Having both a daughter and niece with dyslexia, I have seen the effect this condition has had on their self belief and confidence, but I firmly believe that dyslexia should not be a major obstacle that impedes lives and limits aspirations. If detected early enough, the impact will not be as seismic. Strategies can be taught in order that individuals with dyslexia can mange their own learning and reach their full potential.
Dyslexia is, according to NHS UK, a 'specific learning difficulty' that affects the individual's ability to read and write." It has many different degrees and affects people in many different ways. It is unique to the person. Dyslexia can have a serious impact on short term and working memory, causing problems with organisation and difficulty in following numerous or complicated instructions. Some people find that their words 'swim' or move on the page or certain words come out of the page at them. Their intellect is not compromised, however, if the signs are not picked up early enough, the child will certainly sink educationally without a trace. If left undiagnosed, they feel cast adrift, mentally running just to stand still, always feeling that they are less bright and able than their peers. With this exhausting struggle, it is all too easy and very common for the child to become disengaged and to simply stop trying.
Education now dictates that all children must possess a pass in GCSE English and Maths. Many young people going to college now have to re-sit these examinations whilst studying their college course. If they fail to achieve a pass by the end of year 12, they stand the very real possibility of being ejected from a course that they can do, on the basis of what they are unable to do. The Albert Einstein quote sums this up beautifully:
"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
Why is dyslexia so often missed in school? The answer escapes me. It is true that individuals affected are very good at disguising their difficulties, but even so, I feel that when a child is becoming disengaged, falling behind or becoming behaviourally challenging, then at the very least dyslexia should be considered both at primary and secondary level. After all, it is believed that 1 in 10 to 20 people are affected by this condition, it is therefore by no means uncommon.
Individuals with dyslexia are employable. They are often highly creative but are being sidelined. Perhaps it is time to change the requirement to one that proves basic literacy but does not require them to understand and apply alliteration, metaphors and similes to convoluted texts that have no meaning for them. They need an exam that highlights what they can do; let's be honest, how many of us would be able to unpick the texts that these young people are asked to nowadays? Just how relevant is this to the world of work? Is all really lost if metaphors are missed?
The most recent GCSE results seem to be focused on the top end students, differentiating degrees of brilliance into a numerical format. But lower down the scale, young people are still failing to gain this essential qualification. Life cannot start in the job market until it is achieved. The cost for some individuals with dyslexia, especially those who were not diagnosed until later in life, is one of feeling constantly set up to fail. How are they supposed to feel positive about themselves when the bar set is so high?
More awareness in schools is essential. Early strategies and interventions are imperative for people with dyslexia, because once strategies are learnt then they can go on to achieve all that they are capable of. With computerisation, so comes help. They can use new tech to write down what they want to say and read text that previously they were unable to access. New technology can level the playing field, it is not about giving an unfair advantage. Denying the correct support is the equivalent of asking a child who requires visual aids to remove them throughout their school life, but expect them to keep up with their peers. It is unrealistic, unfair and a potential waste of untapped talent.
Dyslexia need not be heavy cross to bear. I have found that the individuals with dyslexia who I know, have a unique and often refreshing way of seeing and understanding the world. I do believe that without dyslexia we would all live in a more colourless society. Thinking outside of the box is a natural place to be for someone with dyslexia, because for them there is no box!