Two Sizes Too Big

I always felt that life was about two sizes too big for me.  Somehow it didn’t seem to fit – like in a hand-me-down jersey, I flopped and slopped around inside this life, that didn’t fit, that was too heavy, and dragged me down.  Nothing seemed to work, and I was muffled and suffocated like a child in oversized clothes, too warmly wrapped, out of control of my ability to be.

It was 1949 and the Western World was still coming out of the state of fear, repression and depression associated with years of unpredictability.  The war was over, and the battle was just beginning.  Our attack on the world, its resources and its delicate balance was as yet unplanned, but the groundwork was well under way, and the strategic plan was deviously taking form.

Post World War Two, the Baby-Boomers had their way, and the Land-of-Milk-and-Honey was about to be chopped up and dealt like a pack of cards, with credit being the bet, and print-media being the score-board.  Literacy became the catch-cry, the resolution of all evil, the solution to the world’s problems.  Three “A-haa’s” were about to infiltrate, then dominate children’s formal education, and reading and writing and ‘rithmetic were heralded as the essence of ‘education’ – and education the essence of civilization.

Similarly a parenting revolution was quietly rolling in under the covers of darkness, with the un-wholesome trinity of “No”, “Don’t” and “Naughty” showing the over-riding philosophy towards an open, enlightened and trusting generation.  The guiding hand of the parental smack was gaining power and legitimacy, and fear and pain demonstrated the rising depth of insight into infant need and style.  ‘Love’ boiled down to three square meals, a roof over your head, and toys for Xmas.

While we tamed our toddlers, the Americans chose ‘winners’ above all else, and assigned the rest to an international support service graciously called The Marines.  A role would surely be found for them.  A system based on fair competition ensured survival of the fattest – and, with credit, the predictable collapse of the international economy.

Into this targeted, progressive, competitive world rolled a cute little bundle of fluff called ‘me’. Yes, the world was being re-programmed, and somewhere in that great schmozzle was a role reserved for ‘me’.

I did not know it at the time, but two major questions would inevitably face any ‘cute new little bundle of fluff’ that happens to lodge itself against the sticky surface of planet earth.  The first is ‘Where do I fit in?’, and the second, ‘How do I fit in?’  Later, as the fluff wears off, and the cuteness wears thin, the question turns more to ‘What role do I play?’  Having a role, a place, a point of significance, is central to the basic human need of ‘self respect’.

But for me it was simply ‘Do I fit in?’ And in a loose sort of way the answer had to be “Yes – well, sort of”.   Falling between the cracks seems to have been my version of ‘fitting in’ – being largely inconspicuous, insignificant, rattling around betwixt and between, but certainly not being ‘part of’.  Life was two sizes too big, a loose fit, and like others of my ilk, I was in danger of becoming a ‘loose cannon on a rolling deck’.  My point of difference was that I was born ‘dys-lexic’.


And so I discover that I am ‘dys-lexic’.  Well no, in actual fact I don’t.  This wee gifty that is dumped on me on my very first birthday (Oh yay, a pressy for me?  A gift that will last as long as I live?  How blessed can I be!) has taken years and years to unwrap, but its souring odour seeps out insidiously, polluting my behaviour, my relationships, my education, my goals, my achievements, my reputation, and even my very ability to recognize and understand its nature and impact.  Now 60 years have passed, I have learned pretty well to cope with this curse, and am now determined to unwrap it – for myself, and all the others similarly endowed.  I am now happy that the final layers are at my finger tips, and ‘the gift of dys-lexia’ is close to being revealed for what it truly is.


So just who was it who coyned that stupid term ‘dys-lexic’?  As a useful descriptor this term has got to score a flat zero rating.  It tells us what the bearer doesn’t do, and totally lacks the sensitivity or support of giving any hint of indication of what the bearer does do.  In this it is about as useful as me telling you “My dog doesn’t fly”.  As true as it may be, it is equally useless in that it tells you nothing about my dog.

As a user-friendly label, from the view-point of the wearer, it spirals into deep and dark depths as a thinly veiled put-down.  Nobody in their right mind (and yes, that is the essence of the ‘dys-lexic’ thinking style, the right brain) willingly wears a label that openly describes them as being in deficit.  ‘Dys-lexic’ simply insinuates a difficulty with language, a deficit in our socially predominating interactive capability, (whatever that means), a below-par status, a less-than-normal performance style.  It is hardly appealing to stand out from the crowd on the basis of a social deficit!


In a word, it is a picture. The ‘dys-lexic’ person (the non-language person) not only thinks in pictures, but thinks with a complex of silent movies, all running simultaneously, and at differing levels of consciousness.  John Gray (Mars/Venus) referred to it as ‘back of the cave’ and suggested that that’s where men go to hide from their women.  My experience tells me differently, and suggests that my style has its origins in a silent movie theatre – and I’ve been trapped there, basically in the dark, ever since.

Most people never give a thought as to how they think, or that they might think in any particular way, let alone differently from other people.  A more extreme ‘dys-lexic’ may not even be aware that they think at all, let alone recognizing that they think in pictures – and if asked will typically look blankly at the questioner and eloquently reply “Nahh”.

Similarly few language thinkers are aware of their thinking style, nor of how it works for them at a multitude of different levels. The ability to ‘self-talk’, to remember language information like names, formulars, and conversations, is based on the wiring of part of the brain that we generally locate behind and above the left eye.  Hearing or reading verbal information, thinking about it, creating questions in your own mind, and making comparisons equally involves this language centre – and that’s where it all comes to grief for me – I can’t do that language stuff very well.

The real confusion comes when ‘normal’ people (yes, you, the reader) realize that they can think both with language, and with pictures.  This is exactly what most people do – to a greater or lesser degree – but they assume that therefore everybody else can do this too.  Some (generally the more academic) have a brain that works more in the language mode, and others (generally the more practical) have a brain that features pictures as a prime thinking mode.  A person becomes ‘dys-lexic’ when their wiring style is heavily pictorial and has minimal language attached.  It is so much more than a reading and writing difficulty.

But then this simplistic presentation of ‘dys-lexia’ gets complicated.  The ‘dys-lexic’ person with a powerful intellect (horse-power under the bonnet) will use sheer grunt-power to overcome their learning difficulties, and will strategise to cover their ‘inadequacies’.  Others, like yours-truly, become like a fox-terrier – and once we have that opossum holed up in a corner will never stop yapping until we have totally pulled it to pieces.  (Much to the chagrin of my long-suffering family).


Unfortunately it is in our education system that it all comes to grief for the poor underpowered ‘dys-lexic’.

When our social system holds language, and linguistic ability, as the prime indicator of social worthiness, of social status, of a person’s capability and acceptability, we unwittingly do huge damage to an integral part of our social fabric – we create deficiency and deviancy.

Our education system relies almost exclusively on a student’s ability to use language as a processing tool, and makes the implicit assumption that this is a natural function available to all.  Not only do we teach our students primarily through language (reading, writing, listening, talking etc), but we actually use language (exams) to assess and measure the success – or in many cases, the damage.  The NZCEA system has an observedly progressive history in this regard, and the more language-orientated the testing becomes, the more ‘dys-lexics’ it will create.


My diesel-fuelled bulldozer has been carefully designed and engineered for a certain purpose.  It does not need to be rewired, recalibrated nor otherwise ‘fixed’ – it will work perfectly as long as I fuel it with the diesel it was designed for.  My bulldozer is not in any way deficient, nor is my digger, my tractor nor my truck.  Neither is my brain.

Consider that the child who thinks predominantly in pictures (the classic ‘dys-lexic’) is like a diesel engine – and needs to be fuelled with diesel.  But, in that our schools are orientated around language function (a style we could liken to petrol) they are like petrol stations, supplying good quality petrol – but they don’t do diesel.

My personal experience, and that of many diesels (‘dys-lexics’) like me, is that the very system used by our schools to educate us (language), has been the direct cause of our failure.  The teachers themselves are largely unaware of this, are doing their very best with the knowledge they have, and may even find this article that you are reading too hard to accept.

Most of our children do well in school, because the language teaching style suits them.  As a child I couldn’t understand that some kids actually like school!  I envied them and the ease with which they handled school. But for those of us with diesel style, school is a night-mare, and at 60 my nightmares still persist.  The language style failed me, and I failed as a result. But what is more, the support systems they then provided to ‘fix’ my learning difficulty (Reading Recovery, and Reader/Writer support) were like fuel-injected petrol into my diesel engine – and guess who got the blame when it didn’t work!

When we tell them they are ‘dys-lexic’ we are telling them they are problematic, that they are deficient, and implicitly that they are less worthy.  The term is patently obnoxious and destructive.  Personally I prefer to be seen as a Diesel, and as a Pictorial Thinker, and I am proud of this facet of my style.

Whatever your style, think about it.

Laughton King is a Diesel Educator who runs seminars and writes books about his nightmare topic – ‘Dys-lexia’.  He can be contacted via email;

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