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Stan’s Stuff

Dyslexia – not all bad and three of my favourites

I was the distrupter. In a dormitory block for young adult male students, I persistently caused study time to be lost. In this designated study period, I would roam the dorm halls calling (singing actually to a weird tune) “Volleyball, volleyball, Oh volley, volley ball”.
 |  Stan Stewart  | 

I was always successful. I coached/seduced the most dedicated, disciplined students to leave their books.

Despite my enthusiasm, I was the worst player in the dormitory. Occasionally, I would land a winning shot but mostly my efforts on the court were not productive. Undeterred, I persevered thinking sooner or later I will get better. I never did.

In my 84th year, a physiotherapist was coaching me with exercises to speed my recovery from a broken leg. The exercises required me to turn left and right on the therapist’s command. I constantly failed.

Irritated with me, he asked, “Don’t you know your left from your right?”. I said “No”. His face lit up. “Your’re dyslexic,” he said. “Didn’t you know that”? “Dysgraphia,” he called it. My lack of body orientation has affected me all my life. That’s why I have always been off-balance in sporting pursuits. My innate disability was only accidently recognised when I was 84. It was a relief when thinking about my inability to spell despite years of trying. Relatives are still skeptical.

“Don’t hide behind some fancy name – you probably don’t listen!”

In my teens my inability to distinguish left and right was a great benefit to me in one respect – dancing. Ball room dancing was out – not possible – not allowed – no female would put up with me. What a relief!

When rock and roll arrived, that was different. At first my religious scruples held me back. But, in my adult life I had no such hesitation, I could shake, rattle and roll with the best of them.

Today’s teens feel they are expected to go to university. Young people who don’t take this course can feel guilty because of their parent’s ‘higher’ education expectations.

On the other hand, we know a number of young adults who have graduated with a degree but can’t find a job or are no longer sure they have chosen the right career path. They work in hospitality or retail and face the burden of enormous ‘education’ debt.

When asked I encourage teens who want to skip university to experiment with work or travel. The main thing is to find their niche, what they love and what can challenge them. Two of our young friends are apprentice electricians. Their financial security is assured.

The diagnosis, though it came late in life, was a relief to me. Since receiving it, apart form being more less stressed about muddling things, I realise two truths. 1. People with dyslexia (one in ten Kiwis have one or other form of dyslexia) are often misunderstood and frequently undervalued. 2. Not blowing my own bags – individuals with dyslexia contribute enormously to the development and well-being of human society.

The formal education life of semesters with essays and assignments as a route to a vocation will continue to be helpful for many but not for all. There are many different routes to maturity and achievement. Dyslectic individuals perceive life from a different standpoint. The way they learn is different. They see things that others miss. I appreciate this insight from the educator Bruno Bettelheim. He said you can’t tell lies to children and mad people. The reason for this is that they don’t listen to words. Nor are they impressed by grand attire or formal qualifications. They read a person’s body language. This is their path to truth. Dyslectic people with their different point of view are of unique value to their communities and in some cases to the whole world. Here are three of my favorite dyslexics.

Albert Einstein

As a child he did not talk until after 3 years of age. He showed no talent in primary school. In fact, one of his exasperated teacher’s predicted “No good thing will come of him”.

When he was world famous, Einstein said this. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world”.

Erin Brockovich

Labelled in school: “The Girl Least Likely to Succeed”, Erin Brockovich is dyslexic and struggled in early education, but thanks to some inspiring teaching experiences went on to become an internationally renowned lawyer. She helped win the largest class-action lawsuit in US history, worth $333 million, and had to read through thousands of pages of medical records and legal briefs that she often found difficult to get through. Brockovich maintains that it’s actually dyslexia that helped her work as a lawyer and she remains a powerful advocate for people with literacy differences in the workplace and in education.

John Lennon

He had terrible trouble at primary school. He had difficulty reading and writing. Spelling was beyond him. Out of this caldron of difficulty emerged a beautiful soul who has inspired his generation and beyond. “Imagine there’s no countries – It isn’t hard to do – Nothing to kill or die for – and no religion, too – Imagine all the people – Livin’ life in peace! You may say that I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.”