Although I’m an avid reader, not being able to write very well has been my biggest regret in life.
I struggled at school in Dublin, but excelled at sport. There were 72 in the class and if you didn’t understand something you were left behind. I was caned regularly by my teacher Mr Murray for not doing homework and made an example of in front of the class when I didn’t understand. I started ‘wagging’ it from school.
Apart from beatings, my story is not dissimilar to many kids who come to the gym. According to OECD, England is 22nd out of 24 countries for literacy and 21st for numeracy. There are 8.5 million adults in England and Northern Ireland with a 10-year-old’s numeracy levels.
I’m dyslexic. I only found out a couple of years ago. It is a subject which until recently has been poorly understood. I read by recognition. If I haven’t seen a word before, I am unable to break it down into sounds to spell it. When I write, I usually have all the letters there but not necessarily in the right order. I often write in capitals because it’s easier. Dyslexics are often poor organisers and forgetful but they usually have a high IQ. High-achieving dyslexics include John Lennon, Einstein, Agatha Christie, Whoopi Goldberg…
Dyslexia affects 375,000 children in UK and like me they are often wrongly labelled as slow or lazy. The impact of dyslexia is far-reaching: if you can’t learn to read, you cannot read to learn. Everything requires an ability to read fluently. Then there’s the damage of low self-esteem. It is no surprise that 50 per cent of prison population is dyslexic.
Despite dyslexia being recognised under the Disability Discrimination Act, support is patchy. I turned my life around at 12 when my headteacher, Mr Donovan, gave me a talking-to instead of a beating. The only person you are damaging is yourself, he said.
It was a lesson I’ve remembered all my life. How education is so important and how you will not change people by bullying them mentally, physically or emotionally. The only way to change people is to talk to them and lead by example. We should stop thinking children deliberately choose not to learn to read or write. They don’t.