One of the things that fascinated me while researching my new book Creative, Successful, Dyslexic is what some of the great and the good got up to during their time at school.
World champion racing driver Sir Jackie Stewart OBE faked sickness: “I had more ‘illnesses’ than you can count to try to avoid going into school,” he says.
Photographer David Bailey CBE and chef Ed Baines played truant. “I spent a lot of time on London Underground, visiting almost every station on the map,” Baines told me.
Adventurer Charley Boorman, President of Dyslexia Action, remembers mucking around. “I know a lot of kids who are dyslexic do become the class clown to distract from their weaknesses or to get attention they are not getting in other ways.”
And Harry Potter and Poirot actor Zoë Wanamaker CBE says she daydreamed. “In class I was always somewhere else, looking out of the window,” she says. “I think the teachers saw me as another creature.”
Their teachers didn’t know it then, but their behaviours were the result of being dyslexic and finding learning in class so difficult. All the way through as I was writing the book I often wondered who is sitting in classrooms today, distracting and fooling about, having arrived late for lessons – and masking a potentially great future with desperate behaviour.
I wrote the book, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing, as a writer and also as a mum trying to encourage my teenage daughter to follow her dreams and not to let a diagnosis of dyslexia make her believe she cannot do what she wants in life.
Without doubt I am not an expert in dyslexia nor an expert in teaching methods. What I have gathered, through the book’s 23 insightful participants together with a lovely foreword from singer-songwriter Mollie King, is a string of learnings which I hope will be of use to parents, teachers and those with dyslexia.
I pass on three here – for the rest you have to buy the book!
One is that the best response to a diagnosis of dyslexia is to be positive. The people in the book believe dyslexia gave them the determination, creativity and outlook to help them achieve in the way they have. Designer Sophie Conran says, “Being dyslexic makes you more resourceful; you have to think in different ways. Presented with a problem I don’t see the direct route from A to B, I have to circumnavigate and take a different route. It’s great to have different perspectives and can spark new ideas.”
Secondly – and I find this fascinating – almost everyone in the book says they had at least one adult on their side as they were growing up. This person helped them realise they were not ‘stupid’, just different, even if school was really tough for them. Thanks to this support, they were able to retain their self-belief. One of my messages in the book is that we can all be that supportive person for someone with dyslexia.
And finally, in today’s highly competitive, league-table filled education system, the lives of children, parents and teachers tend to be extremely results-focussed. This puts tremendous pressure on everyone. As Mollie makes clear in the foreword, academic success is lovely to have (indeed she achieved well herself) and is a huge asset in our world, but there are other ways to shine and succeed in life and it is vitally important that we do not forget this.
The feedback I have had so far is that people find the book positive and uplifting, showing how perceived weaknesses can in fact be tremendous strengths. These strengths may not always show up in school grades but they are strengths which do help in the world of work.
Let me know what you think too…
*Creative, Successful, Dyslexic. 23 High Achievers Share Their Stories, is available at Waterstones, community bookshops and via Dyslexia Action and the usual on-line outlets.