Friday, 25 October 2019

Dyslexia Blog - What I told Vanessa Feltz about dyslexia this morning

My schoolwork aged 9
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 instalment. 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 to get people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

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 -

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. 

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