Dyslexia & the World of Predictive Text
9.05. Monday morning. You’re late for an important meeting.
You push through the swelling crowds at the underground station, mumbling apologies to those who mutter and tut as you half squeeze, half barge your way past them. You run up the left-hand side of the escalator, taking the steps two at a time and pulling out your phone as you do so. Finally you hop off the escalator and begin to compose an apologetic text message to your boss, letting them know that your train was delayed but you’ll be at the meeting in under ten minutes. But as you key in the message, predictive text starts acting up. ‘Journey was chaos’ becomes ‘Journey was champ’, and ‘Really sorry’ becomes ‘Really soppy’. Each time your phone predicts the wrong word you feel a jolt of frustration. You spend an agonising amount of time communicating what should be a straightforward message, becoming increasingly flustered as you do so.
Imagine this jolt of frustration, this pang of annoyance, but imagine feeling it not just when your predictive text acts up, but every time you read and write. This is what language is like for many people with dyslexia. Words become a constant cause of frustration. And, unfortunately for those affected, the solution isn’t as easy as simply turning off predictive text.
The effects of dyslexia
Dyslexia affects people in a variety of different ways; its effects range from hindering reading and writing speed to hampering spelling and impacting short term and working memory. But by no means does it compromise intelligence. It simply causes people to learn, communicate and think about things differently.
So, dyslexia brings about new and original perspectives on a whole range of subjects. But sadly, it remains a constant cause of frustration and struggle for many people. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. The reason dyslexia becomes a problem for many individuals is because it is treated as such; people view it as a setback and an ongoing challenge. The NHS, and other sources of authority on the subject, list dyslexia as a common “learning difficulty”.
But this is this the very language that perpetuates the idea that dyslexia is a difficulty and a setback. Rather than saying “learning difficulty”, we should be talking about it in terms of learning differently. To overcome the widespread misconception that dyslexia is a problem, we need to reframe the issue, and see it not as a challenge or an obstacle, but as an opportunity.
Creativity and problem solving
Firstly, dyslexia represents an opportunity for society as a whole. As it stands, most individuals with dyslexia are educated in the same way as those without it. They are required to succeed in exams that test reading, writing, spelling and memory – the very things that dyslexia inhibits. This one-size-fits-all method of teaching is still practiced across the country despite society’s growing understanding of dyslexia and its effects. Albert Einstein, who is often cited as being dyslexic, sums up the issue perfectly:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Since one in every ten to twenty people have dyslexia, it is imperative that the education system is reformed to teach and assess those people in a way that suits their style of learning and communicating. If society can find a way of successfully implementing such reforms, the collective potential benefits could be huge.
Individuals with dyslexia are often highly creative and able problem solvers. If these traits are nurtured and celebrated from an early age, such individuals won’t feel the need to judge themselves according to unrealistic standards. Instead, they’ll find themselves in a position where they’re able to use their skills to shed new light on and propose creative solutions to problems that impact wider society.
A reformed education system could help to create a real use for dyslexia throughout society. But it will also present countless opportunities on an individual level. All too often, individuals with dyslexia see themselves as underachievers, while their potential talent remains untapped. Normalising dyslexia and recognising its potential benefits will give individuals the confidence they need; this will enable them to express themselves and communicate in ways that come naturally to them.
Steve knows this better than most. After 40 years in an industry that thrives on new perspectives and original forms of expression, he has certainly made the most of his dyslexia. He continues to see life through his rose-tinted glasses; he considers his dyslexia a gift that has helped him get to where he is today in the creative world. If we can change the way we think about dyslexia and evolve teaching methods accordingly, there will be many more individual success stories, which will, in turn, benefit society as a whole.
The future will likely see us tapping at our phones in exasperation as our predictive text acts up once again. But hopefully those with dyslexia won’t have to go through the frustration of learning and communicating in a way that they simply aren’t built for.