Dyslexic, Uncovered

Last week I attended the Annual Conference of The British Socological Assocation (BSA), an event that brings together individuals from all areas of sociology. This proved to be a time of reflection upon my own journey to becoming a sociologist and the issues and barriers facing others that find themselves in a similar situation to me.

It has now been some ten years since I graduated with my degree in Crime Deviance and Society and ten years since I gained my Masters in Social and Cultural Theory, things could have been very different. I was never considered to be particularly academic as a child. I was the one who sat at the back of the class with a vacant expression. Well, I must have looked vacant anyway as I spent my formative years being told off for daydreaming.

Many of my regular followers know my background but here is a quick refresh or introduction for those of you new to my e-world. I have Cerebral Palsy, use a wheelchair and went to special school from which I made my escape aged 16 with no qualifications to speak of. I enrolled in a mainstream college and was diagnosed with dyslexia at 18. University followed. I am passionate about education, for me it is both the gift of, and key to, personal development and social stability. I often get accused of being more than a little obsessed with the education topic, such that when two close friends announced they were pregnant I was plotting their due date against the English academic calendar.

I am an August birthday, us summer-borns are something of a scourge on the educational landscape. My teacher friends tell me that “you really don’t want a class full kids like you.” We are you might say on the back foot academically speaking, invariably not quite ready for the work we are doing. We are the cake that would have been so much better with another five minutes in the oven. If you add dyslexia to the equasion, you can really feel up against it.

These days we are used to the ideas of inclusion and disability awareness. Last week I even came past my local primary school and noticed the school sign had a wheelchair using child prominently displayed. It has become the norm, no big deal, to have a child who uses a wheelchair or a walking frame in mainstream school and there would be an outcry if adjustments were not made to accommodate their obviously differing needs, and rightly so.

However, there is one disability that, even in the inclusive atmosphere we see today, often continues to go unrecognised and therefore unsupported. Dyslexia is a condition that has been subject to a great deal of misconception and is much of the time on the margins of educational discourse. We see periodic surges of interest in the condition, debates over causes and even whether it exists at all. Dyslexia is all too often discussed only in the context of academic learning and something that is only relevant to childhood, a problem that disappears with the end of compulsory education.

So what is it like to be dyslexic? In what ways does it affect the individual? It is something that is different for each person. Every dyslexic I have met has their own, sometimes seemingly unique, problem areas. Many have some amazing strengths as well.

When I was a child dyslexia felt like being in my own world. It always felt like I was missing something that was obvious to everyone else. At my best as a child I felt like I was 30 seconds behind the others in the room. In school, classroom activities are structured around how the majority learn. This can lead to the classroom becoming a very bewildering place for dyslexic people. In my life I have seen very intelligent people who are disinterested in learning, have little self worth and feel like they have nothing to offer, purely because the current system at its best puts some of those in it at a disadvantage, and at its worst condemns them to fail from the outset.

Of the multiple diagnoses I have I find physical disability frustrating, depression frightening and dyslexia embarrassing and loaded with social stigma. If I had the choice to remove one of my disabilities dyslexia would be the one I would choose without a second thought. There are some I know that think having dyslexia is a gift giving them creative flair and problem solving skills. For me it was like being in a cage. Before the dyslexic label was applied to me and I got appropriate help I used to think I would die in my own mind. In my more wry moments I have thought that my being dyslexic is living proof that God has a sense of irony. Writing is the one thing I am good at, but I need help to do it. I was having a bad time in hospital a few years ago that resulted in my having a long-term urinary catheter. While it was being fitted, something I had resisted for years, I remarked to the consultant, that if I were to find myself in hell for me it would not be fire or ice I would just be catheterised while simultaneously being made to play scrabble.

Dyslexia with the correct support does not have to be a barrier to achievement. It is not all that you are. Whether you are diagnosed as a child or as an adult, there is help available and improvements can be made at any age. However to enable this, dyslexia has to be recognised as something that affects people across the board, making it not just an issue for educators but one for other walks of life too.

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