Blog post -

Watching standard definition in a world of fully immersive HD

I was recently asked to write a blog - this one - on how I have coped with dyslexia and how I’ve managed to stop it from holding me back in my life.

Considering how ironic, and possibly, inconsiderate it is to ask someone with dyslexia to write a blog, my first thought was, what sort of evil payback was merited. I concluded that agreeing to write it with a caveat that it couldn’t be edited was the level of annoyance I should be aiming for. I like to use dyslexia and being slightly on the spectrum as an excuse for arguing with everyone (and most of the time myself), although I am not sure if that is one of the most widely understood or in-fact common traits of the condition.

To start with I should point out, there are plenty or areas in my life I am definitely not a success in, and actually, in many, most would call me an utter failure. Even when I go with the tried and tested techniques (adding shading/alternate colours , heavily weighted fonts, text to speech), my guitar playing does not improve, factoring large semiprimes in my head still evades me, and my cocktail making continues to worsen, if anything the fonts get fuzzier the more I try, regardless of how fat they were at the bottom.

Slightly resigned to this situation, I decided my “coping strategies” don’t even work for me, so likely not worth sharing, and actually the premiss of this blog was completely wrong. The more I thought about it, the more I decided to change that, and instead write about the struggles and coping strategies of those without dyslexia. A far more reasoned question and it will hopefully allow fellow dyslexics to empathise and sympathise with the struggles the “lesser-labelled” (LL) go through, rather than the normal bewilderment we experience at their efforts.

I mean, it must be hard for them! I can only imagine the levels of frustration that people get without dyslexia (and to some extent without being a little bit on the spectrum) with even the most basic tasks in life taking so long for them! Sure, there are thing I find hard, I mean I’m a slow reader, but there is a whole industry making it easy for me to listen to books, narrate documents, read my screen. My working memory sucks, but that just means I get far more exercise wandering back ‘n forth into the room I started in, to locate that memory, and failing that I can always dictate a list. But for the LLs, it seems they are just left to cope alone and there isn’t any even approaching a strategy for them. Even simple things such as matching socks without dedicating entire evenings to the endeavour, is something that seems bordering on impossible for them. I similarly defy any functioning dyslexic to sit next to a LL doing a puzzle and not have to just get up and walk away because the overwhelming temptation of putting the pieces in for them.

I know there are reasons for that, research shows that the right hemisphere of a dyslexic brain compensates for some functions typical associated with the left hemisphere of a LLs, meaning we are just more sensitive to patterns, visualisations and imagery, and in some cases sounds and also can more readily rely our intuition. I’m not sure I can rightly say we enjoy music more than LL’s, but you know, that could be the case! MIT also found that dyslexics peripheral vision is markedly better than a normal LL reader, meaning we just see more and get the bigger picture faster. I’d like to say I had better spatial awareness, but given I have been in a car crash recently, I’m not sure that really stacks up, but actually most of the research proves otherwise, so who am I to disagree.

Also, just imagine not thinking in pictures! For sure there are some disadvantages, I trip over myself all the time describing those pictures because there is so much detail in them, and I want to convey it ALL at the same time, or it is just hard to write them down because the task seems too big to know where to start. I also totally annoy people with my rambling stream of thought, and continuously cut over people because I need to catch up and communicate those pictures before they evolve into something else, or my working memory jumps to some other tasking. But for LLs, it must be like watching standard definition in a world that supports fully immersive HD.

I am a very poor example of a great mind and LLs looking at me could be forgiven in thinking they are not missing much, but may have some serious self-doubts when held up against a list of other known dyslexics. Albert Einstein, George Washington, Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Thomas Edison, Hery Ford, Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, John Lennon, William Butler Yeats, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I mean most of these people did something reasonably impressive, not because they were coping with how their brain works, but because of how their brains worked, some of them even wrote legible stuff down.

There are lots of things that I find hard in life, dyslexia means I struggle, and have to work a little bit harder than LLs in a few specific areas, but that is no different to everyone else in the world including the LLs. Whether you are short, tall, naturally favour the right side or left side of your brain, are colour blind or have webbed toes, your morphology and physiology means you are terrible at some stuff and really gifted at other stuff. Unfortunately, we all tend to have to do some of the stuff we are terrible at from time to time. My process for this is; try and get others more capable to do it (but failing that), procrastinate a bit, then a bit more, start, stop, start again, stop again, procrastinate again, and then finish it or sometimes give up.

When I think about how much my life is really negatively impacted by dyslexia it does not even register as a blip in the grand scheme of things. But, removing the labels and understanding the positives on my life, because of the specific neural pathways it has enabled and how it allows me to think, the impact has been immense.

We all are very different, we all struggle with very different things to hugely varying degrees, we all think in very different ways because of how our brains work, our experiences in life and our outlook. In every way that level of individualism sets each of us apart and gives us so much to offer others. I always find that enjoyment and satisfaction come from challenging myself both in things I find hard and the things I find easier, I push myself to read because for some books the pain is worth it a thousand times over. I hate playing sport against anyone significantly worse than me, winning with ease is just not fun. Sure, we all need to focus on areas that we can improve, and every step in that direction opens more experiences that we can grow from, but we should not lose sight of the fact that our failings don’t define us, it is what we how we overcome them and what we do with our gifts that do.

Dyslexia has been the reason for many of my successes, I doubt I could have coped without it.

Sherief Hammad.