Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dyslexic Success Dyslexic Failure

Could the non-dyslexic condition be likened to a drop of rain that falls on a wide low valley? However far from the centre it may land, the gentle pull of gravity will attract it towards the middle.

The dyslexic condition by contrast could be seen as a drop of rain that falls on a high ridge of land. Despite the natural psychological tendency for people to want to conform to the ways of society, and however average the starting point, dyslexics find themselves pushed, as if by some strange gravity, away from the middle, towards conspicuous achievement to one side or hopeless failure on the other.

It has been said that people can be divided into two types: those who divide people into two types and those who don’t. A joke that pokes fun at any such simple division. Life can’t be so simple.

And yet, consider these two statistics:

1) The proportion of the prison population in the UK who are dyslexic is far higher than the proportion of the general population who are dyslexic. In other words, something is making it more likely for dyslexics to end up in prison than non-dyslexics.

2) The proportion of entrepreneurial business leaders who are dyslexic is far higher than the proportion of dyslexics in the general population. In other words, something is making it more likely for dyslexics to become successful entrepreneurs.

What condition could predispose people to two such opposite outcomes? A condition that makes it hard for the individual to function in the same way as the bulk of society.

The experience of being dyslexic in a non-dyslexic world is like being constantly out of step. You can see everyone else is marching in time. You desperately want to do the same. But it takes such effort that you quickly fall out of step again.

You have two options:

1) Give up.

2) Try to find a solution.

Finding a solution is something that no one can teach you. Most people are not even aware that there is anything to be taught. If you’re not marching in step you must be lazy, careless or just bad.

The PE teacher shouts to the class. Everyone put your right foot forward and your left foot back. The dyslexic kid gets it wrong. Again. Hasn’t he been listening? Are you lazy? Careless? Obstructive? Are you deaf? The child is concentrating hard, trying to figure out a method for remembering the names to these two sides. The teacher couldn’t teach a method, even if he recognised the problem. The teacher doesn’t have a method to remember left from right. He doesn’t need one.

Nor do any of the others in the class.

The life of a dyslexic is full of such challenges. Finding answers to problems that aren’t problems to anyone else. Learning to battle, to try harder, to mistrust the way things have always been done, to always look beyond the obvious, to find a new path that no one else has seen.

Or to not find a path. That is the other possibility. To accept the labels that the PE teacher shouts. Daydreaming, careless, obstructive or just plane bad. After all, these labels do offer an explanation. Which is easier to say: “I didn’t do my homework because it was too difficult”, or “I didn’t do my homework coz I just didn’t, coz I’m the bad boy of the class”?

Take a bright child into nursery at age 4. Give him tasks he can’t do five days a week. Every day tell him he’s daydreaming or being obstructive. Tell him he’s bad. How many years will he hold out before figuring it’s easier to be what the teacher thinks he is? How many years could you hold out?

There is a psychological experiment in which two groups of people are given three anagrams to solve. Group ‘A’ have an easy one to solve first and a harder one to solve second. Group ‘B’ have two impossible anagrams. For the third anagram, both groups are given the same. It is moderately difficult. Almost all of group ‘A’ manage to solve it. The first two puzzles taught them to expect success. Almost none of group ‘B’ manage to do it. They have been taught to expect failure.

If such patterns can be set up in adults in a few minutes, what will be the effect of 12 years in the school system?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Smatrphones, unfriendly lists and geographical order

How should I organise my DVD collection? By title? By director? By genre, date or lead actor? Or should I carry on with my present approach - periodically scooping up the DVDs that have accumulated on the floor next to the television and shovelling them onto a nearby shelf?

The same question presents itself when people try to organise papers in an office or products in a supermarket. Specialists in organisation have devised many different systems. However, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, as the system which works best will depend on the individual using it. An excellent book on the subject is ‘A Perfect Mess – the hidden benefits of disorder.’ Highly recommended.

The question is of particular interest to me because, like many dyslexics, my creative, chaotic mind and my tendency to live in the moment lead to a level of chaos that some might find distressing. People of a delicate disposition on entering my office are likely to throw their hands in the air and cry: ‘You’ve been burgled. I’ll phone the police.’

Happily technology is helping with this. The computer allows me to change the way my files are sorted with the click of a button. Alphabetical, by date of creation, by file type, by size. This suits me well, bringing my creative chaos back towards the zone I like to call ‘functional disorder’ (as opposed to ‘dysfunctional disorder’ or ‘dysfunctional order’.) I keep my work space as paperless as possible. A decent shredder helps.

Those who follow this blog will know that a few months ago I bought a Dell Streak smartphone, hoping thereby to drive myself towards a higher level of functionality. I’m happy to report that my experience with it has been excellent so far, helping me deal more efficiently with dates, times, communications and places.

But it is the last of these that has been the revelation. Places. Smartphones are data access / data collection devices. Through GPS they know where they are to within a few metres anywhere on the planet. And the number of people carrying them is rocketing. Put those facts together and a future opens up before us in which location is increasingly used as a means of organising and retrieving information. And THAT is an exciting prospect. For me, anyway. It matches the way my mind works. Data scattered across a map is infinitely more friendly to me than data neatly arranged in a list.

I hope we are on the brink of a more dyslexic-friendly future.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Eddie Izzard speaks about dyslexia and creativity

The following interview of Eddie Izzard by Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ touches on the relationship between dyslexia and creativity. The link is here, but I don’t know how long it will remain live, so I have made a rough transcription of the relevant part.

Eddie Izzard: I couldn’t do that writing bit. I kept trying to do the writing bit and sitting down and it wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t seem to write as fast as... My mouth was faster than my hand. So I said, what - happens - when... if - chickens - take - over - the - world, what - would - they... you know, and by that time, I don’t care.

Mark Lawson: There have been suggestions of a link between dyslexia and surrealism and some people have suggested that poets may be on the spectrum of dyslexia because they go for one word and get another. But there is possibly a connection in your comedy.

Eddie Izzard: I felt there’s a relationship between dyslexia and creativity. I believe that dyslexia tends to make you go off in a weird direction. And then you go: ‘Oh, that’s nice’. And that could well lead to that. And it’s interesting you saying about poets. I didn’t know about that. But I just thought creativity in general and dyslexia.

Mark Lawson: The learning of scripts, does that affect you?

Eddie Izzard: It doesn’t seem to. If I read things now, I can read better than I could. I used to really stumble over words. Big words. Especially names of people from a foreign country. I’d just go blah-blah-blah in my head. That’s how I’d read them out. Now I can read them. I’m just a really slow reader.

They say: ‘Read that script by tonight.’ People would knock it off in an hour or so if they’re probably a fast reader. But I have to stay up to three or four in the morning reading it. It just takes me twice, three times as long.

I sub-vocalise. I can’t do that thing when you ‘wshhhhhhhhht’ which some people do. I’d love to be able to. I’ve even got a speed reading book but, I... couldn’t get through it. Which is a joke in itself. But it was actually true. I got the speed reading book and I read half of it.

This is just an extract from a fascinating interview.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dyslexic spelling from a 12 year old

I've turned up another example of dyslexic spelling. This time by a 12 year old. (Me again.) This one, which I found even deeper into the dust at the back of the shelf, came from a history project on Tudor England. And though you may have thought my spelling was singular at 13, this example from the year before is even more interesting.

It seems that I wasn't holding back so much in this work because I attempted words I had little idea of how to spell. The content of the writing is thus more interesting and the spelling more inventive.

This was my best work at the time.

The Sival War

In 1650 King-charls I was running in to det. So he whent to parlament to asck for mony Thay sead no so he brought some solders in to fors Them. but thay had herd abowt the atack and had escaped by bote so the sival war started.

One day the vilage was on one side and the next it was on the other. The vilagers did not like the ware and preferd to stay ought of it.

Parlimant's side was called the round heds the kings side was called the Cavalears. There was two mager batals. The batal of Marson Moor and the batal of Edgehill. The Roundheds worn the first and the cings men won the secand. Parlament wone the sivel war and Oliva cromwell was made leader of the country.

example of dyslexic spelling age 12

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dyslexic spelling

The following example of dyslexic spelling turned up today as I was moving office. At the back of a deep shelf, I discovered a long forgotten box of school books, including the diary I had once been required to write. I believe the school's idea was that writing an entry a day would gradually help me to overcome my problems.

Reading it now, I'm struck by three things. First, that in recording the events of my life, I could only write about things I had a chance of being able to spell. Second, that even after slimming down my language and carefully choosing the subject, there was no way through the writing maze without having to make frequent spelling guesses. And third, that my teachers were kind enough to only correct one or two words in each entry.

So here, chosen at random, are three days worth of diary from a 13 year old dyslexic, who bizarrely went on to become a novelist.

Yesterday in gaims I had a tutorial it was good fun. We did some spelling ruls. In the evening I was playing a gaim called T.R.I Tactics. It was fun. Yong siantist and mishon imposable were on telivition.

Yesterday we had an English test it was grosum. I did farly well. Also yesterday we went on a run. we were not timed so we could Just trot round. In the evening we went swiming it was a practis for the swiming gala.

To day in the morning in english we did a leson on wrighting informal leters. After that in gography we starled maps of the Mendips.

Comments are as always welcome. But please don't correct the spelling. Having mistakes pointed out gets tiresome after the first thirty or forty years.

example of dyslexic spelling