Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Boy With The X-Ray Specs

By Jay Stringer

I made a point of writing about dyslexia on here last year. It's been interesting lately to have a father contacting me to ask for advice about his young daughter, and for me to be in a position to try and give someone the kind of road map that I never had. So, whilst I'll never feel qualified to be an expert in anything, I decided to hold to my decision to talk about this issue more often, and to give advice when I can.

I'd been hearing for a few years now about colorimetry. It seemed that wearing tinted glasses could help dyslexics to read. I dismissed it every time it came up. I mean, I'd always liked wearing sunglasses, and none of them had made me any better at reading, right? But the more I listened, the more it made sense. My own experience told me that a lot of my problems came when the page turned into something like a magic eye puzzle; the black print on a white page would turn into black shapes fighting with white shapes, and often the white was winning. It's not just with white, but that's the biggest problem. The tint would reduce this and add definition to the shapes, making the black sit still and behave as printed words.

There was no universal fix-all tint. It seemed that everyone had their own, and that they could change over time. I started to play around. I began changing the settings on my computer at work and home, and quickly found that some colours did make an instant difference.

After a year of fiddling around with the local dyslexia charity, and trying to get in contact with specialists who would carry out the tests for free, I found out which high-street optician would do it and booked in with them. It meant paying -and it was one of the pricier high-street stores- but I figured this was one test worth taking. Early on in the test - a fun experience that basically involved sticking my head in a metal box and reading a lot- I figured out how to cheat it. It would have been simple to give the right answers to lead to a really cool looking colour, one that I wouldn't feel like an idiot wearing. But I'm old enough now to know that kind of cheating is pointless.

The test was leading us toward some very bold colours; yellow was working best for me, and both red and blue showed good results. From there, my optician did me the favour of trying to find the least obtrusive combinations of colours that would work, to try and soften the tint of my glasses. The end result is a kind of amber.

I could try and get away with only wearing them when I'm sat at a computer or reading a book. And, when I have more money, I may well get a 'normal' pair for the slight prescription that I now need (as dyslexia wasn't the only eye test I'd been putting off for too long.) But people take for granted the amount of reading they do in day to day life. Anyone who's lived with me -and especially my long suffering wife- will attest to the lengths I go to not to show how much I can struggle sometimes when reading labels in the supermarket, or trying to read maps in a hurry, or any of the small things people do without thinking. So, whilst I may get that 'normal' pair of glasses at some point, I'm going to have to get used to wearing the tinted ones so I may as well force myself to do that first.

That 'getting used to' thing is the downside. I guess in some children you could convince them they were getting to wear super cool sunglasses, but for a great many others they will be getting one more thing to be self conscious about. For me, as a thirty-something, wearing glasses in and of itself is just another thing to add to the list of new problems. Past a certain age you accept these things, along with not being able to fit into that jacket you loved so much, or checking your hair line in the shower. Maybe it's the creaks in your knees when you bend down. Whatever. But even with this, the tint is proving a challenge. For the first couple of days I couldn't help but feel like an idiot, especially since I was wearing glasses that looked suspiciously like something Bono might be pictured with, and had to deal with a lot of jokes from work colleagues who wanted to decide which pretentious rock star I was copying.

(None of them would have guessed Paul Westerberg)

So; Tinted glasses for dyslexics. It's a challenge. It's tough for adults to get used to, and probably even more difficult for children. But all that fades away the first time you sit down and read a book and realise that you're simply reading the fuck out of that page. No going over the same line 33 times, no looking away then looking back in the hope the words have got bored of moving. I imagine my tint will change over time. My next prescription will likely be one of the much bolder colours that we worked hard to dodge this time, but by that point I won't care. So, if you know someone who's struggling, whatever their age, find out which opticians near you can do the colorimetry test and jump in with both feet.

What was I reading, I hear you ask? Why, Tumblin' Dice by John McFetridge, of course. You don;t need coloured glasses to enjoy the hell out of McFet's writing, you just need taste.

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