My DyslexiaPosted: June 7, 2013 Filed under: Uncategorized 24 Comments
Recently I’ve blurted out a few obvious hints on Twitter that I’m dyslexic. I thought I’d write a few notes down as I’ve had a few people contact me wanting to know more and if my condition had anything to do with me being in comics. Please excuse, It’s a bit clunky.
It’s not a rare dysfunction it’s very common. Turns out 4% of the adult population is dyslexic, that’s massive. I first knew I had a problem towards the end of primary school. I’d been stuck on the red reading books when everyone else had jumped up to yellow, green and blue. I had no idea why I couldn’t do what my friends could even though I knew I was just as smart. Then in the first year of Comprehensive I started copying friends work over their shoulder, ticking every box in multiple choice exams and generally making a mess of writing and spelling tests.
During the early 1980’s Exmouth Comprehensive had the biggest pupil population in Europe I found I could easily hide in the system and get through school without doing any real work at all. Pupils in the lower sets had behavior problems which deflected attention from me. I messed up all my final exams but had one moment of glory, a grade A O-level in technical drawing. I’m the only person in that school year to achieve this result which made me very proud. After school I wanted to become an architect but unfortunately didn’t have the right qualifications so started on a building course and retook my academic CSE’s (before GCSE).
After being disenchanted with building I picked up the minimum qualifications for a BTEC foundation course in Art which in turn and with luck and help from friends moved to an HND in Illustration. I’ve had a lot of help from friends for which I’ll always be grateful, most of the time they’ll put it down to me being lazy. I’m happy to go along with this as it seems less embarrassing than telling them I’ve a learning difficulty.
I’ll tell you what I see when I look at a page of text but it could be different to what other people with dyslexia see. The brain is complex and there is a dyslexic spectrum. No two people have exactly the same problem. Like every neurological dysfunction names are given to crudely cover broad areas with many differences.
I can only read one letter at a time. The rest of the text is out of focus and in motion (swirling). Each letter of the alphabet has a different focal point. For instance an ‘n’ is in the background a ‘g’ is in the foreground and an ‘e’ is somewhere between the two. By concentrating tunnel vision onto an individual letter it magically comes into focus and stops moving. With many years practice reading can be done relatively quickly. As well as that translating text and understanding it are two separate jobs which need to be worked on simultaneously, once mastered its impressive stuff. Obviously this has an effect on reading confidence. Filling in forms is also difficult and I can easily spend a half hour writing a one sentence e-mail constantly checking between the lines to see if I haven’t accidentally insulted or confessed an embarrassing illness to a client.
Once, to prove a point I cut a small hole in a piece of paper, the hole being big enough to read just one letter. Scanning a line of text one letter at a time through the hole made very little difference to my reading speed.
The last book I read was twelve years ago. It promised to pin point the lost city of Atlantis with unquestionable proof. After putting in so much effort to reach it’s obviously silly conclusion I felt cheated. Thankfully I’ve switched to audio books and most of my reading now consists of newspaper articles and scripts.
Why is reading text so difficult when other objects on the page like pictures and icons are perfectly stationary and crystal clear? I’ve no idea but they are. This could be the reason why comics as a medium are so important to me, especially when I think back to when I was young and the affect they had on me.
With 4% of the population with dyslexia you would think that comics would be widely available in schools. To connect a picture with the text gives a certain amount of confidence that the story is going in the direction described and confidence is the key. Even if there are no pictures on a page there are still ways to build confidence using text. Breaking sentences into groups, making patterns with words, making words different sizes and using different type faces, surrounding words with space, it all helps. Spike Milligan used these techniques in some of his poems and the same can be seen in comics where words are written in different ways to illustrate different sound effects.
Imagine a school physics book with each page a sequence of panels containing Icons, symbols, bullet points, speech balloons and diagrams. The paradox is that the puzzle of reading seems to be fixed by creating a second layer of puzzles. A dyslexic reader facing a pictorial puzzle would be put back in control and especially for children it would turn a frustrating activity into an enjoyable one and with enjoyment comes a repetitive learning which in time will build into the tools needed as an adult to translate and read more easily. It’s a different type of learning that requires the creation of a different set of neurological pathways, a long process that goes beyond school years but is achievable.
To sum up I’ve never missed what I’ve never had and those new pathways have come in handy in ways I now take for granted. It’s all about those all-important school years and the confidence given with the right education. Let’s get comics into schools.
Hi Henry, a lot of what you said here, about your early schooling years, ring true to my own situation, if it was not for comics and my interest in them I would not like to imagine how poor my reading would be right now, spelling is still in the toilet though, good job computers came on the seen when they did to help out.
thanks for this post, It comforting to know that someone you admire a lot, has had similar learning difficulties.
Thanks James. Finding out in the past few days that many people out there have a similar connection with comics. Would be interesting to find out how many. All the best.
I just have a novice’s knowledge of dyslexia and your article spells it out (forgive the pun) very succinctly. It throws up two questions: 1) What are the rates of dyslexia in, for example, China? and 2) Do you find it any easier to read handwriting where each word is a pattern rather than individual letters?
It’s funny that I also did well at O level Technical Drawing (I was doing Welsh, couldn’t keep up, and swapped to a second choice subject) and that has inadvertently led me to where I am at the moment!
1/ I’m not sure about dyslexia rates in other countries, It’s something I’ve not thought of but will have a look. If there are differences between countries it’ll be interesting to find out why. 2/ handwriting is a little more difficult to read, but I’m sure that applys to able reads to.
Thank you for this honest, touching and, importantly, very informative post. I posted a link to it on the 2000AD Forum and there has been a lot of love shown for it on there too.
My 9 year old son has reading difficulties, as do I and my father. For us, the words jump between lines and appear to wobble or we just don’t see words at all and miss them out entirely. It’s worse when we are tired or forced to read quickly. Writing is equally affected. My son has been given a computer program which is designed to help “train” his brain to track the sentences better, and this has helped him. Sadly, this therapy is not on the NHS so we have had to pay (not cheap!). The school have been very kind in giving him extra reading help.
For me, early diagnosis is key, as is the support of the school. Comic books are more accessible, as are books with pictures in and audio books are a god send!
Great post, Henry. Oh, and smashing artwork too!
Thanks Simeon, Could I ask you for the name of the computer program? Sounds interesting.
Hi Henry. The computer program is called Perceptual Visual Tracking Program (PVT) and was developed by Sidney Groffman. It was prescribed by a local optician. On the screen, there is a page of numbers, letters or pictures. At the top is a target, so say it is a page of numbers, the number “4” might be at the top. A cursor moves along each row and when it goes over the number “4” you hit the Space Bar. The tests change and adapt, and it is controlled by the optician over the Internet, so if your child is struggling, the optician can drop it back a notch or two.
Before using it my son had a “below average” reading ability, according to the optician’s tests. After 6 months of using the program daily, he had improved to “above average”. He still needs testing every 6-8 months to ensure he has not regressed, but he is now more confident in reading (i.e. he will actually read a book!). Beast Quest are the current favourites! He can’t quite manage a book with no pictures, but still, we are miles ahead of where we were…
It’s not dyslexia we have, it’s this PVT condition, and I’m not sure if it would help dyslexics, but if any parents have anxious readers or recognise similar traits I described in my previous comment when their child reads, I would encourage them to talk to their local optician to see if it is PVT.
All the best,
I was diagnosis early on in my school life. Year one or two i think. The school’s i went to all promised extra help and help getting extra time for exams and stuff but they never followed through. Although my head teach at primary school did help cover when i didn’t turn up for my English SAT’s (it was his idea).
I was always in the lowest set in English and that bashed my confidence quite a lot. The ‘smart’ kids always use to look down on me even though i knew i was just as intelligent as they were i just couldn’t put it down on paper. I was put on a program to help me learn but it turned more in to making try to spell the same word again and again, when in this day and age computers make it easier to get but with out knowing how to spell words. I tend to spell them how they sound.
I remember reading about an alphabet that was being produced to help dyslexic kids out, i not sure if it came to anything though. What helped me was removing the white background. I had green glasses in primary school and later on got sheets of grey overlay that helped when trying to read.
The one thing that should be told to young people with dyslexia are that it is not a bad thing. It just means that the right side of the brain is in control rather than the left. Right being creative, left being Analytical (only managed to spell that with the help of spell check). Its not you that is stupid but the school system. It is set up by/for people that find academic work easy but in doing so hinders people that find it hard. The list of highly intelligent people with dyslexia is so long, just showing that it is not something to be ashamed of. If people that suffer from it are embarrassed to talk about it then nothing will ever change.
if you read this henry – I’m sorry its so long, its just a subject i feel strongly about.
One final thought that has always bugged me. Who came up with the term dyslexic – I’m guessing it not someone who finds it hard to spell.
Cheers John, I’ll be chasing up these coloured glasses. A few people have mentioned them so I’ll have a look. Following link should get you to the alphabet, (might not be the right one) http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/tag/british-dyslexia-association/
I got them from my local Opticians. Ran through a couple of test to see which colour works best. That wasn’t the one i had seen but that ones really good as well. It’s great to see someone talking about these sorts of problems. I hope it helps people.
Wow that alphabet is amazing, wish books ect had that font. Makes it so easy to see and read. Love the blog it is good for my children to see that there are others out there who struggle.
I’ve only found out about the font since writing the blog, so will look into it. All the best.
If you thing this font helps, you might like to try an ebook reader, I dont have one my self but i believe you can change the font in them to any font you want, but check this out before you buy, the black & white eink books readers I think are the best as they are like news print with a gray background, colour displays tend to have reflective white screen with black text and i find hard to read after a short time.
I use an iPad and on some of the reading programs you can turn it to white on black. This helps me out a lot. Worth trying to see if that helps
Agreed and thanks for opening up about that Henry. It’s important that people shouldn’t feel isolated by something like this.
Cheers Simon. It’s trying to get the kids sorted at school that’s sparked this.
What a great piece
… damnit, sent before finishing. I meant to say, what a great piece *and* that it especially touched me as a dyslexic and inspired me to go back to my research on physics comics (of which there are a fair amount, would be good to have more in formal ed’n).
All so familia. Text books are so much better nowadays. Until you get to really technical stuff. Mind maps are a good way to structure information into a picture.
Henry, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m president of the board at Windy Row Learning Center (www.windyrow.org) where we help children just like you were to learn to read while supporting their creativity and strengths. I would greatly appreciate an email from you as I feel your story would be one to share in our newsletter to parents but would never do so without your permission. Would you be open to emailing me? Best wishes, Sharon
Really good description of the difficulties of dyslexia, well written. Your problem seems to be Irlen Syndrome, which is a condition of the eye movement, causing short, staccato eye action, not flowing over several groups of letters. This can be greatly helped in many cases by the use of colour lenses or overlays. A process of elimination will help you discover which colour or combination of colours, offers the greatest help. This frequently has the effect of steadying the text. Tracking can be assisted by a line guide, a ruler in your chosen colour or simply a piece of card. running along the line of text. Words you need to spell can be outlined into one shape, making them appear to be one letter. I worked for many years as a dyslexia specialist advising Colleges and Companies on how to assist people with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia as well as other learning difficulties. What I always reminded them was the gifts associated with dyslexia that you take for granted. If you have that wonderful 360′ ability, to see things in the round, which I suspect from your illustration you do have, just remember. Other mortals don’t see this, it is yours alone. Good Luck and keep on drawing. By the way, I thoroughly agree with you that comics combined with text would enable all children and adults to learn to read, spell and write more easily, dyslexic or not.
Thanks for your comments and very inspirational. Didn’t know about the 360 degree vision, certainly something I have and take for granted. I’ve had a look at the coloured glasses with mixed results. Think I needed some more time to choose the best colour it all seemed a bit rushed and to be honest no colour seemed to have a better affect than another. Line guide is a great help, shall use that in the future.
One more point, you said 360′ did you mean 180′?
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