27 January 2010

Coming Out? Chapter Two

I recently learnt that John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, e.g. one of the world top business people, belongs to my club as me, and has apparently been very open about it. This got me thinking. A little research later, and I realised that a large number of business people are also members, such as, but to name a few, Richard Branson (of the Virgin Airline and Virgin TV fame), the Naked Chef himself Jamie Oliver, and Ingvar Kamprad (who?... actually, he is the founder of Ikea). In short, people we would consider to be successful.

But this club is not only for business people. “Great” thinkers, writers and painters can also be found: Hans Christian Anderson, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso. Quite a lot of artists and media people of all types as well – ok, I’ll drop names again, all in a tumble: Anthony Hopkins, John Irving, John de Lancie, Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, Noel Gallagher, Jay Leno, Ozzy Osbourne, Keanu Reeves, Guy Ritchie. And sports people as well, for example Jackie Stewart (had to slip in someone connected with Formula One here, could not resist). And I remember hearing a couple of years ago an interview with one of our Boyz, namely Shane Lynch, where he said he is one of us too.

I am not saying that I feel proud to be associated with every one of these people, some I would certainly not describe myself as a fan of. However this list is interesting as it shows that our club encompasses all walks of life, all levels of intellect, both genders, and overall between 5 to 7% of the population. Our club is Dyslexia.

The Dyslexia Association of Ireland defines dyslexia as follows:

Dyslexia is manifested in a continuum of specific learning difficulties related to the acquisition of basic skills in reading, spelling and/or writing, such difficulties being unexplained in relation to an individual's other abilities and educational experiences. Dyslexia can be described at the neurological, cognitive and behavioural levels. It is typically characterised by inefficient information processing, including difficulties in phonological processing, working memory, rapid naming and automaticity of basic skills. Difficulties in organisation, sequencing and motor skills may also be present.

Another definition I found states:

Specific developmental dyslexia is a disorder manifested by difficulty learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence, and adequate sociocultural opportunity... Dyslexia is diagnosed in people of all levels of intelligence.

So how did it manifest itself for me?

As a child learning to read and write, the first problem I remember (I may have encountered others before this, but I simply do not remember) was not understanding why my teacher kept giving out to me while pointing out mistakes in my spelling: I simply could not see them. Even though I knew the difference between b and d, between m and n, between p and q, when I read them as part of a printed word, each pair got all mixed up when it came to writing them down, and then reading back what I had written. I simply could not see the difference. Similarly, I could correctly write a c or an s, a g or a j, but could not “speak” the difference within each pair when spelling out aloud – this is still with me now, I always have to stop and think; the fact that the sounds of the letters g and j are inverted between English and French makes it even harder for me. The other thing that caused me major difficulties was reading aloud. Even though I remember learning to read fairly quickly, it was fine as long as it was “in my head”. This to a point that by the age of 8 I used to go down to the public library several times a week, and take out the maximum number of books allowed, all the while reading my own books at home over and over again. But once asked to do read aloud, stumbling or coming up with different words than those on paper were the norm. I remember my frustration as I knew I could read but could not prove it, and the sense of ridicule as I was forced to struggle in front of the class in school.

Apart from my appallingly bad hand writing (described as “spider-feet” while in primary school, and it is still pretty awful), my spelling remained incredibly messy, and uneven; by this I mean that I would rarely repeat the same mistake twice, it just seemed to strike at random. While I was growing up, the French education system had a great scoring system for spelling: the children were given a dictation, marked over 20 points, and either one point or half a point was deducted for every mistake, depending on its “severity” (I kid you not!). I remember my mother being told by a teacher, in front of me – I was by then in secondary school so probably about 11 or 12 – that I had achieved her overall record of minus 25 over 20! How about that for confidence-building? Would not consistently reaching zero have been enough to show there was a problem?

Retaining information, learning texts by heart, or dates, or names, or simply learning my “tables” (multiplication, etc...) were particularly difficult – there goes the sequencing bit. The written and the oral did not connect. A link was missing somewhere. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I was finally diagnosed and directed toward a lovely woman who taught me to read, to write, to spell, to manage numbers, from scratch. She gave me little tricks, so simple yet so valuable that I have totally integrated them. She did her job so well that I could not actually explain now what most of these tricks are or how they work, because they have become part of my way of thinking and of handling written language. What I know is that reading aloud has been, and still is, a major problem, especially if I have not seen the text before – and by this I mean not seen EVER, or not seen in the last 10 minutes, depending on the day. This can be a great source of anxiety, striking at the most unexpected time. Yet I know that, if I slow down, if I breathe in and out as I read, if I focus on each word instead of the whole sentence, I’ll do it, and no one will ever know. And if I trip, well, I trip and that is that!

The other thing is that the advent of computers, word processors, spell-check, etc… has greatly helped my writing. I am not sure how or why, but I know that I find it much easier to type than to write long-hand, and that it easier for me to spot where things go wrong when it’s on a screen or a printout than my long hand. To a point where I came to wonder if I was “still” dyslexic. Until I took a very simple (even simplistic) little test I found on the Dyslexia Association of Ireland website, a test directed at adults. Here it is, with my answers:

“The following is a list of questions for any adult who thinks she/he may be dyslexic.
  • Do you dislike reading aloud? YES, YES, YES.
  • Is reading new material difficult? YES.
  • Does it take you a long time to read a book? YES, though I do read a lot.
  • Do you sometimes pronounce words incorrectly? YES, YES, YES. In both languages!
  • Do you have problems with spelling? YES, though it’s not as bad for me in English as it is in French. But when one word is similar in both languages but not quite, I struggle, big time, and can end up with a new word combining both spellings.
  • Did you have difficulty at school and did you do less well in written exams than you feel you should have? OH YES, oral exams were always so much easier... as long as I did not have to read aloud, of course!
  • Do you find it hard to write letters, reports, or even to take phone messages clearly? LETTERS AND REPORTS NO, BUT PHONE MESSAGES: YES! If given a name or phone number, I always need to get the person to slow down, I repeat the letters or digits as they are given to me, to buy me time to process (one of my little tricks, apparently). But if someone leaves a message on my voice mail with a number, I have found myself listening 6, 7 or even 8 times to ensure I have it, and have it right, because I can take down only a couple of digits at a time… bloody nuisance!
  • Do you have problems with sentence construction and punctuation? NO! Hmmm! ;-)
  • Do you get phone numbers wrong? YES, YES, YES.
  • Do you confuse 'left' and 'right'? YES, AND TUESDAY WITH THURSDAY, AND WEDNESDAY WITH FRIDAY, ETC… (Different days in French!)
  • Is your handwriting hard to read? That is an understatement. If I do not focus on my writing, not only others can’t read me, but I can barely read myself at times!
  • Do you find it hard to see the mistakes you have made in written work? OH YES, especially if hand-written!
  • Do you have 'good' days and 'bad' days? DEFINITELY! Some days are a real struggle. And tiredness makes it worse because of lack of focus.
  • Do you find it hard to remember things in sequence? YES!
  • Do you find it hard to remember new facts, names, etc? YES, YES, YES.
  • Do you get confused with times and dates? BIG TIME! ;-)
  • Did you find it hard to learn by 'ordinary' teaching methods? NOT SURE WHAT IS MEANT HERE. What I know is that I must write down EVERY THING, every scrap of information that I know I need to retain. Then I know where I have filed the document it’s rewritten on (hard or soft copy), and can retrieve it easily when needed, again and again until it sinks in – another little trick!
  • Do you forget quickly rather than learn slowly? ABSOLUTELY! This is probably why I could never cram for any exam I took, and God knows I sat quite a few over the years! Learning has always been a long haul process, with a lot of repetition, a lot of going over things, until things do sink in and stay there. And I am taking about facts to be learnt and retained here, rather than logical processes or cause-and-consequence type of information (these have never been a problem). Last minute of scanning through something has always been useless, as the information is gone almost as soon as it came in. To this day, I prepare for important things like meetings, presentations, etc... as far in advance as I can, to go back over as much as possible.
  • Does someone else in your family have similar learning problems? APPARENTLY YES.

Many people will say yes to some of these questions. Some people will say yes to many of them. Counting up, my answers are “YES” to 18 out of 19 questions. I am not saying this is an absolute diagnostic, but… I would call it confirmation of an earlier one. Any doubt I may have harboured has been dispelled, I “still” am!

I have generally not publicised my dyslexia. Since my bag of tricks has enabled me to function pretty well for years, there is no need to highlight it. I get by very well without revealing it, especially in a work situation. It is probably also due to the fact that I feel I would appear “different”, that people may not understand that I can do every thing I am supposed to do, that it does not “handicap” me. Down to the point, I feel that the perception others have of me would change if they knew. In short, I am probably prejudiced against myself.

Learning of the numerous members of my club as I listed above, some of whom I do truly admire (but I won’t name them, that would be telling too much for today!), showed me it is one diagnostic, like another, it does not reflect on me as a person, or on what I can or cannot do. So reading and spelling may be a difficulty for me? This does not stop me from having a love of words, a love of the written form of language. So remembering names and numbers, facts and figures may cause me a little hassle? This does not stop me from being pretty good at what I do, no matter what it is, if I may say so myself (blowing my own trumpet, etc...). So reading aloud is not my forte? Ah, but a lot of other things are...! The big question is: How do people see Dyslexia? How would an employer consider a prospective employee if it is written on the CV as one of the “talents” or “achievements”? Because I consider my adapting to a world so dominated by the written word, and adapting so well, as one of my biggest achievements. Do we talk enough about it, dispel the myths? I am very conscious that my own silence has been contributing to maintaining them all these years.

Having said this, I find reassuring the fact that it is a spectrum, it confirms they are variations between people, and even within me from day to day. Strangely enough, doing the little test above, researching Dyslexia in the last while, has actually got me thinking that someone working with me may also be on this spectrum, as some signs are unquestionably and repeatedly showing. So I have been wondering if I should start stepping out a little, at least with this person. You know, recognition and all that. Something to ponder upon...

Because every one of us is different. We each have our own way of processing information, of processing our thoughts, and of using the talents we have and the skills we have acquired. As long as we can communicate, in an effective manner (e.g. the message I send is received as intended, and vis-versa), then the way we do it is in essence not relevant.

Just one thing in conclusion: if I leave a comment on a blog every now and then, as I know I have done, where the words don’t seem to make much sense, where “typos” go a little over the top, please do not think that I was typing while under the influence of some alcoholic beverage or some funny pills. No! No such luck!

Just be patient with me. It simply means that I am having a bad day, or a bad hour, and that I did not use my “safety net”: I rushed in and typed the comment straight into the comment box, instead of taking time to draft it on a Word document first, checking it out thoroughly, and then copying and pasting... Goodness! All my secrets are out now!

20 January 2010

It’s a Big One!

C’est un Grand!

Update 21.01.10 (evening): it seems there was a worldwide problem with Blogger.com, all videos are showing as black. Fixed now! - Il semble qu'il y avait un problème général avec Blogger.com, toutes les vidéos apparaissant en noir. Rectifié maintenant !

Today, 20th January 2010, Cathal’s Mammy is celebrating a Big Birthday. You know, one where the first digit changes...
Aujourd’hui, le 20 janvier 2010, la Maman de Cathal célèbre un Grand Anniversaire. Vous savez, un où les dizaines changent…

So, for this Big Occasion, we have recorded a special message for her:
Donc, pour cette Grand Occasion, nous avons enregistré un message très spécial pour elle :

Apologies for my fat lip and crooked smile (following my “incident” last week), but Cathal’s Mammy’s Brother had assured me they could not been see! Yea! Right!
Je m’excuse pour ma grosse lèvre et mon sourire de travers (suite à mon « incident » de la semaine dernière), mais le Frère de la Maman de Cathal m’avait assuré qu’on ne pouvait pas les voir ! Ouai ! C’est ça !

And Cathal’s own contribution is an example of his bum-shuffling…
Et le cadeau de Cathal est une démonstration de transport sur le derrière…

(Cathal loves this toy, especially pressing the button to make it go, then blocking its path. The extra noise it makes is great fun!
Cathal adore ce jouet, surtout d’appuyer sur le bouton pour le mettre en marche puis de bloquer sa route. Le bruit que cela fait l’amuse beaucoup.)

… as well as showing how to play with Marvin the cat.
… ainsi que de montrer comment jouer avec Marvin le chat.

So a Very Happy Birthday to my “little” girl.
Donc un Très Joyeux Anniversaire à ma “petite” fille.

15 January 2010

Coming out? Chapter One

The Emerald Isle decided to change colours for a few weeks and become a Marble Isle. Cold, ice and snow are usually encountered only a few times a year here and to such a high “degree” Celsius that it lasts only a few hours, a day or two max. A week before Christmas an artic front descended on Europe, and for once included us: it took hold of Ireland and settled in with vigour, paralysing the country. Of course, it is fair to say that we are not in any way equipped for this kind of weather. Snow tires or chains are unknown here, our reserves of grit and salt were quickly depleted, and I am not sure how many, if any, snow ploughs we have in the whole country.

Last week was bad, very bad, most of the country under a thick white blanket. So much so that, after a well earned Christmas holiday break, and having gone back to work on Monday 4th, I decided that same evening to fill the boot of my car with files, paperwork, and work laptop, and work from home for a day or two, as the road around where I live where far too dangerous to chance. The internet is a great little tool, I can do a lot of my work remotely as long as I have access to the company’s server. Little did I know that the “day or two” would turn into six full days, snowbound, temperature well below freezing, my little village having the honour of featuring on the AA Roadwatch website AND the Bus Eireann (Irish Bus) website every day as being “very icy and dangerous” and with “service suspended due to road conditions” ...

So I stayed home, nice, warm and cosy. I had work remotely from home before, but never more than two days. At the end of the second day, Cabin Fever set in. No joking, I actually caught myself singing this:

But I was lucky: no power cuts and no water shortage (unlike a lot of people, which meant no heat either!), working phone and broadband, full fridge and freezer. Just boredom, despite a lot of work (e.g. “work” work) done. It seems that any one who could avail of this option did so. A lot of other people who can’t work remotely simply stayed home and enjoyed the impromptu break. And the country holed itself in.

Better be safe, right? Because the media reports told lots of tales of injuries, people falling on footpaths and ending up in A&E (Accident & Emergency, as Ireland calls the American “ER”). And this was confirmed to me by a lot of my work contacts in the hospitals around Dublin.

But the one contact I missed the most, the one person I really, Really longed to see and be with, was my Little Prince. I could just picture him in his new warm French-fleecy-pyjamas-disguised-as-a-rabbit-outfit, as on New Year ’s Day morning. Such a cuttie! I missed him.

The thaw started on Sunday, and by Monday morning the road out of my little place was just passable enough to get back to some kind of normality. So I emerged from my little nest and ventured out, back to the office, quite proud of having escaped any injury.

Coming out is not what it is cracked up to be. Some mornings, it might be better, and safer, to stay in bed! Lulled into a false sense of security, I got back to routine. Yesterday (Thursday) I went in as usual, started by checking my emails, then reviewing the day’s schedule, then, as usual, around 8 am, headed down to the kitchen located in the basement of the beautiful but very old building where I work: the soup and lunch I had brought in with me needed to go into the fridge, and my body was screaming for the 2nd coffee of the day.

I made it down to the basement alright, but not as planned: rather I slid down about a dozen steps, on my front, head first, and landed on the tiled floor. I will skip over the small drama that followed, let’s simply say that I learned yesterday that a split lip bleeds A LOT and that a broken tooth can embed itself into a lip and stay there a reasonable period of time. Add to this a second tooth with a lovely crack, and third with a chip, a few stitches on the said lip and under it (for good measures), a sling on the left arm for a hairline elbow fracture – typing with one hand is no fun, and slow! – a chin pretending to be tattooed, and soreness all around, this is me today. At the end of day, it could have been much worse, I think I was actually lucky not to break my jaw, or my back, not to knock my head and lose consciousness. The funny thing is, I do not actually know what happened: I can see myself going down the first two or three steps, and next I was sliding down towards the tiled floor and could not stop. Is this what we call “selective memory”?

Cathal was a true little darling yesterday, he and his Mammy collected me from the hospital where my colleagues had brought me. Because of this, he missed a few hours of fun with Ava, to whom I apologise for the disruption. But he looked after me very well, and entertained me for the rest of the day, showing me all he can do, telling me “what’s in the box” of the Lámh DVD way ahead of the lady singing the song – no suspense with him, totally in the moment! – and demonstrating his true bum-shuffling speed. He really cheered me up.

From this experience, I have concluded that Coming Out is not always safe, ever once the frost is gone. Being asked at the hospital yesterday and the dentist this morning: “did you fall on the ice?” made me feel a little silly, as stairs are not fashionable here this season! So, Coming out?... Cabin Fever may be a better bet! Unfortunately, I am of “coming out” type.

And talking about coming out, Chapter Two will examine a very different type – and no, I do not mean “Coming Out” ;-)

Just wait and see.

13 January 2010

Now, that’s what I call beauty…

Thanks to South Dublin Dad, here is a little piece of magic – I am sure he won’t mind me “borrowing” it? After all, he “borrowed” it too! ;-)

Watch and marvel, as I did – I was so touched by the beauty of the people portrayed. I found myself crying at it, while laughing at the humour displayed.

For more photos, click