Whilst drinking my morning coffee and waking up to the day I was scrolling through my usual news outlets and came across Sirin Kale’s long read article in the Guardian –“The battle over dyslexia”. The article got me thinking and whilst doing my typical work morning routine of checking emails, catching up on my networking forums and searching for potential clients I decided to try and explore my experience as a “dyslexic” to add to the discourse.
I was diagnosed with dyslexia while I was in primary school back in the 90s. And since then it’s been a label that I’ve been questioning. From what I remember growing up in Stoke-On-Trent (Newcastle-Under-Lyme for those who want to be picky) dyslexia wasn’t really a thing that many people had. It was also at times seen more as a “disability”, rather than a “difficulty” as it’s seen today. Being honest I do feel both terms don’t suit my perception of what it is to be labeled as a “dyslexic”. In Sirin Kale’s article she discusses the multiple view points of scientific findings that we know to be dyslexia today. It’s an interesting read and one that I feel brings up many points that need to be addressed (the inequality of the system for one) but one train of thought that’s always been in my mind didn’t crop up. Is this idea we have of dyslexia actually a difficulty, or is it just an alternate way of learning and perceiving the world outside of the typical route?
As a designer and someone in the creative sector I feel surrounded by people who discuss having dyslexia, who use the label as a selling point, who look into the science of reading and those who explore letter forms to help reading. This larger community and the conversations about dyslexia is fantastic, but it does feel at times that it’s a right of passage to be labeled as a dyslexic creative. I must admit I’ve definitely used the label in this way (getting a grant at art school for a new MacBook is one of the many examples), but also used it as an excuse to get out of doing things. More recently though I’ve become detached from the label; reading Sirin Kale’s article also enforced that fact. I don’t feel I am dyslexic, even though society may claim I am. I do feel I learn, read, express myself and make connections that fall sometimes outside the “normal” way of doing things, but this isn’t a “difficulty”. Just because I learn in a different way doesn’t mean I have problems learning, which is what the labelling of dyslexia attaches.
I have so much respect for teachers and I think in general they do an amazing job, but it’s more the system I’m in disharmony with. Examinations and assessments that don’t cater for alternative learning methods meant that throughout school I didn’t really learn anything other than “this is the game you need to play to get through”. Nothing really stuck and my confidence at my subject abilities was pretty low. I managed to get through school and college by cobbling a method that seemed to work for me and with the help of a very supportive family. I feel very lucky about this to be honest. If I didn’t have family support I think the dreariness of sitting in a school library at 15 years old with a computer programme (which looked like it was designed for a 6 year old) trying to spell four and five letter words and failing would have made me quit school entirely, and not just the demeaning dyslexia help lessons they put me on.
It wasn’t really until I started to become obsessed with how written content looked that my understanding of how my brain sees letterforms started to take shape. I still haven’t quite figured out how to describe my learning method but since exploring the forms of letters my ability to read has greatly improved. Learning to observe the rhythmical structure and negative space of a 62+ basic symbol set has improved my reading ability more in 8 years than the 18 years of formal education ever did. I’m not sure at the moment if the way I’ve learnt to view the written language can help others. I more want to point out that the ways in which we observe communication is never as straight forward as we think. Dyslexia is then maybe not a “learning difficulty” but just another perspective on the world that we aren’t catering for.
As I grow older it feels that the career routes set out by formal education seem to be leaving more people behind. In the early stages of my design career I got a sense that anyone who didn’t have a formal degree in graphic design couldn’t be a designer in a creative agency. This resistance to alternate educational paths seems to create a linear career growth rejecting the idea of diversity and inclusivity.
In Sirin Kale’s article she concludes:
“Back in 1976, Bill Yule wrapped up his Isle of Wight research with the following observation: “The era of applying the label ‘dyslexic’ is rapidly drawing to a close. The label has served its function in drawing attention to children who have great difficulty in mastering the arts of reading, writing and spelling but its continued use invokes emotions which often prevent rational discussion and scientific investigation.” And so it continues, almost half a century on: a dyslexia debate, with no end in sight.”
The dyslexia debate will never really go away until we start discussing learning paths with alternative methods allowing for individuality. There needs to be more diversity and inclusivity, embracing differences and celebrating them. This seems to be the way forward for many things in this world, but I agree with Kale’s final words that the end is nowhere in sight.