I have recently started to write a book. Initially I started writing it because I wanted to help my dyslexic son and godson. I wanted to show them they were not alone in this. I wanted to show them that whilst it hurts now they can and would get through it. I wanted to write something that would inform teachers and schools of the best ways to help them and I wanted to show my son and godson there are ways they can help themselves.
As I started writing years and years of memories, knowledge, experience and strategies came tumbling out and spilled onto a page! As I wrote and reflected what struck me was that my main difficulty has never really been about reading and writing. Yes I find reading and comprehending excruciating. I struggle to organise thoughts and make connections and dyslexia spills massively into my life, but for me personally not knowing I was dyslexic led to some fairly significant difficulties with confidence and self-esteem that actually nearly broke me on many occasions. Whilst on the surface I appeared confident, smiley, articulate and bright this was not how I felt inside. Inside I felt broken, exhausted and unintelligent. Constantly on the edge of fight or flight. I still now rarely let my guard down in case I got caught out. There are only a handful of people who I let see this vulnerable and raw side of me. A few people who have read the first draft of this book have been genuinely shocked at the way I view myself and had no idea how hard I had found and continue to find life. Close friends and family in particular had no idea of what a battle getting through the day can be.
As I started to write my story and sprinkle tips and hints on how to support a dyslexic learner throughout I was fairly pleased with how it was shaping up! I then had a conversation with someone who made me realise I had missed out the most important part. I had missed out how to identify us. I have said in previous posts that we dyslexics are intelligent human beings. This intelligence is the thing that causes the issue when it comes to identifying us! We are the masters of strategy developing and we are the masters of using strategies to cover up our difficulties. On top of this we will pretty much do anything to cover up our poor confidence and self esteem in fear of looking even more stupid! As I wrote my story down and started to make sense of it I realised how accomplished I had become at hiding my difficulties, my parents had no idea so my teachers had no hope! My book continued the theme, not letting anyone in on the best kept secret of a dyslexic, hiding and where we hid! I was hiding because I was so ashamed of the fact that I didn’t understand and couldn’t do simple things well that I went to extreme measures to hide my difficulties, including self harm at one point. So how did I do it?
My technique, my master skill is… smiling, looking like I know what I am doing and not rocking the boat! I hid for 34 years behind a smile and false confidence… No one knowing how desperate I was inside for someone to notice me… By notice me, I mean my difficulties, or learning differences. I was desperate for someone to notice that I gave 110%. I was desperate for someone to notice how hard I worked. I was desperate for some to acknowledge the effort I put in. No one ever did notice and do you know why, because I never let them see my disappointment, vulnerability or asked for help. I never once got an A for an essay or exam and because of this I never felt good enough or like I had worked hard enough because I didn’t get As. I didn’t feel worthy of the teachers time and I was worried I would be out of my depth if I asked a question and didn’t understand the response. In hindsight I had probably worked harder than most but I felt inferior, unequal and unworthy because I didn’t get As. No one ever knew this was how I felt because I hid it behind a smile and a compliant just get on with it approach.
This is why I am so good at spotting dyslexics… I don’t look for the obvious signs. I don’t look at the tip of the iceberg. I don’t look for the bits that are noticeable and on show, I look below the surface. In order to look below the surface you have to build a relationship and gain trust and you have to be able to play the game better than your opponent! Remember the best card players are the ones that can bluff. It’s not necessarily always about having all the facts and all the knowledge sometimes it’s about your gut instinct.
Dyslexics are the champions of hide and seek… We know every loop hole and way to bend the rules ever invented and we find new ways to shape the rules every hour of every day… We hide in an attempt to defend ourselves from hurt, disappointment and feeling stupid. If you are going to help a dyslexic you need to learn to play the game better than they can. You need to know where to look and you will need to know what to do when you find us!
Where we hide is really quite simple, it’s not rocket science. We barricade ourselves behind our intelligence and amongst ourselves. We hide behind smiles, we hide behind blending into the background, we hide behind the intelligent and vocal pupils in a class, we hide behind our over confident behaviour, confrontational behaviour, talking, being the clown, distraction and point blank refusal. I’ll talk about all of these in later blogs but for now let’s consider a few scenarios where I believe we actually encourage or allow dyslexics to hide.
Next time a dyslexic is out of the classroom for an intervention consider this…are you playing their game along with them, or are you changing the rules and gaining the better hand? Is sending them out of the classroom allowing them to hide? Is this keeping them hidden from view?
Instead of sending them out what would happen if you kept them in the classroom and asked them to tally or write down all the words they hear beginning with ‘s’ during the input. Kept them in the classroom and asked them to voice record the children’s ideas on an iPad. Kept them in the classroom and asked them to explain what they have to do to another child or to the teaching assistant. Kept them in the classroom and asked them to note down the key characters or figures in history that are being discussed? Who has the winning hand now? Is anyone hiding?
Next time time you ask your child to read at home and world war 3 breaks out because it’s hard for the child to read and you loose the will to live and give up, who has the winning hand? You or your child? I suspect your child does and that they are trying to hide and I suspect they are winning because they have pushed your guilty button knowing that you will give into the guilty card. Next time don’t ask your child to read, read to them with them next to you, ask them to follow the words with their finger. At the end of the page ask them to find all the words beginning with ‘h’ or ‘t’ or the words with the vowel a in. Don’t ask them to ‘read’ the words ask them if they can remember what they say! Who has the winning hand now? Is anyone hiding?
I am not saying it’s easy. I know from a teacher and a parents perspective it’s a bloody hard slog. I know as the dyslexic learner that whilst it feels safe to hide, to have someone notice you makes you feel 10ft tall and like you can conquer anything! I know I definitely don’t have all the answers but it’s something to think about isn’t it? It is so easy to get lost and to hide as an intelligent dyslexic and at the moment we hold all the winning cards and are the best at bluffing, but interestingly are rarely the champion! You non dyslexics need to up your game don’t make it so easy for us to hide! Draw us out by being smarter than us, by playing some of those low value cards as if they were high ones. Whilst we dyslexics feel unintelligent and stupid our biggest strength and our biggest weakness and hinderance is our intelligence that we don’t even realise or acknowledge the power of! We don’t even realise we are using it to play a game! Now you know though… whether you are a teacher, parent or pupil start doing something about it and start upping your game… I’ve drawn the battle lines, let the battle commence!
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