Dyslexia – the Inside Story

We hear the term dyslexic and we know it has something to do with difficulty with print and language. Our children may be defined as dyslexic and have problems with spelling, reading, writing, organisation, numbers or sequence. So, what is it like to be dyslexic? Like the individuality of each human, it is enormously varied and presents differently in every person who is dyslexic. For one person the decoding of words for reading is the problem. For another the decoding is easy but comprehension is missing. The physical task of writing is hard for some and for others spelling correctly is the difficult part.

What is the problem? The brain understands but the execution of the task is difficult, confusing or impossible. It’s frustrating, tiring and you often feel stupid. One difficulty often encountered is with left and right directions. You often give the wrong instructions. ‘Turn left,’ you say and the reaction from your partner, who knows you well is, ‘Are you sure you mean left?’ You flounder in your thinking. You are not sure. You feel inadequate and frustrated. You resort to signalling with your hands and the crisis has been averted for now. Another occasion and again the same mistake occurs – what’s wrong with you? Why do you never know? The frustration grows. Again when your friend gives directions to you, you make mistakes or hesitate, laugh it off but deep down you feel foolish. You know the difference between left and right and when calm can think it through but you are unable to quickly process the directions correctly. It doesn’t take too many repetitions to convince you to avoid the terms left and right at all costs and to find ways to cover your inadequacy. In reading it is similar. For many people the sounds and letters somehow don’t link together. The word may be familiar looking but the sounds can’t be accessed. This is easily apparent when children are learning to read. Those children, for whom the sound linkage is absent or difficult, struggle. How often will the child publically expose her inabilities when all around are chirping the correct sounds and being given lots of affirmation? She is being encouraged and commended for effort. She knows the difference and sees herself in a negative light. Sometimes in reading it’s the print that’s the problem – it blurs, moves, grows larger or smaller, or the glare off the page hurts your eyes. It may be hard to focus – try explaining that to others! Again the feeling of inadequacy and the logical way to help one cope may be to resort to devious means and hide the difficulty. This is added stress. Sequence can be a problem also. The days of the week, months of the year and times tables can be extremely difficult to master. To remember what comes after and before may be challenging. Will you volunteer the answer if you often get it wrong?

Form filling may be another problem. You can never figure out where to put the information – in the boxes above or below the instruction! Then you have to determine what the form wants from you – the information asked for can be interpreted in more than one way. Opposites are particularly difficult. ‘Payee’ – Who is that – the one who pays or the one who is paid? You may miss the little words and that changes the meaning. You resort to flattery or other means to get others to fill out the forms for you or, you use pencil or photocopy the forms first to ensure you get it right. It all requires effort – lots of effort. For each dyslexic there is a different set of problems and because of the problems there is always stress and negative reactions are common. What do you mean you can’t fill out forms – you can read and write, can’t you?

You always feel uncertain. Frustration is never far away and stress and anger can result. Fatigue is a by-product because you have to use so much energy to check and recheck. You may never feel good enough at anything. You may be reluctant to find what you are good at for fear of your deficiencies being exposed. Dyslexia can undermine confidence and add untold stress to your life. The other side of dyslexia, the different thinking, that is the cause of the problems, also carries with it the advantage of often being able to ‘think outside the box’. If you are fortunate enough to find an area in which you can excel, then the confidence thus gained can alleviate the negative and the different thinking can offer great advantages for those who discover their strength.

It’s important to recognise how dyslexia feels and to develop one’s strengths for only then, through success, can one honestly laugh and dismiss one’s errors as inconsequential.

Published in: ABWM June 2006