Sunday, March 21, 2010

A pioneering new way to face up to dyslexia - Times Online

A pioneering new way to face up to dyslexia - A.A. Gill - Times Online

A.A. Gill is a professional writer and author of high repute. In this insightful article he expresses his feelings and experiences around his dawning realisation of dyslexia and how he lives with this condition. He describes himself as;

A dyslexic who writes a lot — 1,500 words, give or take, a day. And if I let the spellchecker get its bureaucratic little pince-nez within squinting distance of any of them, it would say 1,000 are spelt wrongly.

I am a grammar cripple, a functioning illiterate. Literally. I write for a living and, like blind mountaineers and limbless golfers, I am a straw to be clutched at by these quietly desperate and bravely determined people whose lives and dreams for their children have been overwhelmed by 26 characters in search of an orthodoxy.

I have taken several extracts from the article to illustrate his depth of feelings on the subject and his concern for parents and children alike. Those who suffer criticism, exclusion and isolation because of the ignorance of others.

He describes a local meeting of the dyslexia group;

The parents, mostly mothers, their faces taut with worry and incomprehension, listen intently. One or two have brought their children, who sit with their heads down, drawing, trying to be invisible. I’m with them.

The outcome of this meeting, like so many others, is disappointing from the parents' viewpoint and consequently, for the children with dyslexia.

After too long, the meeting closes. It has answered all the questions with more questions. Doors have opened to reveal corridors filled with more doors.

It has helped only to concern the concerned, whose anxieties mostly revolve around statements.

Children with learning difficulties need to be statemented — that is, given a series of tests by a professional that take a long time and are, if not arbitrary, then not altogether precise, a bit like a Cosmo quiz for the semiliterate.

They are useful, and they are craved by the parents of children who are failing.

He brings to life the growing panic and exclusion that comes from dyslexia and other learning difficulties. Although confident in his adult life, in the face of an enthusiastic teacher, he finds himself falling back into his fearful past;

I can feel myself regressing, the panic begins to constrict my chest. I can’t follow what Mr Taylor is saying. I don’t understand.

Millie (a young pupil) leans across and helps me, not as a politeness to a grown-up who’s older than her dad, but with the fellowship of the impaired; another word-blind, number-paralysed school sufferer.

It all rushes back over me: everything falling off my brain, like hearing through double glazing, the fog of incomprehension, the panic of being left behind.

I’d completely forgotten the loneliness of classrooms where it all makes sense to everyone else. I look down at the page and my handwriting belongs to a child. I get it all wrong. “Never mind,” says Millie. No, never mind.

This is the most salutary of lessons. I had utterly buried this feeling, until now: being here in this place.

His opportunity to evangelise to a young audience is full of humour and human feelings of doubt, self awareness and passionate belief. It's his passion and belief that come through in his writings.

I stood in front of this sea of blameless little faces, knowing that behind each of them there was already a room full of low esteem, full of catalogues of failure, a great weight of parental concern, and I wondered again at the horrible obstacle course we make of other people’s childhoods after we’ve f***ed up our own.

And I caught sight of Zinzan, and I felt the anger, the hot fury for the wasted, tearful, silently worried, failed years of school, and I had a Spartacus moment. I started talking, rather too loudly.

I told them this was their language, this English, this most marvellous and expressive cloak of meaning and imagination. This great, exclamatory, illuminating song, it belonged to anyone who found it in their mouths.

There was no wrong way to say it, or write it, the language couldn’t be compelled or herded, it couldn’t be tonsured or pruned, pollarded or plaited, it was as hard as oaths and as subtle as rhyme.

It couldn’t be forced or bullied or policed by academics; it wasn’t owned by those with flat accents; nobody had the right to tell them how to use it or what to say.

There are no rules and nobody speaks incorrectly, because there is no correctly: no high court of syntax.

And while everyone can speak with the language, nobody speaks for the language. Not grammars, not dictionaries. They just run along behind, picking up discarded usages. This English doesn’t belong to examiners or teachers.

All of you already own the greatest gift, the highest degree this country can bestow. It’s on the tip of your tongue.

And then I caught sight of myself, standing like a declamatory ticktack man, bellowing like a costermonger, and I stopped and stared at the faces staring at me with expressions of utter, dyslexic incomprehension.

From the back of the room, a teacher coughed.

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