Monday, 29 June 2015

Dyslexia Blog - Is my fear of socialising in large groups of people a dyslexic trait?

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. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

Today I had a eureka! moment. Have you ever suddenly realised that a huge part of your character and how people perceive you  is not how you perceive yourself? Have you ever suddenly realised that in fact you are not really seen by others as you actually feel. When you realise this have you ever heard a penny drop and worked out why?

Well today was one of those moments. My wife casually mentioned that one of the Mill Hill Music Festival committee members had commented to her that I was a miserable sod and I never smiled. I am sure that those weren't the exact words, but that is pretty much the jist of it. It seems they weren't being critical, just puzzled as to why I am not the life and soul of the party. At first I was taken aback. Am I really so grumpy and miserable? Part of the reason could be that when I do something like the festival, I see it as work and so I like to focus. But there is more to it. If you meet me 1 to 1 and have a chat with me, you'd probably conclude I am quite a cheerful soul. But I find that as soon as there are more than 3-4 people in a group, my brain shuts down and I become socially inept. I have a mechanism for dealing with this in most situations. At dinner parties I sit at the end of the table, so I only ever have to engage with 2 or 3 people, which is quite managable. But in some scenarios, I am forced to be in social situations, where there are 5 or 6 or even more people all talking at once. I find that this overloads my brain. By the time I've thought of a witty riposte, the conversation has moved on. The easiest way to manage this is to ensure that you avoid these situations, but it isn't always possible and it is always uncomfortable. I realised long ago that my brain works at 2/3rds the speed of "normal" brains for tasks like reading, but it hadn't occurred to me before that this may be also true for talking to people. In a 1 to 1 conversation, it isn't noticable, but in a large group my brain is swamped beyond it's capacity.

Over the years quite a few female friends have told me that for a bloke I'm quite a good listener. It has struck me that this may just be because my brain doesn't process the information quick enough to get a response out very often. I don't consider myself thick, so I do get a response out in the end and when it has been thought about, it is usually quite a sensible response, but in a large crowd this facility shuts down.

I was wondering if there are any other dyslexics out there who have similar issues and if so, is there a strategy beyond hiding? I'd be intrigued.


Joanne Pyner said...

Hi,I didn't find out that I am dyslexic until I was 46, I have always had problems with conversation when there are more than 3 people and if there is a lot of background noise I am lost completely. When I was younger I would laugh hopefully in the right places and try to work out what was being said by listening to the people closest to me. I became adept at shocking people with words almost as a shield so they would not come back at me and therefore I didn't have to hear their response and be part of the conversation . If I go out to dinner like you I sit at the end, I have never really thought about that until I read your blog but it seems easier with fewer people around and I could always get up quickly if the conversation became too much. At one point I thought my hearing was going so had 3 hearing tests over 1 year all of which said my hearing was good and maybe I just have selective hearing, which is exactly what I do have because my brain cannot process that much information at once. I am mod/sev dyslexic and although I can read I do read things incorrectly. Over the last 5 years I have realised how hard I have worked to understand what is going on around me and how much extra effort I have to put into daily life trying to hide the fact that I may not have understood what was happening, to the point where I would tell people I was slightly deaf to hide my embarrassment. For years I thought I was thick, crap school left at 14 with huge holes in my education. After I was tested and found to be dyslexic, at which point I was also told I was highly intelligent I felt liberated. I no longer try to guess what is being said, if I don't understand what is being said even on a one to one at the bank for instance I will say I am dyslexic and would you go over that again and it works people are on the whole very accommodating and life has been easier. After all this waffle my answer to your question is I have found that the hiding and the constant need to not stand out because I didn't understand wasn't only because of the dyslexia it was also because I felt less than the people around me and nervous that they would realise how uneducated I was and how little I was understanding. With or without dyslexia we all have ways of coping in life but my way of coping was exhausting and now I realise just how exhausting it was. So If I have any thing that I could tell you it would be to be yourself don't make excuses, participate if you can and realise that not all People and conversations are worth listening to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Thank you for sharing this.
I don't believe I am dyslexic but I also was a late speaker and also do feel overwhelmed in groups of people. When younger, this attitude was often criticised - but perhaps it is threatening to insecure people. I have learnt to respect this part of myself and enjoy life much better now. Now I work with groups of people and can switch from being loud and dealing with many people to withdrawing and sitting on the corner in order to preserve my energies. I think we are all different - what's important is we respect each others ways to help them bring the best out of each other and contribute their meaningful life to everyone else.