Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Crabbit and dyslexia

There is an aspect of my past work that many of you don't know about, because I had to let it slide when my writing took over. I used to be an expert in specific learning difficulties, specifically dyslexia. Very recently, I have decided to become involved again, and I'd like to tell you why.

In 1982, I became an English teacher. The tiny school where I taught in London had a high proportion of children with reading difficulties, and I became fascinated. When I left full-time teaching to have a family, I took a postgraduate RSA Diploma in Teaching Children and Adults with Specific Learning Difficulties (which, by the way, is how I first became interested in the brain - hence my books, Blame My Brain and Know Your Brain.)

One of the things I discovered was how some of my own relatively minor but irritating learning niggles could very easily have become full-blown dyslexia. On tests, I come out as moderately dyslexic, though in practice I clearly am not. (Though you should see me trying to lay the table, learn automated sequences, play music, recite times-tables, learn things by heart, remember series and do anything in a mirror... You should also see the typos and reversals that litter my blog posts before (and sometimes after)  they go out, though this is more dyspraxia than dyslexia, as it's my fingers that get confused, not my eyes.) I know my weaknesses.

Anyway, I spent the next ten years working in and becoming expert in literacy acquisition. In about 1996, I set up Magic Readers, which took groups of pre-school children and fostered a love of books and all the various sub-skills that underpin literacy, with the aim that when they arrived at school they would be raring to read. (In fact, many of them could read by then, though that was not the specific aim. The main aims were fun and fearlessness.)

When I had to stop Magic Readers because my own writing was taking over, I turned it into The Child Literacy Centre, a website which I ran and funded single-handedly until I also ran out of time for that, and closed it a few years ago. The CLC was a resource for parents worried about their child's reading or writing at school, and I helped hundreds of parents who contacted me with all sorts of worries.

My first published books - the I Can Learn home learning books - were implicitly and sometimes explicitly based on the multi-sensory principles used in teaching children with reading difficulties, principles which are the best for teaching ALL children to read. I was actually using synthetic phonics long before Synthetic Phonics became the rage.

As I say, I had to stop all this literacy work a few years ago, because my own writing was taking over and going in different directions. I discovered that there are only so many hours in the day!

So, why am I back again? Because Dyslexia Scotland has asked me to be one of its first Ambassadors. I recently attended a small (in numbers of guests, not quantity of food) dinner, hosted by Sir Jackie Stewart, perhaps Scotland's most high-profile dyslexic. I sat next to him and we all listened to his empassioned description of what it's like to be severely dyslexic, undiagnosed and unhelped. In fact the other Ambassadors are themselves dyslexic, and know very well what it's like.

I have a confession: I went to that dinner fully intending to say that I really really didn't have time to help. But I rapidly felt that I must and that I wanted to.

The fact that Sir Jackie admired my tartan boots possibly had an effect!

Tomorrow, I will be telling you a very tiny thing you can do to help dyslexics. It is genuinely tiny, will take and few seconds and costs NO money! Please look out on my other blog and on Twitter. We really really need your help and it's going to be a load of fun!


  1. I suspect you're just a girl who can't say no, when it comes to anything to do with kids and reading...
    Well done for getting involved.

  2. Very much one of my major areas of interest too!

  3. I am dyslexic and dyspraxic (amongst other things) and it is so heartening to read posts like this from successful authors. More please.

  4. I was labelled a clumsy galloot when I was a child. I'm not, I'm dyspraxic. I was also a teacher and was driven mad by the labelling of dyslexics as "lazy". So good on you ... and yes, I can't say no either when the cause is just.


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