Saturday, 18 January 2020

Change ignorance for inclusiveness

LATE last month, a Member of Parliament spoke openly about the online abuse he had received on account of a condition that was with him from birth.

Unusually, in this case, it was dyslexia.

The MP was Peter Kyle, who has a PhD from Sussex University and has worked as a Cabinet Office special adviser yet was branded “thick” for making spelling mistakes and told that “someone with a brain” should take over.

So much for living in a more enlightened age.

When I was a teacher in the Eighties and Nineties, little was really known about dyslexia: it was seen as a matter for the special educational needs co-ordinator and the educational psychologist — but only if its effects were considered severe.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of research into the structure and function of the brain.

As signals pass between neurons, those that are grouped more closely give quick access to what we already know while wider spacing creates alternative connections and gives rise to new ideas as well as being associated with dyslexia.

Albert Einstein had an IQ of 160 and was dyslexic.

He was told off at school for day-dreaming yet he later had a highly responsible job in a Swiss patent office for seven years.

During that time, he began to reinvent physics, opening the way for GPS and sat-nav, mobile phones and lasers and long-term weather forecasting.

Some people with dyslexia are exceptionally able at storytelling, some at verbal reasoning and spelling, others at maths and engineering. Many dyslexic people routinely draw in three dimensions and visualise in 4D, or even 5D.

Perhaps because of this, some have taken to saying that people with dyslexia are “wired differently” but no two brains on earth have quite the same configuration as everyone is wired differently.

Officially designated as a disability, dyslexia is very badly named as many people who have it read perfectly well.

It would be more accurate to say that the 10 per cent of us who have the dyslexic difference are truly “differently able”. For example, 40 per cent of self-made millionaires, and 50 per cent of NASA employees have it.

Dyslexia certainly can be a disadvantage. Our formal education system leaves many dyslexic children feeling frustrated and thinking they are failures, as can adults who have to deal with wordy documents or cumbersome bureaucracy.

But some dyslexic people excel in simplifying the over-complicated and most prefer to work with others who have complementary skills.

Schools and organisations are only just beginning to understand that with a few, simple adjustments, which would often make life easier for everyone, they can both learn and benefit from their more visionary and creative pupils and employees.

The Church that follows a storytelling carpenter, who spoke in pictures and overturned harsh rules, should surely be in the vanguard of inclusiveness and imagination.

I pray that we can all rise above the ignorance and prejudice shown to Peter Kyle and learn to recognise our need of everybody’s gifts, as we work toward the colourful, fruitful and hospitable world that God has in mind.

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