Hello fellow reading fiends,
I love reading, as many of you know (and will completely understand) but I was blown away reading this interview on Evelina’s blog with Jen – an amazing young woman with dyslexia. I hope you find this as illuminating as I did.
Today we will be talking about something different, and definitely not something a lot of people consider to be a part of the life of a bookworm – dyslexia. But it can be! And so today I have a fellow bookworm and book blogger here, to talk about her experience with dyslexia and how she nonetheless pursued her hobby of reading and what helped her along the way. Not only do I think this is a very interesting topic to talk about on a book blog – I also hope that it will be able to help others like Jen, or perhaps readers whose children might have dyslexia.
So let’s start! I am going to ask Jen some questions about her experience of dyslexia. Personally, I know almost nothing about the condition because it’s not talked about a whole lot (in my opinion, it’s not talked about enough.) So I will be very curious about her answers. But keep in mind that this is only Jen’s experience, and she can’t talk about everyone else, because like many things, dyslexia experiences can be very diverse. So we are only trying to spread awareness!
So Jen, thank you so much for joining me here for this post. First of all, could you introduce yourself and your book blog? How long have you been a bookworm and book blogger and what are your motivations for reading and blogging?
Hello! I’m a 30 something girl living in Edinburgh who once loved books. As a kid, you could either find me holed up in a small corner of the library trying to figure out how I could take another book out whilst I still had three on loan, or in my bunk bed fort (equipped with well-balanced torches for dramatic lighting) re-reading the dog-eared books which I held close to my heart.
A GIF from the movie Matilda, of her laughing while reading a book
Then I grew up. I couldn’t focus on reading and my mind was in overdrive. My bookshelves grew bare and reading became a fond memory of childhood until I was diagnosed with dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity. After that, books became a nightmare.
I started posting bite-sized reviews Instagram Stories (I have a very short attention span so things need to be short and snappy) and a few people mentioned they enjoyed the style. After a few beers, shitbookreviews.com was born and now I’m on a mission to claim back my love of books (and perhaps encourage others like me to start reading again), one short, shit review at a time.
Hahaha! I love the name. And I’m sure they’re not even shit reviews! I like the sound of short and snappy. We all have the attention span of a goldfish these days, so much so that I worry my reviews are much too long. Anyway, next up, I would of course like to ask you about your experience of dyslexia. What’s your story? When did you find out about it and how did it all start out?
I grew up in a small, rural town where a lot of learning disabilities weren’t picked up unless they were severe. I managed to get through most of primary school and was an avid reader throughout my time there, but things changed when I hit 11/12. I wish I knew why but perhaps it was something to do with the books you read as you get older – the typefaces get smaller and the chapters get much, much longer. Whatever it was, I couldn’t concentrate anymore, started to see patterns between the words, my brain would flip words around and niggling headaches started to appear. I imagine those things have always been with me but, with kids books, they’re not as prominent and teenage me didn’t think it was worth the hassle so my bookshelves became empty.
An animated GIF of words moving about the page as worms
High school was the killer though. Once you’ve been repeatedly called lazy when you’ve actually been trying so damn hard, it quickly takes its toll and you start to believe you’re just an idiot. I also actively started to write smaller and kept the letters close together so teachers couldn’t see the mistakes. When most people would fill 4 pages (front and back) of words, I’d get mine all on to one sheet and then dread getting the results back. I’d avoid reading out loud in class and don’t even get me started on my inability to study for exams – I’d stare at bits of paper for hours and make zilch in the way of progress even if I knew the subject inside and out. I floated my way through school where I tried to avoid subjects which involve words and maths. Doesn’t leave you with a lot!
It took until my last year of my second (note that the first place didn’t pick it up either) college where they did some proactive screening for learning disabilities and I was finally diagnosed at the age of 21 with dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity. The weight that was lifted from my shoulders was unreal. That year I was allowed to type up all my final exams on a pc rather than depend on pen and paper.
That sounds dreadful. I’m so glad to hear you were diagnosed, even though it happened relatively late. Which is why I want to ask – could you try to describe how having dyslexia feels and how it affects you? I’ve heard a lot about what the end result of dyslexia is: it’s hard or even impossible to read. But what I’ve always wondered about is – how? Is it headaches, or is it a wandering mind? I’ve even heard that it can be as if the letters themselves are moving around. Would you describe what it feels like for you?
Everyone has different levels of severity so people will have different things that affect them. For me, two things cause me the most amount of grief –concentration issues and the words in general. I’ll start with concentration. It doesn’t matter how much I’m enjoying something, my brain wanders and it’s really, really bloody annoying. When it comes to books, I try to avoid super long ones (I aim for no longer than 500 pages) as I’ll just never finish them. It took me over a year to finish The Passage and it wasn’t even worth the slog haha.
The words themselves are also a nuisance which is a pretty big bummer when it comes to reading. If I were to read black words on a white background, my eyes would be drawn to the space between the lines instead of the text and then follow the patterns all over the page. Another thing my brain likes to do is plonk whatever it thinks should be there instead of what’s written down. It’s almost like it’s trying to make up its own story instead of going with the flow of the author’s.
Wow, I’ve never heard that bit about the white space – but it totally makes sense that someone’s brain could also prioritize the white stuff, and not the black stuff on the page. But I never thought of it like that! Anyway, I know that it’s not only dyslexia that you have, but an accompanying condition as well. How common are those and how can they affect someone? Do a lot of people find out about them early in life, or do they spend years just wondering what’s up?
I mentioned it a little bit earlier on, but yeah I’ve also got scotopic sensitivity which is otherwise known as Irlen Syndrome. It’s a perceptual processing disorder and it can cause distortion of words and glare which is a nightmare for reading and writing. Irlen UK claims that around 15% of the population has it, but because the NHS doesn’t classify it as a medical condition, a lot of people have no idea it’s even a thing.
As far as I’m aware, this is the main thing that killed my love of books. When you’ve got words wiggling around a glaring and headache-inducing bit of paper, you’re going to put that bit of paper away.
#BookBlogger @CensoredPixel on her dyslexia and scotopic sensitivity: When you’ve got words wiggling around a glaring and headache-inducing bit of paper, you’re going to put that bit of paper away. Click To Tweet
Makes perfect sense. So then, we know now that you DO read, and not only that – you blog about books as well. How do you manage, in light of all the obstacles? Did you have to come up with some unique solutions, or were they suggested by your doctor? What are the things that enable you to read? And which of these helps the most?
I think I had a moment one day when I was a bit like WTF Jen and, as horiffically cringy as it’s going to sound, I didn’t want to miss out any more because I had a slightly wonky brain. I decided to make some changes and adapt. I dug out my Kindle, got a typeface from opendyslexic.org whacked onto it and made sure the background was an off-white. I also asked a few of my friends for recommendations so I fell in love with the story rather than dreading another chapter.
An image of the open dyslexic font on the kindle, borrowed from Jen’s own blog post here
The other biggest thing for me was that I got off my ass and made an appointment for colourimetry. It’s something I put off for the LONGEST time because it can quickly add up in costs and I was skint when I got diagnosed. This is a process where they optometrist puts different colours onto text to see which one works for you. Once you’ve got your colour, they’ll work out how intense you need it to be and get that specific colour put into glasses. Turns out mine is a very dark pinky purple and now I look like I’m being dramatic and wearing sunglasses inside haha. I picked them up last week and, while they’ll take a chunk of time to get the courage to wear in the office, they make a massive difference when holding a physical book. Maybe one day I’ll make a dent in my physical TBR pile…
Audiobooks have also been a bit of a gamechanger for me as well. If reading is still a struggle, then I wouldn’t recommend punishing yourself – you’ll only resent the books in the end. Whilst there are some ladeedaa-books-must-be-in-the-physical-form-or-its-not-a-book twats out there, it’s still a book at the end of the day. I usually have two books on the go – one on my Kindle and the other in my ears. An audiobook can be a saviour if your brain isn’t playing ball that day. Also it’s kinda nice when the narrator does the voices – it’s like having a mini play happening in your head.
Agreed! Dyslexia or not, I think more people should make use of audiobooks or text to speech – it’s very enabling, and since most of us work desk jobs in front of screens, it’s also good for our eyes.
Anyway, I’m really glad to know there are solutions. However, are they always equally effective? Or do you have days when it doesn’t really help? Like when you’re extra tired and such? Do the surroundings affect your reading a lot?
If I’m knackered or just generally struggling, I won’t read. I know what I’m like and I’d end up skipping chunks or reading it but not taking any of it in. I do need quiet to read though and my bus home from work is usually filled with people who’ve turned their vocal volume up to 11 so I usually throw on some electronic music (or anything with no lyrics) and some noise cancelling headphones. If I’m at home, I’ll slink off into the study where I can close the door to the dulcet wails of Netflix from the living room.
At the end of the day, I’m a slow reader and it’s perfectly fine to go at a snail’s pace if that what works for you. I don’t put out that many posts for that very reason. I’m not going to speed through a book and miss out half of the plot just because it’s the norm.
Do you personally think dyslexia is a commonly and easily diagnosed condition, or do you feel like due to a lack of awareness a lot if people actually suffer in silence?
I’m not entirely sure what the process is these days in schools as it’s, uh, been quite some time since I was there, but I’d like to think that technology is perhaps wiggling its way into the classrooms. That being said, teachers in the UK (and the world in general) are massively overworked and I’m honestly not surprised that things like this get missed. There’s definitely still a stigma when it comes to dyslexia and I tend to keep it to myself to avoid the judging eyes being cast my way.
The funny thing is, is now I’ve started talking about it openly, I’ve had a few people drop my DMs to say they’ve had the same experiences.
What are some things you’d like to tell others who think they might have dyslexia, or who think their kids might? What are the questions you should ask yourself or your doctor, if you are harboring theories, but aren’t quite sure?
Get it checked and don’t doubt your kids if they’re saying they’re struggling. Doctors will test you, or your kids, for any physical reasons why you/they might be struggling, but they’ll most likely sent you to speak to a dyslexia organisation. For example, in the UK we’ve got the British Dyslexia Association and you can do online tests with them for a small fee. If you’ve got kids in school who you think might be dyslexic, speak to their teacher. The school will most likely have specialists who’ll come into the school and run through the test for free. Some places won’t test adults (I’ve no idea why) so you can run through a free self-assessment instead.
And would you say anything to your teachers and classmates now, if you had the chance to go back in time? Do you think there could have been things they might have said or done differently that could have helped you? I ask because a lot of readers of my blog might be teachers or librarians and could be in a position to help someone, if they knew how.
I used to hold a massive grudge against my school. All I wanted to do was find my teachers and hold out my degree (they told me not to bother with university) along with my CV to prove just how wrong they were.
These days, I just wish I could have got them to sit down with me for 30 mins and ask me what I was struggling with instead of writing me off as being lazy. At the same time, I realise that’s a lot to ask for when they’ve got 30 other kids per class to deal with as well as planning for lessons. My asks would be patience, access to colour overlays and to keep an eye out for the kid who’s losing interest in something they used to love.
And finally, what are some resources you would personally recommend, if someone wanted to learn about dyslexia and its accompanying disorders whether it’s for yourself or your loved ones?
A GIF of what regular text looks like for a dyslexic person – the letters are moving about in the words
I am very happy to have been able to talk to Jen today about dyslexia. You can learn more about her experience from her post here, and you can always ask about anything you’re curious about in the comments!
How much do you know about dyslexia? And have you ever met anyone with this condition?