Unlocking dyslexia in JamaicaMonday, May 28, 2018
In 2007, when Prince Harry — the younger son of Charles, prince of Wales, and the late Diana, princess of Wales, now duke of Sussex and sixth in line to the British throne — revealed that he is dyslexic suddenly the world took notice. Prince Harry, no stranger to controversy, created waves around the world by falling in love with and marrying a mixed race and divorced American actress/philanthropist, Meghan Markle — now the duchess of Sussex.
Since that 2007 announcement by such a senior member of the British Royal Family many other famous people who are dyslexic have come forward, and Prince Harry has been supporting public service campaigns to build awareness and support for dyslexia in the United Kingdom.
Dyslexia is a worldwide phenomenon and it shows up differently in different languages and cultures. Experts say dyslexia is genetic and not a disease or an identifiable physical condition and that it is a neurological learning disorder present at birth and cannot be prevented or cured, but can be managed with special instruction and support.
It affects people of all ethnic backgrounds and is not linked to a person's general level of intelligence. Dr Susan Anderson, special education expert and author of the book Climbing Every Mountain: Barriers, Opportunities and Experiences of Jamaican Students with Disabilities in their Pursuit of Personal Excellence, has noted that the most prevalent learning disability in Jamaica is dyslexia.
It is estimated that one in 10 people have dyslexia and research has shown that while most people use the 'verbal' left side of their brain to understand words, dyslexic people use the 'pictorial' right side, making them slower to process and understand language. It can involve difficulties reading due to problems identifying speech and sounds related to letters and word decoding; spelling, writing and pronouncing words, and often reverse numbers when performing simple calculations and arithmetic. They may struggle with concentrating with background noise, planning and prioritising.
However, people with dyslexia are often highly intelligent, highly creative and logical, have great leadership and people management skills, adaptable, kind, intuitive, with vivid imaginations, and are very good at reading people. Unfortunately, many misinformed Jamaican parents, educators and employers see dyslexia as a disadvantage, thereby creating a stigma and negative attitude towards dyslexic children, students and employees.
While dyslexia impacts people in varying degrees and can lead to frustration and low self-esteem, early diagnosis of dyslexia and systematic intervention, with the right support, appropriate teaching methods, tools and the use of technology, can improve their academic progress, help save time, and overcome challenges to reach their goals.
Prince Harry said that his personal struggle with dyslexia made school very hard; however, after he graduated from Britain's prestigious Eton College, he took some time off to volunteer in various African countries before choosing a military career (instead of going to university), and underwent officer training at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
His first cousin, Princess Beatrice — who was diagnosed with it at age seven — graduated from the University of London's Goldsmiths College with a three-year bachelor of arts honours degree and said that she wears her dyslexia like a “badge of honour” — despite still struggling to spell correctly and write e-mail. She paid tribute to her parents for helping her to see dyslexia as an opportunity rather than a hindrance.
There are many successful people who openly identified themselves dyslexic. British billionaire entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, author and founder the Virgin Group Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson is one of the most celebrated dyslexics in the world. He said dyslexia made him a better businessman and considers dyslexia his greatest business advantage with more than 400 companies in 30 countries. Sir Richard maintains strong ties to Jamaica, and in June of 2011 launched the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – Caribbean in Montego Bay. In 2017 the Branson Centre was relaunched in Kingston.
People who are dyslexic can and have changed the world. Among the notable people who have revealed that they are dyslexic are: journalist, CNN television personality and author Anderson Cooper; actress Whoopi Goldberg; designer Tommy Hilfiger; actor, singer and human rights activist Harry Belafonte; actor Danny Glover; actor Tom Cruise; singer and actress Cher; actress Salma Hayek; NBA legend Irving “Magic” Johnson; director and producer Steven Spielberg; actor Orlando Bloom; actress Jennifer Aniston; actor Keanu Reeves; businessman, investor, television personality, author, motivational speaker, founder/president, and CEO of FUBU Daymond John; actor Vince Vaughn; businessman, author and television personality Kevin O'Leary; actress Octavia Spencer; singer Andrae Crouch; actor Channing Tatum; actor Patrick Dempsey; media mogul Ted Turner; inventor Henry Ford; painter Pablo Picasso; inventor Albert Einstein; inventor Thomas Edison; US President George Washington; boxing legend Muhammad Ali; US President John F Kennedy; US President Woodrow Wilson; US President Thomas Jefferson; US Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller; author Agatha Christie; entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer Walt Disney; British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill; painter, draftsman, sculptor, architect, and engineer Leonardo da Vinci; co-founder of Apple Computers Steve Jobs; and singer John Lennon.
As a dyslexic person and the founder of the Jamaica Dyslexia Association, a charitable organisation that is registered with the Companies Office of Jamaica, I have met several successful professional Jamaicans who believe that they are dyslexic but have never been evaluated. They shared that they struggled with their daily tasks and often didn't realise that their academic and professional challenges may have stemmed from a learning style that is beyond their control. Since there are no age limits to being tested for dyslexia, every adult who thinks that he/she may have dyslexia should be tested. Screening for dyslexia is available and it is very important not to sidestep it in order to avoid the misconceptions and stigma out there about dyslexia, because it may stop you from attaining your full potential.
Unlike England, America and Canada, where dyslexia is widely publicised and supported by people of influence, there isn't any famous Jamaican or person from the Caribbean region who has openly supported or endorsed any dyslexia organisations or campaigns. Hopefully, this will change in October when the Jamaica Dyslexia Association will be officially launched and will celebrate Dyslexia Awareness Month in Jamaica.
We must work together to support Jamaicans who are struggling with dyslexia by becoming advocates to help abolish the stigma and shame associated with dyslexia. If you are dyslexic, we would like to hear from you, share your story with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Christian is founder/president of Jamaica Dyslexia Association.
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