Dyslexia & Me

Let’s get to the point I have Dyslexia, that is why you may find spelling errors, typos on my blogs and in my interactions online. I’m writing this post today to highlight just how big an effect being dyslexic has had on shaping who I am .

When I was at school I was just called slow (or stupid) I’d never even heard of dyslexia until I had left school. I guess if tests had been around when I was a kid, I would have been spared much embarrassment and my life path would have gone off in a very different direction and who’s to say if that would have been a good thing or not.
As a child I could not learn my multiplication, I found reading very hard and spelling was at times impossible. As for grammar well it’s very hard for me to grasp the nuance’s in the written word as I don’t focus or concentrate in the same ways as many ‘normal’ people do. I must point out that Dyslexia takes many forms and is not the same for everyone.

Many times as a kid, I was made to stand on my chair or table to show to the class I had scored low on maths and spelling tests. At the time this was humiliation that was hard to bear, but on reflection it was a blessing in that it shaped a mindset that saw not fitting in as the norm.
Dyslexia for me meant and still means I can’t remember phone numbers, don’t hand write messages as I won’t be able to read them back, can’t work out maths problems without writing them down (maths in the head is impossible beyond the basics). Write anything from a short e-mail to this blog without checking it and checking it and still missing things that the spell checker hadn’t flagged. My wife and I have worked out that it takes me about 80% longer to write something to a required readable standard than her.

Sure we all see terrible grammar and spelling on the web and I’m sure many people don’t even care, but having been persecuted for most of my school life I want to do my level best to be legible.
I have dictation software that works well, but I actually enjoy the act of typing. The ability for most computers to read text back has made my life a little easier and I can check and publish my work without my wife having to read it all first. Sure errors do slip through the net, but only the most pedantic would be bothered by them. Being a bit pedantic myself I am usually mortified when I discover I have had made a classic Dyslexic gaff.

I should point out; I have a deep grasp and love of words. I enjoy finding new ones and tormenting my wife with them ‘what the hell does that mean’ she moans… I guess it’s just my ego enjoying the fact that while I can’t spell many of these words off the bat, I know what they mean. It’s kinda two fingers to a school system that failed me.

I  still hold a very low opinion of the standard UK education system. Life is a greater teacher than any professor can ever be. Schools, exams, universities etc etc are just easy ways of boxing up people in a world that simply doesn’t have the interest or time to figure out the great gift each of us has within.

If after a few years it becomes obvious that someone is not going to be the next great words-smith or mathematician why waste their time forcing a square peg in a round hole. Give them what they need to get through life and find out what they really are good at: cooking, gardening, mechanics, drawing, singing, running etc etc… and focus on enhancing that. They will undoubtedly, like me and my father before me, return to adult learning to improve maths and English when they are happy to do so.

I finally taught myself to read as a child when I discovered comic books. Now the teachers could have helped with this but they, once again, viewed it with tunnel vision they disapproved of comics – you must read this book… This book was usually the most mind crunchingly boring rubbish about children doing and seeing stuff that I did everyday.

However when I discovered spider-man, hulk, the star wars comics and 2000 ad, finally I wanted to know what it all meant and the fact the text was limited to a few lines and echoed the action in the image helped a lot. After all I was visually driven and I was basically able to expand on the little ability I did have to read. I dragged myself up to a standard that gets me through life thanks to the very things parents and teachers never want you to read.

As I was going nowhere fast in the standard lessons at school and I lived in fear of the many dictation classes, maths test, reading aloud etc etc… art became a subject I was able to relax in and enjoy. I had to say I wasn’t really that great at that time but the freedom oh the freedom was wonderful. For two hours a week I was able to sit up straight and not hide at the back of the class for fear of being picked. (Note I personally discovered later that I got picked on far less if I sat right at the front of the class.)
At 16 I was given the choice of enduring more embarrassment in education or getting a job and earning some money …Yes you guessed it I chose the second option. But here once again my dyslexia forced me into a path I would never have chosen ….I worked at a builders merchant (hardware store) which my father was the manager…

I can’t say at the time the job really set my world alight but £60 in cash in a brown envelope at the end of every week seemed like a million dollars. As my maths was still below par and my spelling was yuck not to mention I had a phobia of phones which still persists ( I like to see who I’m talking to!!!) ..I got to do all the glamorous jobs… make tea, carry cement, clean toilets, sweep floors, clean windows and my favourite job of all counting out five black bags folding them, rolling them and then binding them to be sold in a bucket out the front of the store. I folded thousands and thousands of these bags in the years at the job. I took great pride in making sure their folds and rolls were perfect. Looking back I see this bag rolling was almost like a meditation practice. I spent hours and days commander of my own stock room, left alone to work, think and listen to radio4 documentaries. Even now in some ways the peace, calm and ordered nature of the job still brings a smile to my face …

Most in society would have hated a job with little interaction, or possibilities of expansion but I was happy to go to work. It was stress free and on reflection my Dyslexia had given me a job that gave me plenty of time to contemplate life. The years rolled on and I expanded my role in the company until I became a buyer and a manager. Even now the sight of good quality hand tools or well made ironmongery lifts my heart (I weep at the rubbish people buy at DIY stores these days.)

Fast forwarding to the present day: -While I am now a full time artist my dyslexia still holds me back to a point but it does focus me. I still get frustrated when I realise I have sent someone an e-mail that is less than perfect English.
Very rarely do I subject myself to reading a full book, but over the years, I have expanded my brain with information and made contacts with thousands of people across the world. The thing that makes me smile is I spend more time writing that I do creating art work.
All Disabilities in life no matter how distressing shape the people that have them and those that deal with them.

My life has been shaped by my dyslexia, I am what I am because of it. My life has taken many wonderful twists and turns and so how can I really begrudge this thing that forced me to live life differently than others. If you have Dyslexia be proud and don’t hate it, it could be a blessing in disguise.

Finally If Mr. Spock from Star Trek was to read a letter by someone with Dyslexia he may remark “They are words Jim, but not as we know them”