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A Slice of Dyslexia

In a recent episode of the quintessentially British and innuendo-laded series The Great British Bake Off a contestant designed and baked an entire cake dedicated to neurodivergence. Baker Lizzie created an amazingly colourful and visually stunning cake that represented her and her SEN background of Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD and Concentration Disorder (to view a clip please see the useful links section below). I found this so interesting, fun, courageous and extremely admirable. Not only and solely because I love cake, and love eating it even more so, but because I have never seen dyslexia, neurodiversity and baked goods combined together and a person describe their neurodiversity so openly on TV. Over the past few years of researching dyslexia I have read numerous articles, web pages and blog posts, alongside watching various long and short documentaries. This presentation of dyslexia in cake form is a fresh and appealing new way of expressing dyslexia that I’ve never seen before.

Dyslexia can be found strewn within popular culture and the contemporary media. A well-known and heart-warming example of this stems from an episode of Channel 4’s Educating Greater Manchester series aired in 2020. Within one particularly poignant showing, a head teacher discloses to one of his dyslexic students, much to their surprise, that he too also has dyslexia. These two individuals share an important, impactful and quite sweet conversation where they both understand each other and become connected by their dyslexia. Within their discussion, this head teacher openly explains and emphasises that dyslexia not a bad thing. On the contrary, he stresses that dyslexia is a ‘superpower’ which can yield huge positives and benefits. Rather touchingly, this episode ends by showing this student giving an inspirational presentation about his dyslexia; of which he confidently and bravely describes as his ‘unique superpower’ that allows him to think differently (please see the link to this clip in useful links section below).

Given its abundance in modern day society, with approximately one in ten people potentially having dyslexia, it is highly likely that we all know a dyslexic person (Discussing The Dyslexic Brain, 2020). Whether it be an individual we have physical contact with or a person we know online or from popular culture, such as an online support group or a celebrity, the coverage of dyslexia has become far more widespread in recent years. Sociologically we now live in much more cyber-style society. Therefore, this coverage and reporting of dyslexia can be vastly found via social media, online platforms, online support groups, company websites and even the TV and film industry (as exemplified above). As a result, relationships formed by conversations and discussions around all topics, and not just dyslexia and neurodivergence, that take place online or via televised programmes are normalised. Crucially numerous famous faces across the globe are open about their dyslexia. Ranging from actors, singers, writers, entrepreneurs and even scientists. By being open, honest and willing to share their experiences of being dyslexic helps spread vital information and understanding, which filters down to their fans, followers and to the rest of society.

It is a well-known notion that exposure of a concept the in the media and popular culture can be a doubled edged-sword. As such, reactions to a discussed topic can be both good and bad in nature. With regards to dyslexia, there is always a fear of stigma, taboo, backlash and negative or judgemental comments when discussions and explorations of dyslexia come into the media. Yet, these negative connotations are often in the minority and are replaced and overshadowed by encouraging and praise-full comments.

An emotional documentary aired in 2013 featuring Shane Lynch, a recognisable member of boyband Boy Zone, hit these concerns around taboo and negativity in relation to dyslexia head on (see useful links below for a link to the full documentary). Within this autobiographical programme, Shane reveals his inability to read and write that stems from childhood. Growing up and attending school in the 1980’s when dyslexia was not the researched and documented concept it is now, Shane hid his difficulties and associated anger from all of those around him. Within the episode Shane visits his old school, his family, a dyslexic prisoner and a dyslexic university student in order to learn more about dyslexia and its daily impacts before he himself is assessed for dyslexia. The show provided an excellent insight into how widespread and indiscriminate dyslexia can be, by manifesting itself within people of all walks of life; from the famous to the young. Furthermore, it outlines and emphasises perfectly what dyslexia truly is; a ‘difference’ to how one processes information which ultimately impacts reading, writing and memory. Once his diagnosis of dyslexia is confirmed, Shane presents with a much brighter and positive outlook of himself. Throughout the programme he battles his own childhood demons of constant struggle in order to break down the taboos and stigma around dyslexia and uncover what dyslexia truly is. One particular point I really admired about this documentary was a line Shane says very near the end of the programme. Following his official diagnosis he understands and emphasises that it is easier to ask for help then to “hide your struggles”. This is a highly empowering, impactful and inspiring statement for a person to make to the television cameras, who previously, concealed away their difficulties.

As has been explored dyslexia can be found within many parts of contemporary media. Such elements are great platforms for presenting people with a metaphorical ‘slice’ or snapshot of what living with dyslexia can be like in a format that can be broadcasted to millions in a attention grabbing, entertaining and impactful manner. These media outlets, whether they be TV programmes, social media posts or articles written by bloggers, are a fast and fantastic way of distributing and airing real-life experiences, knowledge and understanding of dyslexia around the word for all to see.

Useful Links

All Documentary YouTube Channel – My Secret Past (2013) Shane Lynch: Dyslexia.

Discussing The Dyslexic Brian (2020) – The Dyslexic Statistic.

Our Stories YouTube channel - Educating Greater Manchester (2020) Schoolboy Realises Dyslexia is a Superpower and Not a Disability.

The Great British Bake Off YouTube Channel (2021) Lizzie’s ‘Celebration of Being Different’ Showstopper.

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