We got a phone call today from a distraught parent. Her child has recently been diagnosed with Visual Stress and prescribed coloured overlays. Naturally enough, these made a difference to her child. Oh yes- an important point, which I haven’t mentioned: her child’s school has dyslexia-friendly accreditation. However, her child still struggled with his writing, so Mum asked if he couldn’t use a tinted exercise book the same colour as his overlay. She was told “Sorry, we can’t give him tinted paper because it would make him look different from the rest of the class”…
Aaargh!! (groan of frustration). Does he not feel different enough already because his written work is so much messier than most of his peers’ ? Doesn’t his “dyslexia-friendly” school realise that WHAT HE WRITES ON WHITE PAPER WILL BE AS UNSTABLE AS WHAT HE READS ON WHITE PAPER??
So she phoned us up and said “How is he supposed to write with an overlay over the page?” and we sorted her out with some books. But sometimes I wonder what we have got to do for people to see what a big difference these little interventions can make. What makes it worse is when you are dealing with people who you would expect to know better.
This “being different” question also brings to mind the whole “labelling” issue. Somebody I know well only had her dyslexia identified when she was about 40. At school she had been labelled lazy, stupid, dreamer – all the usual stuff. One day her husband went to a conference on dyslexia and came back with a tick-sheet of dyslexia symptoms. She literally ticked all the boxes. In a flash, her life made sense – all the multi-tasking problems, the processing difficulties, the problems at school. The label was a liberation: she knew who she was and was able to start dealing with it. Understanding started with definition.
We must be careful not to be PC about this stuff: there’s nothing wrong with difference. What’s important is that we culivate a mindset in our schools where learning difference are not thought of as disabilities; where dyslexia, for example, is shown to be a characteristic of 20% of the country’s entrepreneurs as well as many famous performers, and something that may need a specific regime in which to flourish, but is to be valued, not to be ashamed of. This mindset starts with us, of course.
Afterthought: I’ve just watched the Channel 5 programme on (famous performer!) Shane Lynch. Excellent. He covered a lot of ground, but what was interesting for me after what I’d just written was how fearful he was of actually doing the dyslexia assessment, (“What if I’m not dyslexic? What if I’m just lazy and didn’t work hard enough? Or what he didn’t actually say but what he really must have been thinking – “what if I’m just thick??”); how buried anger and “evil” emotions – his word – arose in him as he went to “face his demons”; and then how liberated he felt when he discovered that he really was dyslexic.