We all experience barriers to learning at some time – some as young children learning to read and others as adults trying to pass a driving test. However, while we might expect adults to be able to deal with the barriers they encounter, some young children may be meeting barriers to success for the first time, and be ill-equipped to resolve the issues they experience.
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.”
This year, Dyslexia Week gives us a chance to celebrate some amazing success stories. Debra Charles is one of the many entrepreneurs who have dyslexia. Her time at Newport Girls’ High School was not happy: ‘People used to say, ‘For goodness’ sake, you’re so thick sometimes’, and I believed it.’ Nevertheless, she had the skills and determination that led to a successful career working with Westinghouse in robotics and with Apple technology.
She is now CEO of her own smartcard technology firm Novacroft. The big breakthrough came in 2002 when she won a contract with Transport for London. Here her skills have made a tangible difference: ‘In the early days it would take a student 48 days to get a card to travel round London. We have reduced that to 24 hours.’
‘Back to school and now the meltdowns will start every evening,’ so says the mother of a 12 year old boy with dyslexia and dyspraxia. School can be a sad and lonely place for a child, especially for one who is in any way different. When this mother put her comment on the web, many parents suggested changing schools. That is certainly one option worth considering but change can be stressful and in any case most children have friends they would have to leave behind.
It is vital that children find their feet socially otherwise their academic work will suffer. Unfortunately children with dyspraxia and dyslexia often take longer to process ideas and may have poor co-ordination. In the competitive world of school they may feel the outsider, the last to be picked for sports, the one who slows down the team in quizzes. Sometimes children with dyslexia get put into a lower set and may ‘get in with the wrong crowd’ and then struggle to escape it. If you suspect that this is the case, talk to teachers and see if your child can be moved to other groups
‘Be my Mum, not my teacher,’ I once heard a child say and it struck a chord. As parents, we are programmed to fix things for our children, to smooth their path and help them to succeed, but sometimes we should stand back and pick our role wisely.