James Middleton, Kate Middleton’s younger brother and Prince William’s brother-in- law, joins King Carl Gustaf of Sweden as another European public figure to share his life with dyslexia. In an Oct.27, 2012 interview with the British Daily Mail, 25-year-old James Middleton described his “crucifying” as well as “blooper” experiences with dyslexia.
“If I had a choice I would still choose to be dyslexic, because I feel it helps me see things in a different way…There is a talent in dyslexia, it can help you see things creatively. So I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The US Weekly article James Middleton: How I Overcame Dyslexia to Read at Royal Wedding published on Oct. 29, 2012, reports that,
“Though he still struggles with dyslexia, James is no longer worried about how it will affect his everyday life. ‘I do make lots of spelling mistakes still — for a time the word ‘corporate’ on my website was spelled ‘corprate.’ But I’m not embarrassed. The way I see it, it is part of me. The key is to become completely confident about it’.”
As Dyslexia Awareness Month is nearing its end, James Middleton’s experiences with dyslexia reemphasize some important lessons for any dyslexic:
Lesson 1: The importance of an early diagnosis
James Middleton was not diagnosed with dyslexia until he was 11. James did not have any problems with numbers. However, spelling, mispronouncing words, speaking in front of a class, trouble concentrating, memorizing information, pressure, and taking exams were horrifying experiences.
“Exams are the most crucifying thing for someone who is dyslexic because you feel you cannot justify yourself, it does not reflect your true capacity. It’s frustrating because it’s not a lack of understanding: you almost need to write your own question about the topic so you can really show what you can do.”
Lesson 2: The need for change
In addition to the “crucifying” and “horrifying” experiences in an academic environment, children with dyslexia have to endure similar “crucifying” and “horrifying” experiences in their social environment.
“When I read out loud in class, it was a joy for everyone else because I would mispronounce things so badly. I used to try to count how many people were in front of me and then work out which paragraph I would have to read out and start trying to learn it. And I would sit there thinking, ‘Please let the bell go so that it doesn’t get round to me’.’’
James Middleton’s memories of being made fun of echo the negative experiences of Tom Cruise, Anthony Hopkins, Steven Spielberg, Whoopie Goldberg, Harry Belafonte and countless other dyslexics. Many of those negative experiences could be avoided if a child is being diagnosed at an early age and academic environments could modify age-old teaching methods to meet the needs of dyslexic children including:
- not asking dyslexic children to speak in front of the class (unless they choose to do so)
- not focusing on memorizing facts but in arguing facts (dyslexic kids are great in arguments)
- not using handwriting/cursive (unless a dyslexic child chooses to try it out)
- not putting pressure on timed performance but unique performance (including research, technology, verbal communication to make grades; including allowing the necessary time to do so)
- not explaining new material in just one way but to explore different ways of communication (verbal, written, visual, auditory)
- not expecting dyslexic kids to perform at a “bell” time (unfortunately many dyslexics have their own sleep/wake pattern which affects also concentration)
- not expecting each child to learn to read the same way
- not focusing on time or pressure in tests (but innovation, ability to think)
- not limiting a course curriculum to left-hemisphere brain activities (math, language, science, history)
- not telling a dyslexic child that in order to be successful one has to go to college or university
Lesson 3: A new understanding of success
History teaches many lessons. One of the most important lessons about dyslexic children is that they become successful and amazing contributors to the global community by “running away” from higher education.
James Middleton tried the traditional route paved for him by his older sisters Kate Middleton (Prince William’s wife, Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Middleton, now known as HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, born Jan. 9, 1982) and Pippa Middleton (Philippa Charlotte “Pippa” Middleton, born Sept. 6, 1983).
Kate Middleton and Pippa Middleton both studied at Marlborough and went on to universities. For James William Middleton (born April 15, 1987), however,
“despite hours of study, his A-level grades were not good enough to secure a university place, meaning retakes at a local sixth-form college. It was, he admits, a tricky period, particularly for his mother and father. I used to say that I didn’t fail the exams, it was the exams that failed me. It was my teenage ego saying that, but actually it’s sort of true. But it didn’t make things easier at the time: I had very capable sisters who had succeeded in exams, then I came along and naturally my parents didn’t know what to do because I applied myself really well to work, and they fully were expecting me to go to university – as did I.”
James Middleton did eventually make it into the university but after only two weeks, James knew that the university wasn’t for him.
“I knew I was going down the wrong path. I stayed for a year, but then I made the decision to leave. It was against everyone’s advice because I’d retaken my exams to try to get in and then there I was giving it up. But I never feel I dropped out – I was just ready to move on and do something different.”
After only a few months after leaving the university, James Middleton had started his own successful business, the Cake Kit Company, and today “he is entirely comfortable with the fact he is dyslexic, even if it does mean committing the occasional professional blooper.”
When James Middleton read to a global television audience of two billion people at his sister’s wedding to Prince William in Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, he excelled not only in reading but in his oratory skills.
For dyslexics, where there is a will, there is a way.
Lesson 4: The right to be human
In his interview with the Daily Mail, James Middleton shared one of his occasional professional bloopers.
“I had 1,000 business cards printed this year, but I had to throw them in the bin because I spelt “personalised” wrong. Not ideal, given the thing I do is personalised cakes. But I just looked at it and I could not see it. I do make lots of spelling mistakes still – for a time the word ‘corporate’ on my website was spelled ‘coprate’. But I’m not embarrassed. The way I see it, it is part of me. The key is to become completely confident about it.”
Most interestingly, while James Middleton is talking about his dyslexia during Dyslexia Awareness Month, Princess Madeleine Therese Amelie Josephine, the youngest child of Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia and fourth in line to the Scandanavian nation’s throne, has announced her engagement to Christopher O’Neill, a wealthy New York financier. (Swedish Royal Court Video: Interview with Princess Madeleine and Christopher O’Neill at Drottningholm Palace on Wednesday October 24, 2012)
Princess Madeleine’s father, King Carl Gustaf XVI, also has dyslexia.
Princess Madeleine’s mother, Queen Silvia (born in Heidelberg, Germany, on Dec. 23, 1943) has told the story of her husband’s blooper of being dyslexic.
“King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden has had some ‘hard and bitter’ experiences in his struggle with dyslexia. Queen Silvia, in a TV interview shown Thursday in Stockholm, spoke publicly for the first time about the king’s learning disorder. It became publicly apparent during a visit to a copper mine in 1973, when he signed his name on a rock wall and misspelled it.” (What’s The Deal with Learning Disabilities).
Lesson 5: The purpose and future of dyslexia
Unfortunately, while Queen Silvia is reported to have said that her children (Princess Victoria, Prince Carl Philip, Princess Madeleine) also have mild dyslexia, there is no official statement by the Swedish Royal Court. James Middleton is said to have inherited his dyslexia from one of his ancestors.
According to Dr. Rack’s information provided in the Daily Mail’s article about James Middleton’s dyslexia,
“We know dyslexia runs in families and we know quite a bit about some of the genes involved in passing it on. Imaging studies show there are different degrees of connections and patterns in the language area of the brains of those with and without dyslexia.”
The two major topics of genetics and brain imaging are important for the future discussion about dyslexia. Being aware of a child’s potential genetic heritage of dyslexia can lead to an early diagnosis and an avoidance of “crucifying” and “terrifying” academic experiences.
The future of dyslexia is not only an exciting exploration into the “different degrees of connections and patterns in the language area of the brains of those with and without dyslexia” but into the new neuronal pathway connections in other parts of the brain that dyslexics develop in their resilience to a world that has little understanding for dyslexia.
Forming new neuronal pathways is called neuroplasticity. For James Middleton and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, neuroplasticity is visible in their creative, unique, and innovative approach to life, or as James Middleton eloquently expressed it, “If I had a choice I would still choose to be dyslexic, because I feel it helps me see things in a different way. There is a talent in dyslexia, it can help you see things creatively. So I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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More articles about dyslexia:
One father’s voice: ‘There is a reason why a child has dyslexia’
OpenDyslexic: ‘Does the new dyslexia font help?’ Review by teacher and students
Steven Spielberg helps to bring dyslexia and legal rights into the news
Steven Spielberg talks about his dyslexia: Tips, insights, and solutions
The nature of dyslexia: Tom Cruise, Anthony Hopkins, Keira Knightley, Joe Wright
Jay Leno takes a salary reduction – shows the world a positive side of dyslexia
Back to school: What classes should my child take in school?
Dyslexia: How to successfully teach a dyslexic child to read
Dyslexia: How to increase the balance between success and failure for dyslexics
Neuroplasticity: Begin to change a life with dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, autism today (Video)
The power, legacy of Steven Spielberg’s dyslexia in 60 Minutes: ‘I own my fear’