|My schoolwork aged 9|
If you were listening to Vanessa Feltz at just after 9am this morning you would have heard me chatting to Vanessa about my experiences of living with dyslexia. Click the link and forward to 2.07 - https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07psr1m
It is very hard to explain to someone who is not dyslexic exactly what it is like. When I listened back, I think I made a reasonable job of getting some of the issues over. What perhaps I didn't properly manage to get across was the fact that for most dyslexics, especially of my generation, dyslexia is the least of your problems. Generally once it is recognised, it can be dealt with. You can be taught strategies to cope, you can get extra time in exams etc. You learn to play to your strengths. The problem for most dyslexics is that it isn't recognised. You just under perform, get labelled thick and don't get help with some very basic things that could help you cope. As you soon realise that people who are less intelligent than you are outperforming you in exams etc, you get frustrated. Often this makes you disruptive at school. This has all sorts of ripple down effects. You develop anger issues, that affect relationships. Humans are a successful species because we are adaptable. Dyslexics who are underperforming at school are no exception. We do what we have to do to get by. For those who get demoralised with reading issues, this can result in severe literacy problems. Without these basic skills, survival in our society often means living on the edge of it. A friend of mine, who developed a severe class A drug habit, and ended up in prison was shocked to find that as someone who could read and write, he was in a minority in prison. In 2012, the following shocking statistic was announced in Parliament.
"The general average in prison-based studies is about 30%, although rates of serious deficit in literacy and numeracy generally reach up to about 60%. According to Ministry of Justice figures published earlier this month, we currently have more than 86,000 prisoners, so we can estimate that about 26,000 offenders in UK prisons suffer from some form of dyslexia, but we do not know for certain."
On average, the cost of jailing someone is around £32,000 per year. So the cost of jailing dyslexics in the UK is approx. £832 million. I believe that 90% of that should have been avoided. I see no reason why dyslexics should have a higher crime rate than a non dyslexic person. A government with an ounce of foresight would see these figures and realise the huge potential for saving money, setting aside the fact that it is the right thing to do. The answer is to identify dyslexia early and tailor education to ensure that the outcomes are better. We should also be identifying dyslexics in prison and offering them help with their issues. Help with numeracy and literacy, as well as anger management would make a huge difference to literacy rates. Many dyslexics would do anything to avoid classroom situations. My own experience and the anecdotal experience of dyslexic friends is that we suffer self esteem issues.
The trouble is that people who have no experience of dyslexia do not understand any of this. Many see it as an excuse. A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a friend on the subject. He said "it's just an excuse for failure in life". I was (internally) furious. I asked if he thought I was a failure. He replied that he thought there was nothing wrong with me and I just said I was dyslexic for effect. I was almost shocked into silence. How can you argue with that. He said "if you were dyslexic, how come you can write a blog?". I said "do you not know the difference between being dyslexic and illiterate?" Whilst dyslexia can lead to illiteracy, this should never happen. What should happen is that you learn to do it. It might take you longer, it might be a bit harder, but there is no reason why you can't do anything that a non dyslexic can do. When I read a blog or a book, I want to read the content. I don't care how long it took the writer to put it together. If it's interesting I am not too bothered about the spelling and grammar (although I use autocorrect on my blogs most of the time). I don't care if there are out of place apostrophes and lost consonants. Maybe that's just me.
So am I. Was I well served by my teachers. Click on the picture of my school work, with a nice big tick, from St Vincents, when I was 9 years old. You tell me. When I compared that with my own childrens work at the same age (they are not dyslexic), I was horrified.
I spoke to some dyslexic friends about that conversation. The reaction was shocking. One friend said they'd have punched the lights out of the person who made the statement. Another said that would be the end of the friendship. A third said they simply don't bother discussing their dyslexia with 'normals'.
For me, that is not an option. I have a mission to educate. I am not eloquent or clever enough to always succeed, but I will die trying. My hope is that by talking to Vanessa and writing these blogs, someone, somewhere, who is dyslexic might just feel a bit better about themselves. A modest ambition, but one that, to me, is worthy.