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Almost Normal


Almost Normal

by Kenneth Lyen

My spelling is awful and I make many misrakes. When I read, the meaning does not sink in, and I have to reread several times to find out what’s it about. In fact I prefer listening to audio books than reading the printed word.

Am I normal?

Apparently not. My psychologist friend tells me that I have a hidden dyslexia. It will explain why I did so badly at school, why I was a D student, why I nearly failed all my exams.

Hence I am delighted that the British Dyslexia Association, in conjunction with the University of Westminster is spending £478,000 in a quest to uncover latent dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dyscalculia ... people who struggle with reading and writing, who have problems in motor skills, or have difficulty handling numbers.

But I am worried by this study. You see, the boundary between normal and abnormal is blurred. When is dyslexia just poorly taught reading and spelling? When is dyspraxia just clumsiness? And dyscalculia just a disinterest with mathematics?

Come to think of it, is anybody normal? Are we all borderline sufferers of one psychological disorder or another? Or as John Ratey put it, do we have "shadow syndromes"?

In the 1960s there was a movement led by Thomas Szasz that claimed there was no such thing as psychiatrically abnormal people. It was society that was abnormal. Nowadays the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme. Psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, educationalists, busybodies, are very keen to dish out labels on everyone. There are even new labels to be distributed liberally, like "borderline personality disorder."

If I were a hypochondriac, I would claim to suffer from a touch of everything. I would love to add a few more maladies to my inventory of complaints. I could add borderline attention deficit because I could never concentrate on anything for very long. Plus borderline autistic because I am a shy quiet type, and do not like crowds or parties. Then I would add borderline manic-depressive disorder as I have mood swings. And maybe a touch of obsessive-compusive disorder, and possibly a borderline personality disorder to boot.

Joking aside, there will undoubtedly be some genuine cases of learning disorder that will be detected by the University of Westminster's study. However, I fear they will open Pandora’s Box, because dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia are ubiquitous. The cutoff between normal and abnormal is arbitrary. And treatment is largely unsatisfactory.

I guess you have to start somewhere, and I can only wish them the best of luck.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have changed if they detected my dyslexia earlier. Maybe I wouldn’t have become a writer. What a dumb idea for a dyslexic to choose to be a writer!