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Dyslexia - a Visual Perspective


Being dyslexic is a curious thing it's classed as a disability and sure enough there are many problems I have which others don't. I have no memory for names be they films, places or people. So learning other languages is a bit of a problem and when it comes to times tables no chance! But I wouldn't change any of that. I might drive my friends and loved ones a bit mad but for me the advantages far out way the negatives. I know this might sound a bit strange to a lot of you but I really mean it. I see being Dyslexic as a kind of release from the very rigid structures within our modern day society.

I was really lucky that my mum had me diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. Meaning I had a lot of help from teachers and specialist dyslexia staff throughout my education. I can't express how important these people where to my development. Without their input I wouldn't be able to write this post now. But even with this help I still remember the terror of those GCSE exams looming over me. The weekly cycle of piercing migraines that would go on for days. Brought on according to the doctor by stress. A stress born of one thing failing my exams, a stress of being labeled thick.

After school I focused all my attention on the creative arts and design which was my passion from a young age. People with dyslexia are often much better working visually or in three dimensions. For myself this is certainly the case. I came to realise that this is because I primarily understand the world through images rather than the spoken and written word. Which means I'm not the best at explaining new ideas or projects. Even at completion I can struggle to define what they are; but thats not because I don't have a clear concept. Its just that concept isn't formed through language.

For someone who's using language to make sense of the world their focus is on separating things into words to produce meaning. Whilst my focus is on finding the visual connections between things to build up patterns. This is not to say that people who think in words don't also use images to make sense of the world or that language isn't an essential communication tool for me. It is more just a question of which process is more primary and how that effects how we understand the world.

Over time I've developed a technique to help me navigate/document these visual connections. By gathering, storing and editing images into visual mind-maps. These are also pretty useful for communicating what I'm thinking/working on to other people. I've included two of them here to illustrate why this process is so important. Both projects come from a very similar visual space meaning their mindmaps share a lot of the same images. But their outcomes are turning out to be very different. One is called Ray and the Rocket which will take the form of a children's book or comic. Whilst the other is called Trahere a multidisciplinary art piece which will probably be more at home within a contemporary arts or academic setting.

It's this ability to think visually which is so central to who I am and what I do. Language still plays an important role but as a secondary process. Meaning any divisions that might exist between say children's illustration and contemporary art are totally irrelevant in the development of the projects. Where one thing ends and another starts is of no internal interest to me. Its like being a bird flying above a chain of interconnecting road systems. Aware of its complexity I might look at these roads (language) with a sense of awe but equally with a feeling of ecstasy at not being confined by its structures. Free to fly (think visually) in any direction I wish. This is why dyslexia is a form of freedom to me.

But from my visual perspective it sometimes feels like society has forgotten that we are all human and by that I mean unique. This is best illustrated by the exam systems that universally determine children's intelligence based on how many things they can remember and write down on a piece of paper. A system which seems more suited to testing if a machine is functioning properly than preparing the next generation for the challenges they face. Our brains are infinitely complex systems which we are yet to fully understand. I forget everything all of the time. You could test me on the Beatles, Lego, The Bauhaus or any other subject I care passionately about and I would almost certainly fail. People with dyslexia shouldn't be forced to fit and work within structures that restrict or even prevent them from achieving. It should rather be that society alters to allow people with Dyslexia to flourish and meet their full potential.

If we could do that...... well anything could be possible!

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