We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Gifted, cursed, whatever

In response to a rather gushing article by Sally Gardner, a dyslexic novelist, entitled “Dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a gift”, one Alftser responded that if he or she had been given that gift “I’d find the receipt and get a refund.”

I laughed at that. However stripped of all the self-dramatisation (a pardonable sin in a novelist) and the wishful bagging of Einstein, Steve Jobs, and any public figure who ever misspelled a word as fellow dyslexics, Ms Gardner’s story is quite impressive: she is a winner of the Carnegie Medal who did not learn to read until she was 14. In a sense one cannot quarrel with her assessment that her own dyslexia has been a gift – and not just because she has been successful but because one cannot quarrel with anyone’s experience of their own lives. Well, one can quarrel with it. I’ve known people who could quarrel with the speaking clock. But you know what I mean.

Sadly, for most dyslexic people dyslexia is a pain in the part of the anatomy that I will exercise sufficient self control to not make a joke of misspelling, because dyslexics have heard all the jokes before. Most children with dyslexia are not going to have their inner genius unleashed even when presented with positive role models because they do not have an inner genius. Humanity is like that: mostly supplied with the inner genius slot vacant. Dyslexia may indeed, as Ms Gardner suggests, promote the skill of navigating the world by other means than arranging the written word, but in most cases this skill is simply not as useful as the one it substitutes for. That’s tough, but not insurmountable. Surmount it.

For a minority of dyslexics and quite a few pretenders, the diagnosis is a means to get free laptops, extra time and marks in exams, and a ready made victim identity.

Free stuff takes a very strong spirit to refuse. The extra marks are OK, so long as you do not end up deceiving others or yourself. But DO NOT TAKE THE VICTIM IDENTITY. It is poison.

ADDED LATER: G K Chesterton once said, “The dipsomaniac and the abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink.” I think that those who, like Sally Gardner, regard themselves (without irony) as being special because of their dyslexia (“Dyslexia is not a disability – it’s a gift. It means that I, and many other dyslexic thinkers can portray the world through images because we think in images. I can build worlds, freeze the frame, walk around and touch. I can read people’s faces, drawings, buildings, landscapes and all things in the visual world more quickly than many of my non-dyslexic friends. I paint with words; they are my colours.”) and those who embrace victimhood are making the same mistake. They both regard dyslexia as an identity and not as a condition.

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8 comments to Gifted, cursed, whatever

  • Kevin B

    No, no Natalie*, you’ve got it wrong. Everyone has an inner genius, but most can’t let it out ‘cos the man is keepin’ them down, innit?

    If it wasn’t for the evil white males defining genius in their own terms so nobody else can reach it, everyone could let their genius flower and the world would be full of stuff… and unicorns… and stuff.

    *Hmmm… my inner genius suggests that I might write a musical number with a title like that. Something not quite right though with it.

  • Paul Marks

    I used to say that I did not care when people attacked me over spelling (yes I am dyslexic – and I have a few other medical problems also), but now the text goes red when I am typing I find I am pleased – because it means I can correct my error.

    So perhaps I do care after all.

  • Not to negate anything Natalie said, but in my anecdotal experience dyslectics do tend to be exceptionally brilliant in various fields.

  • Rich Rostrom

    One should also note that dyslexia is in many cases an induced condition, caused by the seriously mistaken non-phonetic methods of reading instruction that have been fashionable in American schools for generations.

    I recall the case of a second-tier college athlete (good enough to get a scholarship that paid his way in college, not good enough for more than that). A dyslexic, he had struggled all his life to get B’s – and then, at college, he was steered into taking Latin for his foreign language requirement. Unlike English, Latin has rigorous spelling rules, and is taught phonetically. His dyslexia went away; he said it was like the lights were turned on.

  • Paul Marks

    Rich Rostrom – that is interesting.

  • TheRoyalFamily

    Not to negate anything Natalie said, but in my anecdotal experience dyslectics do tend to be exceptionally brilliant in various fields.

    I wonder how many of those many thousands or millions of adults that are barely able to read and lead modestly successful, at best, lives are dyslexic. I figure the brilliant ones were good enough already to overcome their problem(s), figure out ways around them, and the like.

  • Richard Thomas

    LISTER: Well, good luck, man. And, look, don’t be too hard on Rimmer.
    You got the break, he didn’t. He’s just bitter.

    ACE: D’you know what that break was? At the age of seven, one of us was
    kept back a year, the other wasn’t. (Gestures to knot on his arm
    stitches.) Put your finger on that, will you, Skipper? (Tugs sharply
    on thread and breaks it.)

    LISTER: And that’s the only difference? Rimmer went down a year, and you
    stayed up?

    ACE: No, I was the one who went down a year. By his terms, he got the
    break. But being kept down a year made me. The humiliation… Being
    the tallest boy in the class by a clear foot. It changed me, made me
    buckle down, made me fight back. And I’ve been fighting back ever
    since.