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There’s been a new wave of “what it’s like for a dyslexic to read” articles circulating recently. This obsession seems to make the rounds every once in a while, and they almost always miss the mark.
Frustration vs Accuracy
At least one article clearly states its point is to simulate the frustration a dyslexic person feels when they read. I’m alright with this type of exercise, just as I was with the F.A.T. City Workshop from the ’90s. The frustration is very real and it does have a powerful impact on us.
However, the others that state they demonstrate what dyslexics see or experience are wrong. Even when they’re created by dyslexics, which the moving letters one was not, they can never fully demonstrate all of the distortions we see as we read.
Different Dyslexics, Different Experiences
Visual effects alone change from person to person, and one person may experience multiple types. As an example, here are some of my most common effects.
When words, letters and numbers reverse, I don’t see them actually change. When I look at a word, like “pat” for example, I might see it as “qat” the first few times I look at it.
It doesn’t change. It’s just qat.
I’ll be able to tell something’s not right, because qat isn’t a word in the English language, but I may not be able to see why it’s wrong.
When I look again, for maybe the third or fourth time, I’ll see it as “pat” and I’ll know what happens. It’s as if someone went in and changed the letter while I wasn’t looking. It didn’t warp, flip or change while I was looking at it.
I tried to capture this in the below gif.
When I had my eye test last year, the letters drifted around on the white background. It was as if they were in water and getting blown around on the surface by a gentle breeze. As I write this now, the lines of text are slowly drifting back and forth horizontally on the screen, so it’s not just on an individual letter basis.
I couldn’t get the gif to move any more smoothly, but this is similar to what words sometimes look like.
This one happens more with math for me. Sometimes, letters or numbers just don’t register in my brain, so I don’t see them. They’re effectively gone until I double or triple check.
Now, imagine one or all of these things happening throughout the course of reading a larger block of text. You don’t know when they’ll happen, and they happen so often that you may not notice them until you’re too tired to keep trying.
A few other weird effects happen when I read, but those are by far the most common. Bear in mind, those are only what I experience. Other dyslexics experience different effects than I do. Unless you’re willing to create an encyclopedia, there’s no way anyone could capture them all in a visual format.
Dyslexia is more than text-
The biggest problem with all of those articles is that they completely ignore all of the other ways dyslexia influences our lives. Social aspects aside, there are definite ways dyslexia influences how we live our lives.
When vacuuming, for example, I may miss an entire section of floor, because I didn’t see it while I was taking care of the rest of the room. There have been times when I thought I was done, put the machine away and had someone else point out the section I’d missed.
Another example is from last week at my job. I was labeling shelves for an updated display, and didn’t notice I’d missed an entire shelf until I had left over tags in my hand. I’m sure that happens to non-dyslexics, too, but it does tend to happen to us more often.
Remember the Good
Dyslexia comes with gifts, too.
When I solve complicated problems, the solutions often just pop up on their own. I learned how to pick up on patterns at such an early age, that sometimes I don’t realize I’m doing it. Finding solutions based on those patterns can happen without much conscious effort.
Seeing issues from multiple points of view and finding compromise is also another gift, as is creative thought. The same goes for taking an idea and creating unique story lines from it, or using various materials to bring it into reality.
While it’s tempting to reduce dyslexia to its effects on literacy, it’s important to remember there’s much more to it.
The next time you find one of those “what it’s like to be dyslexic”, read it with a grain of salt. Remember, as with all things neurological, there’s no universal dyslexic experience.