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Dyslexia, the erosion of my language

Updated on December 28, 2016

Labeled dyslexic at school as the teachers were too polite to call me thick

Can you forget words? Can they slip away like the fog of dreams that evaporate as you open your eyes in the morning. How would you feel if you were forgetting not only what a 'g' looks like but the word 'good' or 'google'?

Is dyslexia a changing entity? Something that can grow and evolve as someone ages or is it a block where the brain doesn't always get the information it sees right? Or is it something else entirely? For me its given me the gift of the gab, a cunning line in evading actually reading and being very practical by observing the world and learning how to manipulate it without reading the instructions first.

I was first given the label dyslexic at secondary school after the teachers were too polite to call me thick. I couldn't remember spellings often getting 2 out of 100 and the real dyslexic kid, called Paul who sat next to me, could easily recognise my mistakes and correct them. After tests with some pretty weird people and a child psychologist (the English teacher and drama teacher once discussed a child in their class and described two different personalities going by the same name, their first though was multiple personalities and I could have very easily been labelled mad - although they could have been right in the first place.) the psychologist was called as in one class, Drama, the child was an extrovert, loud, confident and able to imagine worlds and act them out. The other class, English, there was a boy who sat quiet and hardly talked; never read out loud when asked and misbehaved when work was required, oh and he rarely studied his spellings even though he professed until the setting sun that he had spent hours trying, as he rarely got any right.

From there I was told I had word blindness, I would spell phonetically (it took 12 attempts to spell that last word before spell check could suggest a word, any word, that might work.) It also meant that I spelled how I wanted and the dictionary could go hang. I would forget what letters looked like and spend hours pouring over a keyboard looking at all 26 letters and not find a 'g' or a 'y' of a 'j' or any letter I hadn't used in a while. This was, as you can imagine, embarrassing for a young awkward school boy who had a g in his name and could not, for all the Marathon bars or collectors cards with chewing gum in the world, correctly spell it without almost coming to tears. (Those of you who do not know Marathon bars - think Snickers only bigger with more nuts.)

Letters would be put upside down or back to front so b's could be d's or even p's and sometimes q's. S's could look more like z's and 3's were E's. This made the written communication rather difficult.

This was one reason why I started to have really ill feelings towards English teachers.

Fast forward mumble mumble years and was working for Hampshire Fire and Rescue's Schools Education Team who worked in schools teaching fire safety. ( I qualified as a nursery nurse years before who specialised in special needs. I had to do very little writing but was very practical with the daily activities. Oh and I became a retained firefighter too, so when HFRS were looking for fire fighters would were qualified to work with children I took the job.)

I was partnered with a retired fire service officer who worked in London whose claim to fame was his Watch were first into the underground fire and he had the day off. Due to his age he could not see too well at a distance so in a world before satnav we navigated the teaching fire appliance from HQ to the school through a means of looking for a long road name beginning with C or a short one with an S. It was a very successful method of navigation although not always and we ended up in some very interesting places.

So why write this short blog now? Well over the years I've developed some interesting coping mechanisms but recently they are beginning to fail and I hope the wider internet community may shine an illumination over my current predicament and leap to my aid.

When I was young I used to pick up a printed book, a paperback or an A4 school work sheet etc and the black ink would turn either deep green or maroon red where my eyes fell upon them, after that they would blur and the lines would merge. They would stay static but also dance before me. An over lay would help take the colour away. This stopped a few years ago and I did not know why at the time but I was very grateful. in the early 2000's I could look at a new book and read the black ink.....for a time before the words blurred again but I could read! Recently I did some research for my first book and found they changed the make up of the pigments in printer inks from all the colours to make black to a "tru-black" ink without the other colours. Now I need more white space between the lines but the overlay is redundant (except for older books).

Spell check has been a big boost, I would never have completed a novel without it but an old fashioned thesaurus was invaluable too, I could not spell the word I wanted and looking it up in a dictionary was pointless but I might know a word that means the same thing and by looking that up I could find the word I needed.

I started a simple blog, now called or (both seem to work) where I started to teach myself to spell by repeating the word ten times in sentences where they fit. This led to more common words I would get wrong and then I would fit these into more sentences.

My biggest aid was to start to write with ink, the act of slowing down my writing to allow the ink to settle and dry before it was smudged gave my addled brain to locate what I need and get it on the paper. I still use an ink pen today and in an age of tablet computers, computers and smart phones I still use daily a very unsmart pen; which draws rather a lot of amusement amongst my colleagues.

The sentences became paragraphs and the paragraphs chapters. To create an interest the writing became a story, a made up diary and this diary evolved characters who also evolved and became the Diary Of An Occult Resolution Assistant. It wasn't the title I originally wanted but it was the closest I could spell and it was very embarrassing to not be able to write the title of my own book!

Recently I am forgetting words, I sit looking at the computer screen remembering the young school boy who could not remember what a letter looked like and feeling just as small and stupid and thick and.......well useless, as I struggle deep inside to focus on my goal, the simple task to write.

To clarify I do not forget things, I can see them and use them I just cannot locate the letters required. It is not that I see a small furry four legged thing and struggle to find a title that fits it. I see a cat, I know it is a cat, I just cannot write cat. It is like the letter blindness but now with full words. Is this the reason why I was 20 years ago told I had word blindness? Did I have just a mild touch of the affliction which has now rained down more heavily upon me? I know its the reason why I now employ a more theatrical turn of phrase as I cannot use the words I have I'm my head to say what I want. Do others have this also? Do others out there have this problem and have ways of coping? I do hope so as I feel very isolated right now.

So, if you have invested so much of your time to reach this point in my plea, maybe you will invest a little more to offer any advice to help with coping mechanisms for the future or words that will soothe. Or hopefully a little understanding and greater knowledge in this subject than I with which to explain or educate. Or if you have similar experiences and feel just as alone, then comment and be welcomed. Or ignore and go with peace and a good future, but do not mock this or any work until you have created something singular to you and put it forth for scrutiny for all to see.

Chris Norgate, December 2016.

White space or tinted screens

Why white space?

It doesn't matter for a lot of people who think it looks nice to present work or reports but others try to fill a page with as much ink as they can, use a small font size and put boxes around everything.

This is a problem seen pretty much everywhere from schools, exam papers, company reports etc.

Coping strategies for lack of white space I've found useful include.

  • Printing my own version of notes/forms/reports on Word or GoogleDocs by editing the line spacing.
  • Using a "letter box" a slot cut into a page and placed over the complicated text. This removes the majority of the ink from the page and has the effect of creating white space. It also had the added advantage of keeping my place in meetings.
  • Using the edge of a clean sheet. Like the letter box approach above but only removes the bottom or top ink from the reading page.
  • Enlarge the page via photo copy. Turn an A4 page into A4. Words and space around them are made bigger and easier to read. I've recently sat an exam at work and due to struggling with the paper asked to photocopy it bigger. As it was multiple choice I made big X's and at the end photocopied it again and reduced from A3 to A4 so it could be marked. This really helped with the understanding even if it didn't help with my knowledge of the subject.

Visually more ingormation of wierd and wondetful boxes, images ir set outs may appear nice or puts data in order but to a dyslexic this could spell trouble (don't worry that's my only dyslexic joke).

White space gives eyes a chanse to focus on the ink and read the words, giving my brain extra time to process the information. Extra space between lines (for me at least) makes the process a lot easier and stops the dramatic dance that the ink goes on around my vision.

More white equals less head aches!

By using boxes on the page reduces the space and makes using the check boxes or lists hard to read; so what was designed as a time saving tool turns into a time wasting exersice as I ignore the printed page.

Not a big issue? In real terms not really, unless you're expecting information to be correctly entered onto the forms especiallyin a time sensitive period. I work for the emergency services who have dyslexia input from experts, which help with the creation of forms and screens but they have recently created a IEC (immediate emergency care or first aid to you and me) form for the collection of stats from casualties. The form has more colour on it than a Christmas tree and typed so small to get everything on one page and then boxed off to separate the different parts of our role. Unfortunately all I see are pretty coloured squares which I ignore to use my time caring for the casualty and revert back to recording stats on the back of my glove.

O.k I know the importance of chain of events and having an accurate record to pass over to responding ambulance crews and further up the line but when they make it so hard I struggle to fulfill this part of my role.

Don't confuse this blog as a moan about the system or my role. I greatly enjoy casualty care, having done it and instructed in it for over 20 years in one form or another and get a lot of satisfaction from carrying it out, but this recent frustration is now ause that I believe I just can't do at the scene of anything greater than a minor call.

Are there any people out there with simular issues at work that have come up with coping strategies that may help? Please let me know.


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