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!


Elbog said...

Oh my. I would bet that you still have some secrets. . .
Your post causes me to wonder how Cathal has played into all of this - several of your paragraphs (which of course, apply to us all) could describe someone with Down Syndrome's place in this world perfectly.
Wonderful post. You are in good company, again.

Cheri said...

Wow...this is so informative...thanks for posting this and for "coming out" ;-)

I learned so much from this post, I was always under the impression that dyslexia was mostly "reading difficulty" related. I was so interested to learn the other indicators.

...and I must say...I would have never known, you articulate yourself so well with the written word. I do believe you are one determined and strong woman! :) I have had several students through the years who had some similar difficulties, none diagnosed, but their difficulties manifested into them hating writing and so did not put forth any effort....so glad you were not one of them!! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh my GOODNESS this is my son, who has been (unoficially) tested and we were told he is NOT dyslexic!! Thank you for this post...now I just need to figure out where to go from here...*hugs* Candee

Hammie said...

Aha! I knew you were one of our people. If you ever get a chance, get a Mac. I don know how to use the spell corrector but I can always see when it thinks I have mispelled anything, and I try again.
Please go and visit my friend Kate on "make do" - she came out as a dyslexic too recently. And she loves fashion. Xx

Make Do Style said...

Hammie sent me here and yes I did answer yes to lots of things. It is a spectrum. I can read, and write very well. Spelling is good ish. Grammar and punctuation - please I have to learn and learn. So progress with punctuation but grammar I doubt I'll ever master!

I'm terrible with name and dates but have amazing skills and can store visual imagery in my library head. I was only diagnosed recently and it was a weight off my shoulders. I'm still not brave enough to tick dyslexia on job application!

Nan P. said...

Thank you all for your interesting comments.

Elbog: I still have secrets, of course, lots of them! Spice of life and all that…

Cheri: Dyslexia is a spectrum, so they are many shades and shapes of it. The trick is to learn to live with it and then get on with bigger and brighter things – and as I have posted I have a bag full of tricks. ;-)

Candee: Hello to you! I am glad this that useful to you, that alone makes it all worthwhile (though please do not take it as an absolute test, only an expert could do this with certainty). I do not know where in the world you are, but if you are not in Ireland, I am sure there is an association similar to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland that can point you in the right direction. Let me know how you get on.

Hammie girl: “one of our people”… Now, that is what I call integration!

Kate (of Make Do Style): Hello to you too! I am not that brave either, that box on a job application would never be ticked, prejudice and all that. But it’s nice for things to make personal sense, isn’t it?

Mel said...

I have been meaning to comment for a while. Thanks for sharing your perspective on what it is like to live with dyslexia and the tricks you use. As a teacher I found it very informative as well, and have now got a couple of new 'tricks' myself to share :)

Sesame said...

Thank you Nan P. Suddenly all is clearer...you have answered so much in that little post that edcuational psychologist could not answer for me in over 2 yrs. Now that my wee lass has her diagnosis I can research and help her find her own bag of tricks tho already she has some I didnt know about. She is a very insightful almost 10 yr old. It was all the other little things like the co ordination, not speaking which obviously meant not reading aloud that made me think something more sinister but now see it all as part of the one condition. And as have told you the psychologist that diagnosed her is himself dyslexic. Am so glad our paths have crossed and that I got to chat to you in person that day. You are an inspiration and I truly mean that. As you say it hasnt been a 'hanidcap' for you and I won't allow it to become one for my girl. thanks again for coming out..xxx