As a writer, I have a great love of words and reading and it fascinates me how the brain deciphers the squiggles and lines that represent language. You may have come across this interesting exercise before.
Can you read it?
I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can slitl raed it wouthit a porbelm.
Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!
Fascinating, isn’t it? It’s also fascinating how the brain sometimes gets the signals crossed for one reason or another. Sometimes this shows itself as a condition called Dyslexia.
Dyslexia comes from the Greek language meaning ‘difficulty with words’. It’s a symptom of a number of different information processing disorders in the brain. However, the basic problem is a difficulty learning to read, spell and write, despite adequate intellect and teaching.
Dyslexia is caused by differences in the areas of the brain that deal with language. Several of these areas in the brain interact in a complex way to coordinate the manipulation of words needed for reading, writing and spelling, so the features of any one person’s dyslexia will depend on which areas are affected and how.
Brain-imaging scans show that when dyslexic people try to process information their brains work differently to those without dyslexia. This has nothing to do with intellect – people with dyslexia show a normal range of intelligence.
Well, today I have a real treat for you. I’ve invited my granddaughter, Hayley to join me by the fireside for a chat. Hayley is the second oldest of my ten grandchildren, second child of my oldest son. She is almost nineteen and very beautiful, as I’m sure you’ll agree from this recent photograph, taken when she worked as a volunteer helping out on a local community building project.
She is also very bright, with a great sense of humour and is Dyslexic.
So, Hayley, remind me, when did you/your parents/your teachers first realise you had a problem with reading?
At primary school I was in the top sets for everything apart from spelling and reading so I think my parents, teachers and I all just assumed I wasn’t as strong in these subjects. Then in high school, in around 2nd year I think, 3 separate teachers referred me to the learning support department to be tested for dyslexia as they began to realise that my reading and spelling was a significantly lower standard compared with all my other work. I was diagnosed that year – so when I was about 13.
Tomorrow, on this blog, I’m going to post the super essay you wrote for your school exam.Your essay describes how having undiagnosed dyslexia made you feel, have you anything to add?
Maybe just the fact that I am so relieved to have an actual diagnosis now – it makes things a lot easier for me – actually knowing I have a problem not just thinking I’m stupid.
So, what about the diagnostic process? Where did you go? What tests did they do?
I went to the learning support department in my school and did a few tests. There were ones on the computer which seemed to be completely random multiple choice things with a mix of shape, spelling and reading questions. Timed reading and spelling ones where I was given a set time to read as many words as possible then the same time to spell as many as possible. The school managed to lose my results a few times so I think I have done the test 3 times in total!!
Once it was diagnosed, what arrangements did school make to help you?
I was given extra time in my exams if I wanted it so I had enough time to read and understand each question or passage and I was offered a computer (for spelling purposes) and a scribe and reader for some other exams. I found it helpful being in a separate room to all my peers who were taking the exam – I had to be in a separate room for the extra time and also obviously if I have a reader or scribe – but just having that extra quietness of being on your own to focus and read without distraction really helped.
Tell me, please, about the coloured glasses?
I have blue tinted glasses which help me to read. These work for me because the type of dyslexia that I have means that the letters don’t tend to jump and move around the page – they can just appear a little jumbled but mostly I find it extremely difficult to read because the white on a page stands out very brightly and shines through the letters: almost like very small lights coming through the page making the black writing very hard to see and so the blue glasses dim the white right down for me and help me to see the writing clearer.
How did you hear about this aid?
I watched a programme about dyslexia which Kara Tointon made and it was extremely helpful and informative (I recommend trying to see that if you haven’t already!) and in the programme she talked about the coloured glasses/overlays.
Kara Tointon, she’s an actress , popular here in Britain, isn’t she? I remember the programme. In fact, The British Dyslexia Association was delighted about the positive awareness of dyslexia that the BBC programme, ‘Don’t Call Me Stupid’, raised. When it was first aired they had many hundreds of calls and emails from adults seeking help.
It was green tinted glasses that Kara needed, wasn’t it? Like you, she says she finds black text on white paper ‘garish’ and hard to focus on.
So where did you have to go to be tested for which colour suited you?
I went to my local optometrists and they can do the test there. I did a few general eye tests and then some special colour tests where I read a passage of writing with different coloured backgrounds on it. I was a little nervous because I had no idea whether this aid would help me in any way or not and I was coming close to exam time and really hoped there would be something out there to help.
How did you feel when they found the colour that suited you?
I was very relieved and amazed at the difference a coloured background can make. The glasses improve my reading by 30% and they make reading generally easier as I don’t have to go back and re-read things as much as I do without the glasses on.
How often do you wear them?
Not often enough… I am still – even though I know they help – very self-conscious about them. I am aware of looking like I should be in a 70’s band when I have them on!! I use them mainly when I need to do a lot of studying/reading and I am on my own! If I need to do a lot of reading and there will be other people there I tend to use my overlay if I have to. They help me to read without too much difficulty in actually seeing the words more clearly and they dim the bright white and help the black stand out.
What other things have you found helpful since finding ‘your’ colour?
I am able to change the background colour on some of my web browsers and when I am working on word documents and spread sheets.
You’re in the workplace now. What does your work involve?
My work involves going through hundreds of companies – finding out who they are and what they do and if they will be potential prospects for the sales team to pitch to or not. So it is a lot of looking through websites and working on spread sheets and databases. I get on well, sometimes my eyes – and brain! – get tired and I find it increasingly difficult to keep reading but I enjoy my job and having my screen blue helps a lot.
I also teach dancing which I absolutely love and I don’t have to read for that – apart from the register – so that’s great!!
How do you feel now about being diagnosed with Dyslexia?
I feel relieved and satisfied with my diagnosis – there is nothing I can do to cure the problem so I am happy to accept it and laugh at myself when I read or spell something very wrong!!
Is there any advice you’d give others who have that diagnosis, or suspect they should have?
Just try not to worry about it – when you are diagnosed there are a lot of questions you may have but there is lots out there to help and especially at school there are lots of little things the school can do to help. There are a few websites worth looking at, and even just putting a search into Google about dyslexia – you get hundreds of helpful sites popping up.
Is there anything else you could tell me about having dyslexia that my readers might find interesting or helpful?
A lot of people don’t realise just how much dyslexia effects your life – obviously everyone knows about the difficulties people with dyslexia have with reading and spelling and those are the obvious ones but people affected by dyslexia also have big problems with short term memory and organisation skills. Dyslexia is a much deeper problem than first meets the eye but I think if it is possible and you haven’t seen it already definitely try to find the programme Kara Tointon did about dyslexia it’s called “Don’t call me stupid” and it’s absolutely fantastic. I definitely recommend it!
You wrote a great essay about all of this and I thought it’d be good to share it with folks, so I intend to post it tomorrow, if that’s okay with you. I’m sure there are many others out there who will identify with the problems you face and the ways you have found to work with this fascinating condition.
I know many people would call Dyslexia a disability, and I suppose in many ways it is, but it doesn’t seem to have held you back from enjoying your life and doing all the things you want to do. You’re quite an inspiration…and I say that totally without bias… though I have to admit to being a very proud grandmother!
It’s really interesting talking to you about this, Hayley, and I’m so glad you popped by, but time now for a cuppa, don’t you think? Hot chocolate okay? With marshmallows and cream? If you want to stir up that fire a bit, I’ll bring through some forks and the rest of the bag of mallows and we can toast some, if you like, while you read me your essay and we can check it over ready for tomorrow’s blog.