Wednesday 31 March 2021

So how would you tell your eleven year old that they are dyslexic

My schoolwork aged 9

There was an interesting question posed on the UK dyslexia support group Facebook page "How do I tell my eleven year old that he's been diagnosed as dyslexic". It struck me as an excellent question.  I was only diagnosed when I was my mid 30's, so it wasn't something I went through. I was worried when my children were born that they may have inherited it from me, but that's one challenge they don't have. 

So where would I start? Let me give some background, so that hopefully what I have to say makes a bit of sense. Last year, when I started writing my autobiography, I found the period of when I was 8-14 to be very painful. In the claustrophobic atmosphere of lockdown, I had to step away from writing it, as it was dredging up to many painful emotions. Many of these were related to the effect dyslexia was having on me, although clearly I didn't realise this at the time.

During this period, I chronically underperformed at school and didn't know why. I felt an outsider and I felt very awkward around other people my own age. The biggest fear I had was being perceived as different. I'd put my hand up in class and my answer would have everyone rolling about laughing. Often I wasn't sure whether they were laughing with me or at me. Often I'd say something, the class would burst out laughing and the teacher would explode with rage. I though I'd asked a perfectly reasonable question. I lost count of the number of times teachers would say "You think you are funny, no one is laughing" as the whole class were usually in stitches, I would be even more confused. I would hand in work thinking it was brilliant and get very average marks, or fail completely, having misunderstood the brief. Often I'd not understand why I'd done so badly. As I couldn't read functionally until I was around 12, the whole experience of school terrified me. The worst experience was when I was told I had to read a bible passage during mass at the school ( I was at a Roman Catholic boys school at the time). I was terrified. I have since learned that I simply don't read in a linear fashion. I could read individual words, but when I was under pressure, the words all came out in random order. The school decided that I was 'taking the mickey out of the Lord" and I got a long detention. Whilst I know that being dyslexic would have given me an excuse, I did not want to be labelled as different, and would have probably refused to even be assessed. It was bad enough that I was different, without being labelled as such. In the '70's any sort of learning difficulty was a red flag to bullies.Whilst I am sure that schools are better now at managing pupils with dyslexia, the concept was terrifying to me then and I am sure it would still be stressful

So what would I do? Well the first thing I would do is have a discussion with the school. Find out their policy on dyslexia and how they would address it. I would not necessarily disclose a diagnosis at this stage. I would state that I am considering seeking one and ask what the schools policy was with regards to the subject. Not every school is enlightened, so I'd be cautious. If the school was not supportive, I'd find another school ASAP before doing anything, as it is the wrong school. If they are supportive, I would then talk to my child and try and get them to open up about the challenges they face at school. What do they find difficult about school and school life? What subjects do they struggle with? Have they ever done some work that they thought was good only to get a poor mark? Do they feel excluded? I wouldn't broach the subject of dyslexia until I understood exactly how they felt about themselves and how they were handling the situation. I'd want to know if they were getting bullied and what the triggers were for this. This may take more than one conversation and I wouldn't push it too hard initially.

I think it is important to understand that a dyslexic child, will be an expert of putting up barriers and developing defence mechanisms, which might mean support won't be welcome. Many of these mechanisms are self defeating, but clearly made perfect sense to the child. 

So what does this say about telling an eleven year old they are dyslexic? As a child my biggest fear was being different. I was resisitant to talking about my issues. Dyslexia is a label with negative connotations and at school it would inevitably mean extra work, outside of the normal class group. That was something that would expose you to all of the things you fear. I had remedial reading classes as an eight year old at Primary school. This terrified me, being one on one with a teacher, with no hiding place and no escape, returning to the class and getting teased for being thick.  It was something I was determined to avoid at all costs. Things have changed, but bear this in mind before you tell your child, you really need to be 100% sure that you are not putting them in a place that terrifies them.

I would broach the subject over a period of days or weeks. I'd start conversations in neutral non-threatening ways, perhaps in a neutral space, on a walk or in the car on the way somewhere. First of all, see where the child is. How happy and secure they are. Then I'd find out what they are struggling with and find out how much they want to address those issues. Once you are ready to tell them,it is vital that you do not present dyslexia as a negative. The list of famous dyslexics includes Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, John Lennon, Walt Disney, Leondardo DaVinci and Agatha Christie so clearly it is no barrier to success. Maybe have a few discussions about these or other individuals who the young person will know are successful who are or were dyslexic. Maybe watch some historical film content about them with your child, to prepare the ground. 

Talk about their positive contributions. Only when you've built a really sound platform to demonstrate that it is not a disablity or impediment to success, would I then explain the fact that they are dyslexic. It wasn't something I went through but if I'd been teased for my dyslexia, being able to say "Churchill, Einstein, John Lennon and Agatha Christie were dyslexic, so what's YOUR problem" would have been a very good defence. 

Once you have told them, it is vital to work with your child to ensure it is not having a negative impact on their education. I have a friend who's son was diagnosed as dyslexic. He phoned me in a panic a few years ago. His son was getting stick from classmates as he was getting extra time to complete exams. His classmates were claiming he had an unfair advantage. I know from my own experience that I only read at 2/3rds the speed of a normal person. The extra time in exams is to take account of this factor. It isn't perfect, but exams are tests of intelligence, not timekeeping. Einstein took decades to develop the theory of relativity, in reality timed exams are false construct in measuring intelligence. I would personally prefer schools to do public exams for dyslexics and other people who get additional time, in a  different place to their classmates. That will reduce both the stress for the child and the possibility of negative comments from classmates. 

It is worth remembering that exams are onlya  small part of a process of education. We don't go to school to pass exams (although some parents and teachers don't seem to realise this). We go to school to learn to be decent members of society who can contribute. Dyslexics are wired differently, so their contribution may well be different. Could Disney, Churchill, Lennon and Christie have done what they did if they weren't dyslexic? No one can be sure, but what we can say for certain is that it didn't stop them making an enormous contribution. 

In short, dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not an impediment. It is just a difference and the world would be a very dull place if we were all the same. If you can get that message across, then you will have done a very good job. Don't rush the conversation, let it take as long as it needs to. I suspect that if someone had those conversations with me aged 11, my early teens might have been a lot better. 

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 17 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, 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 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.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Barnet Council are making up the rules for air quality by major construction sites as they go along

 I was intrigued to read the section on air quality in the Council papers for the Brent Cross regeneration scheme, which is being debated next week  - Read page 51 of the report.

"Air Quality

The outline permission is subject to pre commencement conditions that aim to secure an acceptable air quality environment during the construction phase and for the lifetime of the development. Condition 30.6 requires that no less than 3 months prior to the commencement of construction works south of the A406, details of the type and location of equipment to monitor the levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM10) need to be agreed with the Councils Scientific Services. 

This has taken place and the necessary monitoring stations are in place. Further, Condition 30.1 requires a scheme for pollutant and dust management to be submitted to the LPA prior to the commencement of works within a sub-phase identifying the arrangements for monitoring dust and pollutants over the construction period in relation to the nearest sensitive premises. These obligations are required to be fulfilled for the duration of construction works for the regeneration and so is a long-term objective. In addition, these activities are required to be in accordance with the approved Code of Construction Practice (COCP) (LPA ref:18/2380/CON). 

Further to assessing air quality for the Plot 14 proposals specifically, it should be noted that Condition 30.4 of the S73 Permission requires details of all extraction and ventilation equipment to be submitted to and approved in writing by the LPA prior to commencement of any building. This will include details of any flues and odour filtration systems for the A3 units to ensure that odour can be adequately controlled. "

Air quality issues are perhaps the greatest health risk in our city. The current development by Barratts on the Ridgeway has seen numerous complaints by various residents about air quality issues. After speaking to residents in 2019, a meeting was arranged with the Council, which I was invited to. I wrote here about this here and there is a video documenting the dust pollution etc. There has not been the slightest recognition from the council that their monitoring of the dust and health impacts of the NIMR development on local schools, houses and businesses are. Interestingly, one of the attendees of the meeting, Mr Laurence Bard, who runs an aquaitic business at Finchley Nurseries, found that the planning permission had not listed his business, describing it as "open fields to the north". 

If you follow the above link, you will see that planners can hire planning officers from the Council to assist them. I flagged this up as a conflict of interest. I am of the opinion that Barnet Council should have a 'clean air policy' and that no planning permission should be approved without the developer proving that they can meet stringent guidelines. The paragrpahs above show that this is not the case and the rules are there to be flexible and to be bent to suit developers. Monitorings station locations should not only be agreed with the council (ie council officers paid for by the developer), but also by the local community. They should be placed where they can monitor the real life impact on residents, school children and local businesses, and these stakeholders should have a say in where they are placed. Sites where there are breaches should be closed down until the builders and developments are complaint.

Please take a look at this video from 2018 filmed at the NIMR site and tell me whether you think adequate care was taken with regards to dust and particle suppression.  I would urge all residents to lobby the council strongly to ensure they don't suffer the same fate with dust as Mill Hill. Sadly, I can see this scenario being repeated again at Brent Cross.


Monday 29 March 2021

How to have a successful Twitter Account

I received an email from a friend asking me for hints and tips on how to make their Twitter account work better for them. They also asked whether I felt that my Twitter accounts 'worked for me'. For the record, I have a personal/blog  Twitter account @Barneteye, I co-administer the work account at Mill Hill Music Complex - This is used by reception staff at the studio to promote the studio and the artists who use it and is @MillHillMusicCo, I also co-curate the @abettermillhill account with the local Lib Dem focus group team. I will also make a confession. I occasionally have a peek at accounts that have blocked me, using the account my Missus uses for acedemic research. She would murder me if I posted from it, but once in a while it is useful if I want to be nosey. In all honesty I am not that interested most of the time to bother, life is too short, but occasionally someone DM's me and tips me off, such as when Brian Coleman tweeted that he hoped my Prostate Cancer had flared up a few years back. 

So lets have a look at these accounts (except for the Missus). 

Lets start with my main one

Roger Tichborne/RogT
Small orange diamond
Follows you
Lib Dem candidate for Edgware by-election in May. Ex Orange Hill School. #savetherailwayhotel #cancer #dyslexia #savelondonmusic musician and studio owner
Mill Hill, Barnet, London, NW7barneteye.blogspot.comBorn August 16Joined April 2011

I started this in 2011, with the express intention of not using it very much. My initial strategy was to simply post links to my blogs and leave it there. It has been steadily growing ever since. Sadly my initial strategy failed and I got dragged in to what makes Twitter a nightmare. Strangers who turn out to be malicious Trolls, random fall outs with people who were friends who become upset at random postings, all manner of offers I can refuse, etc.  So did it work? Well approx 16% of my blog hits arrive via Twitter, so I guess yes, it makes a contribution and I'd guess many of these are people who are new to twitter. Here are the last days stats for the blog. As you can see, most arrive via Google searches. 

If it was a business, I'd say it was well worth while. As it is my personal Twitter account, I post all sorts of stuff on it. I am sure that people who are interested in the Welsh Harp occasionally get irritated about posts about Manchester City's amazing team. It has been suggested that I have a blog Twitter account, purely for blog related posts and a personal one. If it was a business I'd definitely do this, but I am just too lazy. You'll notice that I have more followers than people I follow. Generally if someone follows me and I think they look interesting, I follow them back, but I don't always bother. If work is busy, I miss people, so please don't be too insulted. I also follow useful news sources. 

What I learned was that Twitter is far better for engaging when you are campaigning than for most other purposes. If there are a group of people, Twitter can work as glue. It is however and echo chamber. It is rare to genuinely engage with people outside your circle via Twitter, unless you make some effort. You have to go to the mountain, as it sure as hell won't come to you. 

Very occasionally Tweets do go viral, but this genuinely only happens when there is some groundbreaking new. I got 25,000 hits in one day once, as the result of a tweet about the reopening of the Oriental Centre. I simply couldn't believe that. A similar thing happened when I had a spat with Mail on Sunday writer Peter Hitchens. Thousands of blog hits, but my followers on Twitter went up by 3.

Next up, lets have a look at Mill Hill Music Complex

London,NW7 October 2011
This was set up in October 2011, to promote the studio when we launced our new development, in association with our new website. I very quickly realised that Twitter has almost no role to play in developing new business for a music studio. Wht it is great for is engaging with customers and friends of the studios. It gives you a chance to keep in touch and show some love. If a customer has a new release, video or gig, you can share it. This helps the customer generate interest, which in turn means they have more reason to use the service. It shows that you are not just interested in their cash. A Better Mill Hill
Small orange diamond
Flag of United Kingdom
Flag of European Union
Follows you
Twitter for the Mill Hill Lib Dem Focus team. Local news from Mill Hill
London, September 2017

Finally we have the account for the Mill Hill Lib Dem focus team. We set this up when I rejoined the party in 2017 and was selected to run in Mill Hill with Donna and Richard. Twitter does not get you new supporters, change people's minds about voting intentions, or serve any major function in local election campaigns. Generally people follow you because they are sympathetic to you (or they are an opponent waiting for a slip up). The idea that a Tweet saying "Free parking for all in Mill Hill" (or the suchlike) would win a single vote is ridiculous. What it does do very well, is keep your particular community engaged. At the start of the Pandemic, I had a Zoom chat and beer with a friend who is a social media branding expert for one of the countries biggest companies. He's guided me on many matters over thelast 12 years. We discussed the Pandemic and he made a very interesting comment. Many people are alone and isolated. They have little interaction and Twitter is one of the ways they keep an eye on their community. He suggested that we use the account to post positive images, post links to relevant information and use our community profile to keep our friends and supporters engaged. It means that when you see them, they don't have to ask the "what have you been doing since the last election" question. I've made it a personal mission to take nice pictures around Mill Hill. 

I recently saw a friendly local Tory Councillor. He complemented me on some of the pictures and asked whether he thought it was worth the effort? Ive no idea if it will translate into a positive vote for the Lib Dems in Mill Hill. I've no idea whether it will push the vote over the line. But for anyone who follows the account, which is well over 600 people who live in Mill Hill, they know that we care for and appreciate our environment and the green belt. No one can say "You only raise these issues at election time".

As general rules, here are some

There are some complete no no's I'd recommend for Twitter if it is for any sort of professional or campaign purposes

* Don't expect the account to grow overnight, it takes months or years to develop a genuine and useful Twitter account. It is who you engage, not the number that matters.

* Block Troll and don't engage in spats

* Dont chase followers who are not genuine, it undermines your credibility

* Don't call people names, names or make potentially libellous claims if you don't like people

* Don't regularly change your handle. It looks dodgy looks suspicious.

* Don't lock and unlock accounts on a regular basis. If you do have a credible reason

* Don't set up spoof accounts to congratulate, like or Troll (yes that happens) yourself to make you look good.

*  Don't Troll your competetors. People are not stupid and will soon catch on 

* Don't lose your focus. If you are non personal account, don't launch personal crusades.

* Don't over egg your mates products, whilst ignoring or belittling other, better alternatives

And the list of things you should do

* Be clear and transparent in your profile as to who you are

* Post regularly

* Stick to the themes that you set the account up to promote (unless it is a personal account)

* Like and retweet other tweeters who you feel are doing a good job

* Retweet campaigns/products you support

* Share useful and interesting information

* Work out your strategy and stick to it

* Follow people because they are interesting and post useful tweets. Don't follow people who just churn out rubbish. It will just fill your time line with noncense

And a couple of safety rules.

* always report Trolls if they are clearly harrassing you or someone else

* Don't follow people who appear to be abusive, you may be next

* Before you follow someone who has retweeted you or liked a post, read their profile and check other tweets. They may just be fishing for followers, that doesn't make them a bad person, but be aware of what sort of stuff they post, as it will turn up on your timeline.