Thinking Differently About Dyslexia

Louise Wood reflects upon books that approach dyslexia in a positive way and discusses the new theory of neuro-diversity.

Anyone who has puzzled over the different take on a problem or issue by a partner, child or colleague will tell you that we all think differently. But now we understand a great deal more from neuroscience about why this might be the case. The term neuro-diversity has been coined to describe this characteristic.

Four recent books take up the idea and expand upon how those with dyslexia think differently, in particular more creatively. In a world that is changing in favour of adaptability, creativity and resilience, those with dyslexia may have the competitive edge.

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Successful: Richard Branson, Darcy Bussell and Benjamin Zephaniah

Successful: Richard Branson, Darcy Bussell and Benjamin Zephaniah

Margaret Rooke, an established writer and mother of a dyslexic daughter, decided that she wanted to identify the characteristics of those with dyslexia who go on to achieve happiness and success in their chosen field. She interviewed 23 people, including poet Benjamin Zephaniah, entrepreneurs Richard Branson and Theo Paphitis, architect Richard Rogers and performers Eddie Izzard, Marcus Brigstocke and Darcy Bussell. Their insights are individual and inspirational but can all be grouped under the title of her book, Creative, Successful, Dyslexic. 

Buoyed by the response to this book, Rooke went on to ask, what about ordinary young people? What strategies work for them? This resulted in a series of in-depth interviews with more than 100 children from 7 different countries for a book called Dyslexia is My Superpower (most of the time). The interviews show the importance of self-insight, building self-confidence and the many ways dyslexic children seek out what works for them. The fantastic illustrations by the children will be familiar to any parent of a dyslexic child and show that the written word is not the only way to make a powerful point. 

But what of the world of work?

If you have seen Tiffany Sunday’s TEDx talk  you will know what a persuasive public speaker she is and how passionately she feels that her own dyslexia has given her Dyslexia’s Competitive Edge, the title of her latest book. She argues that the future favours the entrepreneur and spells out exactly why dyslexics make excellent entrepreneurs. The words creativity and resilience come up again and also the importance of role models and mentors. Her thought-provoking rallying call is that computers will replicate neuro-typical thinking easily, but those who think less typically will be gold dust in the new technological economy. 

For the British economy, built on engineering, ingenuity and creativity, tapping the widest range of talent in future is a cause we can all get behind.

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Margaret Malpas MBE provides an overarching viewpoint, gained from a career in human resources and working with the British Dyslexia Association. In her book Self-Fulfillment with Dyslexia, A Blueprint for Success she has carefully researched the characteristics that enable adult dyslexics to achieve their full potential. These include finding the right niche, tapping your passion, drawing on coping strategies built up in early life and recognising atypical problem solving and creative skills. Significantly Malpas drills down to break the term creativity into its component parts - not just the moment of insight, but also the editing and follow through of ideas. 

Encouragingly for those of us who support dyslexic friends and relatives Malpas and the fellow authors show how we as employers and family can make a big difference to the success of those with dyslexia by fostering self belief and providing emotional support. Together with self-awareness, these provide the emotional tool kit for success. 

It’s important to note that no one is saying that being dyslexic makes life easy or that those with dyslexia have any inbuilt intellectual superiority or inferiority. But certainly the combined message of these four books, spotlighted at the recent British Dyslexia Association International Conference, is that those with dyslexia should draw more than a little comfort and a lot of excitement about the possibilities ahead.

The Dulwich Sourdough Course at Bell House

A group of “bakers in the making” gathered at Bell House on Saturday 26th May to learn to art of sourdough bread making from local baker Christopher Garner. We were a mixed bunch: ranging from experts who wanted to learn more, down to complete novices.

With only three ingredients, flour, water and salt, sourdough should be easy to make. Christopher explained the science behind sourdough: it is a method that uses wild yeast and lactobacilli that are naturally present in the flour grain. The acidity of the loaf is created by the lactic acid produced by the bacteria and the holes are from carbon dioxide made by the yeast.

We started by making our own sourdough starter: organic dark rye flour and water. This was set aside ready to take home and nurture lovingly like another child… we were even encouraged to give it a name! Mine is called Bubbles.

As ours wouldn’t be ready for at least a week, Christopher introduced us to his three and a half year old sourdough starter, Dominic. He had made a “Barm” which is a mixture of starter, flour and water the night before. The Barm was combined with white flour and water to make a soft dough. Salt was added last as it mustn’t come into direct contact with the yeast. We kneaded vigorously, although not for too long, learnt about the windowpane method, where a small amount of dough is stretched thinly, to check if the dough is ready, folded the dough and left it to prove.

About four hours later our beautiful loaves came out of the oven.

Kneading away!

Kneading away!

Fresh loaves 

Fresh loaves 

The sunny garden was perfect for a delicious lunch of homemade soup, bread and cheese before we headed back into the kitchen to make a cottage loaf using a conventional yeast dough. We went home with bags full of fresh bread which tasted all the better for having mixed our laughter and labour into them.

“We really enjoyed the workshop on Saturday. Thank you very much. Everything was spot on.”

“I hope your starter is alive and kicking?! My ´Tomba’ is doing well and is very bubbly!!”

“Looking forward to the next workshop with Christopher on brioche or croissants!”

Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy - A Talk at Bell House

“For those who know how to read I have painted my autobiography”

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Last week, Rosalind Whyte came to Bell House again to talk about the new Picasso exhibition at the Tate Modern, as part of the ongoing series of art lectures at Bell House. The lecture on Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy was completely sold out, and for good reason.

1932 was a marvellous year for Picasso; it is unsurprising the Tate Modern have curated a whole exhibition focused on it. Wondering whether to go see Picasso at the Tate? Already braved the crowds? Read on for four surprising facts about the art  in this exhibition…

 

1)    The autobiographical nature of the paintings in this exhibition are fascinating. Rosalind Whyte told us that Picasso said, “The work one does is a kind of way of keeping a diary”. Indeed, Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy includes works that span Picasso’s meteoric rise to fame in the art world, and carefully depicts his passionate love affair with Marie-Therese. It was an “intensely creative period” in Picasso’s career, and some of his works were completed astoundingly quickly.

 

2)    Tension between opposing forces is a common thread drawing this exhibition together. Some are more obvious, such as the opposition of Olga (Picasso’s wife) and Marie-Thérèse (Picasso’s mistress) in his work earlier in the year. Others are more subtle, and only apparent when explained by an expert such as Rosalind. For example, Picasso’s own struggles with his development as an artist bleed through– his dilemma over whether to pursue sculpture or painting (a tough choice also faced by Amedeo Modigliani)

 

3)    Picasso was influenced by an octopus. Yep, an octopus. Not long before 1932, Picasso’s friend Jean Painleve shot The Octopus. Whyte believes this may have had a profound effect on Picasso, as can be seen in his portrayals of Marie- Thérèse as an almost octopus-like form in Reclining Nude, 1932. Indeed, Painleve’s film is shown alongside these works in the exhibition.

 

4)    Playing with reflections and a seemingly double vision was common when painting Marie- Thérèse. Often painted as having a double face, Picasso was able to gently suggest the many dimensions of his lover. But what was the purpose of this? Was it to invoke ideas of the sun and moon? Chronicle how she aged? Or suggest that, with all these facets, Marie- Thérèse was everything Picasso was looking for in a woman?

 

1932 was charged with love, lust, loss and fame for Picasso. Rosalind Whyte took all of us at the Bell House talk on a fascinating journey; guiding us through these tumultuous months, and the wonderful art that came of it.

Our series of art lectures continue later in May, with a talk on the Royal Academy’s ‘Charles I: King and Collector’, given by Graham Greenfield. Buy tickets below.

SEN Jigsaw Conference - 21st April 2018

Following hot on the heels of the BDA conference, the SEN jigsaw conference, now in its third year, had an interesting line up of speakers.  The day started with psychologist Sally Goddard-Blythe explaining the “Draw a Man” test, which enables non-verbal assessment.  Children often leave out the bits that they don’t feel so good at, such as no hands if their motor skills are weak.

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Sally investigates how movement and physical activity have impact on learning.  Many young children starting school have immature neuromotor skills, and Sally explained that this can have a significant effect on their learning outcomes and behaviour.  She would like to see schools implement a daily exercise programme and physical developmental testing of children at school entry and key stages.

Later in the morning, Libby Hill spoke about the links between bad behaviour, language and communication.  She is a speech and language therapist, and works with many bright children who do not understand how to behave in social conditions.  The impact of speech, language or communication difficulties on children can have a huge negative impact on many aspects of their lives.  She demonstrated how behaviour is a not just language, but a method of communication.  We were introduced to the ABC of behaviour:

-     A for Antecedent, you need to know what was happening before

-     B for Behaviour

-     C for Consequences. 

Children who need the most help often ask for it in the least helpful way!

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In the afternoon we learnt about visual stress and dyscalculia.

Bob Hext, from Crossbow Education, explained how visual stress is often associated with special learning difficulties.  It can manifest in many ways: movement of letters, blurring and fading, rainbow blobs, letters changing size or space, glare, colour and skipping lines.  But luckily there is help to hand.  Simple measures can make a huge difference, such as using rounded fonts - they create a more fluid experience, and then using colour overlays can have a magical effect by relieving the symptoms of visual stress.

Judy Hornigold finished the day by decoding dyscalculia, which is a specific learning difficulty for mathematics. While many people and children struggle with maths, they are not necessarily dyscalculic.  If you have dyscalculia you cannot understand whether 9 is larger or smaller than 6, you cannot assess if there are four apples on the plate without counting them one by one (subitising), you cannot spot patterns, you may have left/right confusion, and an inability to understand the passage of time.

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There are strategies that can help; creating patterns with Cuisenaire rods can allow a child to explore and develop understanding. Diagrams can also be invaluable, as they encourage visualisation and a way to ‘model’ the maths.

 

Several of the speakers from the SEN Jigsaw conference will be coming to Bell House over the next few months, bringing their insights to Dulwich. We can’t wait to welcome many of them to our inaugural Dyslexia Fair on 22nd September – stay tuned for more info!

 

If you’d like to see what dyslexia support Bell House has been offering in the last few months, be sure to check out our YouTube channel, where we post the highlights of our most useful talks: 

 
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