And also for Dunce
First identified in the late 19th century, it took a long time for policy makers to accept the existence of the condition we now recognise as Dyslexia. I recall 30 years ago, when I was a member of a local education authority in England, that the education establishment still regarded it as an excuse for laziness or lack of intelligence.
Members were lobbied by parent groups who believed their children exhibited the symptoms of the condition and wanted our service to recognise it, and to make available appropriate supports in our schools and colleges. I joined with colleagues in raising the issue and proposing a change of policy. We were opposed by an older generation of politicians from both sides. They were supported by professional educationalists who adhered to traditional thinking, and teachers who feared the imposition of additional work in identifying, and then responding to, pupils exhibiting the condition.
It seems to me that general acceptance of the existence of dyslexia began to take hold only after a number of celebrities confessed to being dyslexic. One of the first I recall is the actress Susan Hampshire. Looking at the list of dyslexic celebrities reveals some surprising entries. It also demonstrates that dyslexia need not be a hindrance to a successful career in the arts (Picasso), science (Einstein) or business (Richard Branson).
Nowadays there are recognised tests that enable teachers and parents to establish whether or not a child has the condition, and to what degree. These tests, or assessments, are administered by an educational psychologist. In Ireland this could be via the free National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) or the Dyslexia Association of Ireland. The latter is a registered charity and makes a charge for its services. According to the Association, there is a continuum from mild to severe affecting up to 10% of the population. The continuing existence of such an organisation suggests that it still is not easy for a parent to gain acceptance by the educational establishment that their child has the condition and needs appropriate support.
An interesting aspect of the condition, for me, lies in the knowledge that reading and writing are associated with different parts of the brain. I recently came across the remarkable case* of a writer who, following a stroke, suffered a condition similar to dyslexia (alexia). It did not prevent him continuing to write, although reading back what he had written was just as difficult as reading anything else.
Are you dyslexic? Do you know someone who is? How hard was it for you/them to get people in authority to recognise the condition? How has it influenced your experience as a writer?
*In a BBC programme, in the ‘Imagine’ series, about a neuroscientist. I have been unable to track down and link to this article. I viewed it in October 2015 but that could have been a repeat of an earlier transmission.