Monday, November 03, 2008

MISC: I've Never ...

There are many things I've never been. A great athlete. An artist. Musical. A linguist. Black. Tall. Female. There are others. But you get the idea. Some of those attributes are genetic, some owe at least something to genetics.

On the other hand, I have been a reader since early in my life and it has been amongst my greatest pleasures. And that's not something everybody can say. For some, the answer, the first answer that comes to mind when asked to complete the sentence, "I've never ...," is "been able to read."

I caught the second episode of the British Fame remake, Britannia High, on the weekend. It deals with a flashy, popular high schooler, who can't read. In the end, he recognizes the problem and starts on the path of dealing with it. It was predictable but still caused a knot in my stomach.

Having always read, I've never been able to understand NOT knowing how. I almost don't have ANY memories of the times before I read. For me, not knowing how to read is as unfathomable as what life might be like on distant stars and planets. And yet, there are people I've met who DID know what that was like.

Within the extended family I have, I know of one adult who had to take remedial reading courses in his 30's. And a girl I suspected of being dyslexic never got tested. Never finished high school. Never became the success she might have otherwise.

Because that's the tragedy of illiteracy. So many of those burdened by it are actually waaaay smarter than average. Think about it. They can't read, yet manage to hide that fact for DECADES!

A line in the TV episode referred to a happy time, when his family went on vacation in Spain. There, the whole family was in his little dinghy, needing to ask people what signs said, what was on the menu and how to read maps and directions. He didn't feel alone that fortnight. But for the functioning illiterate, every day feels like a nightmarish vacation in a far-off land.

In some cases, these people arrived at their adult years because of bad education or missed opportunities. For those people, admitting it and getting help, can result in unburdening themselves of a hidden shame incredibly quickly. Their native intelligence and a dedicated teacher can eradicate all that stopped them from enjoying the benefits and pleasures that you and I take for granted.

On the other hand, the portion if illiteracy that is attributable to dyslexia is unfortunately high. Many, many dyslexics are above-average intellectually. They have to be. Every sequence of letters provides a puzzle for them to solve. The old 'Sound it out' instruction asks them to do the impossible. It takes expertise to catch the problem early and dedication by parents, teachers and child to minimize the effects dyslexia makes on their lives.

I tried to steer the young girl through the maze of roadblocks to getting her tested back in her youth. I failed. Her parents were horrified at the thought their bright young girl could be damaged in any way. The teachers took the question as an indictment of their teaching. And I gave up. And, unfortunately, unlike the TV show, there was no happy ending.

Not everybody will become a voracious reader. I fail to understand why, but I accept that a lot of people never get to find that story that lights their imagination and fuels their love of reading. They are all the poorer for it. But everybody deserves to be able to read enough to get by and reserve the right to be entertained later.

If you see a child, any child, who shows the slightest symptom of having reading problems, don't let the 'honour' of others get in your way. Insist on professional testing. Pay for reading lessons from a good teacher. Do what you have to do, to avoid years, decades, of the kind of personal hell illiteracy can drown a person in.

You sure don't want to ask yourself the question I ask myself whenever I see the subject come up. "Why I never tried harder?"

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