Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A worthwhile honour

Dyslexia is not short of high-profile poster boys (or girls - though the latter are thinner on the ground, the condition being far more common in men) but it was good to see one of them, actor Henry Winkler, honoured for his work.

Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz in the classic US sitcom Happy Days, has been appointed an honorary OBE for his educational work on dyslexia in the UK.

Dyslexia has long been a controversial issue; you don't have to go far, even now, to meet highly-educated people who deny its existence, claiming that it is a convenient label for the well-off to excuse their offspring's lack of intelligence. While most people now do accept it exists, it manifests itself in a variety of ways and degrees of severity.

What is true is that many high-achieving dyslexics come from relatively comfortable backgrounds, having attended the sort of school - independent or high-end state - where their difficulties were more likely to have been identified and tackled. Even simple measures by sympathetic classroom teachers - colour-coding notes, extra hand-outs - can help a great deal.

Where dyslexia is causing serious damage is in schools where there is little support from parents and discipline is a major problem. Rather than admit he is struggling, a dyslexic pupil may well turn to disruption or refuse to work at all. A hard-pressed teacher, already dealing with a large class, has little leisure to diagnose his difficulties, let alone deal with them.

There is much talent going to waste as a result; studies suggest that dyslexics often have excellent creativity and spatial awareness - they frequently excel at Art at school - but many will never find employment because their lack of success with written work effectively bars them from many qualifications unless properly taught.

Campaigners like Winkler and the actress Kara Tointon, both of whom struggled with being labelled as stupid before their dyslexia was diagnosed, were lucky enough to succeed; it is a sad fact that far too many dyslexics fail in life and, by passing their negative attitude to school on to their children, contribute to their failure too.

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