The Book: The Dyslexic - An Extraordinary Learner

Below are the most common questions I get asked regarding the book and the disability:

What is title of your book and what is it about?
'The Dyslexic – An Extraordinary Learner'. The book explores how Dyslexics achieve and why many have a superior learning ability. Actually the book deals with many themes. Originally the title was 'The Strength of a Learning Weakness' because I feel creating something good from bad is a part of life many of us can relate to. I believe we all have an inherent or acquired weakness that has a major impact on our behaviour and quality of life. It may be related to language, learning, drugs, alcohol, food, work, domesticity, gambling, money, family, sex, or religion. How we deal with it is unique as the problem itself. Our ability to create strengths from weaknesses, advantages from disadvantages and positives from negatives means we control the problem rather than the problem controling us. The book explores this theme by examining a language disability and shows how having a such a weakness can be used as a strength to communicate, learn and achieve in an environment built and structured around others. The book provides examples of how obstacles produced by the disability are dealt with and demonstrates how they are not barriers to learning but instead provide pathways for learning. Whether obstacles are overcome or not there is no such thing as failing if we learn from our mistakes.

Why did you write the book?
Because most people perceive dyslexia and other related disorders as a learning disability. This is totally misleading because a learning disability suggests an inability to learn but in reality not only do many dyslexics have an ability to learn but possess unique and alternative ways compared to non-dyslexics. I believe it is this false perception that contributes significantly to the difficulty in diagnosing people with a disability because an individual does not want to be labeled as having an 'inability to learn' and so will take all necessary means, particularly in today's competitive and judgmental society, to hide their deficiencies to save face and embarrassment. Furthermore, achieving is important because not only does this further hide their weaknesses but proves they can mix and compete with non-dyslexics on equal terms and so giving themselves much needed confidence and motivation.

You say in your website that dyslexia is like a fingerprint, meaning it is unique only to the individual. So each person when dealing with their disability must have their own distinct strategies matching the uniqueness of their difficulties. So, how can you provide answers for all those with a disability?
It is not my objective to provide the answers. The book helps individuals to find their own answers and for others to provide support for those in need. It is hoped that any readers who have a disability or are affected by someone who has one, can adapt their own experience to those of the book.

Is your book long?
Depends what you mean by this, long with respect to the number of pages, or to reading time? The written text is not meant to be long occupying about 65 A4 size pages. However, there are numerous points throughout the book that hopefully encourage readers to think. So from this point of view the book can be intense reading and take longer than the number of pages suggests.

Has your book been published yet?
No, but a summary of 'The Dyslexic – An Extraordinary Learner' has been published in the quarterly journal 'Kielikukko', produced by the Finnish Reading Association. I am still undecided whether to seek a publisher, a literary agent or do it myself on the internet.

Do you have any future plans?
Yes I do, but whether I get the time and opportunity is another thing. My academic knowledge of the subject is of course limited as I have not studied this area at any level. So, I would like to do a course of study in language disabilities and compare what I already know to what I don't know then maybe do some research work. Who knows what the result may be, my angle of the subject could take an unexpected twist and become the subject of a second writing installment.

How is your book different from other similar literature?
It is written from an alternative angle. As a dyslexic teacher having a disability in reading, writing, listening, speaking and remembering, I use my experience to identify ways of dealing with everyday life situations that are heavily dependent on communication skills. I give advice on how to live with the disability by minimizing its weaknesses, utilizing its strengths and applying compensation strategies.

Yes, but you mentioned that your academic knowledge on the subject is limited and there is much literature on this subject written by professionals. How can you compete with them and do you consider your book better?
No, my book is not meant to be better, but different, in fact it is meant to compliment those written by academics. I believe there is a big difference between having a real understanding of something and having knowledge about it, particularly in the area of language disabilities. Professionals gain their knowledge of dyslexia from academic study and research but not from experiencing it, unless of course they are dyslexic themselves. Real understanding comes from actually experiencing. The book fills a gap left by professionals.

There are also other books on the market that help dyslexics overcome their disability, for example, by muscle response testing and balancing. How does your book compete with these?
It doesn't. These alternative methods you mention appear to be more direct and tackle the problem head on. My approach is different, I don't believe there is a cure or partial cure for dyslexia, I feel the disability is inherent for life and one should try to live with it rather than fight against it. This means accepting, understanding it and working with or around the weakness. A simple analogy is of a person being paralyzed and unable to walk due to a spinal injury. Through rehabilitation, hard work, and exercise, over a period of time the individual may eventually be able to walk to some degree. The injury and disability are still present, but it is the resulting difficulties and limitations that could be minimized.

Finally regarding the book, what do you hope readers will take from it?
Firstly, that they learn something and secondly that many issues raised will encourage discussion.  These two aspects are connected: discussion promotes learning and learning promotes discussion. This of course applies to, not just the book, but also the website. There will be points raised that people will not agree with, which is good thing if it promotes discussion. I hope how a reader interprets, feels and judges the contents will be unique and personal. I think it is important that the book and website provide a vastly different experience to different readers.

When did you know you had some sort of disability and felt different from others?
It is difficult to pinpoint a time but I suspected from the age of 8 something was different. Over a long period there was a gradual build up of suspicion and you know you have difficulties compared to others, but if you don't know why, you simply believe it is a part of your normal innate self and don't suspect it is a disability. What I do know from my middle to late teens, my English results in upper secondary high school were extremely poor. I entered the English matriculation exam at the lowest possible level and failed the trials and major matriculation exams at the first and second attempt. This was a clear obvious sign that something was wrong. When I look back, I sometimes feel a bit angry that alarm bells were ringing very loud but no one ever heard them, just like it is with so many other dyslexics today. It is so frustrating as an individual when you know you have something abnormal but you cannot explain what is and even if you could no one else would understand.

Have you actually been diagnosed with dyslexia?
Yes, sort of. In 1983 diagnostic tests were done which showed distinct language deficiencies and it was the professional's opinion I have dyslexia. I have the official report. In 2001, a neurologist did an interview and brief assessment and informed me that I do not have dyslexia, but dysphasia. I asked what the difference between the two is. I was told dyslexia emphasizes an inability in reading and writing while dysphasia is a weakness in all skills, reading, writing, listening and speaking which originates from a brain injury, in my case, most likely at birth. More recently however, a speech therapist dismissed this and said I do not have dysphasia after further tests were done. Again however, the results from these clearly confirmed my language deficiencies. I have the official report which does not label or diagnose me with a particular disability because other tests are still be done. To be honest, do I really need more tests and a correct diagnose? The important thing is that I know what I can do and what I can't, I know my strengths and weaknesses and I know how to deal with it otherwise I wouldn't have become a teacher. So I find it really weird going to a professional, being assessed and told things about myself I already know.  However, I did ask the neurologist for an assessment in writing diagnosing my disability. The reply was 'you do not need one because the book you are writing is better than any assessment that I or anyone else can give'.

Before this website, did many people know you have a dyslexia?
No because I don't tell people, only to those I think may have dyslexia themselves and understand what it is like. I believe you don't tell things to people you know they will not understand. I have made this mistake, people just don't believe you or feel the disability must be a mild form particularly when they know my profession.

Actually I was going to ask you, how it is possible for you to become a teacher, particularly of English, when you have a language disability?
By compensation. Just read the book and website. What I do vividly remember is that the Upper Secondary teaching training program and the English TEFL course were truly massive struggles.

Ok, but how then would you describe the degree of your disability?
Well it is definitely not extremely severe otherwise I would be unable to perform daily tasks like shopping, cooking cleaning and I would need regular care. Realize the disability is only prominent if you have to perform tasks dependent on the disability, so it is important to minimize such tasks. So sometimes I feel it is very mild particularly when performing basic daily chores but severe in relation to my job because of the responsibilities. As a teacher you need to be an organizer, articulate and have a good memory, I severely lack these skills naturally so I had to create them artificially. I did this by writing many booklets to replace the text books, which provided not just a platform for my teaching but material the students can learn from. This is just the way I compensate. One way to measure the degree of a disability is think about how often you need to compensate for your inabilities. This means work out the number of tasks you deliberately avoid, how regularly you make excuses and lie and how often you need to perform tasks that you hate doing because of the length of time and effort required. Just one more thing to put into perspective the extent of my disability: I recently supervised a listening comprehension test as part of the English matriculation exam for Finnish students who study English as a foreign language. This provided me the opportunity to test myself. I found the exercise very difficult. Under real exam conditions, taking into consideration the higher stress level, it is possible I would not have passed. Furthermore, I cannot read novels, understand poetry and most lyrics from songs. I don't ever remember reading a book.

Why then did you choose teaching as a profession that requires highly skilled communicators?
Back then, I didn't know what dyslexia was. I thought through constant and intense use of communicating my weaker language skills would strengthen to such an extent that my disability would disappear, particularly after qualifying and becoming a teacher of English as a foreign language. I was totally wrong, because over twenty years later, the disability has not disappeared, I am still teaching mathematics and have survived, as I said, using extreme compensation skills.

Teaching must be a struggle, do you ever get to a point where it just becomes too much?
Yes but there are also advantages having such a disability. When teaching, you tend to teach to the level of the student, and not above them and you seem to have a certain understanding of the mistakes they make. However, with anything when the disadvantages outweigh the advantages then changes need to be made.

You emphasize the importance of independent learning. Are there concrete teaching methods that make students think for themselves?
You mean methods that encourage them to think and learn independently, yes absolutely. Many teachers use such methods. What they are and how they're implemented depends on the teacher. I assume teacher training programs incorporate such methods today. During my teacher training days it was called 'student centered learning'.

Realize though that self-learning is not just restricted to the classroom. It also applies to the workplace, coaching sports and many other daily life situations, particularly in the raising of children. For example, I remember a confrontation between an English father and Finnish mother. Their son was approaching a stinging nettle plant and the father prevented the child from doing so. The mother was angry at the father's action, because by getting stung the boy would learn for himself from the experience so next time he will approach a similar situation with caution. Actually, further on this issue, I notice that Finns and Scandinavians in general tend to become more independent, learn for themsleves and develop a sense of responsibility at an earlier stage in life compared to many other societies. This could be a contributing factor why Finland consistently achieves high results in the PISA survey. PISA stands for Program for International Student Assessment.

How do you measure the effectiveness of independent learning in the classroom?
Perhaps this is one for the researchers and experts. What I will add is that the implementation of such methods and obtaining the desired results depend on many factors: the willingness of the individual to learn, their past learning habits, the nature of the institution, curriculum, the subject area and in particular limitations placed on the teacher, such as having a large amount of material to teach in a short period of time.