The words we say to others matter – Living with Dyslexia
I still remember the time as if it was yesterday. The teacher had called me to the front of the room to read aloud. I think I had probably been messing around and the teacher thought reading aloud would stop my disruptive behaviour.
It did not go as expected
I made my way to the front of the class, opened the book at the required page and started reading very slowly. I could feel my face going slightly red and my hands started sweating, but I carried on anyway. I’d only got a few sentences in when the teacher bellowed at me to stop. I looked at her somewhat confused.
“Do you think this is funny?” she screeched; giggles came from my classmates.
“You are not clever, you know. Now go and sit down and come back to see me at lunchtime!”
The giggles were now louder and all eyes were on me. I honestly didn’t know what I had done and opened my mouth to argue my case, but the look on the teacher’s face indicated that this perhaps wasn’t the best decision. I sat down, still confused and still not knowing what I had done wrong. I went back at lunchtime and found myself in detention after a tirade about how lazy, disruptive and stupid I was. I still didn’t know what I had done.
It was only years later that I realised I was saying the characters name in the book wrongly. It wasn’t intentional, just that the jumble of letters made no sense to me, so I made up what I thought it was.
It stayed with me for a long time.
But that day had a profound effect on me and often still does. I knew there was something different about the way I saw words; some just looked a jumble, some words I mixed the middle up, but I’d never really thought it a problem until that day. I didn’t pick up a book again for about 25 years, after I had learnt enough coping mechanisms to get me through life without anybody really knowing what was going on. Nowadays I get most of my words right, but all of my writing needs checking; sometimes I just don’t see the mistakes and often I still call a character by a new and exciting name that no one else is aware of!
I was never officially diagnosed
I was never diagnosed with dyslexia and in fact for the most part I grew out of it. 10 years later my brother wrote backwards and there was a lot of support for him, but I just had to make it on my own.
I’ve published a book, I write blogs and words are very much a part of who I am now, but still an encounter with the unnecessary Grammar Nazis has me right back in that class. I’ve learnt to ignore those grammar and spelling correctors, often commenting to their pointing out of my misspelling with ‘so what’ or sending them a link to Stephen Fry’s video on the matter. I wish people would think sometimes before they feel the need to tell you all the ways you are wrong. Don’t they think we know about it enough already?
I wouldn’t change any of it
But in a way I wouldn’t change any of this, I wouldn’t change these early experiences at all. I think my inability to understand the written word made me a creative communicator, a great seller of my ideas without the need to write it down, it made me more determined, more persistent and maybe even a little more tolerable of others who like me struggle with something.
I never saw it as a hindrance
And there seems to be much to be said about the creative dyslexic mind and how this desirable difficultly can actually be more of a help that a hindrance.
It also reminds me every day of how the words we say to others matter. For years I thought I was all of those things that the teacher called me. It took me ages not to be triggered when someone called me stupid or lazy. Her misunderstanding of me and my needs one Thursday afternoon in a hot classroom shaped a lot of my life. The kind of shaping that takes years to break free of.
We would do well to remember this when we speak to children and young people. While I didn’t really understand the power of the written word when I was younger, I certainly got a stark lesson in the power of the spoken word.