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Excerpts from Dyslexia; Dating, Marriage and Parenthood

Does school experience impact on the dyslexic’s self-esteem for dating to be possible?

Dating is not easy for any child or teenager. It’s a highly complex activity requiring high levels of self-esteem and confidence. The dyslexic at mainstream school identifies him/herself as someone with low self-worth and thus finds it hard to accept they have anything to offer others. When the dyslexic first enters mainstream education, either a nursery or primary school, they most likely have not compared themselves to others; and were accepted as individuals by their families with abilities, with a strong personality/identity. As soon as dyslexics enter the education system they begin like other children, to compare themselves to others. They begin to make friends, and soon find that some children like them and others do not. Probably clever children or the ones that ‘can do’ mix together much easily than those who ‘can’t do’. I know from my own children, that very quickly children avoid others that seem a bit slow or backwards. Although children won’t put it into such words, they realise they aren’t able to do the same things, and get frustrated more easily. In one of my daughters’ class a child with unidentified learning needs, screams and fits when he hears loud noises, and is dragged away screaming by several teachers during fire alarms. When I ask my daughters why they don’t mix with him, even though we are family friends, they just say that he is unlike us. So early on children can sense such things. As a severe dyslexic growing up I was not part of the in crowd and generally mixed with children a few years younger than me, as they were more on my wave length.

So if a dyslexic child is perceived as being ‘odd’ or ‘different’, its likely that they will be in awe of those who are ‘clever’ and ‘popular’, but recognise that they are ‘out of their league’. No matter how much parents push a child/teenager to mix with ‘the popular’ kids, if such kids see them as ‘weird’ or ‘unpopular’, then it’s going to be a hard uphill struggle. So when does it change? Good question. I think when dyslexics begin to show their personality and that they have measurable abilities in other areas such as art, drama, sport and public speaking.

When the dyslexic shows they are more than just a range of illogical difficulties in the classroom, they will gain self-esteem and self-worth. I know I did. I was amazed to come top of my class for my O’level (now GCSE) in art, over my more able-bodied and popular peers. This showed me that I could beat the best of the rest. Whilst they got B’s I got an A! I went onto art college and they went into catering and marketing.

I would strongly suggest that parents of dyslexics or dyslexics focus on abilities and not disabilities. Find out what your child is good at and make them better at it, better than their peers. This way they will regain their self-image and confidence, which will translate in being popular and ‘dateable’.

Should dyslexics only date other dyslexics?

This is an interesting one, it makes me think about should dyslexics date those who are like them, perceived as ‘weird and odd’ or date the popular kids they really fancy. I know it’s harsh, and maybe not true. But it needs to be asked. Are they dating other dyslexics because they can, or because they want to?

Truthfully, if they are dating other dyslexics because they share a common bond and experiences then that’s great. I know one of my ‘Dyslexia and Depression’ participants told me how great it was when she shared a university house with other dyslexics. How they all ‘got’ each other and had a special understanding, that they had never experienced before. Each understood the suffering the other had experienced at school and with family. So dating another dyslexic may give this.

It makes me think about Down syndrome couples. I’m going to be controversial here, are they dating or married because they are likeminded, or that they are unable to date able-bodied people? I’m glad they have found a soulmate, but if is so great, why are many such couples sterilised so they can’t have children? I hate such conversations, but it puts a certain slant on dyslexics dating and marrying other dyslexics.

Growing up I did not know many dyslexics, in fact none at school, as dyslexia was not that known or generally diagnosed. How many dyslexics do I know now, a few adults socially, but mostly as research participants? Dyslexics generally don’t advertise their dyslexia – it’s not seen as a cool disorder/difficulty to have. Thus if its not disclosed, then its going to be hard to find other dyslexics, apart from those in your own or other low ability school classes. From all my research ‘Dyslexia and Depression’ participants, none were dating or married to other dyslexics. I think most dyslexics are attracted to those perceived as ‘normal’.

I would however imagine that in specialist dyslexia school, where everyone is dyslexics, it would be more common to find dyslexics dating each other. In fact I would be amazed if it didn’t happen. This is the beauty of such schools or institutions; it makes dyslexia ‘normal’, which must be amazing. It is not something I have ever personality experienced, even at conferences on dyslexia.

Are dyslexics true to themselves by hiding their dyslexic difficulties when dating?

So you feel you are very open about it, so they blamed the dyslexia not you? Its one of the first thing I say, but I suppose I use it as an excuse. I do not mind telling people I am dyslexic, as it is who you are. I would be lying if I said I do not use it as an excuse. I guess it is because I have been told I am stupid a lot growing up, you are quite eager to tell people the reason why you cannot do things.

How do people normally react to you telling them you are dyslexic? Most people say ‘really, you don’t look dyslexic’, because I think a lot of people have this perception of dyslexia and disability, they have this idea about people with a disability, and because I’m quite well-spoken I can get through day-to-day life quite well, I’m quite good at hiding all the little things I do to get me through it, like you can’t see the ‘L’ on my left hand or the numerous notes I have about ‘don’t forget this’ and things. I am quite good at hiding it so people do not know, or they see things I do not really have.

I am confused, first you say that you are willing to be open and tell people you are dyslexic quite fast but also you also say you are good at covering it up. I know. I’m pretty good at covering up things that I perceive to be my weaknesses. If I say ‘I’m dyslexic’ then it make me quite a creative person, it makes me answer questions in ways that others might not think of then I’m alright in saying I’m dyslexic. Anything that might makes people think you should be able to do everyday things, I quite like to hide it, as I don’t like the idea of being special and needing someone to help you, even though there is no shame in it and you should ask for help, that sort of thing…I don’t want other people to see me not being able to do what everybody else can do. (Kirsty).

As noted earlier, can dyslexics be themselves when they date non-dyslexics? Do they try and be people they are not? If they are true to themselves then that’s great, but I think most try and cover up their difficulties or as they see them, their ‘inadequacies’.

Whilst I’m not saying that dyslexics should wear badges ‘dyslexic and proud of it’, they should own up to their difficulties. Rather than try and remember their partners names and fail and them look stupid. If they are open and honest, maybe make a joke of it, then the pressure will be lower and the conversation will be more relaxed.

Okay, have I ever hidden my dyslexia? I’m trying to think about a time when I have done this. I can’t cover up my stammer, so I think if they knew I had a stammer and were fine with that, then dyslexia and a shoddy short-term memory wouldn’t have been such a huge problem.

Comparing my stammer to my dyslexia, I think my stammer was more of a problem, and caused me lower self-esteem. At what point did I tell my dates I had dyslexia? I don’t know, I think my short-term memory was fairly obvious, so I think I was quite truthful. Okay, maybe I did cover it up a bit, as it was to make me seem more normal. But looking back it hasn’t been my main problem.

From the ‘Dyslexia and Depression’ study, I know that most partners understand their dyslexic other halves. They are used to dealing with the paperwork and all things official like forms. As one participant said to me, they deal with the big issues, like who they should vote for, local politics and should the country have nuclear weapons? And their partners deal with the detail and the little things like money. Okay I think he was missing the point, but it demonstrates that most people rise above the difficulties of dyslexia and as they say, ‘love conquers all’.

Another participant told me that they devised the dinning room table into two, one half was disorganised and messy for them (dyslexics can be very disorganised) and the other half was tidy for their partners. Susan in this study also remarks that her dyslexic partner has a ‘dyslexic pile’ which is very messy and disorganised, and full of paperwork to attend to but never is.

Dyslexia and Dating