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What’s With The Taboo?

Seen and perceived as unmentionable, unspeakable, controversial, or potentially even offensive, the contemporary world remains ridden with a number of taboos or taboo-like topics. Dyslexia, alongside other neurodiversities, learning difficulties or hidden disabilities, sadly can still fall into this category.

From a Sociological stance, taboos, mirroring the creation and continuing existence of stigma, are very much a social construction. In this way, taboo subjects are created, fashioned and maintained by society itself; often due to a reluctance and nervousness to openly discuss and explore certain topics or themes. In order to break this continuous cycle, the reasoning behind why such taboos exists must be fully explored.

Why may dyslexia be considered a taboo in modern society? After some concentrated consideration and research three main and key reasons stood out:

1. The creation and maintenance of taboo is strongly linked and interconnected to misconceptions and misunderstandings, leading to a lack of comprehensive and holistic understanding around a topic. Large amounts of research and writings exist that explore the myths and incorrect assumptions around dyslexics and dyslexia. Examples of such myths are explored below (Dyslexia Help, 2021 and Discussing The Dyslexic Brain, 2018).

· Clever individuals cannot be dyslexic or possess a learning difficulty. Crucially, dyslexia does not impact or influence intelligence. Much on contrary, dyslexics are creative, intuitive problem solvers who merely process information differently to others.

· Dyslexia only impacts reading, writing and spelling. In vast contrast, dyslexia is far more complex and diverse as all dyslexics display and possess varying ‘dyslexic traits’. These can include struggles with memory, auditory processing, organisation, coordination, visual stress and self-esteem.

· Dyslexic individuals are lazy, stupid and need to try harder. This could not be further from the truth. Often dyslexic individuals have to work harder and for longer than others to tackle and complete tasks. It cannot be stressed enough that dyslexia is not focused around a lack of effort and hard work. Instead, individuals simply may need information to be presented to them in a different way or format to allow them to work through a task in their preferred manner.

· Dyslexia can be cured and reversed. Opposing this, dyslexia is a lifelong neurodiversity which is present for the entirety on one’s life. However, using individualised coping mechanisms and strategies, dyslexic individuals learn to manage, cope and accept their diagnosis on a daily basis.

2. Dyslexia in another alternative sense can also be viewed as a taboo where individuals can be less aware and knowledgeable of dyslexia as a whole, because it is a hidden disability and hidden neurodiversity. As dyslexia is often less visible and observable in comparison to more medical-based illness or disabilities, society may unconsciously or unknowingly view dyslexia as less of a problem, issue or barrier in life (Counselling Directory, 2014). Although the visibility part of this is true in relation to dyslexia, as often dyslexia is not obvious to an outsider, its impacts, effects and symptomology remain throughout an individual’s day to day existence. Dyslexia can have a huge impact upon dyslexic individuals and their families, both psychologically and in relation to achieving success. Subsequently, it is vital for societies and communities to remember and be aware that just because dyslexia is not always viewable, observable and distinguishable this does not mean that it doesn’t exist.

3. Thirdly, dyslexia can also be considered and viewed as a taboo often due to individual’s reluctance or fear to mention and use the word ‘dyslexia’. Potentially, this could be due to two factors. Firstly, concerns or worries may rise about offending or upsetting dyslexics or other members of the neurodiverse community if dyslexia is discussed around them. Or, secondly, a dyslexic individual may be concerned about how a person may react or respond if they disclose they are dyslexic. In doing this, the term dyslexia is socially viewed, shaped and constructed as a word that is ‘off limits’ or ‘out of bounds’. Inherently this creates a cycle of uncertainty, where individuals may be unsure as to whether it is ever socially acceptable to use this ‘tabooed term’ in everyday conversation.

Reducing the prevalence of these taboos around dyslexia is a highly important social process. Vitally, and notably, this is because dyslexia is highly present across the globe, with statistics outlining that as many as one in ten people can be dyslexic (Discussing The Dyslexic Brain, 2020). Ultimately, this means that these taboos and misconceptions surround and relate to a high portion of the world’s population; stressing the need for change. To lower this taboo and uncertainly is of the upmost importance so that dyslexia is talked about and not labelled as a bad word. By discussing and exploring a tabooed subject, to some extent that subject becomes less of a taboo as more individuals are open and willing to discuss it. In allowing dyslexics, their families and professionals to discuss the ins and outs of dyslexia in safe, non-judgmental environment this can help promote knowledge, awareness and understanding of the dyslexic world. To conclude, dyslexia is not a bad unspeakable word and should not be treated as a subject of taboo. Instead its varying nature should be studied, explored and understood, to allow societies to support and empower their dyslexic population.

Useful links

Discussing The Dyslexic Brain (2018) Dyslexia Does Not Impair Intelligence. What is Dyslexia?

Discussing the Dyslexic Brain (2020) The Dyslexic Statistic

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