Friday, 6 September 2013

Dyslexia Blog - exploding the myths

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion.

I was asked the following question on Twitter a couple of days ago :-

Do you think that can be an advantage?

 This is perhaps the most irritating thing that a dyslexic can be asked. Dyslexia is a disability that causes emotional pain, limits career opportunities, hampers educational performance and makes on the victim of bullying. Would you ask someone who lost a leg if this was an advantage? Sure they can compete in the paralympics, but is this an advantage? Having reached the age of 51, I am quite comfortable with my dyslexia but it has been a massive struggle.

Last year I rang up Jeni Barnet on BBC London 94.9 radio after she made a highly patronising comment about "dyslexics having special abilities". I was livid. Is not being able to read properly a special talent? Is not being able to put your thoughts into writing in a coherent manner a special talent? Is having to work three times as hard as your peers, just to achieve a vaguely comparable result a talent?

I have no doubt whatsoever that all the S**T I've had to endure since the day I emerged into the daylight has helped build an unusual degree of belligerence and hard headedness that I wouldn't have needed had I had a fully functional brain, but I really wish I didn't have the feelings of anger and resentment welling inside me. I doubt I would be such a committed, dogged blogger, if I had a fully functional brain and for this I thank the Lord, but the need to blog is only driven by a complete rejection of injustice. If In hadn't been on the end of it, I probably wouldn't be that bothered. From where I sit, I often think blissfull ignorance would be more pleasant than the anger fuelled rage that drives many of these blogs.

In the early days of my blogging, I used to be really self conscious about my appalling grammar and my misuse if the English Language. Now I have realised that there are more important things to worry about. One of my readers commented that they find my blog more readable than some of the others. That is because I am too ignorant to understand, remember or use many of the "big words" my peers use. My brother is classically trained, speaks Latin, French and Dutch fluently. I can hardly manage English. He will throw in the odd classical insult at people if they raise his ire. He will imply they are a tussificator if they irritate him. I just call them a twat.

The only advantage that dyslexia can bestow on us is for those that get through it have learned how to cope with unfairness and discrimination. Sadly many people don't. When you work hard for no reward and your efforts go unappreciated it is easy to become withdrawn and depressed. I am in general a positive person, but in my early teens I was a mess. If it hadn't been for the discovery of punk rock music and the associated subculture, I hate to think where I may have ended up. As it was, the music gave me a focus and the nihilism of the late 1970 punk outlook perfectly fitted with my lack of self esteem. When I found other people had such feelings of alienation and rejection, I felt less alone. I was lucky. I guess many people never find their place. As I grew up and matured, things became easier. Being in a band gave me self confidence. That was what made me able to cope.

So lets bury the myth of the "dyslexic advantage". Lets acknowledge that dyslexia is a multi headed monster and before people can deal with their dyslexia they need to deal with their self esteem. This isn't improved by people telling lies about "dyslexics being special". It can be improved by making dyslexics aware that they are not alone, they can be successful and they can achieve great things with hard work.  Most importantly we need to ensure that dyslexics are given the help and support they need to avoid depression and low self esteem. This starts at home. I am the youngest of six children. My mother used to refer to me as "the thick one". My teachers used to call me a "dunce", my former headmaster told me I would never get a girlfriend because I was too stupid, in front of a class of 40 people. My careers advisor at school told me I should consider working as a parkkeeper and be realistic about my prospects. I didn't even know I was dyslexic until long after I left school. They never bothered to see why I was disruptive and had poor educational performance. Ask any of them if I had any advantages. I have done Ok with my life and my career. I was lucky in having some teachers who believed in me. My parents supported my musical career (probably because they hadn't a clue what else to do with me), I changed school and found a headmaster who did support me. The new school nurtured my interest in music. Needless to say my Headmaster was rather wrong in his prediction about never having a girlfriend. I have been blessed in that department, having perhaps had far greater luck than I really deserve. I am married with three great children, none of whom are dyslexic and all of whom are very bright.

I mention this because none of the "advantages" I have are down to dyslexia. They are down to being able to cope with dyslexia. If you are dyslexic or you know a dyslexic, are you/they coping. If the answer is no, then see what you can do to address the situation. Coping is the secret. Lets deal with the issues, not the myths and fantasies.


xristiana sophia said...

Yet, another myth is that dyslexia is a "learning difficulty" that has to do with reading and writing.

Sure enough, that's where most symptoms show up. But naming something does not automatically make it so! What the naming speaks about is our understanding of that which we are naming, the way we are choosing to see it.

Dyslexia (for lack of an alternative word, for now) has to do with much more than how or when you read and write. It's a whole different way of thinking and one which has to do with the right hemisphere of the brain instead of the left. If we take it world-wide, that's about 40% (I wouldn't be surprised if it was more) of the population.

From where I sit, we still don't know much about dyslexia... but remaining focused on what we think it is, we miss the big picture, the revelations that could open doors for ALL of us...

Robert Francis Müller said...

This blog post has frustrated me beyond the words I am able to put together right this second. But I have to say something right now or I'll explode!!

..I was also discovered to be dyslexic late in life - to be fair to you - I was 20 or 21 when I got flagged as dyslexic during a general screening when I enrolled at an art college. I was also full of resentment toward the system that missed my cries of help. I have put myself trough several phases of self harm, first when I was too young to really recall what was going on perhaps aged 7 or 10. And again shortly after I was found out to be dyslexic.

I didn't put my depression and self hatred down to dyslexia and the way my life had been so far because of it. I was slipping into another round of deep self hatred a few months back, but for some reason I got a feeling that me being dyslexic had something to do with it. I was at an acting workshop and struggling to keep up with a script I had just been given. I felt like I was right back at school being made to stand up and read aloud. I was hating myself with such intensity at that moment - it was then I made the connection and only then (aged 32).

I immediately began researching into dyslexia. Despite the screening and a bit of extra tuition at the art college, it was never fully explained to me. And back then they didn't know as much as they do now. While I painstakingly researched into what dyslexia actually is i discovered the DYSLEXIC ADVANTAGE which caused another light bulb to go off. Every ability that I took for granted is unique to my dyslexic brain. I once hated my brain, smashing my head against any solid surface that was close to me. My imagination is SO vivid I used to play out scenarios of my girlfriend at the time cheating on me and I would believe them to be true and as a result - you guessed it we parted ways.

I used to blame everyone else for letting me down, not picking up on my dyslexia earlier and helping me with my reading/writing. I learned to hide and avoid the teacher at all costs. This hiding became an art. I went through school being someone I wasn't. And discovering that my brain has an advantage over other "normal" brains I finally feel proud of who I am, I can finally BE WHO I AM!

Reading your post filled me with rage, it pumped me back up to the torn up mess I used to be aged 22. If you can't believe the scientific evidence of how a dyslexic brain functions in comparison to a non-dyslexic brain that is your baggage that needs to be unpacked and examined. Actively discouraging people from the proven (what can be called) advantages that come from having a dyslexic brain is naive, reckless and immensely unhelpful for those of us still trying to come to terms with who we are and what our place is on this spinning ball of sediment. Your honesty is inspiring, but your opinion is your opinion and what gives you the right to guide people to line up with your opinion when the facts and scientific evidence is out there to suggest that the DYSLEXIC ADVANTAGE is a topic that requires further research and investigation. That's not my opinion, that is (fair to say) a fact! Let other dyslexics and probably more importantly non-dyslexics decide for themselves where they sit on this recently discovered topic. we are all entitled to believe what we believe, part of me wishes I never clicked the link on Twitter to read this blog post the other part of me is glad because I have been able to put a voice to the other side of the coin. The fact I used to hate myself, and hurt myself - that is not the advantage they speak of. The advantage is - in your particular case - the ability to have been able to set up a successful business connected to something of great interest to you. That is a clear advantage over a brain that has to work in logical sequence. Those brains need a system to follow in order to work - WE create the systems that work for us. That in my humble opinion and based on the evidence I have found so far is an advantage.

Rog T said...

Well done Robert, for completely missing the point. The point being that you have to deal with so much shit and you have so many obstacles that even if you did have advantages in some areas, many people never get to deploy those talents because the system has already fucked them over. If you have the IQ of a genius it is very difficult to take any advantage of that if your grades are poor. Sure many dyslexics view things differently and process information differently but if that gives you an advantage that has to be weighed against the disadvantage of years of misery, which you yourself allude to. I take a holistic view of life. For something to be a real advantage, it needs to improve your life holistically. You may feel it has, I know hundreds who it most certainly hasn't. You make some decent points and we are all entitled to our views. Scientific evidence of talents at particular skill sets is not the same as leading a happy and fulfilled life. The anger I suppress is the baggage and that is dyslexias special gift to me. If you lack those feelings of anger, frustration and self doubt you are a lucky man

Robert Francis Müller said...

I got the point and it hit my right in the gut. That is what has fired me up to feel I have to cast light on the darkness you're post is so keen to pull people into.

Me, I am full of anger, frustration and self doubt every waking minute. as soon as I was found out to be dyslexic I pointed the finger of blame every where. My parents, my first school, my second school, the educational system they all missed it and told me I was lazy and a daydreamer that needs to work harder. The years of misery and missed opportunities due to low self esteem have certainly come from the fact I never got to grips with what it truly meant to be dyslexic. And due to not knowing about it for so long I could only come to one conclusion during that time and that was I assumed it was all my fault and I am to blame for not keeping up in class, for never finishing a project on time, for not being able to even tell the time properly, so from that position I was truly at a disadvantage. So I do get what you are saying and I do have an insight into the feelings that come from what you talk about.

this dialogue is good and it is important to exchange different points of view on the subject of the possibility that a dyslexic brain has an advantage over a non-dyslexic brain. The advantages are there in many forms, it's only that we are shackled by what society defines as advantageous to society and not what is advantageous to us as individuals. You mention people less fortunate and in my research about dyslexia I found out that there is a huge percentage of dyslexics within the prison system, and in my opinion this is because many of them were let down. Not by Dyslexia but by others around them not willing to adapt their rigid system that meant those square pegs would never fit in the round holes imposed by the system. That's where the disadvantage lies. Not in the dyslexia itself, but in the pressure to fit into a one size fits all system. We either crumble under the pressure and abuse ourselves or we rebel and abuse the system and to some degree we are all on that seesaw trying to balance what the majority expect from us. But for those without any guidance or support around them it's no surprise they ultimately end up in prison. The system has been ramming them down their round hole for so long that that is the only place left to go. It's that or complete self destruction!

I guess, yes in some respects I am lucky - that I didn't completely self destruct. I had a VERY good friend who got me to a therapist. But if I knew I was dyslexic let's say at aged 10 then no doubt my life would be very different, I would have learned ways of tackling my spellings and time tables. And my self esteem would not have taken the battering it did. But it made me who I am today and on one hand I am disadvantaged but in the other hand I hold on tightly to what advantages I am lucky enough to have going on up there in that grey blob. (1/2) ...

Robert Francis Müller said...

The thing that got to me the most was that your post implies that it is dyslexia that causes emotional pain, limits someones career or messes with their education. It is not the dyslexia itself that causes the pain. It is how either the education system, the work place and ultimately how we (dyslexics) deal with dyslexia. It upsets me to think that you have managed to pin point your dyslexia after all these years of not knowing, but instead of looking for and sifting out the positives you share and request others to join you in only looking at the dark side. Both sides need to be discussed and both sides make up the whole picture. I implore you to look into the dyslexic advantage and I hope you will discover something new about dyslexia. I only noticed after posting my comment, that your original post was from three years ago, a lot has developed in the research and understanding of the dyslexic brain in that time. So please do google a few things about the dyslexic advantage, there are some good TED talks and a few really well researched books out there to check out on the subject.

At the end of the day we are both on the same team. Two dyslexics that didn’t know that we were dyslexic during school (I have been in several bands too, but I couldn’t learn to read music so I gave up). I meant no ill with my comment above, I’m only trying to bring to light the very well researched and evidence based theories that we do have advantages to tap into, and if we as a society can identify dyslexia in young children they will dodge the low self esteem Kryptonite tipped bullet and go onto be the super heroes they really are. (Sorry to mix up Star Wars and Superman metaphors in the same post!) (2/2).