Dyslexia is a lifelong issue and it is estimated that one in every ten people suffers from it at a certain degree. It mainly affects the way people read and spell words but can also affect verbal memory, verbal processing speed, and phonological awareness. I'm writing this blog post because I am dyslexic and I want to share my experience with you. It was very early on that I was diagnosed dyslexic and even though I wasn't aware of it until later on, I always suspected that there was something wrong with me. Now I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being dyslexic or that anyone should feel ashamed of it, but at that age I knew that I was moving at a slower speed than the other children.
Words didn't quite make sense and my verbal processing speed and memory were terrible. I could be told to do something and I'd have trouble remembering it almost at once. It's only looking back at those times now that I realise just how distressing it was. How could I explain to my teachers that I had trouble remembering something they had literally just said? Or that I couldn't understand half of it because my verbal processing speed wouldn't allow it. Most people assume that dyslexia is just having difficultly being able to spell but it's not! There are so many more factors than just that.
All of this damaged my confidence and the school I was attending didn't have the resources to attend to my needs. My parents and grandparents did their best but I was reluctant to read anything because of how difficult I found it. I absolutely loathed reading. It was just another reminder that I was different. The only time I'd be willing to read was once every fortnight on a Saturday.
I would go round to my grandparents and my Grandmother and I would sit on the sofa and she would read me the newest issue of Sonic the Comic, the UK's Official Sonic the Hedgehog Comic Book. Aside from the games, it was my favourite thing in the world. It was also my first introduction to the concept of story arcs and characterisation. As ridiculous as this is going to sound, the characters in Sonic the Comic were complex. This Sonic was a bit of a jerk and a show off but he had his heart in the right place. Other characters had their own comic strips that would put them in the spotlight and build on their characters. It was also the first time I experienced a character death (something I would experience a lot growing up). Yes. A comic book featuring a blue hedgehog actually killed a character off.
But it wasn't enough to satisfy my parents. It was only a fortnightly comic, after all. Luckily for my parents (and me), I had a friend who lived opposite us and he introduced me to a video game titled Final Fantasy VII. I wanted my own copy almost at once and my mum refused until my friend's mum informed her that it had a storyline and was filled with the characters talking via speech bubbles. Finally! I actually wanted to do something that involved reading! In retrospect this wasn't the best game for me to play to improve my reading. The game originated from Japan and had suffered from a terrible translation job, giving us infamous lines of dialogue such as "This guy are sick". I didn't care, of course. I repeatedly misread "that glow in your eyes" as "that growl in your ears". Blunders like "this guy are sick" made more sense to me than a woman commenting on the main character having "a growl in his ears". The translation was so bad that the company ended up starting their own translation division in Japan that ironically did a much better job than the actual English translators.
My mum then happily bought me the next two games, Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX. I had moved to Middle School by this time but they, like my previous school, didn't have the resources to help me or my friends with our dyslexia. Every lesson another teacher would take us out of the classroom and we would do simplified versions of what the other students were doing. The problem with this was that no one was actually teaching us! The extra teacher would just give us the sheets of paper and we were told to do the work and when I say it was simplified I mean it was really simplified. I know that different people suffer from different levels of dyslexia but I remember how frustrated I was with just how simplified and easy it was.
I didn't feel like I was being taught anything. If anything I felt like my friends and I were just being shoved out the way for the more "talented" students because they deserved it more. I was so frustrated with how we were being treated that I actually asked the teacher to do the same piece of work that the other students were doing out of protest. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted to be helped but instead I was moved back into the lunch hall with my friends to do the simplified work by the next lesson with no actual guidance. This isn't me insulting my teachers because they were great when we could actually take a lesson with them. The school just wasn't prepared for us and they couldn't accommodate for our needs.
Unfortunately this could also be said of my next school. Having moved into a new house and gotten into the local high school, my mum decided to move me out of my Middle School and into a new one to make friends so I wouldn't be going into high school alone. The school, unlike my previous one, taught all the way from nursery to Year Six and was classified as a Primary. Unfortunately this school was even smaller than the last one and had to put two school years together in one form group. It was so small in fact that they couldn't even take the dyslexic students out of the class to do simplified work so instead they would supply a helper…who would write our work for us. Again, I wasn't actually receiving any actual guidance! In fact, by taking the work away from me, I was learning even less! There was no involvement from me. I felt like a third wheel in my own education. Again, I'm not having a go at my teachers. They just didn't have the time and the school didn't have the room or enough staff to tackle the problem.
By this time Sonic the Comic had gone into full reprint, meaning I was only getting stories that I already owned and the Final Fantasy games were moving on to voice acting. Aside from a few non-cutscene pieces the entire story of the then soon-to-be released Final Fantasy X was told with a full voice cast. I no longer had anything to read! I still wasn't 100% confident with my reading ability, mostly because although the Final Fantasy games were helping me, they also featured words like "Lifa", "Galbadia" and "Materia", words that were never uttered in real conversations and I had no idea whether I was reading them correctly and I had no desire to start reading books…until the 16th of November 2001.
My family and I went to see the film adaption of Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone (The Sorcerer's Stone for you readers in America) and I was swept away (pun not intended). I had heard of the Harry Potter books but I wasn't interested. If I wasn't playing a game or there wasn't any visual to tell the story then it just didn't pique my interest. I had heard good things about the film and although my interest in the books were non-existent, I was excited. It wasn't just my mum, step-dad and little brothers who had gone with me, but it was my aunts, uncles and cousins too! This had never happened before. My tiny ten year old brain went into overdrive. This must be a big thing! My excitement levels soared within minutes of arriving at the cinema and I had no idea what the film was really about.
I left the cinema with one thought in my head: I wonder if the books are just as good.
A few weeks later I received the first four Harry Potter books for Christmas. Technically I received the first two while my brother received the third and fourth but he had no real interest in reading the books so he gave them to me (he's a "I'll watch the movie" kind of person). I read the first four books in no time. In fact I read them so much in such a short amount of time that when my teacher handed the class three pages from a book with certain words taken out of it I recognised it as Prisoner of Azkaban at once. I was obsessed and I wanted to write my own Harry Potter story. I never got past the first two chapters of my poorly written fan fiction but it had sparked something creative inside of me.
I went into high school with Pottermania in full swing. But there had been a problem going into high school. With my newly found interest in reading along with temporary Saturday tutoring and my perfect behaviour (to this day I'm still not sure what that had to do with anything), my previous school recommended that I not be given any extra help. My high school divided the students for each subject depending on their abilities and I was put in the lower group in all my classes. It was to be expected and I was joined by several dyslexic students who shared a single helper. One helper for a handful of students who, like in my previous school, was only really there to write down the work for them. But, unlike my previous schools, they would actually receive a lesson where they were taught away from the other class, swapping their Second Language lessons for actual Special Needs lessons instead.
My mum was furious and worked restlessly to get me taken out of my French lesson and into the Special Needs class. As I said previously my verbal processing speed and verbal memory weren't very good so you can imagine the kind of inner turmoil I was in attempting to learn a second language. Imagine the episode of Friends where Phoebe attempts to teach Joey how to speak French but replace Joey with a skinny eleven year old. That was what my French lessons were like. Eventually my mum had gotten the head of Special Needs to take me out of French and in the Special Needs lessons…a quarter way into my second year in high school!
By this time I had begun writing my own stories and would look to the Harry Potter books to see what I was doing wrong. I could form sentences and my spelling had improved. I had essentially decided to teach myself what my previous schools had failed to do. I didn't just magically improve however. I still had problems with my grammar, something pointed out to me in a rather scathing review of a Harry Potter fan fiction I uploaded and it made me even more determined to improve. I even changed the way I wrote by turning the paper sideways so I could read my writing, which was something everyone had trouble with.
Everything my mum had used to get me into the Special Needs classes I had been working hard at correcting by myself but I was more than happy being in the Special Needs class and away from French. I was glad that I was finally getting the extra help I had wanted at the age of eight! But by working to improve myself I ended up being punished for it. The next year I was taken out of the Special Needs classes and dumped back into French, having missed almost a year of it. I was given homework I could barely do and I was frustrated for a number of reasons.
I had actually been punished by doing extra work to improve myself. I couldn't understand it! My mum had worked so hard to get me the help that I needed and they decided that, although they agreed that I needed the extra help, I had to go back to do a subject that I not only despised but was terrible at! I was never going to use French in the future. I can't remember a single thing I was taught in those two years. I was taken out of Special Needs and forced to sit a S.A.T Exam for a subject I was a year behind in instead of being given the extra help I had so desperately wanted. To rub salt into the wound, my best friend, who was in the skill level above me in English, was receiving Special Needs! They had deemed my skill level lower than his but he got the extra lesson?! They gave me the same helper as the other students in my English lessons but I had improved my hand writing by this point and was so angry at the school that I refused to let her do it.
I was "dyslexic enough" to need a helper but not "dyslexic enough" to need extra lessons? My family and I had worked hard for me to tackle my dyslexia and for that we were punished. I sat my French S.A.T and I didn't do very well, but then again I didn't even really bother. I was a year behind! There was no way I was going to pass that exam. Again, I want to stress that I'm not saying that the teachers and the special need helpers weren't good at their jobs. In fact my English teachers in High School were my favourite teachers.
After sitting my S.A.T Exams the next hurdle was the GCSE's. I knew what my aim was: I was going to get a C in English. For many that might not seem that big of a deal but it was the highest someone of my skill set could achieve and it was something I had my heart set on. I was fine getting D marks for everything else other than English. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to prove to myself, to my parents, and to my school that all my hard work had paid off. As part of my English GCSE I read Of Mice and Men, When An Inspector Calls, Stone Cold, and Romeo and Juliet. Of Mice and Men was our main focus and my coursework on the book received high marks. Soon we were asked to write our own concluding chapter to the book and I almost wanted to cheer. I was in my element! Being the determined nerd that I was, I had read ahead of everyone else and had read the book multiple times. We had to write in the style of John Steinbeck and that's just what I did, receiving high marks again.
I left high school with an unexpected B in English Language and a C in English Literacy. I can still remember my mum screaming over the phone in delight. I'm risking sounding melodramatic now but I got my B and C in English the same year Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. As much credit as I give Sonic the Comic and the Final Fantasy games for helping me in my struggle against dyslexia, it was really J.K Rowling and the Harry Potter books that really started the fire. I returned to my High School's Sixth Form College, intending to take English A-Level, only to be told when I was signing up that I wasn't eligible. Again, I felt like I was being punished. I took BTEC Media, ICT and Business Studies instead, followed by A-Level Media, CoPE and ICT again. I was told that if I were to get a Distinction in my BTEC Media that I would be allowed to take A-Level Media and A-Level Film Studies. I worked hard again and received a Distinction, only for the head of the department to tell me that she didn't think I would be able to handle the two at the same time.
I received an A in my Media AS exam and took the first half of the A-Level Film Studies in my third and final year at Sixth Form. I left Sixth Form with a B in Media A-Level and a B in my AS-Film Studies. It was only when my little brother joined the High School Sixth Form that my mum was told by the head of the English department that they would have let me do A-Level English and that they weren't sure why I was told I couldn't do it when I went to sign up. Just my luck, right?
Now both my old High School and the School I attended before it have had expansions made to their buildings, each with a much bigger department specifically designed to helping students who suffer from dyslexia and giving them the full attention that they need.