Ho the irony…one of the few dyslexics to make it to Higher English. Only a few years ago I stood no chance; unable to write a paragraph in under an hour, or read a line of writing in less than a minute. That was only a few short years ago and yet, miraculously, I find myself in a Higher English class. A combination of support, stubbornness and unwavering determination led to my decision to take the subject.
At the age of eleven, I was finally suspected of having dyslexia after spending years being labelled a simply a ‘slow learner’. The frustration of going through spelling one word at a time felt like an eternal battle, fighting to keep up with my peers. Every time I did English at primary school, the ‘slow learners’ were corralled into the corner, where the Learning Support teacher would fill our time giving us laborious spelling tasks. Alienated from the rest of our classmates by our slow rate of writing, we were further alienated by being physically isolated from the rest. The ‘slow learners’ were definitely at the bottom of the classroom hierarchy.
As I progressed through primary school, literacy became increasingly elusive and impossible to grasp. My interest in language deteriorated and I started to resist every step of the way. Until I received help, the situation was admittedly dire: I wrote in illegible, dark and severely smudged handwriting which people found impossible to read. On the bright side, what people could decipher, they enjoyed. This was the only praise I ever received in English. When most people write, their fingers dextrously move and grace the pencil across the page like a work of art. However, for me, one side effect of my dyslexia is that my fine motor skills were severely underdeveloped, meaning my fingers wouldn’t respond properly. Indeed, I had to compensate by moving my whole arm. This movement, along with fact I was left-handed, conspired against me, resulting in a messy smear. I was going through graphite as if it was pouring out of the pencil. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I was also literally the slowest of the slow learners. I was always slower than anyone else, last to finish even if the first to start.
Not much could be done for my handwriting; my reading was the main focus. First of all it was difficult, immensely difficult, for me to read. The page would appear normal enough but when I focussed, the words started to bend. I could only see the word in front and one behind the word I concentrated on, nothing else. The rest warped slowly, bending to a vortex on the page and when it was black on bleached white, something odd happened as well; as the words combined they showed a blue, red and green shadow on three sides. I have only noticed this phenomenon recently, but it is only a slight shadow so, usually, I can ignore it. As I started reading in the hot greenhouse of school, open plan noise pierced my mental focus at every opportunity. I would often be aggravated by the noise, the heat not helping, and after the words had been twisted I had trouble finding the next line. You can imagine with the temper of a child after having been told “you’re just a slow learner” and, “you’re just not trying”, combined with heat and noise, and reading the same line over and over thinking the book is simply mocking me. I reached boiling point more than once.
The years passé and these feelings continued day in day out until primary 7, just before the move to high school. My new teacher was the first who cared enough to say, or noticed that I was having difficulties and I was sent to a Learning Support Centre. The standard practice was to give me a coloured piece of plastic to put over the words; mine was a dark red. It did help slightly but I felt embarrassed taking out the plastic – it had become a hindrance which kept me from normality. My ludicrous spelling and atrocious handwriting didn’t help either. But there was hope: my mother, through a friend had learned of something called The Movement and Learning Centre.
At The Movement and Learning Centre, I met an instructor named Ian; he was short, grey hair, yet spry and good-hearted, a kind fellow. Ian had the same name as my father and therefore was easy for me to remember. That was beneficial because I would have to remember it for two and a half more years…for a child it may as well have been half a lifetime. At the start they timed my writing speed, reaction time and reading, seeing how my brain was wired, testing for coping strategies and generally poking and prodding with questions, games and exercises. It didn’t take long for them to confirm that I had dyslexia. Even worse: it was severe. Fortunately, they had faith that I could improve and they could fix or lessen it indefinitely.
I was shown what causes dyslexia and how they planned to solve the problems. They suspected that it was caused by hasty advances in infancy development, per se learning to walk without crawling. The brain is programmed to drop the primitive reflexes during crawling; missing out this vital step leaves the primary reflexes still in place, blocking the development of more complex reflexes. This seemed unbelievable – that such a basic action as a baby could lead to an eternal hindrance. The cure was to set exercises every night for months. I had to mimic those skipped actions to develop that part of the brain. I saw this as an irrelevant waste of time and, without instant results, I couldn’t commit due to my short-sighted impatience. With a slow climb to becoming average, I wavered occasionally, refusing to concede to those manipulating my actions.
Through persistence and my parents’ nagging, I stayed on course. As time went on, I was less reluctant and just accepted it. On return to The Movement and Learning Centre, my latest test results were compared to my previous. Over the years, I did not notice the changes, and still don’t, but when the results came back they showed clearly on a graph the fruits of my labour. The graph consisted of two bars measured against a scale of 100 – 100 children of my age had taken those tests. I had gone from the 27th percentile to the 97th percentile and I felt pretty confident after that. To be honest, I felt proud. But one thing developed… a hatred for those that simply say that they cannot do it. I boil on the inside when someone just quits without trying especially when I was forced to push through my mental barriers, year after agonising year: a letter, then a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a book. I was overjoyed but then stifled as, even after all my efforts, I achieved average amidst my peers. Nothing more.
After working very hard through these past years of dyslexia, I enable myself to be a greater person, and I intended to be. Having completed the course, it has lessened the effects but they are still there and, as many ways round it as I find, my dyslexia will always hold me back and slow me down. With the help of additional time, I was able to finish the Intermediate 2 English exam and, if nothing else, those years of persistence have given me spirit; enough to persist. To challenge what others falsely proclaimed impossible. Higher English. I will have you!
In 2013 Matthew obtained a C pass in Higher English (along with 4 other Highers he found easier; Maths C, Physics B, Chemistry B, Music B).
A very big and sincere thank you to all who helped him, your intervention was life-changing.
Ian (proud father!)