Thursday, April 02, 2009

Stuttering and Dyslexia

A few weeks ago I was invited to contribute a guest article on dyslexia to an excellent website called the Stuttering Hub. This is what I said:

For most of my life I carried an assumption around with me, not even knowing it was there. The assumption was this: other people are more-or-less like me. The reason I can’t do some things as well as them is because I’m not trying hard enough. Or I’m not as virtuous. Maybe I’m just a bad person.

That’s the way it is with an invisible disability. It can be invisible both ways. It took a long time for me to realise that the non-dyslexics weren’t trying harder. In fact, they weren’t trying anything like as hard as I was.

Not that I think of dyslexia as a disability any more. It’s just a difference in the hardwiring of the brain. The ‘disability’ part of the equation comes from the fact that the mainstream of society is organised for non-dyslexics. And, I guess, for those who don’t stammer.

So, there I was, carrying my assumption around. An invisible weight on my back. And a heavy one.

The teachers in school exerted huge effort telling us stuff and placed great importance on our ability to remember it. If you could remember well you went to the top class. If you couldn’t, you went to the bottom. If you got a spelling right they’d say, “Good boy! Well done.” The (usually) unspoken implication of a failure to spell correctly was, “Bad boy! Don’t be so lazy in future.”

I’m now 46 and have only recently started to unpack my emotional reactions to being dyslexic in a non-dyslexic world. I now realise why I always felt out of step, why I feel guilty for forgetting things, for getting times mixed up, for being badly organised, or any of the other signs of a dyslexic brain. Not feeling the guilt at all – that will be a longer road.Part of the unpacking process is realising that there are many other people with hardwiring that is significantly off the average – but in different directions. People with astounding abilities in some areas and, relatively speaking, disabilities in others.

The great thing about web sites like this one is that they allow people with similar issues to find each other, to realise that their situation is not unique, that others have trodden and are treading the same path.

In my experience, the ‘normal’ people are hugely aware and concerned about the negative impact of some of these hardwiring types. Much research is done on the disability aspect. But little research seems to be done on examining the areas in which people such as dyslexics have prodigious ability. That’s something we can do for ourselves on sites like this. It is something I do whenever I meet another dyslexic, by asking, “What is it you are really good at?” It seems a far more helpful question than the one that society usually asks: “Tell me about your disability.”

Of course, we live in a predominantly non-dyslexic, non-stammering, non-ADHD, non dyspraxic world. Those of us who sit far from the average have to develop coping strategies. For me these are numerous. Some I evolved without being aware of them. Others I worked out consciously. Some of my unconscious coping strategies turned out to be wise. Others were counter-productive.

It is a learning process. I don’t mind that I’ll never get to the end of it. I’m just glad to be taking control and becoming more at peace with who I am.

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