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Just a bit slow

That's how I like to describe my dyslexic brain. I stole it from Zoe Wanamaker actually. In a talk I heard her give several years ago just after I discovered I was dyslexic she was talking about her own struggles with it and said something along the lines of everything works, just a bit slower. Now some dyslexics will recoil in horror at the notion of reverting back to the idea of us being 'a bit slow' as a catch all term for our 'learning difficulties' but I hate the latter term there and actually prefer the former, everything works it just takes a while and a different route to get there sometimes. Not always. Sometimes.

Zoe Wanamaker also said to me afterwards (I know, name dropping luvvy excuse me there is a point) not to think of myself AS dyslexic but as HAVING dyslexia. It's an important distinction because having it suggests a condition like any other medical or psychological condition that you are dealing with and finding ways to manage. Being dyslexic insinuates there is something either wrong or different about you that is a part of you. Again some will disagree, some will feel that dyslexia is so intrinsic to how they view and operate in the world then it is a 'am' not a 'having' but for me that's the 'label' I prefer.

In someways dyslexia is not unlike my shortsightedness-it affects me everyday, sometimes in a minimal way sometimes a larger way depending on what I'm doing. There's things to be done about it (wearing glasses or the way I study) but there's also nothing to be done about it, there's no 'cure' for either. As it happens as well both impact my chosen career quite extensively. Shortsightedness because the amount of time spent squinting at books and screens only worsens it, dyslexia because a career based on reading and writing only exacerbates it. They're also similar in that unless you've experienced either it's difficult to understand.

It's easy to dismiss dyslexia as just 'being bad a spelling' or 'bad at counting' but it's so much more than that-it's whole ways of thinking of learning things and no two dyslexics are the same. The frustrating thing being it's also incredibly difficult to explain. In some ways, to extend my shortsighted metaphor dyslexia to me is like being blind to something. I don't see a spelling error or a grammar error. I also completely skip over things I'm reading, I can not notice entire paragraphs until I realise I don't understand what I've read. For me personally with numbers it's like being almost completely blind, numbers mostly mean nothing not because I don't understand the concept of numbers but I can't work the written form of numbers therefore the formulas that make up how we deal with numbers. Which probably makes no sense. I never cried so much over school as a child as over learning times tables and I hold my hands up and admit now that there are some I still don't know. Some of you are probably horrified right now. Someone as educated as I am, someone who is qualified to teach others doesn't know (for example) her 12 times table. I don't, and perhaps that says more about how we approach education still than me.

With words I'm better, because I understand words, I'm lucky that I enjoyed reading from a young age and I was 'advanced' in some ways so the dyslexia didn't 'catch up' with me until later. That said I could never spell. Never ever spelling tests at school were like torture as much as times tables. By osmosis I learned to spell, by rote and repetition and reading. But if I don't 'know' a word I don't 'see' it and sometimes, even if I technically 'know' a word on reading it through I still don't 'see' it to correct it.

There are of course ways around all of these things. At 28 years old and still (God help me) in education I've comprised ways and means, some conscious some not for getting where I need to be. Actually some of this relates to last week's post http://phdconfessions.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/martin-crieff-kind-of-life-part-2.html in which I talked about a lack of 'natural talents' and learning things the hard way.

It's a really difficult thing for other people to understand. And I know it must be so frustrating for my supervisors and anyone else who sees my work to look at and not understand why I don't see all these errors, correct all these errors. Particulalry for English specialists who deal in so much detail with language. It probably looks like carelessness or even stupidity. And some of it probably is, I'm not blaming the dyslexia for everything. But the truth is maybe I haven't got there yet. The second reality is I rely on my friends and well my Mother to proof read everything I do, and there's only so often I can call in that favour. So sometimes it's me, just being a little bit slow. It'll take a while but it'll get there, and it just might take a different route to everyone else.

But, despite all of that there are studies that have shown the marvelously weird way my brain works and a number of fantastic advantages (in my opinion) that gives me are also caused by dyslexia, so in some ways I'm thankful that I have this.


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