SoapBox: Seeing the World Differently – A Nervous Dyslexia Post

I must admit, I’m a bit nervous about posting this because I know that dyslexia as a topic can provoke some very strong reactions from people. I’ll be brave though and post it anyway though *crosses fingers for luck*
Right, well as I mentioned the other day, I was lucky enough to spend an evening at Hot Key Books’ event ‘Seeing the World Differently’ with Booktrust and Sally Gardner to celebrate her new book Maggot Moon and the new iBook publication of it. And very interesting it was too – it’s left me pondering dyslexia again for the last few days and although I’m still in the dark about some aspects of dyslexia, it was great to finally have some of the confusion cleared up for me. Such as how it can be seen as a gift – although I’m still not entirely sure whether I personally would see it as a gift exactly, I at last have a clear idea of why some people do.
Sally explained that some people with dyslexia have a much more creative way of seeing the world, such as a film director who can just see a whole scene in his mind’s eye without needing to set to and produce a whole load of screenshots and a storyboard for it. Before Hot Key’s evening, the only explanation I could find before for dyslexia as an advantage was a phrase like ‘more creative thinking’. Maybe I’m being dense, but to me, that phrase is not terribly clear. What on Earth is a creative thinker? Do you just think outside the box, or does everything you think of involve something artistic, or do you have to be making things to seriously concentrate or.. or.. or..
Do you see what I mean? Before Hot Key’s evening and Sally’s explanation, I was left in the dark about what the benefits of dyslexia could actually be, which is so incredibly frustrating! It’s like someone getting partway through an explanation of what’s happening in a really exciting film, then just stopping and telling you you should be able to figure out the rest. I HATE not understanding something, so huge thanks to Sally and Hot Key Books for at last letting me understand exactly what is meant by dyslexics possibly having an advantage in creative thinking. You have no idea how much it’s been bugging me, to know something can be an advantage but not why!
As to whether it’s a gift or not – for some reason that phrase has really sent my head buzzing. The word ‘gift’ implies to me that there is no downside to something, only an upside, when quite clearly with dyslexia there are some minus points. If you have dyslexia, you are immediately placed outside the usual way of learning to read and using words. In an ideal world, this would just be a case of ‘Oh, so and so finds it easier to read and learn THIS way rather than THAT way, so they should do so’.
However, this is not an ideal world, and my brief experience as a teacher taught me that there is absolutely no allowance for teaching outside the prescribed norms in the current system. This is not necessarily just down to teachers, but could also be down to the whole way education is seen and taught and examined over here. Which has seriously implications for anyone who needs to learn differently to the usual, dyslexic or non. I’ve felt it myself on a (very) small scale when doing my A Levels – whereas some people in my class thrived by learning a language through a textbook, I really didn’t. I wanted to play with the language, use it, spend an entire lesson just chatting in German about things that were actually interesting. Instead, all I got to do was encounter German culture through a discussion on the finer points of a biography of Mozart and read about what a marvelous idea wind farms are. I got bored, incredibly bored, and frustrated, and those particular lessons are the only ones I have ever even attempted to bunk off from. I’m not blaming the school or the teacher – bunking off was my own choice, so it’s my own fault – but I am really annoyed that teaching in that way was the normal way to do it, and any other method was not even able to be catered for or allowed. No time, no money, no resources. This is why I can’t quite see dyslexia as a gift just yet – dyslexia still means you’re a minority in a majority world, and as of yet, people aren’t quite as willing or able to adjust so readily to minorities as they could be.
Times could change though – awareness of dyslexia is arguably at a high and certainly people seem to be becoming more knowledgeable of it. New fonts are being developed all the time that are designed to be easier on the eye for dyslexic readers or readers with other difficulties in reading, and as Sally mentioned, new devices such as eReaders have really opened up the door for some people to read more comfortably. There are programmes that allow people to say what they want to write, and it writes for them (although these apparently do have their downsides too, but that’s what tweaking is for!). Publishers like Barrington Stoke are even publishing physical books (as opposed to digital ones) that are specially geared towards limiting the obstacles to reading, and they’re becoming more and more well known even amongst non-dyslexic readers. Note that none of these are a ‘cure’ for dyslexia though, which is a whole other issue which would need a whole other soapbox to write from. Personally I don’t think you need to cure it, especially if it has it’s advantages, but it’s helpful to be able to negotiate it’s pitfalls in a world not geared towards avoiding them.
So yes, after thinking about the Gift of dyslexia for a while longer, I’ve come to the conclusion that whether it’s a gift or just an advantage, it does highlight an important issue in our way of looking at learning. For dyslexia to be seen as a gift, you’d need to be able to learn using it’s advantages. At the moment, dyslexic people don’t always get that chance. It is a problem that could change though, with new technology and with greater freedom in learning environments to allow for people to be taught outside the norm if necessary. You never know, there might be a large number of people who actually find that learning outside the norm should actually be the norm for them, dyslexic or non! After all, the iBook of Maggot Moon is careful to include lots of visual image s and extras to involve the reader in the story, although the story can be read without them. Why can’t this sort of creative approach to reading be used elsewhere in the classroom? Instead of just reading the notes, visual cues could be used to illustrate a point, or actually get students and pupils out of their seats and physically engaging with learning in some way. For Reception children, if I remember right, the idea is that you learn important skills through play, so why is it that older children and adults must learn through the written word, and the written word alone? Why can’t they interact physically with a subject to learn something? Someone’s invented the Interactive White Board, so why isn’t there time for them to be used more often and in a way perhaps better suited to visual learners? In order for dyslexia’s advantage of creative thinking to become a gift  (just as regular interactions with the written word can be seen as a gift by some) the playing field needs to be evened up a bit. And at the moment, I can’t really see any reason why it shouldn’t eventually be done. Dyslexia does seem to me so far to just be a different way of learning. So why isn’t it catered for?
This has all been boiling my head for the last few days since Hot Key’s event ‘Seeing the World Differently’ with Booktrust and Sally Gardner. Thank you for a very interesting evening and for giving me a chance to know a fuller answer to my questions. As soon as I beat my computer into submission convert the audio file, I’ll attempt to post my review of Maggot Moon.

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