconic film.
At that moment I realised I could do anything I wanted to.
I think in life you have to embrace both your strengths and weaknesses, only then can you reach your full potential – I have dyslexia but dyslexia will never have or define me – it’s just a different way of thinking.