The out is word: it’s great that it’s Posh to be dyslexic
In admitting she's a sufferer, Victoria Beckham helps bust the stigma of a condition that can actually be a strength
Hooray for Victoria Beckham. To anyone who is not dyslexic, or isn’t the parent of a child with dyslexia, her admission last week that she has dyslexia and that it “doesn’t run in our family, it gallops” may be of little consequence. To the rest of us, Christmas has come early.
In those few words, the fashion designer has helped spread the message that success for dyslexics can come after school. Academic achievement isn’t everything.
Of course, it’s vital that schoolchildren work as hard as they can; matric passes and degrees can give you choice and opportunity. Yet, I often wonder what would have happened if the parents of Jamie Oliver (the chef also has dyslexia) had told him to stop messing about in the kitchen and concentrate on his grades.
Indeed, research from the Dyslexic Advantage charity in the US has shown that dyslexics who are successful say that focusing on their strengths has been a more important factor than trying to make good their weaknesses.
What is so important about high-profile personalities “coming out” as dyslexic is that it chips away at the stigma that can come with feeling different in any way. When I interviewed him for my book, three-time Formula One world champion Jackie Stewart told me that he had been married for 19 years before his wife found out he was unable to read or write. “She was just amazed and she’s still amazed about it now, more than 30 years later,” he told me. Embarrassment had kept him silent.
My daughter was diagnosed as dyslexic at 13. I was shocked: Loretta had achieved well in primary school, and her father and I believed that whatever struggles her life might hold they wouldn’t be academic. High school was different. For two years she all but stopped learning. We had no idea why. Was the school to blame? Then, while tidying papers, I found a clue: an anti-bullying poster she’d made at the age of 10, with the word “adult” spelt “adlut” in its slogan. A test by the school confirmed dyslexia, as did a private assessment.
Aside from shock, I wanted her to know she could follow her dreams, no matter what label she was given. Hence my book, which turned into a fascinating mother-daughter journey. As I worked, we discovered that Dame Darcey Bussell would lock herself in a cupboard to hide from “the relentless struggle of lessons at primary school”.
“I had been told my ability to read would only reach that of a 10-year-old, but I was determined to achieve more,” she told me. “My mother always encouraged me by telling me everyone had different strengths – and it was true.”
We learnt that interior designer Kelly Hoppen, who left school at 16, began teaching herself the tools of her trade by shifting furniture around at home when her parents were out. And we heard how Nigel McCrery, the creator of TV’s Silent Witness and New Tricks, still struggles to read, even his own writing. His literary knowledge was gleaned from the tapes of the classics and Radio 4 plays he listened to during his days as a long-distance lorry driver.
Nearly everyone I interviewed saw dyslexia as a strength, giving them creativity and determination. Even if their school days had been gruelling, what had kept their spirits high enough to succeed was having an adult on their side to instil the message that they were worth more than their grades.
The idea that dyslexia can be an advantage has been gathering pace. The British Dyslexia Association supports people in finding strategies to help them maximise their strengths. A newer organisation, Made by Dyslexia, is spreading this same philosophy. All we need now is a secretary of state for education with a dyslexic child and we may begin to see the changes needed to help the school system work for dyslexics, too.
In the meantime, high-profile dyslexics like Beckham are to be applauded for speaking up – although she is “undiagnosed”. I would strongly advise her to get a diagnosis – seeing the workings of your mind laid out on paper is fascinating stuff. Not to mention that it can help make sense of all sorts of life experiences; identifying new ways to play to your strengths.
As for Loretta? After A-levels, she decided against university. Instead, she saved up, took herself to China and started her own shoe company. It led to a job in fashion, which she loves. She exemplifies the kind of entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and outside-the-box thinking so often associated with dyslexia. These are characteristics that may not flourish in our education system, but can be strengths in the wider world.
• Margaret Rooke is the author of Creative, Successful, Dyslexic.
– © The Daily Telegraph