Posts Tagged ‘dyslexia’

Maths has never been my strong point.  Numbers don’t come easily to me – I just can’t see numerical patterns, however hard people try to convince me of their existence. I see patterns in lots of other ways – in fact my world is full of them, but as far as I was concerned as a child, three was half of eight, because if you take the number 8 and draw a line vertically through it, you get a 3, with its mirror image. I was therefore able to grasp symmetry and was quite interested in geometry as it involved a lot of shading in, in different colours, which always made me happy.

Maths lessons involved a lot of shouting at primary level, as far as I can remember – which I can’t, very clearly. In fact, I have absolutely no memory of maths classes at secondary school at all whereas everything else from that era comes to mind with sharp photographic recall. I have evidence of sitting a maths exam because I have the grade to prove that I turned up and wrote my name on the paper, but my hard drive has erased any picture of a classroom, a teacher or classmates who may have shared my discomfort.

In my head, I have always seen numbers represented as colours. images[3]The colours never change but they replicate themselves once I get past counting twenty. For instance, my number two is pale, almost white with grey edges (like a swan) and my number eight is dark red. Twenty eight, therefore, is a mixture of the two colours. The months of the year (or the notion of them) are also colour coordinated – March is yellow, like the daffodils, I guess, and August being the eight month, is dark red. It gets more complicated if I think of, say, the 7th August which becomes blended to orange because, of course, my number 7 is yellow. Days of the week are in colour, too, starting with Sunday which is pink, Monday sky blue and Wednesday, dark green.

I had no idea until a few years ago, probably at the time I began working in school, that this condition is unusual. I hesitate to use the word normal: it’s normal for me and thousands of others whose experiences with colours, or sounds, or tastes are similar. Our sensory wiring is skewed, but I’m not bothered – David Hockney has it so I’m in esteemed company. The condition is called synaesthesia, and many people have it, to a greater or lesser degree.

The UK Synaesthesia Association explains: ‘Synaesthesia is a truly fascinating condition. In its simplest form it is best described as a “union of the senses” whereby two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together. Some synaesthetes experience colour when they hear sounds or read words. Others experience tastes, smells, shapes or touches in almost any combination. These sensations are automatic and cannot be turned on or off. Synaesthesia isn’t a disease or illness and is not at all harmful. In fact, the vast majority of synaesthetes couldn’t imagine life without it.’

 And I can’t imagine life without it.  Perhaps the colours I see are different in tone or intensity to the ones you see.  Who knows? But it has made me more aware, I think, that we all perceive things slightly differently. This was reinforced recently while helping a young lad, diagnosed with dyslexia, with his reading. He told me that when faced with a page of text, all he sees initially are wiggly pathways between the words – not straight lines going from left to right to make sentences and paragraphs. I keep and refer to often, something my then eleven-year-old son’s maths teacher said to him, when he was failing to understand a new concept being introducing to the class. He told my son that it wasn’t his fault – it was his, for not explaining in a way that my son could understand. If I’d had a teacher like that when I was eleven, I’d probably remember him and who knows what alternative pathway my life may have taken.

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