For dyslexics, somedays everything goes fine, words get spelt right, sentences are formed logically, right and left behave themselves and comply with the accepted norms, numbers get written in the correct order and everything appears to go smoothly.
Nonetheless, I'm careful to proofread, far more times than usually considered necessary. Have I possibly overlooked an errant apostrophe, snuck in to irritate the lurking grammar nazi, ready to pounce with conclusions that I'm lazy, sloppy or even worse, unreliable and not to be trusted because the apostrophe is either there, or not, as the case may be. What a petty way to bestow the word 'reliable' onto someone!
A good and generally keen, willing student, but with occasional lapses in concentration, is how I suspect I was described at school.
I was lucky, I was mostly taught by competent teachers who knew how to encourage me to give my best. I learnt spelling by carefully paced, sequential instruction, each element building on the one before; there was lots, and I mean LOTS of drill, pulling words apart then putting them together again. I enjoyed prefixes and suffices and learning that English is made up of many different languages which have been absorbed through the ages. I still love words and trying to work out their meanings and where they came from by thinking about the different components.
I benefited from having teachers who were on the whole competent and confident in their ability to teach. Even so, I don't always get it right; when writing by hand, p, b, d and q can be interchanged haphazardly and with a certain flair and originality. Spelling can be problematic at times, and sometimes words simply refuse to co-operate. There can be the sense that something is wrong, but I can't see what, yet at other times I'm oblivious to any error, which can be glaringly obvious to others. (Unfortunately maths was a different story and wasn't as well handled by my teachers. I remember being hit for making errors which isn't a great way to get a child to improve.)
However I didn't have to suffer through an ignorant, antagonistic school system while trying to cope with deeply challenging dyslexia or learning difficulty. Typically you hear: lazy, poor attention to detail, doesn't try, doesn't care, doesn't listen, scatty, should try harder, deliberately careless or the purely cruel tearing up of a child's work in front of the class whilst making scathing comments about quality and appearance of a project.
Maybe there are some little children who deliberately set out each day to do their worst at school. I've never met one though. Most children I've observed and worked with, want to fit in, want to be part of the crowd, don't choose to be humiliated when they've done their darndest to follow instructions to the best of their ability and it all goes pear shaped. They're the ones my heart bleeds for, they're left confused, perplexed, hurt, crushed ... and too often without hope.
A couple of years ago at puppy training class we were instructed to hold the lead in a particular way. I looked at the instructor, looked at my hands. All fine! Good oh, let's get on with the next bit of the class. But no, something is clearly wrong, everyone is waiting patiently. The instructor repeated the instruction, and demonstrated again. I followed along carefully. Then it dawned of me gradually, painfully, that everyone was looking at me - and I had no idea why.
My ears heard the instruction, my eyes saw what to do, but somewhere along the line, my brain twisted the instruction - I saw my hands do a perfect reflection of what everyone else was doing - yet it apparently wasn't correct and I couldn't see what was wrong. It's a horrible, horrible feeling. I knew I'd done everything right, but from the reactions of the instructor and the rest of the class it was obvious that I hadn't got it right.
Even writing about that public display of incompetence makes me feel awkward and humiliated - who knows how those people were judging me? Were they thinking I was being difficult by insisting on being contrary, or did they just think I was thick by being unable to follow a simple instruction? While in this instance it doesn't really matter, in the workplace this kind of experience can have unintended and unfortunate ramifications and is why many dyslexics remain silent about being dyslexic and take extra care and go over details ad nauseam.
Dyslexia can take many different forms. It can affect writing, reading, mathematics and spatial awareness. It's not a one size fits all condition. Some days everything can run smoothly, others, particularly when you're tired, it can be hugely challenging and frustrating.
Some time ago, I watched a highly intelligent, competent, dyslexic engineer write down a phone number a caller was reciting to him. He repeated the numbers and wrote the same numbers down but in a completely different order, it was only when he repeated them back and was corrected that the mix up became evident to him. Because he's aware this is a difficulty for him he's fastidious about checking for accuracy.
|Helpful signs in Parkes NSW|
Now here's a gentle plea from me to you. Don't be too quick to judge harshly when someone's spelling or grammar is lacking. Tactful, even good natured humor when pointing out an error is kind and generally welcome; the error can then be corrected with the minimum of fuss and embarrassment.
Give people the benefit of the doubt - dyslexics can have a tough time not only at work, but on line. Spell check is great, but can be painstaking in the cut and thrust of online communication and doesn't always work. Some people have been so hurt by their early school experience that they run a mile when they're openly and harshly criticised in forums. Some don't return. That's sad and further alienates a group of people - who could be our workmates, colleagues, friends and neighbours - who have a lot to offer.
Posted by Sue Travers