5 Bizarre Ways Dyslexia Is Nothing Like You Picture It
Dyslexia doesn't sound too bad, right? You simply read some letters backwards now and then. Aside from that time you tried to order your Lord Of The Rings-loving niece a 12-inch Bilbo figurine online, what's the worst that could happen? But after talking to real dyslexics Wayne Bellamy and Thomas Ferry, we discovered that the disorder is in fact more serious than we ever thought. For example ...
Real Dyslexia Looks Nothing Like You Think
According to pop culture, if you want to know what it's like living with dyslexia, check out Charlie Day's character on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. While real dyslexics do struggle like that, the condition is a lot more complicated. There are actually 37 symptoms of dyslexia, ranging from acting disorderly to having problems concentrating or possessing poor motor skills.
As Wayne explains it: "You know that Siri question where you ask why firetrucks are red, and [she] says, 'Because firetrucks have eight wheels and four people on them, and four plus eight is twelve, and there are twelve inches in a foot, and one foot is a ruler, etc'? That's pretty much how my mind goes. I'll appear to zone out in a conversation and then talk about something that appears off-topic [because] my brain has gone off on four tangents and arrived at Kevin Bacon."
"Shit, his middle name is Norwood?"
"Sir, if you're not going to order, please exit the drive thru."
Wayne also struggles with short-term memory, which makes it hard for him to remember sequences, although his long-term memory is off the charts. "I can't even remember my own phone number, let alone anyone else's. Yet I can remember the name of the character Dan Aykroyd played in his cameo in Temple Of Doom."
Hell, we call that having your priorities straight.
Guy doesn't even have a bio.
Much more tragically, Thomas' dyslexia makes it difficult for him to play video games, due to his compromised muscle control. "I need things like mouse smoothing and low sensitivity. I don't have fine enough muscle control to deal with really twitchy things. I've also noticed that I cannot stand playing on consoles anymore. The analog thumb sticks require too much of a precise movement for me to cope with."
Well, if it's any consolation, being confined to PC also means you get those bitchin' Steam sales and mods that turn everybody into Rowdy Roddy Piper ...
We'd sell all our game systems if every PC game came standard with Randy Savage skins.
Millions Of Dyslexics Never Get Diagnosed
Nowadays, professionals with extensive training can identify the warning signs of dyslexia in kids as young as five, but you shouldn't need an advanced degree to notice when an otherwise ordinary child goes all Charlie Day on the alphabet. That stuff is absolutely vital in today's world, so really, how far could a dyslexic go through the educational system before someone noticed that something was wrong?
In Thomas' case: all the way to college. "I went to an inner-city school system," he explained.
"Sorry, but 'caring about your needs' got eliminated during the last budget cut."
However, Thomas' life changed after he finally met a teacher who actually gave a crap about students. "In college, there was this assistant to one professor, who was tutoring me. Her minor was psych. She was able to pick up on the subtle things that dyslexics tend to do. She noticed my grip in writing was quite unusual. She also was kinda concerned that I would read only about five to ten minutes and take a break."
One day, the teacher asked Thomas if he was ever diagnosed with dyslexia. "I said no. So she told me the things she was noticing, and it kinda just clicked in my brain [that] this was it. She told me to go [to] the school's mental health services to get tested. I did, and it came back as dyslexia and dysgraphia [problems with writing coherently]. Afterwards, she really worked with me throughout most of my college career tutoring me."
But that requires you to get lucky enough to catch a teacher in Dangerous Minds mode. And not everybody will get that.
People Will Assume That You Are Stupid Or Lazy
Because of their problems with concentration and reading, people tend to treat Thomas and Wayne like total idiots. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Wayne is the proud owner of a degree in forensic entomology (examining bugs to catch criminals, which is also the description of the weirdest show we've ever desperately wanted to watch). And yet when parents talked about him, it wasn't to praise his efforts, but to use him as an insult against their own children ...
"I have had people chastise their kids in front of me. Saying things like, 'Even the dyslexic kid's brighter than you!'"
"If he gets a better English grade, the next bus I put you on is a Greyhound. One-way."
Alright, cue the '90s hip hop soundtrack and let's get Michelle Pfeifer in here in a wildly unconvincing hip leather jacket -- it's time to dangerous up Wayne's mind. Oh, he had no such luck?
"When I was about 13/14, my French teacher got frustrated at me for some reason, and I mentioned it was due to my dyslexia, and her response was to chew me out in front of the whole class and say that she didn't believe in dyslexia and that I was just lazy."
"If it's real, why don't you have a reading-eye dog? Yeah, exactly."
Hey, remember that one inspiring teacher who had Thomas' back? That was the exception, not the rule: "I had a professor after I was diagnosed who would assume I was lazy and give me low marks on my work. It would get a passing grade from other professors in the department. Eventually I had to take it up with the dean of the department, and three other professors had my back and proved beyond a reasonable doubt that I was doing the work correctly."
Afterward, the dean fixed Thomas' grade, and the professor was investigated for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which basically boils down to "Don't be such a huge, tremendous, throbbing dickhead, dude. Jesus."
"Maybe we should add it to the logo?"
Schools Have No Idea What To Do With Dyslexic Students
At Wayne's school, there was a separate room where kids with learning difficulties would occasionally go to study in a quieter, more relaxed environment. The problem was that whenever Wayne and the other students had to use it, they were paraded through their entire class to the front of the room while their classmates watched and reminded themselves to never, ever let anyone see them hanging out with the "special" kids.
"At one point," Wayne told us, "one of my friends didn't want to be seen with me because I was branded 'a spaz.'" The school later decided to hold an assembly to make sure the dyslexic students were treated with respect. Their intended message was "Everyone is special," but according to Wayne, "The take-home message got twisted by some who were there to 'Everyone is a little bit dyslexic' somehow, which led to people saying, 'How can you be struggling? I'm a bit dyslexic [too], according to that assembly.'"
"Who else here thinks math is hard? See, you're not alone.
Now do your work like the other normals."
But as much as it sucks to have strangers and friends assume that you're some distant relative to Patrick Star, it's hard not to perpetuate that belief yourself. Thomas, for example, often found himself using his dyslexia to procrastinate on his schoolwork. "When I first got diagnosed, I did use it as a crutch for extra time on assignments and exams. I always felt like a dick doing it."
Wayne took it even further. His school provided him with a laptop and a Dictaphone to help with his assignments, although they were rarely used for that purpose. "I found that 'I'm dyslexic' could get me out of forgotten homework. I realized I could kick back in lessons I didn't like and play a few games, and if I was called out? 'Sorry, I'm struggling with getting close to the spelling! The Dictaphone took full-size cassettes, so it was used [as] a Walkman a fair amount of the time. If I got caught, I said, 'I'm listening back to the last lesson' and made sure I had a book on my lap."
"If I was a rich girl, nah nah nah nah nah nah naaaaah ..." -- studying Marie Antoinette.
In the end, though, Wayne changed his ways after one of his classmates chewed him out "because her mum was dyslexic, but old enough to be from an age where dyslexia was ignored. She told me I was squandering the help I was being given, and I realized that, yes, it might make school easier and let me coast through, but one day I would have to stand on my own two feet."
True, that's a lesson every teenager has to learn at some point -- but most of them don't have to then overcome a learning disability afterward.
The Weirdest Things Can Trip You Up
"I cannot read text on a 4K monitor, even with the DPI scaled up," Thomas admitted. "I was working on my friend's gaming rig a few weeks ago, [and] I got so frustrated ['cause I] couldn't for the life of me read the text [on it] ... I eventually had to take his other 1080p monitor and use that to finish what I was doing for him ... I think even 8K is coming out soon, [so] I am gonna have one hell of a time working around that."
By far the weirdest way in which dyslexia affects Thomas is that he can't read the Coca-Cola font. Wayne has to wear a watch to help him tell the difference between right and left because dyslexia is so much more than mixing up letters. "During my driving test, I wore short sleeves so I had my watch exposed on my left wrist to help with directions."
"OK, here comes a roundabout.
"Clockhand or counter-clockhand?"
Speaking of simple tricks used by dyslexics: "The word 'bed' looks like a bed, and you can form a b and a d with your hands, b on the left hand and d on the right hand," Wayne told us. "Getting b and d confused is still really common, so if I get stuck, I'll say 'bed' slowly while making a b and d with my hands."
So here you have Wayne and Thomas: two smart, college-educated guys (one of them with a PhD) who are unable to work with the latest technologies, and who have to resort to shadow puppets in order to spell a three-letter word. That's the kind of subtle, artisanal approach to fucking up a person's life that only dyslexia can offer.
Wayne would like anyone who's curious to check out the British Dyslexia Association. Thomas Facebooks and supports the Free Software Foundation and their efforts to provide technological support to those in need. Carolyn wants to hear your story at Tips@Cracked.com
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