Learning to spell success

The BBC's former Geneva correspondent, Sophy Fisher, was among the first generation of people in Britain to be properly diagnosed as dyslexic

I cannot remember a time when dyslexia did not colour my life. It has shaped my friendships, what I do in my spare time, and - obviously - my career.

However, it has never been something that I talk about. Partly because I wanted to believe that in my professional life it was irrelevant, that I should be judged on what I do now - not on what I couldn't do before. But also because experience has made me wary of discrimination - of people who believe that dyslexia is something it isn't, a form of mental retardation.

Because dyslexia is invisible, it has always been easy to dismiss - as an invention of middle-class parents with stupid children. This was the view when I was growing up, to the extent that, when I was eight, and unable to read or write a word, my parents were advised that I would never pass my academic exams. It was suggested that I should earn a living cooking or cleaning.

However, since then scientists studying the brains of dyslexics have found that the left side - the side which is involved in language - is different from normal. It seems that some of the neural circuits which process language are simply not there.

For me, even these tentative findings came as a relief. Although I learnt to read and write many years ago and my literacy is in no doubt, it was finally proof that there was something there, that I wasn't just stupid after all.

But of course, I'm one of the lucky ones. There are estimated to be about 2.5 million dyslexics in Britain alone, including about 350,000 children. Many are in effect disenfranchised from modern life.

Adults try to hide their problems; children can't. I see children today doing everything I did to try to stop people seeing their failings - disrupting the class, lurking at the back, faking illness, losing homework. I even learnt the textbooks by heart, to hide the fact that I couldn't read them. Letters on a page appeared a meaningless jumble - with no more logic than alphabet spaghetti. I could never remember if the lines went from left to right, or right to left. Lower case ds and bs confused me completely. I could make no connection between what I heard and what appeared on the page.

But in my small village school, I couldn't really hide the fact that I was the class idiot. In the search to get some kind of official recognition that the problem wasn't just stupidity, my parents took increasingly desperate measures. I must have seen half the child psychologists in southern Britain. Aged nine, I spent a week in hospital having tests - in what we discovered afterwards was an adult mental ward. I became the subject of medical school lectures.

In the end I was lucky. We found a school that believed dyslexia existed. I had extra, specialist training. At the age of 12, I was sent to a secretarial college to learn to type. So for the first time someone could read the little I could write, and start correcting it. I spent my secondary school years lugging around a typewriter that was half as big as I was. Being without it was like having a limb chopped off.

A place at Cambridge University gave me the chance to be judged only on my merits. Later I was offered one of the coveted BBC graduate traineeships. But then there was a hitch, a cryptic telephone call, requesting another interview. The personnel department had discovered I was dyslexic. "Isn't that some kind of mental disorder?" they said. The job offer was withdrawn. Only when I had seen both a psychologist and a doctor was the contract confirmed.

Now, after years as a foreign correspondent, I can finally say that it doesn't matter. In English and French I have competed internationally with my peers and have not been disgraced. At the moment I am learning Cantonese. Dyslexia hasn't gone away. It can't be cured. But it can be overcome. It can be made irrelevantn

Famous dyslexics

Leonardo da Vinci

Auguste Rodin

Albert Einstein (left)

Charles Darwin

Winston Churchill

George Washington

David Bailey

Richard Rogers

Whoopi Goldberg

Susan Hampshire

Eddie Izzard

Jackie Stewart

Spotting the signs

Early signs of possible dyslexia in a pre-school child:

l Persistent difficulties in getting dressed efficiently;

l Obvious "good" and "bad" days, for no apparent reason;

l Enjoys being read to, but shows no interest in letters or words;

l Excessive bumping into things and falling over;

l Difficulty with catching, kicking or throwing a ball;

l Persistent jumbled phrases, eg "tebby dare" for teddy bear;

l Confusion between directional words, eg, up, down; in, out;

l Difficulty learning nursery rhymes.

NB: Many young children make similar mistakes; dyslexia is indicated where these difficulties are severe and persistent.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent