Benjamin Zephaniah, the acclaimed poet, went to adult education classes at the age of 21 to learn to read and write, skills he had not mastered as a child. It was here that his teacher told him he was dyslexic and he reports how everything began to make sense. Luckily education, and society in general, are now much more aware of dyslexia, which as a lifelong condition can have a substantial impact on an individual’s day to day activities.
Individual challenges of dyslexia
This is helped by Dyslexia Awareness Week, 2nd– 8th October, an annual event during which the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) and other similar bodies will aim to spread awareness and help others to develop their understanding of dyslexia. The BDA says that dyslexia is a learning difficulty which primarily affects reading and writing skills, but it is a misconception to believe that only reading and writing skills are affected. The BDA also states that dyslexia is actually about individuals having difficulty in information remembering and processing, which can affect literacy. They may also face challenges in other areas such as organisational skills.
But it is important to note that each dyslexic person has a different experience. Some individuals may have difficulty learning to tell the time and understanding concepts such as yesterday, today and tomorrow. Early signs may include muddled words such as flutterby (for butterfly), difficulty following more that one instruction at a time and slow speech development. Later signs may include struggling to tell left from right, trouble in scanning or skimming text or seeing the difference between similar words such as hat and hot. Some describe the words and letters (learnfasthq.com) jumping on the page and may find it easier to read from off white paper, while pastel coloured paper or even coloured overlays can make a real difference for some.
Effective support for dyslexia
BDA has comprehensive lists of information for each stage of life which may indicate dyslexia and advice on what to do if you or your child show signs. Software allows individuals who struggle to read the text, to listen at the same time. Reading pens have made a real difference for some and can be used in examinations so that dyslexic students are not discriminated against because of their condition. BBC.co.uk Dyslexia – make a difference has short films made by children with dyslexia describing their difficulties and challenges with classroom learning. BBC Bitesize also has a section for parents on how to support your dyslexic child. Barrington Stoke, publishers, specialise in books for dyslexics and reluctant readers, with dyslexia friendly font and stories hoping to engage the youngsters.
Depending on the severity, it can be classed as a disability under the Equality Act in which case employers need to make reasonable adjustments. Nowadays most schools offer multi-sensory, dyslexia friendly teaching resources as a matter of course and parents should request an assessment.
So many positives
Dyslexia, which can range from mild to severe, often runs in families, and is estimated to affect as many as one in ten of the population. It is not surprising therefore that Devon Barnes, a speech and language pathologist, notes that most people with dyslexia have at least average or above average intelligence. Whilst it can significantly impact a person’s life and acquisition of education, it is also clear that some dyslexic people have considerable strengths in areas such as problem solving, creativity, interactive skills and oral skills. Madebydyslexia.org says “everything from the light bulb to the iPhone, the aeroplane to the motor car was invented by a dyslexic mind”. Famous people with dyslexia include Whoopi Goldberg, Tom Cruise, Keira Knightley, Steven Spielberg, Jamie Oliver and Steve Jobs. Perhaps the most famous is Richard Branson who is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of his generation.
With more awareness and understanding of dyslexia, alongside a determination to ensure all individuals have equal access to an inclusive learning environment, those who have the condition will not have to face the same hurdles as Benjamin Zephaniah.