Affirmative view of dyslexia

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The Independent Culture
"It was such a relief to find our son was dyslexic," said Oliver Passmore's mother, "rather than this educationally subnormal child." Such is the delivery dyslexia offers - not "lazy" or "stupid" or "naughty" but badly-wired, a blameless neurological accident, deserving of sympathy, not condemnation. The casual old slur - that dyslexia is merely a middle- class euphemism - would seem to be untrue, but QED's (BBC1) report on the disability revealed that it touches on another truth. It may well be that only the middle-class can afford to pursue that consoling diagnosis, let alone the specialist schooling that allows dyslexic children to return to mainstream education. How many poor children, you wonder, are consigned to the bin because no one has the time or money to call them the proper name?

Once identified, though, the case isn't hopeless - quite the contrary if this cheer-leading film is to be believed. At the Old Rectory School in Suffolk, pupils man an amateur fire-brigade, learning skills of teamwork and sequential operations - both difficult for dyslexic children. When not quenching burning caravans they concentrate almost entirely on literacy and numeracy. The results appear to be good, though you soon got the feeling that the film wasn't exactly eager to deliver bad news - it took a doggedly affirmative view of dyslexia, even ending up with that peculiar modern piety, the privilege of disability.

Dyslexics, it seems, are not only not stupid, they're positively blessed. A benign fellow from America advanced the theory that the spatial skills of dyslexics will equip them perfectly for cyberspace, a new world based on visual perception rather than literacy. I'm not sure I believe that, any more than I believe that it's possible to confidently assert that Leonardo da Vinci was a dyslexic, but if it cheers people up in difficult times it seems harmless enough.

There was a similar air of special pleading about "Better Dead Than Gay", a Witness (C4) film about the death of Simon Harvey, a young Christian unable to come to terms with his homosexuality. Christopher O'Hare's film used Simon's agonised diaries, his suicide letters and the memories of friends and family to mount an arraignment of the church's attitudes to gay believers. The resulting film was partly theological debate (does sin lie in thought or deed alone), partly a well-crafted addition to the martyrology - with testimony to Simon's integrity and faith alongside an account of the forces that finally did for him. "Why?" asked the programme, deciding to locate the answer in social attitudes rather than the unfathomable psychology of an individual.

But the film did provide a fascinating portrait of Simon's father - who had responded to his son's death by setting up U-Turn Anglia, an organisation dedicated to the "cure" of homosexuals. "There's no freedom in homosexuality," he said resolutely. "It's like being in chains, it's like having your soul in a steel clamp." This level of denial is a startling thing to see, and suggests that Simon's hopelessness had its roots at home, not in church. Unlike the parents of dyslexic children, Simon's father appeared to have decided that his son was sinful, not simply different. His pious complacency (he was confident that both God and Simon had forgiven him for paternal shortcomings) made you long for a fierce Christian contradiction. I found it, by pure coincidence, a few hours later in a letter by William Blake. "No discipline," he wrote, "will turn one Man into another, even in the least particle, & such discipline I call Presumption & Folly. I have tried it too much not to know this, & am very sorry for all such who may be led to such ostentatious Exertion against their Eternal Existence itself, because it is Mental Rebellion against the Holy Spirit, & fit only for a Soldier of Satan to perform."