Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dyslexia Special - The ring of confidence

Self Esteem. Two words. If you are dyslexic or are the parent of a dyslexic child, these are probably the two most important words in your vocabulary when understanding the issues a dyslexic faces. I was a child in the 1960's when dyslexia wasn't recognised. The word then was "THICK". It seems to me that the first 14 years of my education had one purpose and one purpose alone. To teach me I was stupid. Sadly, in that respect I suspect my education failed. I have come to the conclusion I'm really not as stupid as I thought I was.

Let me tell you about a couple of experiences. One was at primary school. We had a spelling test and I got 0/10. The rest of the class got 10/10 (apart from two other children). The teacher had really coached us and got very cross at my abject failure. My punishment. I had to write 500 lines (do they still give children lines when they are naughty?). What did I have to write? "I am very stupid". The teacher then made me stand up in front of the class and apologise for coming bottom. The teacher asked "How could you fail to spell every single word in the test, when you'd been practising all week?" I said "I know the rule says I before E except after C, but I couldn't remember which way round they went. I suppose I got it wrong". The teacher said "But you know the rule, so how could you get it wrong?" I replied "Well I know the rule, but I couldn't remember which way round they went so I got it wrong". The teacher replied "Tichborne, you really are very stupid". I expect that if you are dyslexic, you probably get what I'm saying and if you're not you may be thinking "Actually Rog T is a bit stupid isn't he".  I was 8 years old then. Guess what? I actually thought the teacher was quite stupid because she just didn't get what I was saying. The 39 other kids in the class had a good laugh at my expense though. I've always been a natural entertainer, so I wasn't to upset.

When I was 13 I had an even more irritating experience with an English teacher. We had to write about an adventure we'd had (can't remember the details of the essay). In it I said "Uncle Michael asked me what I'd like to do for my birthday. I replied "me and my mate Pete would like to go to see England play Hungary"".
The teacher pulled me up for my grammar. "You should say "my friend Pete and I would like to go to see England play Hungary". I responded "But that wasn't what I said". She said "Well you should have". I replied "But I didn't so the story would be wrong". The teacher said "You are hear to learn English". I responded "I thought we were supposed to tell the truth." The teacher replied Are you a bit thick? What do you think you come to school for?". I got a detention for my efforts.  Is it against the law to say "me and my mate?". I felt a great sense of injustice at that. I knew the rules, but it was a quotation. It reinforced my dislike of English teachers.

I guess when I was about 13, I felt really low. I felt like I was useless, ugly, thick and unpopular. In truth I probably was. I enjoyed football, but couldn't play it very well. I was interested in girls, but only extremely pretty ones who I felt were totally out of my league. I wasn't interested in music (the 1975-6 music scene was awful). For a whole host of reasons I was desperately unhappy with myself and about myself. I'm sure many teenagers have issues with self image, but if you are dyslexic (and you don't know it) and have had 7 years of people telling you how useless you are, then you probably have more issues than most people.

Fortunately for me, at this rather low point, I got lucky. It didn't seem like it at the time, in fact I didn't realise the full significance of what happened until quite recently. It was only when my Mum passed away and I came to terms with it that I really understood. What I am about to write is not meant to be critical of my parents. In many ways they were fantastic (they massively supported me in getting my studio business off the ground and I love them dearly), it is written to explain why sometimes we need a shake up in our lives if we are in a rut.

I think my lowest point was in the first 9 months of 1976. There really was nothing I enjoyed at all in life. My only real interest was in football. As I supported Manchester City, I had no friends to share this with. I was starting to develop an interest in pretty girls, but they seemed completely unattainable to a dyslexic thicko at an all boys school. Conversation wasn't my forte then. My parents were old parents, I had five older siblings all of whom had left home. My father was a big man in every sense of the word. RAF war hero, successful local businessman, expert gambler. He worked hard, often coming home at 8 or 9pm, although often this would be because of an after work cards school. He was an Aussie and mad on cricket, with no interest at all in football. The only time we socialised was to watch snooker, usually in the form of pot black. He was subject to terrible tempers and this always ended badly for me. I've never, ever backed down in any argument, so you can imagine what this was like. Any interest in my academic performance was pretty much limited to asking me why I was so thick. As to my mum. She also worked in the family business. She worked hard at all manner of charities as well. She was a good cook, highly intelligent, but with six children, five of whom were exceptionally bright, she'd given up on me as a bad job acedemically. She'd encourage me to do things like gardening, which didn't exactly help my social skills.

I used to try and get involved with some of the charity stuff they did, for instance they used to be active in the St Josephs College garden fete. I'd organise a "beat the goalie" competition. This was probably the highlight of my life at the time. I found I was actually quite good at organising such things. What galled me was when my Dad was congratulated on his efforts in this respect, when he did nothing. What really annoyed me was he didn't say "Well Roger did all the work" - didn't even mention me. I thought he was a cheeky bastard for this, but knew that to raise the matter would inevitably result in a clobbering, so I just festered and brooded.

Anyway, that gives you a flavour of some of my complexes and gripes at the time. As I said, something happened. My parents announced that they were going to Australia in September 1976 for six months. My brother Frank, who was 16 years older than me, would run the business and I'd live with him, his wife and his two sons, aged 7 and 5. I was even more resentful. It was clear to me that my parents really didn't give a toss. I was about to start my O Levels and CSE's and they were buggering off for six months. In fairness, my Dad hadn't been back to Australia since 1942, when he left to join the RAF and fight Nazism, but to me it seemed like a very personal insult. As the date loomed, I felt an ever growing resentment. I loved my brother and his family, but felt completely abandoned. Of course being an emotional retard at the time, I couldn't express this in anything other than bad behaviour.

So the big day came and guess what? I suddenly found that my new, surrogate family were ok. I was allowed to watch Match of the Day. Frank loves football, even if he's a Manchester United fan. Not only that, but the "Big Match" on sunday as well. Frank would help me with my maths and science homework. My grades shot up. Not only that but he'd actually explain stuff properly, something many of the teachers didn't. I came top in a maths test, with 88%. The teacher accused me of cheating. I asked how this was possible. He responded "You must have copied someone". I replied "Sir, if I came top, how could this be possible?". All of a sudden science projects became a pleasure. Frank had previously worked as an electronic engineer at Marconi, before stepping back into the family car business. He loved the chance to help me and had a stack of components to help. He used to build amplifiers, stereos, train sets, etc. He'd also get me to help his boys with their homework and get me to help build their train sets etc. He also encouraged me to get out and be more social, and showed me a few chords on the guitar (another of his talents is that he's a great guitarist).

By the time March came around and my parents were due to return, I wanted them to stay in Australia. It hurts me to say this, but I can actually remember hoping some disaster would prevent their return. Everyone else was really excited, I was gutted. I couldn't bear the thought of a return to my dark brooding existence. I thought my grades would instantly drop and any good things I'd developed would disappear. The big day arrived. Strangely, when my parents arrived, they were different. Having been away from the constant grind of work for six months had changed them. My Father was far less uptight and was genuinely pleased to chat to me.

Shortly after their return I saw the Ramones at the Roundhouse, got into music, bought a guitar and formed a band. My Dad responded by letting me use some spare space in his industrial premises to rehearse. His rages and tempers had also virtually disappeared. By the time I was 16, I was the same size as my father. I can vividly remember the last time he hit me. He flew off the handle and I said something to him about him being a bully. He punched me as hard as he could in the eye. To his amazement, I didn't fall over, burst into tears or run away. I just stood there and glowered at him. I said "That is the last time you ever hit me. I'm not going to sink to your level by hitting you back, but if you try it again I'll tear your head off". He stood their and for about ten seconds he looked like he was going to kill me. Then all of a sudden, he realised what had happened. He realised that if he did try and hit me again it would only end when one of us got seriously hurt, and that could be him. He skulked off swearing at me. Later he apologised and said that he was proud of me, because he'd hit me really hard and I'd stood my ground. I told him that I thought he'd been out of order. He responded that in life you have to learn by hard knocks. I was shocked. That was the first time my father had ever told me he was proud of me. Given what he'd been through as a bomber pilot, a POW and leading an escape, it was a true commendation (although not in a way I'd recommend).

Another important thing happened when I was 15. I changed schools. I left all of my baggage behind and had a fresh start. I went to a mixed school. I no longer had a reputation as a troublemaker. By this time I had a band. All of a sudden people wanted to hang around with me. Perhaps the proudest moment of my educational career was when the deputy headmaster of Orange Hill Senior High School, Mr Williams called me to his office. I'd been used to only ever being called to such offices for a telling off. By now I was 18 and doing my A levels. He poured me a scotch and said "Roger, I have a favour to ask". I replied "Of course, anything". He said "I'm retiring at the end of the term. I've had a life long love of Jazz. Could you arrange a lunchtime presentation and sort out some music, to show how this punk rock music you like, has it's roots in Charlie Parker and the jazz scene". So I did. At the end of it he said "You know, you came here with a bit of a reputation as a troublemaker, but the school is really proud of you". I left Orange Hill with 9 O levels and three A levels. I doubt anyone would have predicted that when I was 13. I've been pretty successful in most things I've done since.

You may wonder why I'm writing all of this? There is a good reason. I read this recently - 5 tips to build self esteem in children with dyslexia -

http://exaltedliving.com/selfconfidence/5-tips-to-build-self-esteem-in-children-with-dyslexia/


1.    Active Listening – Give your undivided attention to your child as he or she talks about their feelings. Make time to talk to your child about the wave of emotions they may be feeling, their reactions to situations and what they think caused the feelings to arise. ( Ex. : anger, fear, shame – all common emotions dyslexic children may face about their learning disability) Allowing your child to express their feelings in a safe environment (like home) will keep your child from locking up these emotions. Expressing themselves helps to ease the tensions they may be experiencing and is a good form of stress release.

2.    Be Patient – As you may already be aware of, children with dyslexia often have a hard time verbally expressing themselves. They may know what they want to say in their mind, but getting their points across is sometimes difficult for them to achieve. Dyslexic children often cannot find the words to relate their message. They are very likely to be feeling anxious and upset, but unsure just how or what to tell you. Giving them time to say what they mean will show them that you understand that their feelings are important and you are supporting them. This will also let them know that what they have to say to you is meaningful and you care enough to let them get it out in the open.

3.    Explain Dyslexia – Make sure your child understands not only what dyslexia is but also what it is not. Explain that having dyslexia has nothing to do with how intelligent they are. Let them know that they have an average or above average IQ and are not “stupid”. Make it clear to your child that research has proven that children with dyslexia can learn to read and accomplish what they choose to; they just may have to try to learn in different ways from others. Tell them about famous people throughout history and many stars of today that have dyslexia and point out to them all that these people have achieved despite of having dyslexia.

4.    List the Positive – Children with dyslexia are good at a variety of different activities. Help your child make a list of all of their talents. Encourage your child to actively participate in these areas of strength and support their efforts with praise. Help them set realistic and attainable goals that can be achieved in a relatively short time. This way they will see results quickly and will want to press on to the next goal. Explain to your child that you are there to help them with the process of reaching their goals.

5.    Give Praise Daily – Giving praise for your dyslexic child’s achievements cannot be emphasized enough. Everyone likes to be complimented. Children with dyslexia are no different in this area. Instill in your child not to compare themselves to others but to look at their own individual improvements they have made. Praise works wonders. Knowing that a supportive parent acknowledges how hard they have worked to achieve their goals will go a long way. Admiration for your child’s hard work will increase their progression and give them aim to achieve more of their goals. Become your child’s own personal cheering squad. Tell your child how proud you are for their accomplishments. Reinforcement and praise is crucial for building a positive self image and feelings of self worth.

I read these and I reflected on my own youth. What I've written above was a very difficult and painful thing to write. This is mostly because I love my parents and as a parent I now understand why things were as they were. They were raised in a different age. They didn't know I was dyslexic. They didn't have a clue how to deal with my issues. In many ways they were terrific and made me very tough and self reliant. What had worked really well with my brothers and sisters didn't work for me. What I did realise though, as I read these was that the change of environment, living with my brother, then changing school, gave me the opportunity to develop and a break a pretty destructive cycle.

I have learned one thing. If your life is not working, then you need change. Every day you carry on doing the same things in the same way is another day you've wasted. There are two ways you can change things, by accident or by design. I was lucky. I changed by accident. I've often wondered if I'd have been more successful, happier or nicer if I'd not been dyslexic. I really can't answer that. What I think I can say with complete certainty is that if I wasn't extremely lucky, I'd probably be dead now. As it is I'm not and I'm extremely glad I'm not. Things can change and things can get better.

I'm going to end this blog by saying something I've never said before. Something I'm not even sure I truly believe. Something rather painful in many ways. Something I thought had been knocked out of me by my education. This is a confession, this is Rog T coming out. Are you ready for this "I'm not thick, I'm not stupid and I'm happy with myself".

1 comment:

button55 said...

Not fikk Rog no..!!