During my time researching and reading about dyslexia, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few negative perceptions revolving around it.
One thing that bothers me on a fairly regular basis is how safe people feel in making fun of dyslexia and those with it. Admittedly, it’s been a long time since anyone’s actually done that to my face, but it has happened in the past.
If you look online, you’ll find quite a few jokes revolving around dyslexia, like “if life gives you melons, you might be dyslexic”. While I know these jokes are meant to be funny rather than insulting, they still minimize the problem that many people deal with on a day-to-day basis.
These jokes obviously stemmed from the reading and spelling difficulties that comes with dyslexia. While some errors can be pretty entertaining, they should not be used as a way to get a cheap laugh out of serious problem.
More troubling is how dyslexics are portrayed in fiction as being stupid.
The incident that comes to mind off the top of my head is in an episode of Fraser. This episode was about some radio show that they are putting together, and one of the women they hired was dyslexic. Before they even showed her, the person who is bringing her in disclosed that she was dyslexic, and the guy in charge groaned.
When she finally did make an appearance, she was the stereotypical floozy with low intelligence and an over-the-top appearance. I knew from the start that she would probably only have one line in the radio show and she would screw it up. Of course, that’s exactly what happened and the canned laughter roared away.
Representation is extremely important. When you only see someone with your label as either being comic relief or pathetic in some shape or form, it’s way too easy to start seeing yourself in the same way.
Yet, few people react with the same anger that a joke trivializing an individual’s race, gender, nationality or physical disability provokes. If someone does get upset about it, that person is often told to lighten up or stop being so sensitive. Why shouldn’t someone with dyslexia get upset when they’re bombarded by this type of demeaning attitude?
There still seems to be a pretty big portion of people who deny that dyslexia even exists or needs any attention at all. When faced with studies and fMRI images of the dyslexic brain reading in comparison to someone about dyslexia, they are very likely to put that aside as being “junk science”.
These are usually the same people who accuse struggling readers of being lazy or stupid. If they do actually believe that dyslexia is a real thing, they’ll often say that it’s over diagnosed, or an excuse for sloppy work.
I’ve also heard the argument that because dyslexics make up such a small part of the population, the school districts shouldn’t need to go the extra mile to accommodate their needs.
This is an especially foolish argument when you think about the fact that anywhere between 10 to 15% of the population is dyslexic, students with learning disabilities are at triple the risk of suicide than those without, and 63% of the prison population are poor readers. It’s worth noting that a good portion of those inmates probably have learning disabilities, but I still haven’t found any statistics on that.
The fundamental lack of open-mindedness and empathy combined with rampant misinformation seems to be at the heart of this. It doesn’t help that so many states refuse to acknowledge dyslexia in their legislation, and that many schools make it difficult to get the necessary accommodations. These factors only serve to reinforce this attitude of unimportance.
Dyslexia Must Be Cured
Now I know that dyslexia is not a disease, and most of you know dyslexia is not a disease, but there’s still a prevailing attitude that dyslexia must be “cured” or “overcome” like a disease. I’ve even seen it compared to things like cancer, and the urge to kill it as one would a bacterial infection before.
While I’ve had some pretty scary experiences as a result of my dyslexia, like ending up in a dangerous part of town because of an already confusing bus system, I’m pretty sure dyslexia won’t physically kill or maim you.
This one comes in from only viewing the difficulties that come with having a dyslexic brain. The rigid point of view that there’s only one way to learn is what turns dyslexia into a disability in the realm of education.
I think the whole opportunity to make money also plays a role in this. There are quite a few different teaching methods for dyslexia, and I’m sure most, if not all, of them have helped many students in the past. However, there’s no denying that profit is to be made in the field of alternative and complementary education.
Fortunately, it doesn’t seem as if medication is taken hold as a feasible “treatment” for dyslexia. However, I have seen some companies try to take this approach. The last one I saw was a motion sickness drug that was supposed to help with dyslexia.
Years ago, I was actually put on that drug for dizziness related to breathing difficulties by a medical professional who I probably shouldn’t have trusted in the first place. I can comfortably say that the drug had absolutely no effect on my dyslexia at all, though it did put me to sleep nicely.
Anyway, as well meaning as someone may be in wanting to make education easier on a dyslexic student, it must be kept in mind this type of neurology is not a disease. It’s simply a difference in the way this part of the population interprets information.
Of course, there are quite a few other problematic views of what dyslexia is and what it’s not, but I come cross these three most often. These attitudes all have a profound impact on people with dyslexia and those who care for them.
That’s why standing up for yourself and others, learning as much is possible, constructive thinking, and keeping up with research is so vital. We can learn from the other movements that the only way to be treated as equal human beings with very real needs is a combination of vigilance and education.
It’s only through hard work, compassion, and education that we can make positive changes in our world.