Chapter Two - Part B

NEURODIVERSITY Continued 

 

Bond, James Bond

 

Alice Philipson, a journalist for London's Daily Telegraph, penned a fabulous article for the September 21, 2014, run of the newspaper. 

 

Ms. Philipson told the world what some of us already know: It's good to be dyslexic!

 

Here is her full report:

 

---- Start Article:

 

"GCHQ Employs More Than 100 Dyslexic and Dyspraxic Spies”

 

GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) employs more than 100 dyslexic and dyspraxic "neurodiverse" spies to harness their analytical skills in the fight against terror.

 

The British intelligence agency uses their ability to analyze complex information in a "dispassionate, logical and analytical" way to combat threats such as foreign espionage.

 

While many people with dyslexia struggle with reading or writing, they are often extremely skilled at deciphering facts from patterns or events.

 

I.T. specialist Matt, 35, chairman of the dyslexic and dyspraxic support community at GCHQ, said: "What people don't realize is that people with neurodiversity usually have a 'spiky skills' profile, which means that certain skill areas will be below par and others may be well above," he said.

 

"My reading might be slower than some individuals, and maybe my spelling is appalling, and my handwriting definitely is ... but if you look at the positive side, my 3D spacial-perception awareness and creativity are in the top 1% of my peer group."

 

Children are diagnosed with dyslexia for a range of reasons including those whose difficulty in reading is unexpected, those who show a discrepancy between reading and listening comprehension or pupils who do not make meaningful progress in reading even when provided with high-quality support.

 

The NHS estimates that 4-8 percent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia.

 

Dyspraxia, which affects sufferers' coordination, is diagnosed in around one in 20 children.

 

A GCHQ official said: "Neurodiverse individuals can bring additional value to the full spectrum of roles and jobs across the department."

 

--- End Article.

 

Back To The Big Picture 

 

The big picture is always made up of many smaller parts: cause-and-effect, human behavior, the laws of nature, and so on.  My mind uses the five senses and memories (stored in my catacombs for comparison) as it searches and sorts the big picture for everything from patterns to juxtapositions to problems. I quickly pause to examine irregularities and solutions. The brain processing I mention happens quite naturally, much in the same way, I suppose, one would approach a sport for which they have an innate ability.

 

My reasons for processing this way:  

 

1.) the simple joy of curiosity.

 

2.) because that is how my brain finds understanding. 

 

3.) an innate need for identifying and avoiding problems that have the potential to harm me.

 

My mind enjoys decoding everything using this method, including every human invention I've ever encountered, except one - It's my maddening love/hate relationship with that beguiling beauty,  

 

Stay With Me Here!

 

I'm not saying that I'm some kind of uber-genius at grasping every concept, formula, and procedure that comes down the pike. However, the written English language is highly non-compatible with my brain's model of processing.    

 

Why?

 

I don't know how all people with my brain type feel, but maybe it's because written English MAKES NO SENSE! It is utter nonsense and unreasonably complicated!

 

If the symbols of written English naturally dovetailed with a sensible concert of sound patterns that matched the effortless utterances of my vocal cords, tongue, teeth, lips, and mouth, I'm sure I could have avoided the academic misfortune of my youth. 

 

I'm a big boy, and when considering this theory, I can take it if science, the medical community, academia or Bob down the street thinks I'm completely wrong.

 

And if so, let me say five things in defense of my theory:

 

1.) I've learned to use fabulous technology that assists me in beating the nonsensical system of the English language; thus, I am more accepting of its complexities. 

 

2.) Orton-Gillingham curriculum is not only effective at teaching reading and writing to many people like me, it does so by highlighting the absurdity of the English language in such a way that our minds accept and even celebrate the ironic twist and turns of English. This wonderful curriculum is widely available, yet we still let kids fall through the cracks of academia.

 

3.) I've witnessed the right curriculum in the hands of the right teachers (fun, understanding, big-hearted, enthusiastic heroes/teachers) and the positive effects well-trained educators have on students.

 

BUT!!!!!!

 

4.) I've yet to see a pill, potion, vaccine or surgical procedure to "cure" us of our "impairment."       

 

5.) I store this nonsensical El in my catacombs but do so with great hesitancy because of her lack of discernible patterns and parallels. Just try connecting the dots of the English language and you will find there are none! 

 

Is my unique brain-type at some level rejecting an illogical code, much in the same way we look away when we can't bear to watch a horror film?  Is my neurodiverse mind saying HEY, this stuff you're trying to jam in my noggin defies all logic and reason? 

 

I swear to God when "they" sat down and developed the written English language, "they" didn't like me!  I just know it! To add to this conspiracy theory, I can just visualize Mr. Gutenberg loading type into his press while laughing at how, "I'm going to drive little Brons from McAlisterville bonkers with this stuff! HA!"

 

My brain rebels when it is forced to accept that letter sounds may or may not be interchangeable:   

 

S sounds might flip-flop with C and PS.  The letter C can be interchangeable with the letters Q and K, but the sound of a Q and K are never interchangeable with S or PS.  

 

PH is interchangeable with F! 

 

P or H don't sound anything like F, but if you put them together, they are compatible, by rule, to an F.  

 

G and J often make the same sound except when they don't.  And the G and K stands silent, "by rule," in front of an N.  

 

X and Z? Let's not go there!

 

Homonyms, Homophones, Homographs, and Heteronyms make me want to tear out my hair!

 

Don't even get me started on the words that sound the same, are spelled the same, and yet have different meanings. 

 

I would get into the words that rhyme but aren't even close in spelling, but George Carlin, God rest his soul, already did that way better than I ever could.   

 

There are tons of words such as 'through,' 'scissors' and 'island' that have no basis in phonetic logic and require memorization.  

 

Written language is a code. The English language code is made up of forty basics sounds and over 1120 ways of spelling those sounds.  Compare that to the Italian language that is made up of twenty-five basic sounds and only thirty-three ways of spelling those sounds. There are neurodiverse people all over the world including Italy, but evidence supports that having English as your first language is not a good mix with the difstypro/dyslexic brain.  On the other hand, Italian people with dyslexia, in general, have little trouble learning to read and write their native language. 

 

I've been fortunate enough to recognize most of the things my mind does well.  Subconsciously house cleaning an illogical code from my noggin is one of the areas in which I excel, yet in the world of academia that's quite frowned upon and really not considered a skill.  

 

Humans have walked this planet for 300,000 years, but it's only in the last 5000 years, five quick millennial eye blinks, that we have been coding and deciphering language in the form of written text.   

 

This type of communication is quite new to our species when comparing the tick-tocks of human existence. In that relatively short glimpse back in history, do we think all brain types have had time to properly acclimate to written code? Can all brain types learn and accept these codes in the same way? 

 

To compound the problem, relative to our American-English code, I, like most Americans, am not speaking the language of my ancestors.  There is even a distinct difference between Brit-English and Amer-English. In spite of the fact that my German ancestors came to America in the mid-1700s, my family has only recently (forty-ish years before my birth) started the ball rolling on speaking English as a first language.  The generational switch from German to English, while very entertaining, often follows a sentence structure that clearly denotes translation difficulties. 

 

In my home state of Pennsylvania, one will still hear comical phrases such as: "Throw me down the steps my hat, throw the cow over the fence some hay," and, "make the door go shut." It takes many generations for spoken language to translate with fluency.

 

Not only are we the Great American Melting Pot of genetic material, but our American dialect is also a blend of many languages and even variations within those languages. These tongues continue to ebb and flow into the pot; they swirl into each other as the beautiful and diverse concept of America recreates itself on a daily basis. 

 

English is a language with crazy rules.  English is also a language that breaks all of its own rules, and that is okay, as long as you know when and how to break the rules. The only thing I dislike more than rules is breaking the rules; as you can imagine, it's a personal conundrum!   

 

It seems unkind to think of English as a foolish code, but it is, and wouldn't that mean that it is highly possible that the neurodiverse brain is one that does not suffer foolish codes gladly? 

 

Consider the notion of driving your car to the gas station.  On the way, you experience a few stop signs, traffic lights, crosswalks and other general rules of the road. After you get gasoline, you head down another street on your way to the post office. However, on this street, stop signs don't mean the same thing as they did when you drove to the gas station. Maybe what you previously viewed as an instruction to "Stop" now indicates how fast you should drive. Furthermore, the traffic lights you now encounter use red for go, green for stop, and yellow to indicate it's Tuesday.  Crosswalks might or might not mean, depending on the hour of the day, that there is no parking on the left side of the street. How frustrated would you be if motoring rules changed street by street? How hard would it be to learn the legal nuances of operating a car? Would you avoid driving or maybe even stop altogether? 

 

Could my theory be the entirety, a big part, or at least some part of the mystery of dyslexia in the English speaking world? Absolutely-positively without a doubt, Yes!

 

Immigrant friends, often brilliant people who speak several languages, have told me that trying to learn English is maddening.  I believe them. 

 

Let's go back to the theory of the human brain's rejection of nonsensical data. If I try to decode the big picture in the form of a book, it goes like this: 

 

Look at the first letter, then the second letter. Does the first letter or the first letter combined with the second letter form a recognizable sound?  Look at the third letter and quickly the forth. Is a phonetic pattern or rhythm developing? Can I guess based on that initial sound what the word is? If not, I'll scan the whole word quickly and attempt a guess based on the thousands of words I have tried to memorize. If that doesn't work, return to the beginning of the word with the phonetic evidence developed thus far.  Now, work at putting any discernible sounds from the first syllable together with the first letter of the next syllable. What's the next letter? Can I guess now what the word is? We are still working on the first word of the book! So much for "simple English."

 

The process of reading can crush one's confidence, as society has come to greatly value these skills—skills I have no mastery of UNLESS I'm utilizing technology.

 

I Write With My Voice and Read With A Combination of My Ears and Eyes

 

I have long been a fan of audiobooks and retain much more from listening than I would If I was sight reading.  I also love the text reader on my MacBook! Voice-to-text dictation comes standard on many laptops. It takes a little practice, but once I've got it, I've got it! 

 

Writing isn't quite as difficult for me if I'm writing a quick note to a good friend. I'm comfortable enough with those around me that I can rely on the logic of phonetic spelling. My friends, family, and co-workers are on board and understand completely.  That's not to say they won't tease me a bit (something I hated as a kid), but it's rather fun now. I never thought I'd say it, but laughing at my own shortcomings is often the best laugh of all! For as much as I bust on my friends, I'm deserving of any ribbing they dish back at me.  Fun, honest friends have a humorous and magical way of keeping us grounded and genuine. That said, never tease a kid about their writing and reading skills.

 

To add to my argument of an illogical code, I offer that I have asked trusted loved ones on a daily basis how to spell the simplest of words.  They slowly sequence the letters for me as I write them down.

 

Numbers are a constant in my life as an entrepreneur. I started my first business at age fourteen, and in all these years I've never asked anyone to sequence a number for me verbally. My brain finds numbers very dependable, highly logical and quite enjoyable. The number 100 always means 100 and nothing else. Many individuals identify as persons with dyscalculia, but I'm not qualified to write on the subject. 

 

But What About L.D. Testing?

 

I've been subjected to much of the testing that is out there, and by the standards set by the creators of the tests, I don't do well.  The baseline of the tests relies on the theory that there is something out there known as the "normal brain" and I obviously have something different between my ears. If your brain doesn't test like the normal brain, then by the standard of the test you're not normal. It raises the question: what is normal?  

 

A life-changing moment in my journey toward embracing diversity came as I researched a story I was writing and producing for my radio show regarding the 332 Fighter Group of WWII.  

 

The 332, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, was made up of men of color whose intellectual abilities were questioned in a study by a prestigious university.  The report cited that the brains of these men were defective due to their race and would adversely affect their ability to perform in combat. History has taught us that IF there had been any truth in that study, its finding should have instead become the gold-standard in picking Airmen. The exceptional heroes of the 332 were among the bravest, most capable fliers of their time. Many historians believe that America could not have won the war without the 332 Fighter Group. Their story continues to inspire us.   

 

MORE ON WHAT I SEE (HOW MY BRAIN PROCESSES)

 

I always enjoy telling teachers the story of my trip to Geisinger Medical Center.  I hope as I share the experience they can relate it to a kid in their class!

 

ONE OF MY BEST TEACHERS

 

At age eleven, I went to work in one of my father's gas stations. The decision to put me to work was the suggestion of a Geisinger Medical Center psychiatrist. The evaluation was part of Dad's determination that, "We are finally going to get to the bottom of these school problems!" 

 

After speaking with me, the psychiatrist called Mom and Dad into the room for the bad news. The middle-aged doctor looked out over his reading glasses as he spoke, occasionally glancing at his notes on a yellow tablet. His forecast for my future was dim. 

 

Without any testing, and in my presence, he told my parents, "I'm going to assume, based on school records, that this young man lacks what is commonly known as 'gumption.'  I also think it's safe to conclude that Norman could be considered 'slow' with a significantly below-average IQ."

 

I spoke up in an angry tone, straightening as I quickly moved forward in my chair, "My name is Nelson, not Norman, and I'm not slow or dumb."  He didn't acknowledge me.

 

Dad seemed gobsmacked by the harsh "reality" of the news.  Mom took notes.

 

The psychiatrist urged Dad, "Your best hope is to put this boy to work and attempt to give him direction if you can get past his defiance.” 

 

The doctor's words were beyond humiliating; they were crushing and hit my already crumbling confidence with a jackhammer. I was hurt, but I felt worse for Dad than I did myself.  

 

Dad dreamed I would attend Harvard Law School. The hour and a half ride back to McAlisterville was quiet. I sat in the back seat of the family car and wondered what my father thought of that dream now. In spite of my problems at school, Dad had always treated me as if I were the smartest kid in the world. Now a professional "confirmed" that I wasn't very bright, and lazy to boot.

 

A week or so after the appointment at Geisinger Medical Center, I came home from school to find a package laying on the sofa.  It was my very first Mobil Oil uniform. I was eleven years old when I went to work pumping gas at a station Dad owned. Within two weeks, I not only mastered the business but suggested, at Dad's request, measures to improve operations, efficiency, and profitability.  Some of my peers were good at baseball; others like to build radios, rockets, create Lego sculptures or play the guitar. Like many neurodiverse individuals, my little brain was tailor-made for commerce. The only thing that wasn’t obvious was that, like Dad, I was dyslexic and didn’t know it.  It would be many more years before we even heard that horrid word.

 

One night after turning off the Mobil sign and shutting down the pumps we were counting the money, and I noticed there were tears in Dad's eyes. He wasn't crying, but he was on the verge. Dad gritted his teeth on one side and drew a deep breath.  That subconscious gesture always signaled that Dad was feeling emotional pain. 

 

"Nelson, I'm so sorry for putting you through that ordeal at Geisinger Medical Center.  That doctor was nothing more than an arrogant prick. Watching you grow up and  seeing you handle this gas station is the only IQ test I need to confirm what I've always known: you're brilliant." I chuckled, not only with the relief of knowing that Dad still thought I was smart, but it was funny to hear him say the word "prick." 

 

Dad had always seen the correlation between our mutual abilities, but he couldn't equate his academic problems with mine. Most neurodiverse adults of his generation, mine, and even the next, have often failed to grasp that our weaknesses and strengths are not only intertwined but integral to one another, or as I suggested earlier, may even be one and the same.           

 

Dad was amazed by how quickly I learned the ins and outs of the business.  I've always had an excellent understanding of money patterns. At the gas station, I was able to use all my senses.  I equated the memory of taste with the cost of ice cream, milk, and soda from the coolers. 

 

Motor oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, tires, and windshield washer fluid all had a unique scent, which I correlated to a price. 

 

To this very day, I can close my eyes and recall the smell of spent motor oil as it drained from a car up on the rack.  I can still imagine the feel of the small cardboard box containing the new oil filter and the sight of grease as it smushed the fittings on the chassis.  

 

They are indelible patterns recorded and forever stored in the catacombs of my brain. I still hear the squeaky casters rolling the spent oil bucket back to its home along the wall. I easily recall the air blast as the hoist lowered the car and the new oil glunk-glunk-glunking as gravity summoned it from the can and into the engine. The slam of the hood brought the total of an oil change to Eleven dollars and ninety-five cents plus six percent tax.  

 

The gas station was the best math teacher I ever had.  I do much better with numbers because they follow an entirely logical pattern, but I was so freaked out by the fear of punishment in school that I was afraid to write anything on paper, including numbers.

 

Processing a Task

 

You should know what many around me know: my style of execution drives people bananas!  

 

Regardless of the task at hand, it is essential that I have parameters, and ideally, I need to set those parameters. I listen and consider the suggestions and ideas of others, but I decide on the plan of action.  I set a start time, estimate a generous amount of time adequate to complete the task, and a finish time. These guidelines are important at a subconscious level and protect me from the conditioning of my school years.  It's a way of quelling anxious feelings that still follow me from my days as a kid being forced to perform tasks counter-intuitive to my brain. Things that make sense to others need, at least, a little bit of tweaking to make sense to me. 

 

I place other parameters on my tasks, also.  For instance, if I am cleaning and reorganizing the garage, the first thing I always do is look at what can go wrong and try to fix those things before they become a problem. I slice and dice the projects, looking at every step of execution in the form of pictures in my mind.  I create a phonetically spelled, handwritten, step-by-step checklist. The list parallels the sequential order of my mental pictures and keeps me in line with benchmarks I establish to guide me to a successful completion. I may sit down for an hour just to think before taking on a thirty-minute project.  My goal is always to get in, get it done safely, and get back out on time with one hundred percent success. I would have made a great jewel thief!

 

A former girlfriend cited her frustration with my laziness as her reason for breaking up with me. She said, "You take longer trying to find an easier way to do something than if you just did the task at hand." No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make her understand my methods or reasons; she was having none of it or me.  

 

My strategy and style are common among millions of other neurodiverse adults.  

 

A 2007 study by London's Cass School of Business found that thirty-five percent of American entrepreneurs are dyslexic. I smile when researchers discuss the mystifying correlation between neurodiversity and success in business. The mystery is anything but a mystery to those of us who are difstypro entrepreneurs. By a certain age, we have had our belly's full of the well-meaning but misguided people in charge who force counterintuitive models of operation on us. It's only natural that we become our own bosses so that we can make rules that work for us. Some see us as control freaks or narcissists that must have our own way; it's anything but. It is "away from motivation." In other words, we are motivated to complete the task, and even more motivated to do so with the least amount of haunting memories of people telling us we're doing it wrong, when we know we are doing right, by our way of processing. 

 

The Ort-Gilly Follies!

 

PET scans suggest that certain parts of the difstypro/dyslexic mind do not respond to written language in the same way they do in neurotypical learners.  I believe that would also be the case if I had a PET scan performed. Words printed in ink do not have a detectable scent, taste, physical touch, sound-wave or much logic associated with them.  They may be visual, but they are not terribly distinct when massed together on a page in ten point type, at least not for me. I can't help but wonder if my brain would fail to light up in expected areas because I was, at some level, avoiding a code that makes limited sense to my mind.  

 

I wonder if this thing, horribly dubbed "dyslexia," could really be as simple as the subconscious mind taking over and ignoring what it doesn't like?  If so, what do we do to change that? Could we get the Grammar-Gods to alter the language to a purely phonetic code that seemed more logical? HA! Little chance of that! 

 

You know why there has been so much success with Orton-Gillingham based curriculum? Because it’s a hoot!  

Which raises the question, why do we insist on using methods to teach reading that is as boring as watching cheese turn green?

 

Want to see reading scores in America go through the roof?  

 

Here's how you do it:  

 

Take three or four energetic, bright-eyed, barrel-of-fun reading teachers and sit them down in a room with three or four seasoned theater directors. Have them combine the methods of Orton-Gillingham with the excitement of a Broadway musical.  Let's call it the Code-Crackers! 

 

Think Conjunction Junction What’s Your Function!

 

Have everyone: the kids, teachers, heck even Mr. Bruxton the janitor, dress up in uniforms like WWII code breakers.  Give them all period appropriate headphones, code-breaking gadgetry, and Camel non-filter cigarettes (ok, nix the cigs), create a set, and incorporate music, song, dance, lights, action, AND YOU KNOW—FUN STUFF!  

 

Now set up chairs and invite Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Judy and Uncle Gunderson.  Get Mrs. Trumble to close the bait shop for an hour, wake up Sleepy Steinwald from his Lazyboy, pick up Habiar and his lovely wife Graciela from down the street. Let’s put on a show and have some fun!!!!!!! And then, let's do it next week too!!!!!   

 

Reading scores would soar into the heavens!

 

Or: 

 

We could just keep torturing kids with the boring techniques taught by that nice Mrs. Gruber, (God bless her - her heart is in the right place) in room 208. She learned from Miss Fenstermacher who started teaching in the one-room schoolhouse in 1910, and she learned from Mr. Hackery who was the first cousin, once removed, of Johnny Appleseed. 

 

Then when Mrs. Gruber gets done with the students, we can stick the "slow, struggling readers" in those dignity-robbing hospital gowns and shove them headlong into the big, scary PET Scan Machine.  

 

Doctors in freshly laundered white coats could view the results while clutching their chins in pity as they say stuff like "hmmm," "oh my," "that's too bad" and "just as we suspected."   

 

I sure hope they don't forget to call the parents in and ruin their day with the bad news that poor, poor Johnny's gray matter didn't turn lime green over there in the "Good Reader Quadrant."  And for the love of God, let's pray they find the courage to show the PET scan to little Johnny himself because he certainly deserves an explanation as to why some kids just aren't "college material." 

 

We should probably have a PET Scan device installed at every community school, right beside the dropout form dispenser and the carbonated high-fructose machine, don't you think?

 

Wait a minute, did I go off subject again? It's so hard to stay on task and off this soapbox. 

 

What was the question?

 

Had something to do with what I see, right?