Dyslexia Superpower: Envisioning a better future (44/52)

After last week’s call to test for the positive characteristics of dyslexia (Dyslexia Superpower: Testing times), I have been struggling to find a single word that could capture all these positive skills – and therefore the title of a programme, course or module that could help develop them. I felt that dyslexia superpower (apart from being two words!) carried with it the negative connotations of dyslexia and seemed a bit lightweight for serious study.

The word needs to recognise i) problem solving, creativity, innovation skills; ii) big picture, visual, spatial thinking; iii) communicating ideas; iv) empathy, teamworking; v) systems thinking; vi) using assistive technologies; vii) selling the superpowered you! And, I’m sure much more …

Professor Rod Nicolson would call most of these unconventional thinking. However, this doesn’t really work for me – it’s not positive enough.

Then, whilst planning for a workshop I delivered to entrepreneurs considering the opportunities for their businesses from the low carbon economy (there was even a UK Government strategy published this week – The Clean Growth Strategy), I realised the word was … envisioning!

Let me explain.

Envision is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as, “imagine as a future possibility” or by Cambridge as, “to imagine or expect that something is a likely or desirable possibility in the future”. Possible origin in 1827, “endowed with vision.” I noticed Microsoft even have an Envisioning Center!

So, does envisioning capture all the positive characteristics so often found in people with dyslexia and also sound like a desirable skill non-dyslexics would like to acquire?

Could you imagine taking a course on envisioning and, at the end, being able to communicate your vision of a solution to a problem or plan to address a challenge?  What if the essential criteria for your next job included – ability to envision a better future!

I wonder how you could assess the course or demonstrate your ability to envision a better future?

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support


Dyslexia Superpower: Testing times (43/52)

There is much to be said for a professionally supported dyslexia diagnosis. In the UK, it’s actually a requirement that a Dyslexia Assessment is performed by a specialist teacher (with an APC or HCPC) or Educational Psychologist. Once diagnosed as having dyslexia schools, universities and employers need to respond with appropriate support that meets the Equality Act (2010). No wonder so much store is placed on an official dyslexia assessment.

However, this comes at a price – the British Dyslexia Association offers diagnostic assessments for £450 (+VAT) with a specialist teacher and £600 (+ VAT) with an Educational Psychologist. This automatically prevents much of the population from accessing an assessment and reinforces the ‘middle class‘ label associated with dyslexia assessment. Is there an alternative?

If you are not looking for an official dyslexia assessment, you could consider screening at a fraction of the cost. Nessy provide a range of screening tools including a free online dyslexia questionnaire for 5 to 7 year olds and a more detailed assessment from £10 per pupil. The latter covers: i) Visual Word Memory, ii) Auditory Sequential Memory, iii) Visual Sequential Memory, iv) Processing Speed, v) Phonological Awareness and vi) Working Memory and takes 20 minutes to administer. Do-IT Solutions provides Dyslexia+ Student Profiler for HE/HE students and adults, which takes about an hour in a one-to-one assessment and costs £25 per person. CognAssist provides a digital assessment tool for older learners, which covers: i) Verbal Memory, ii) Non Verbal Memory, iii) Literacy, iv) Numeracy, v) Visual Information Processing Speed, vi) Executive Function, vii) Verbal Reasoning and viii) Non Verbal Reasoning and takes 30 minutes to complete. These are essentially rules based assessments.

But, let’s start from a different perspective …

If dyslexia is a superpower (learning advantage), then it could be useful to test for characteristics that positively indicate for this superpower – such as: big picture thinking, visual thinking and spacial thinking in order to further develop these abilities. But, why is this important?

By screening for the positive attributes associated with dyslexia and developing these further, an individual immediately gets recognition for there abilities and chance to excel at these. Remember our society needs these skills – Dyslexia Awareness Week: Survival of the Species. This week saw the Nobel Prize for Chemistry awarded to Professor Jacques Dubochet who describes himself as dyslexic and was in the team that invented cryo-electron microscopy, which images the molecules of life.

Just, imagine if our society was able to identify everyone with this superpower and focused resources to help develop it to the full.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Guest blog by Ross Duncan: It takes one to know one! (42/52)

This really is a triple layered blog, which demonstrates the power of networks – in this case a dyslexia network.

Ross Duncan writes regularly for Dyslexia Scotland interviewing high profile dyslexics – most recently with Judge Dhir (see below). Ross kindly shares his early experiences of dyslexia that have resulted in a passion to write. His treatment is all too common – his reaction less so.

Guest blog by Ross Duncan: It takes one to know one!

“I vaguely remember reading something about Judge Dhir talking about glass ceilings and how this can act as barrier either for yourself or by others who don’t think you have what it takes to be successful.  But Judge Dhir is a good example of someone who as a child was only thought suitable to be a hairdresser, but has crossed many barriers other than being dyslexic to carve a success out of being an established judge.

In my own way, as someone who was subjected to unspeakable ridicule at home and at school, there wasn’t even an exit or open door where I could leave.  But forty years on from a statement that was made on parent’s night that I was a ‘dreamer’, my mother would still, up until recently, perpetuate this.  But on a home visit, I spoke to an elderly lady, a couple of doors down, where I wistfully said, that I was dyslexic.  That elderly lady happened to be the same school teacher who described me as a ‘dreamer’!

But of course, “dyslexia wasn’t heard of at that time”.  Everything the teachers says is correct and you didn’t question it.  This was the reaction my parents would have most likely have deemed as appropriate at the time.

In my early 40s I discovered that I was indeed dyslexic – I didn’t think I was.  My wife in her favour stuck by me and my difficulties and took on extra roles that I couldn’t handle myself. I couldn’t find any support or understanding to help me. It’s OK being a child with dyslexia because there is now a level of support and understanding that wasn’t available when I was growing up. But how do you support someone in their 40s?

My GP prescribed CBT, to my horror my counsellor was herself dyslexic!

So, for nearly ten years I have thrown myself into writing and contributing articles to magazines interviewing famous people with dyslexia to raise awareness and quall the myths about dyslexia. Would you believe it my latest published article is about Judge Dhir!

I may not have been good enough to get to university, but I’m smart enough to know how to talk to people and to engage with people regardless who they are and where they are from.  This is something I didn’t a qualification in when I left school, in fact I didn’t get any qualifications when I left school.”

Interview with Judge Dhir by Duncan Ross – first published in Dyslexia Scotland, September 2017.

Ross’ story highlights the damage so often inflicted on dyslexic children which continues well into childhood. All the more reason to celebrate the work of Rod Nicolson’s Positive DyslexiaDyslexia Superpower: Building the ultimate dyslexia library.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Awareness Week: Survival of the Species (41/52)

It is Dyslexia Awareness Week – #positivedyslexia2017 and World Dyslexia Day on Thursday 5th October.

Why might this be of interest to non-dyslexics and what has this got to do with survival of the species?

The publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin on 24th November 1859 caused consternation. Nearly 158 years on, there is still debate in many parts of the world on whether evolution or creation theories should be taught in schools.

In popular culture, the notion of survival of the fittest (actually first used by Herbert Spencer in 1864 on reading Darwin’s work) has gain a strong foothold – not least in business (Survival of the fittest).

Just imagine if the survival, up until this point, of the human species was dependent on neural-diversity – that it is the collective abilities within communities (from tribes to nations).

This may seem a little far fetched – but bare with me a little longer.

Before the first great civilisations (in Africa, Andes, China, Europe, Egypt and Indus Valley), small communities were dependant on their combined abilities, including fine detail thinking and big picture thinking. I imagine it would be difficult to identify any reason why one might be favoured more than the other.

With the advent if languages systems this was all set to change. Initially pictographic (i.e. Aztec) and logorahpic  (i.e. Egyptian and Chinese) based systems probably had no or little impact on big picture thinkers. However, about 3,000 years ago alphabet-based languages emerged and with the aid of printing technologies, in wide use in Western Europe by 1500, came to dominate the sharing of knowledge (and power).

So, perhaps not surprisingly, over just 500 years we have managed to design education systems which favour the learning of alphabet-based languages and in in so doing have selected for negative attention our big picture thinkers.

If only I had realised this in my English class aged just 8! I could have stood up to Mrs W and said, “Could I remind you that big picture thinkers have insured the survival of the species to this moment in time and perhaps a little more respect of my superpower is called for at this very moment“.

Alas, with corporal punishment still widely in use, at that ‘moment’,  in the English boarding schools system, I may have been ‘rewarded’ for my insight in a less constructive way!

So, as we contemplate Dyslexia Awareness Week we should think how our society might be better served by embracing neural-diversity. That might mean reinventing the education system to celebrate neural-diversity.

On a practical note, this could mean introducing free (positive) testing for every child to identify the big picture thinkers and then support them in the development of their superpowers – remember our very survival might depend on it!

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Guest blog by Rosa Weber: We’re all in this together (40/52)

The actual title of Rosa Weber’s, Co-Founder of the NUword charity, guest blog is ‘Why I became a Dyslexia Activist‘ but I couldn’t help highlighting the power of people with dyslexia and people effected by dyslexia working together or in the words of High School Musical, “We’re all in this together …” Sorry – you won’t be able to get that tune out of tier head all day!

Perhaps this image will help …

Guest blog by Rosa Weber: Why I became a Dyslexia Activist

“Many of my friends from school and beyond are dyslexic, so I’ve always known about it generally. They’re now a multi-talented bunch of film makers, painters, designers, social workers, leather workers, graffiti artists, lawyers, music makers… to name a few. They have succeeded despite all the difficulties on their journey through the school system. Yet it’s vital to remember that this is not everyone’s story: many dyslexic children, teenagers and adults are still being left behind, isolated, sidelined and woefully misunderstood.

It wasn’t until working closely with author Sally Gardner, as her assistant, that I began to truly understand what dyslexia is. Sally is severely dyslexic and what I’ve learnt from her is that it’s not about extra time, free computers, problems with spelling, reading, organisation. No, no, no. This is only what we are conditioned to associate with the word dyslexia. What this obscure word really means is huge imagination, holistic problem solving, visual thinking, 3D processing, divergent thinking… all skills that are now highly sought after by the creative and corporate sectors. Valuable, measurable skills that are usually repressed by Primary and Secondary schools – they go unnoticed, unnourished, unmarked.

It is the education system and the curriculum that marginalise dyslexic thinkers. It is not the fault of our teachers, for they’re being forced to work in an increasingly underfunded and unimaginative framework. The issues lie with the heavily text-based, out-dated, mind-boggling, memory-centric load of questionable questions that are perpetually asked to thinkers with dyslexia – who do not decode in text, but in images. What, then, if we were all required to draw our exam answers instead of write them? All of us strong spellers, readers, text thinkers  – well, we’d probably be pretty screwed. We’d be the disenfranchised group with the ‘disability’ label.

The bottom line is this: we are still wasting generations of brilliant minds. And it’s not the 1950s anymore. Through working with Sally – who’s experience of education was, as for many dyslexic thinkers, horror-filled – I have learnt how to develop my visual thinking, hone my imagination, solve problems from all angles – not just the angle that ticks the establishment box. What more, then, can dyslexic thinkers teach non-dyslexics? So much about resilience, grit. Hard work. Emotional intelligence. The beautiful languages of the image.

Collectively we must bring a halt to years of disenfranchisement and discrimination. We must call on schools to diversify measurements of academic attainment. Allow visual essays, spoken exams. The working world must stop binning CVs with spelling mistakes. And non-dyslexics must demonstrate more solidarity with the dyslexic people in their lives by getting to know their many strengths, not just accepting the generalising weaknesses that are associated with that misrepresentative word.

This is why I became a Dyslexia Activist. This is why, after six years of research, and with some initial core funding from the brilliant George Koukis of Temenos, Sally and I have recently set up NUword Charity. Learning and talking about the strengths of dyslexia will open up your mind. As a non-dyslexic, understanding and developing your own typical dyslexic skills will diversify, and therefore improve, the ways in which you engage with the world. It also might help us bring a halt to all these cruel years of educational and social injustice: it’s time to imagine a world beyond the word dyslexia.”

So, having read Rosa Weber’s powerful blog, what do you think the right answer to the following question, from Rosa and Sally Gardner, should be?

Nigel, would you like to be the first Chair of the Board of Trustees for the new NUWord Charity?

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

For more information about NUwords’ upcoming projects, please email, see (site in beta), or follow @nuword_dyslexia

Dyslexia Superpower: The Incredibles minus (39/52 or 75%)

I can’t believe it either! How did I get from going public with my first blog, The Dyslexic Professor, to this, the 39th (of 52) blogs? And, how dare are use ‘The Incredibles’ in the title – even with a minus?!

I am unashamedly promoting dyslexia as a superpower. But, very importantly I want to jettison the negativity associated with the word Dyslexia – hence the reference to The Incredibles – a film based on unrecognised superpowers. But why the minus? Just skip forward to the moment Edna Mode says, “No capes!” in reference to the sad tales of Thunderhead, Stratogirl and Metalman. I want us to say, “No” to the negative portrayal of dyslexia and to focus on the value it brings to our society.

Judging from the only trailer for The Incredible 2 I can find, it looks like Edna Mode’s time has come too!

I do not claim any originality – just look at:

Dyslexia Superpower: Building the ultimate dyslexia library (38/52)

The ultimate book on dyslexia has just arrived through my letterbox!

More on that in a moment – since the beginning of the year I have been gently adding to my library of books on dyslexia. It’s looking something like this:

Reference shelf:

  • The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the hidden potential of the dyslexic brain (2011) by Brock Eide and Fernette Wide.
  • The Power of Different: The link between disorder and genius (2017) by Gail Saltz.
  • Creative Successful Dyslexic: 23 High achievers share three stories (2016) by Margaret Rooke.
  • Connecting the Dots: Understanding dyslexia (2017) by Made by Dyslexia.

Self-help shelf:

  • Grammar Rules: Writing with Military Precision (2011) by Craig Shrives.
  • Defeat Dyslexia! The parents’ guide to understanding your child’s dyslexia (2016) by Holly Swinton and Nicola Martin.

And the ultimate book on dyslexia?

But, why am I so positive about Positive Dyslexia?

I simply think that Rod Nicolson captures, in a mere 150 pages, the issue, the strengths, the what, the how and the why! I will attempt to summarise his main points below [and in a rich picture in next week’s blog] but you could just watch his 2013 speech for

Positive Dyslexia is about recognising the 9 strengths of dyslexia that culminate in unconventional thinking and doing so demands the cessation of sinking into a ‘failing to learn, learning to fail’ cycle and replacement with positive assessment. This catapults (positive acceleration) dyslexics by inspirations (positive ambitions, positive career) to success in school, work and society by building these strengths into a Dyslexia Superpower [my words] needed by successful organisations and achieved by talent diversity. It ends with a call to action: “Positive Dyslexia will change the world for good. Its time has come. Please help!”

Unconventional thinking = Cognitive skills (1. Big picture thinking, 2. Creativity/Innovation, 3. Visualisation/Spatial); Work skills (4. Determination/Resilience, 5. Proactivity, 6. Flexible Coping) Social skills (7. Teamwork, 8. Empathy, 9. Communication).

Yep, looks like a superpower, sounds like a superpower, smells like a superpower, so, it must be a superpower!

So, we now have a guide book for the journey of creating a grassroots organisation committed to moving the agenda from learning disability, through learning difference to positive dyslexia – that is the Dyslexia Superpower.

All we need now is to gather the flock of Dyslexia Activists to make it a really …

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: Time for ‘Visual Thinking’ GCSE, NVQ, A-Level, BSc, MSc, PhD! (37/52)

Whether you call it big picture thinking, spatial thinking or visual thinking, there is something rather special about the way the dyslexic mind processes complex information – let’s just call it the dyslexia superpower!

Of course, our education system recognises and rewards other types of vital thinking. Such as, the fine detail thinking so evident in subjects that are linear and structured and can be assessed by clear rubrics and produce well distributed marks with clear grade boundaries. In fact, these also lend themselves to examinations rather than coursework. The recent changes to GCSE and A levels have reinforced the rewards for fine detail thinking assessed by examinations.

However, there have been failed attempts to develop subjects which broadly test thinking:

  • Critical Thinking (AQA – no longer offered from 2017)
  • Critical Thinking (OCR – no longer offered with statement “OCR is currently reforming its GCSEs, AS and A Levels in line with the government programme of reform. However, it was not possible to develop content for Critical Thinking that met Ofqual’s principles for reformed AS and A Levels” )
  • Thinking Skills (CAIE – a lone survivor?)

But, what of visual thinking?

With the culling of so many subjects from the list of approved GCSE and A levels, what hope this there for developing a new subject, which rewards visual thinking skills? Given this current climate, what hope is there to assess visual thinking skills by a wide range of methods: animation, video, presentation, digital media, portfolio or just plain old coursework?

We could just ask the RSA to develop a GSCE based on RSA Animate!

I (and 1,806,538 other people) really liked the Divided Brain (2011):

Or the The Power of Networks (2012):

I don’t have the answer to this problem but I do recognise it is a problem. The first step along the way.

I think it’s time to mobilise an army [or peace corps] of people to address this fundamental flaw in our education system. Or even better a flock of dyslexia activists!

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Dyslexia Superpower: Clearing the decks for creativity (36/52)

It’s clear that big picture thinking (visual thinking or creative thinking) is a prevalent skill in dyslexics (one of our superpowers) but how do you create the space for creativity?

This week, a couple of things have brought the need to clear space [clearing the decks!] for new projects and enable some creative thinking.

Firstly, Dr Michael Bloomfield’s article in Tuesday’s Guardian, ‘Forget about work and keep a dream diary: how to think creatively‘, suggested: i) Relax and meditate, ii) Make time for undemanding physical tasks, iii) Practise connecting ideas, iv) Keep a dream diary.

No doubt we all have our own way of clearing space for creative thinking. For me, knowing I’m on top of my to-do-list helps me relax (i), striding alone on a familiar walk (ii) and drawing big pictures (iii). However, I’ve never tried keeping a dream diary (iv). In fact, I don’t seem to be able to remember my dreams – in direct contrast to other members of my family.

I wonder, is this a characteristic of the dyslexic brain?

Secondly, I have been asked to get involved in a new charity [more on this in a future blog] – one very close to my heart. I have been looking for an opportunity to change perceptions of Dyslexia for a while and this has meant, I hope gently, exiting from two important charities – Foundation (after 6 years) and the Small Business Charter (after nearly 4 years).  My role in Foundation and the Small Business Charter has been strategic but that doesn’t mean not paying attention to the detail and caring passionately about their purpose – both are very different:

FoundationTransforming lives: Inspiring Individuals
Providing support for the homeless and vulnerable. With experienced and dedicated teams across Leeds, Yorkshire and the North of England, Foundation is here to provide help and support vulnerable people in our community. Our services extend to individuals and families who are affected by the following issues: i) Homeless or at risk of homelessness, ii) Leaving prison or on probation, iii) Leaving care and iv) Domestic abuse. We work with hundreds of people every year, helping them to build a better, healthier and more positive life – we’re here so that you don’t have to face your challenges alone.

My role: To help recruit an new Chief Executive and help navigate the choppy water of austerity.

Small Business Charter – The Small Business Charter award is a mark of excellence for business schools, which recognises their expertise in: i) Supporting small businesses, ii) Student entrepreneurship and iii) Engagement in the local economy. For business it means that Business Schools, which hold the Small Business Charter award are the go-to source of information for businesses who want to benefit from expert advice, training and courses. They can provide business support, sometimes even a space for local businesses as well as access to consultancy and mentoring.

My role: To bring insights on bridging the world’s of academia and business. In my view, a marriage made in heaven!

These roles have provided me with interesting challenges but above all a chance to work with great people on delivering a common goal for society. Not a bad way to spend your day!

In both cases, the last board meetings are this month. So, October should see some space emerge to think creatively about the new charity and engage with the founding team.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support

Guest blog by Dr Julie Holland: Dyslexia Nightmare 2 (35/52)

You can’t beat a good horror story sequel!

To be honest Alien (1979) would have been quite an enough without Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997) and prequels Prometheus (2012), Alien: Covenant (2017)

Following hot on the heels of the ‘Dyslexia Nightmare Fortnight: GSCE and A-level Results‘ blog, I thought an academic’s perspective on marking might be particularly insightful. Julie Holland is Head of Executive Education & Corporate Relations at Nottingham Trent University and perviously Director of the Glendonbrook Institute for Enterprise Development at Loughborough University.

Dr Julie Holland: Dyslexia Nightmare 2

Twice a year I get that sinking feeling! An email alert tells me that I’ve got three boxes of exam scripts to pick up. “You’ll need a trolley and you’ve got ten days” the administrator says. Sounds familiar? Yes of course it does but for the dyslexic academic marking coursework and examination scripts, particularly handwritten, can be one of the most stressful aspects of academic life. I often give myself a talking too. I imagine the students taking the exam. Their paper is so important to them personally, but when added anonymously to an ever increasing pile of papers, it becomes just another number. I want to make sure that I consider each piece of work carefully but with shortening deadlines, I know that this will mean many hours of reading with inevitable fatigue that can’t be good for the student or my wellbeing. Yes it’s the same for all academics, but spare a thought for those with dyslexia. We want to give every paper our full attention but it will take us many more hours to mark papers than our non-dyslexic colleagues.

To be frank, I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to get through this essential academic task in order to meet the exam marking deadline. I’ve used a magnifying ruler given to me by a dyslexic friend, and a coloured transparent page to put on top of the script. Nothing has worked. In fact it has slowed me down even more. I had to do something radical, and while a solution to my hand written exam marking problems has yet to be found, I have at least found help with marking electronic documents.

A couple of years back, I was faced with the usual three boxes of pink examination papers. The first twenty scripts were in a special packet; those students tested by disability services and granted extra time. If only the dyslexic academics could get the same. So having spoken to one or two colleagues who I knew wouldn’t betray my secret, I gave the disability centre a ring. The answer was sympathetic but disappointing. ‘We only really provide help for students, not staff’ was their reply.

Undeterred, I decided to see what external help I could get. There must be technology available? I’d seen an MBA student, dictating to her computer using an app called Dragon. Perhaps this would help me write. I certainly don’t have any problems talking! Then there was software to help keep your eye in the right place. It helped, but how do you get through a 120 page masters project one word at a time? My technological saviour came in the shape of Read and Write, Gold, computer software developed to assist with reading and writing disabilities. It seemed at first to be predominantly aimed at children and students, but I found the trial really helpful particularly because the voice, while computerised, was of a very high quality. Although lacking the silky smooth tones of a BBC newsreader, I could actually listen to the voice for more than ten minutes without needing to take a break. Progress at last.

Read & Write is expensive, but it’s well worth the investment. I’m doing much better and although I only use the software for electronic documents, I use it for every aspect of my work from reading papers to reading email. In an environment when marking on line is becoming the norm, things are certainly looking up for this dyslexic academic. Perhaps one day, technology experts will create software that will turn every handwritten exam script into something that can be listened to. I expect that this software already exists and speaking to a research collaborator at IBM, I was assured that computers would soon be able to do the marking for us (Dr Watson, I presume!). I would also make a plea to university exams offices, departments and schools. Please spare a thought those of us who read at half the speed of our non-dyslexic colleagues and certainly ask the question of staff as well as students, confidentially of course…… ‘Do you need more time during the exam period?’

Many thanks to Julie for sharing this challange.

Nigel LockettThe Dyslexic Professor
University dyslexia support