Guest Blog by Dr Vincent Walsh: “Batman, Clowns, Dark Days and Dyslexia 1” (15/52)

The first of two guest blogs by Dr Vincent Walsh focuses on his early years and formal education. Vincent also provided me a copy of his psychological dyslexia assessment.

Two things struck me: Firstly, the similarities in our experience of becoming the “class clown” – something I have heard from many dyslexics. Secondly, leaving compulsory education feeling “undermined and broken”. This resonates with Prof Carol Greider’s (Nobel Prize winning Microbiologist) experience of, “I had a lot of trouble in school and was put into remedial classes. I thought that I was stupid” – mentioned in last week’s “[Dyslexia] Power of Different” (14/52) blog.

Dr Vincent Walsh (Ecological Innovation Fellow, Academic & Practitioner) Part 1:

Batman, was my first word, at the age of 3 years old. I was a late developer with speech and reading, child care professionals said I was a slow starter. Although, I was fine feeding myself and getting dressed, but at this early age, it was clear, I could not concentrate for long or sit down for long periods, but what under five-year-old child wants to do that anyway?

Contemporary research now strongly suggests that developing late verbal communication, if not identified and treated, can have serious consequences across preschool, high school and adult life. I received speech therapy between the ages of three and five, although I have no recollection of what my speech problems were since I was so young at the time. Even though I cannot remember much of my childhood, I do remember from the age of 3 to being 24 years old always feeling inadequate and somehow different – silently troubled. 

My mother recalls that in primary school, teachers thought I was not academically gifted and they were quite happy to not bother trying to teach me, it was easier for them to let me concentrate on sports. My mother arranged private tuition for 12 months, aged 10, before I went to secondary school, and it was suggested I got up to a reasonable level in Maths and English. High school confirmed my frustration, I came to understand, I was different, for all the wrong reasons. I remember having a deep lack of the fundamental principles of verbal and written communication, maths and languages. My peers, knew I was “thick” and to the teachers, I was “disruptive” concluding, that I did not want to learn, and therefore I continually disruptive the class, because, I did not want anyone to learn, if I could not. I remember feeling deeply upset not just for days or months, but years, because I did not understand why, I was, the way I was.

I quickly developed an identity, a role for myself as the “Clown of the Class”. This was my alter ego that suppressed the pain and inadequacy of Vincent Walsh by pursuing laughter, by highlighting how “thick” I was. I acted very well in my expected behaviour. Psychologists, understand that typically the class clown is not disrupting class for the sake of disrupting class, class clowns usually act out when they’re bored or confused, they would rather stick to something they’re good at, like making people laugh.

I now understand my frustration and anxiety was fuelled and enhanced by a lack of knowledge of my specific learning difficulties and I would suggest that this also frustrated of my teachers and school. Understanding, having knowledge of my difficulties (epistemology) would have supported my understanding and rehabilitation as an early age, but It was never explained to me in the 15 years of child education, why I had difficulty, and if it was it was never done with the rigour and clarification that I needed as a young adult.

At the age of sixteen, I left school feeling that I learnt nothing, with no education, undermined, and broken. The years of poor education, lack of creative teachers, directed me on a path of destruction. In 2002, I was diagnosed with moderate to severe Dyslexia and moderate Irlen Syndrome.

Vincent’s story certainly supports the first of Dr Gail Saltz’s four common categories of dyslexics, “the trauma of school” – articulated in her book “The Power of Different” (2017). I am looking forward to Vincent’s second blog focusing on how he has overcome the challenge of dyslexia and how it has helped shaped into the ecological innovator!

Nigel Lockett – The Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support