You might be wondering what on earth joining a gym has got to do with understanding a complex condition like dyslexia. At a glance, the two things appear to be totally unrelated but let me explain how this experience has helped me to understand my dyslexic students better.
I turned up at the gym, at my allotted time for an induction. I'm not that young anymore, some might suggest I'm close to middle age, (but I don't identify with that!). I was greeted with the words 'I guess I don't need to show you around because you must know how to use gym equipment'. I started to sweat a little and felt incredibly stupid as I had to admit that I had never stepped foot inside the door of a gym before.
Having got over their surprise at my confession, a proper induction took place. I could sense, though, that I had dropped in their estimation of me from a fully functioning adult to something of a dimwit who needed every little thing explained to them - including how to walk on a treadmill!
I am now a fully fledged member of the gym community but I don't yet feel comfortable 'in my own skin' when I am there. I wonder who is watching me as I try and remember how to change the settings on the different machines so that seats/weights/speed are where I need them to be.
I admit that I updated my 'exercise' clothes so that I didn't completely stand out like a sore thumb. I am very aware that I don't know what the 'unwritten rules' are in a gym when the younger generation seem to just know everything 'gym' related.
In a nutshell, I feel uncomfortable, wondering who will be there when I turn up, worrying about whether I will be 'outed' as someone who doesn't know what they're doing and whether I will suffer any embarrassment that day.
This experience reminded me quite sharply of how my dyslexic students feel every day. All of my students can recount a story about school where they have been made to feel stupid. Unless something has happened to you recently where you were made to feel stupid, it is unlikely that you can remember what this is like. A lady I met recently described it as feeling 'shame'. Not a very positive emotion!
When you chat to a dyslexic student, you are often blown away by how much they know about topics they are interested in or how creative their ideas are. However, every one of them experiences the drop in expectation when a teacher has seen their written work. The drop in the gym instructor's estimation of me is a direct comparison here - after that they didn't expect very much from me. Teachers can make this same mistake - thinking that because a dyslexic student can't spell simple words, they can't grasp complex ideas. In turn, the student experiences frustration because the teacher stops stretching them intellectually. Sometimes the student can be stuck in low sets too, compounding this issue.
My dyslexic students often feel uncomfortable 'in their own skin' while they are at school, just as I do in the gym. They constantly worry that their lack of skills will be exposed cruelly to the class by the teacher. This may be done quite unwittingly, with one student reporting that his teacher only asks him facts from the two times table while asking everyone else facts from the six, seven or eight times tables. The difference in the task is not lost on the other classmates.
Finally, just like me in the gym, they try to fit in with the crowd. This might mean becoming the class clown, the 'old school' way of covering up a perceived lack of academic skills. Others don't try and fit in and become isolated or worse, bullied for being the 'weird 'kid. As a parent you need to try and understand why school may be difficult for your child - just remember the last time you were made to feel stupid.