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?


Alan Gurbutt said...

I like this post Rod. We all too often, unwittingly, set out to destroy young people’s aspirations by setting the bar too high to begin with, failing to offer assistance.

Ability, for want of a better word, comes in all shapes and sizes, colours and textures, actions and sounds. In children and young people the pronunciation of multisensory expression can be distinct or obscure, that's why they need to be nurtured.

There are more connections within the human brain than there are stars in the universe, moreover, no limit to imagination. Psychometric tests and statistics cannot purport to quantify a certain way of thinking; the area under the curve is just too small.
All my best.

Angela Thowney said...

Reading your post and your comments made on the amount of people who have dyslexia within the prison population does not suprise me. I teach young people aged between 16-18 who have not achieved any GCSE qualifications at school, and yes 80% of my learners have been told they are stupid, lazy as well as other names I can not mention, not only from their teachers but from parents too. Scary isn't it? I tell them that they have not failed and they are not stupid, they should see dyslexia as a gift. I tell them that they have the ability to learn and to achieve anything they want to achieve in life they just have not been given the opportunity in the past. So many of the young adults I teach come to me with very low self-esteem and lack confidence, not only in their literacy abilities but with everyday matters, socialising for example, making friends building relationships. It is so sad. How can this be happening today? If a child is told they are stupid enough times, they believe it, this leads to under achievement, lack of qualification,no job, no money, no sense of belonging so many may turn to crime, no surprise there.

Kelly said...

This is a major reason I continue to homeschool my dyslexic / dysgraphic son.

My goal is to give him a strong foundation of self-esteem, awareness, and advocacy, and all the technology tools I can to help him out before high school. At that point I hope to enroll him in "regular" classes and see how it goes.

He struggles, but at least his efforts are acknowledged as true efforts.

Shaynee Sherwood said...

Found your post through the facebook page for the Dyslexic Advantage. It's just what I needed. Thank you.

usethebrains godgiveyou said...

What if teachers were under the pressure to teach dyslexics the way dyslexics are pressured AS LITERAL CHILDREN to learn the way teacher's lazily teach?

My son had ONE dyslexic teacher. We called it "the year we could breathe", fifth grade. By 9th grade, I was homeschooling. Tech school has been a blessing...it started filling in 11th "grade", he is learning hands on now...and fully expects to go to Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)after learning machine tool. That's the plan, anyhow...mixed in there is a 2 year apprenticeship in machine tool, by the grace of God. He's adopted. His birth father is a drug addict spending time in and out of prison. I'm just betting he believed he was stupid, lazy and crazy and wouldn't try. I'm also betting my son got his gifted mind from his father...he's in the 93% overall. That don't even touch stupid.