Much the same as reading, writing is an awesome skill adapted, developed and perfected by humans. It is utterly amazing how individuals can communicate via a flurry of mere signs, squiggles and symbols. However for dyslexics, and many others belonging to the neurodiverse community, writing can be an extremely strenuous, time consuming and infuriating activity.
I do really enjoying writing. It provides one with a license to creative freedom, inviting them to be inventive, innovative and original through words alone. This was one of the main big reasons I wanted to set up and share this blog series. Not only does it allow me to educate, yet also increase awareness and understanding of dyslexia, I could do this all in my own words. It allows me to be reflective, honest and open about how dyslexia can, and may, affect an individual’s daily life. In addition, I can draw from my own personal experiences, conversations with fellow dyslexics and research I have conducted in order to construct wholly unique accounts of the neurodiverse world. However, I do find writing tricky, laborious and I’m not always very good at it. For me grammatical rules, tenses and how/when to use punctuation are all rather confusing. In addition, my writing can be error-prone as recognising mistakes can take multiple attempts to notice and correct. This is not unusual, as for many dyslexics proof reading can be a real logistical nightmare. It can take me a long time to form, check and recheck sentences. In order to combat this, I kind of pre-rehearse ideas I want to write. Slightly embarrassingly, I often pace around talking to myself and mulling over what I want to say. Furthermore I set myself little targets, of how many words I would like to write in a sitting. These struggles with writing are not helped by being a habitual procrastinator. My brain goes on various tangents, drifting between what I’m going to have for my next meal, to thinking about making yet another a cup of coffee and remembering all the domestic chores I need to do.
What do the experts and academics say about dyslexia and writing? Firstly difficulties with spelling can be fairly evident. It is not uncommon for dyslexics to use only the words they know how to spell; causing them to avoid the actual words they want to use. Because of this, individuals may alter the desired content of their work or avoid writing altogether. Vitally, there are a number of strategies to assist individuals with writing tasks. Various assistive technologies, such as speech to text software, the use of scribes and dictaphones are all incredible useful for recording information. A second common characteristic ridden amongst dyslexics is a lack of or inconsistent use of punctuation. Text can be written as one very paragraph, as individual’s can be unconfident of how and when to use correctly. To be brutally honest I have no idea where commas, colons or semi-colons are supposed to be used. I usually just guess and hope for the best.
Memory, a frequent visitor to these blogs, once again makes an appearance here. Due to difficulties in working memory, dyslexics can face struggles in remembering/recalling spellings, grammar rules, punctuation uses and even the content of their work. This ‘backtracking’ can be extremely frustrating and time consuming, as it can cause the already difficulty writing process to be prolonged. Whilst I was at university, and importantly still to this day, I constantly made notes, plans and drafts of essays and reports. Otherwise I would forget awesome bits of research or theoretical knowledge, of which I would only come to remember days later. Fourthly, dyslexics can present with difficulties in organising, structuring and processing written work. This in particular can affect the fluency and ‘smoothness’ of how concepts are written and presented. On a personal level I genuinely have a pretty good vocabulary. However, I do struggle to get my thoughts and ideas written down. Frequently, I ponder, edit, check and recheck how to phrase sentences. These can be rephrased numerous times until I am either happy or admit defeat. In addition it is not usual to see words confused, mixed up and used incorrectly. Exemplars include writing how instead of who, or vice versa, and the debate of when to use affect versus effect.
Considering an alternative perspective, it is crucial to note that some writing struggles can be due to individuals finding the pure act of writing highly difficult, and in some cases, extremely painful. Dysgraphia, another formally diagnosable neurodiversity and Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) can be characterised by poorly formed lettering, uneven spacing between words and messy/untidy handwriting (Cicerchia, 2016). Logically, it does have strong links with dyslexia. Furthermore dyslexia can have overlaps and comorbidity with dyspraxia. With regards to writing, dyspraxics can have difficulty with the general motor movements required to write and form letters. Vitally this can cause, pain, discomfort and agitation to the individual. Not all individuals who present with ‘untidy handwriting’ or experience pain when they write are diagnosed with dysgraphia, dyspraxia or dyslexia. Nevertheless, it is crucial to emphasise how these various neurodiversities may present in written work.
Crucially the psychological and emotional impacts are also widely emphasised by academics. It is stressed that the written ‘outcome’ and work that dyslexic’s may produce may not reflect the time, effort and patience that went into preparing and executing the work. As previously stressed, for dyslexics many literacy based-tasks, such as reading, spelling and writing can take longer to process and understand. These can add additional stress and anxiety which ought to be taken into account when considering their written work. Thus, these emotional affects should not be ignored and overlooked.
I’m more than sure that I have missed many ways dyslexia impacts writing. But I wanted to give an overview, a snapshot of how being dyslexic can affect and influence this creative skill. Nonetheless, one process that really helped me in developing my writing skills has actually been to read. Although this too I find tricky, it has helped me to learn new vocabulary, punctuation placement and, most importantly, sentence structure/phrasing. Inevitably, I still fully expect my blog posts to be laden with spelling, grammar and, to be honest, any other literacy mistakes you can think of! This alongside a willingness to learn, patience and support from others has definitely helped improve these skills. Writing can be a laborious difficult process. Yet it too can be highly rewarding, as one can see their own personal thoughts, ideas and notions be collated and readily available for its desired purpose.
Cicerchia, M. (2016). Handwriting Difficulties. Accessed on the 25th October 2019, at https://www.readandspell.com/handwriting-difficulties