I’m coming out the cupboard (so to speak). I’m a writer and I’m dyslexic. In the second year of university, at the age of 20, my tutor recommended that I should be tested as “my handwriting looked dyslexic”. With great trepidation (I thought I had very neat handwriting), I went off to be tested.
A woman, her eyes sad behind the glasses, told me that I was definitely dyslexic and had the spelling age of a fourteen year old. She couldn’t believe that I’d got so far through the education system without anyone noticing. I could. My teachers thought I was average (maybe even lower then average) and I’d quickly learnt to make myself invisible in the class. My short term memory is shocking, so I assumed the low exam results were more to do with my habit of leaving it all to the last minute and cramming, rather then being thick. I had to fight to be allowed to take A’level English, because I knew I could do it.
She asked me if I had read much as a child. Well, I grew up in the Middle East, and my world was our house and the surrounding garden. There wasn’t really any television, and my brothers were very annoying, so I read. I read everything I could get my hands on. I remember the day I realised that I’d systematically read every book in the school library and begging my mum to take me to the British Library. I was lucky, it was something that my parents encouraged and when I wasn’t reading, I was making up my own stories. Apparently that’s what helped me.
My vocabulary is extensive, although it might take me several attempts to spell a word correctly and who needs a thesaurus?! I’ve had to learn synonyms for when I’m really stuck and can’t work out the beginning of a word to look it up in a dictionary, or the spellcheck just can’t work out what I’m trying to say.
I used to be ashamed of my label; my dirty secret. However I’ve come to realise that it just means I see and hear the world slightly differently. My brain records snap shots and stores them away neatly, ready to be recalled years later. Flash-back twenty years ago, and one of my first times on the London Underground. A large, heavy man shuffled onto our carriage, wearing a grubby, royal blue tracksuit bottoms, a grey tee-shirt and a knitted beige cardigan. His cardigan pockets were stuffed with coins, causing them to hang low, lower then the bottom of the garment, the woollen cable knit having been stretched far beyond its original shape. As the tube sped and swayed between stations, the man would start arguments with his reflection, his voice rising higher and more heated, beads of sweat starting to form on his forehead, just below the hairline, until we reached the next brightly lit stop, where he would return to placid, relative normality. He was totally mesmerising, although in hindsight, it might have been wiser to change carriages as most of the other passengers did.
That was twenty years ago, but I can’t tell you how a pen materialised in my fridge yesterday.
When I’m not tired, usually with a glance, I can spot a spelling mistake. The shape of the word causes discord on the page, but I do make mistakes with my own work. You get too close. So I have to write things, leave them a day and then go back to them with a new eye, but I don’t think I’m unique in that. When I’m really tired, my speech deteriorates as well. Today at the post office I couldn’t tell the man behind the counter that I wanted a book of six stamps. It left me totally tongue-tied! Luckily he knew what I meant and we had a laugh about it, but that’s why I write. To take my time and choose the exact words.
Now it turns out, my middle child might well be dyslexic. Part of me hesitates to label and she can’t be tested officially for another two years. She’d struggled with reading, until her teacher gave her a coloured reading ruler. Now she says she can see the words (instead of them floating around the paper). Her older sister will read happily for hours and I’d always hoped all of them would do that, but maybe it’s not for her. All three are strong individuals and have their own strong points.
The middle child can create art out of anything, and very much lives in her own, very creative world. I took her on a walk in the woods once and we ended up following Aslan, holding Lucy’s hand, and she rode on his back when tiredness set in. My dandelion girl has yet another view of the world, she still sees possibilities and it’s inspiring.
I suddenly noticed this one day. She didn’t say anything, just did it.
So if that’s dyslexia, I love it.