Friday, March 18, 2011

Notes on Afflictions

The World Federation of Neurology defines dyslexia as 'a disorder manifested by difficulty in learning to read despite conventional instruction, adequate intelligence and sociocultural opportunity'. A friend of mine describes it (controversially!) as a euphemism for laziness. In her skepticism of the affliction she is not alone. In 2009 a Labour MP claimed dyslexia was a myth invented by education chiefs to cover up poor teaching (also controversial!).

A 37-year-old friend of mine was recently diagnosed with dyslexia. Which means he got through thirty-seven years of his life without it bothering him or without him even knowing about it. He completed school, went to university, had jobs, girlfriends etc; in other words he was a functioning member of society. He's never read a book for pleasure, but this has never bothered him.

Other friends and colleagues have been diagnosed with dyslexia and actually got a free Apple Mac computer (!). Nowadays, everyone seems to be dyslexic (in the UK 1 in 10 people are meant to be 'sufferers'); friends of mine have even bragged about it, as if being labelled with it has somehow provided them with a legitimate excuse for their inability to read a book. Said friend of mine with her euphemism and the Labour MP may have a point. Nowadays you can't call people stupid or bone idle; there needs to be a medical definition. Followed by therapy or medication. And then a free Apple Mac.

To me it seems amazing that many people get through much of their life without even knowing they've got dyslexia, without it really affecting them, and even getting perks for it (said Apple Mac) and indeed more sympathy and understanding than, say, stutterers, who face a lifetime of frustration, abuse and embarrassment (and no free gift). Dyslexia is certainly more widespread and accepted than stuttering, with only 1% of the UK population suffering from stuttering, and stutterers employing various techniques to hide their affliction, the most effective of which I found was not talking at all.

Nowadays, with texting, tweeting and emailing, correct spelling and grammar seems a thing of the past. Whilst people with dyslexia have no doubt embraced this new found excuse for sloppy spelling, stutterers opinions about new technology is mixed. On the one hand, email, the internet and texting is a blessing for them; on the other, mobile phones ringing in public is a constant source of terror (I still turn my phone off on trains and buses).

Neither affliction has a cure or an understood cause, but dyslexic sufferers can definitely get through life without it affecting them in the slightest. Stutterers will be bullied, victimised and bullied from day one, from school into adulthood, with botched job interviews, terrible first dates and hampered social interaction plaguing them for life.

There's a proliferation of syndromes nowadays that didn't seem to exist, say, thirty years ago. Everyone seems to have a special need or disorder or some sort, be it ADHD or OCD. For the i generation of iPods, iPhones and Wiis, the illness of choice (with the most apt acronym) is M.E., standing for Myalgic Encephalopathy, otherwise known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) or CLS (Chronic Laziness Syndrome). Then there's children who can't concentrate for more than five minutes at a time, and get labelled with autism or Asperger's.

Other disabilities have their perks too. Blind people, of which there are 1 million sufferers in the UK, have had tactile paving (raised dimpled paving which can be felt underfoot) installed on just about every pavement corner in the UK (not to mention annoying noises at traffic lights for crossing roads), presumably for their benefit. This seems completely over the top, considering 60% of blind people don't go out on their own (they have a carer or guide dog) and only 3% of blind people are completely blind.

Similarly, there is now wheelchair access in most places for disabled people. But with only 750,000 people full-time wheelchair users, it might have been cheaper and easier to build a whole new wheelchair-friendly city for them all to live in.

Old people (though age obviously isn't a disability) feel marginalised and ignored, but get great perks like free public transport and cut-price cinema tickets. In my opinion, they should pay double and the young – who probably have a lot less money than the old, who have had a lifetime to save and probably own property – should get the discounts.

I've known quite a few couples who have got together without knowing they shared a similar affliction or family trait. This has included manic depression, dyslexia, epilepsy, diabetes and even coming from similar (broken) family backgrounds. This may of course just be coincidence but seems more like destiny (that phrase sounds familiar. Didn't I write it yesterday?).

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