Monday, September 19, 2016

Kings Speech (repost)

I mentioned to a friend recently that Colin Firth is my favorite actor. She obviously didn't know who Colin Firth was, because this morning she texted me and asked me what was wrong with me. I think she was expecting someone...prettier?

But Kings Speech.

And so many others, but Kings Speech.

And so I went through my former blog to find this entry about that movie and how it made me feel, and as I read it I realized I needed to update it. Which I do here at the end.


The night before the Oscars, I went to see The King's Speech. It was the only movie, besides Toy Story III, that I saw that was up for an Oscar. Pretty sure anyway.

Somewhere in the middle of this movie, about the time when I stopped saying "Colin Firth" and started saying "Bertie" (completely lost him in the character, which of course is the point of acting, but trust me, losing Colin Firth is hard for me to do), I also stopped saying "stutter" and started saying "dyslexia".

I know dyslexia and stuttering have nothing to do with each other. Completely different parts of the brain, different causes, different approaches. That wasn't what I was seeing. What I was seeing was an adult with a severe social disability (he wasn't blind, he wasn't paralyzed, he hadn't been burned by acid, but he couldn't hold a conversation) who wasn't getting any better.

Until everyone around him stopped yelling at him to DO BETTER. Just spit it out. Just say it. I stopped hearing that and started thinking about spelling and reading and things that have been said to Brooklyn. I know many of you know Brooklyn. And I know she is charming and quirky and lovely. But the girl couldn't read until late third grade. This isn't just a blip, it isn't a lack of good phonics teaching or laziness or montessori hippies turning her into an illiterate. Trust me. And those of you who don't know Brooklyn, again, she's really smart. She has a huge verbal vocabulary. She is a big-picture do-it-in-her-head math student. I'm not grasping at straws here. Dyslexia fools you, and it fooled me for a long time. There is nothing about talking to her that indicates that she would ever in a million years in your wildest dreams have a problem learning to read.

And as opposed to someone who might have a language processing problem or gaps in her education, dyslexia is not going to go away or lessen its grip on Brooklyn. I don't say this in a hopeless way, because unlike many other learning disabilities, dyslexia often comes with positives. It is only because our world is so so verbal that people with dyslexia have problems. They are spatial thinkers, they are creative, adapt easily to change, follow patterns, and, often, due to schooling, are hard workers.

In the movie, after he is crowned king of England and then war is declared, Bertie (King George VI) is handed a speech that he will be reading on the radio. The first thing he does is tell one of his assistants to call Logue, the character played by Geoffrey Rush, the self-taught speech therapist. Logue arrives and they go through this speech. They go through all the tricks and all the accommodations. They go, together, into the room where he will read the speech. Logue has draped the room in fabric to lower the ceiling and block out distractions. He opens a window. He has the folks from the BBC keep the "on air" light turned off so it won't stare at them the whole time. And as Bertie glances down at the speech, it is covered in slashes and marks to help him remember the little cues and tricks he needs to read this speech.

And he reads it. He slogs through it slowly and carefully and painfully and he does it.

As opposed to a certain genre of miracle worker teacher movies, Logue doesn't walk off into the sunset at this point. The afterward mentions that Logue was present at every wartime speech. Every one. I don't know how true to life the movie is, but I imagine that every single speech involved practice and annotations and tricks and accommodations. The speech impediment isn't gone. He isn't cured. It is still there.

But he does what he has to do. With accommodations.

I want Brooklyn's teachers to see this movie with that thought in mind. Brooklyn reads on grade level, but she does best if she's listening to the story as she reads. Brooklyn can copy from a handwritten page onto a word processor, but it helps if she has a post-it note to keep her place, and scratches off the lines as she goes (thus destroying the first copy). Brooklyn will never be a good speller, but she can still learn what words mean. She can still use words. Do I want her to rely forever on a Franklin speller or other electronic device? No, of course not. Will she probably need to anyway? Yup.

I can think of a word, say, hippopotamus, and I know in my head how to spell it. I know that if I write it hippopotamos that it will look instantly wrong and I will change that o to u. Brooklyn doesn't have this innate ability, but she can be taught the rules required to spell a word like hippopotamus--except that final schwa, which tends to be a random choice (or, more often, based on the spelling rules from its language of origin). She can learn why we double the /p/ sound the first time but not the second. Why we don't double the /s/ at the end even though we do on single syllable words that are not plurals that end in /s/ (like floss or kiss). But I have a hunch that these will never reach the point of "unknowingly knowing" like spelling is for most folks. She will always carry them around in the forefront, unlike, say, how she can hear three bars of music and know if she dances a jig, a reel, or a hornpipe to that tune. Some things become innate. Others probably won't.


And then there's Niles. As I watch him on the soccer field and know that this won't ever be his sport, not due to a lack of enthusiasm or speed or ball skills, but simply due to apraxia. Too many variables to make a motor plan. It will never go away. I still can hear it in the cadence of his speech. It will always be there. Brooklyn will always sweetly read the wrong words and then frown with her whole face trying to figure out what that could possibly mean, and Niles will always have to make a couple of extra mental steps in the split second before speaking or moving.


But that doesn't mean they're going to fail at life. It just means they needs to learn how to change their world to make it fit them. That, of course, reminds me of another movie, Silverado, which I just cannot stop loving. Stella, played by Linda Hunt, walks behind the bar, gradually becoming tall enough to serve drinks to customers. Paden (Kevin Klein) is amused, and she just shrugs: The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn't fit, you make alterations.

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