SPECIAL FEATURE Dyslexia, neurodivergence & wasted talent (part one)



Award-winning children's author Matt Killeen received such harsh criticism from schoolteachers about his handwriting, spelling and grammar that he actually stopped writing for seven years. Awareness has increased since his childhood but, he argues, there is still much room for improvement in education and publishing.



In all probability, somewhere out there is an author, a genius whose ideas would delight generations of children, and yet will never write a word. They’re dyslexic. They got through school okay, but every effort to write – to turn their imagination into text – was met with snotty and disdainful derision, so they just stopped.

 

And of course, dyslexia is a type of neurodivergence, so with those dancing letters often come an exciting panoply of allied disadvantages and deficits that make the whole thing hard. Really hard.

 

I have often talked about how education’s obsession with my handwriting, spelling and grammar, and the endless, grinding, miserable dressing down that passed for feedback meant that I stopped writing creatively altogether between the ages of 14 and 21. I just didn’t want to open myself up to the criticism, as it appeared that no one cared about what I was writing, only how I was doing it.

Anyone serious about submitting will struggle without some kind of intervention and assistance, which often comes with a price tag. That will only exacerbate the industry’s inequalities

We live in a more understanding world now in some ways, and the neurodivergence I now see in myself – for which I have a growing wad of receipts – would possibly have been spotted, and I might have got the help and accommodation I badly needed.

 

The extant problem, however, is that the publishing industry and associated higher education courses do not pay enough attention to this. Anyone serious about submitting will struggle without some kind of intervention and assistance, which often comes with a price tag. That will only exacerbate the industry’s inequalities, because a manuscript littered with apparently simple spelling errors will highly likely induce a negative subconscious reaction in the reader. With time at a premium and slush piles so large, you can see how it might just stay in that pile. As for education, I was a bit horrified to discover their lackadaisical attitude.


 


Covers for Orphan Monster Spy and Devil Darling Spy, by Matt Killen


A few years ago – everything is a few years ago, isn’t it? – I helped one student doing a master’s degree in creative writing. They had a dyslexia diagnosis and obvious ADHD exacerbated issues, yet received no accommodations from the university at all. No extra time, no mentoring, nothing. I was a friend, and I had the time, so I became their reasonable accommodation. I proofread, I encouraged, and generally guided the nuts and bolts into place. They passed with flying colours and their writing was humming with potential, but I fear the whole experience was too painful for them to continue.

 

Talking to her before writing this, I was equally dismayed to hear that her children, currently navigating higher education with similar diagnoses, are meeting a similar lack of accommodation. No one cares, and when they do, they simply don’t have the resources. It borders on criminal.

 

As we sit on a burning planet, in a crumbling nation, it’s too easy to shrug this off as yet another injustice amongst hundreds that litter our lives. However, as writers for children and young adults, and as part of an organisation dedicated to the promotion and development of great writing, this is our problem to deal with. We’re losing great writers and great writing. To adapt the Polish idiom, this is our circus.

As writers for children and young adults, and as part of an organisation dedicated to the promotion and development of great writing, this is our problem to deal with


The whole industry, and the education establishments profiting from it, need to commit to supplying support, from top to bottom and for the whole community. No dyslexic writer should have to pay for a proofread or for basic mentoring when submitting anything, be it essays, short stories or to agents and publishers. No one should be taking a course that fails to acknowledge and accommodate them. It’s what is necessary to ensure no talent is left behind.

 

A friend who represents a professional proofreading body expressed enthusiastic support for this enterprise, but they were clear: this is not something one organisation can take on. It will take all of us – volunteering, campaigning and funding – if a change is to happen.

 

Did I mention that I’m almost certainly neurodiverse? In part two, I’ll tell you how it’s not all “bad” and, in fact, it kind of makes me a better writer… when I can write, that is. It certainly explains a great deal…


Look out for part two in January 2023!

 

*Header image: https://suelarkey.com.au/neurodiversityblog/


*


Matt Killeen has worked as an advertising copywriter, and music and sports journalist. He became a writer for the LEGO® company in 2010 and continues to write for the 2269 project and PC Gamer. He lives near London with his soulmate, children, dog and musical instruments. His first novel Orphan Monster Spy was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the Branford Boase Award, and won the 2019 SCBWI Crystal Kite. The sequel, Devil Darling Spy, was published in spring 2020. 
Twitter: @by_Matt_Killeen. Instagram: @by_Matt_Killeen.

*

Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Please send your comments or feature ideas to deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org


No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.