Why mythology and autism?

Why mythology and autism?

The idea for this project started to take shape at a meeting in 2008 with a special needs teacher, who mentioned that, in her experience and those of her colleagues, autistic children often enjoy classical myth. I began to wonder why this might be the case, and whether – as a classicist who researches, and loves, classical myth – there was anything I could contribute. I started this blog to report on my progress which was often sporadic until the launch of the Warsaw-based European Research Council-funded project Our Mythical Childhood (2016-21) to trace the role of classics in children’s culture. My key contribution to the project is an exploration of classics in autistic children’s culture, above all by producing myth-themed activities for autistic children. This blog shares my progress, often along Herculean paths.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Matthew Norman, Chalotte Leslie, dyslexics and classicists

Dyslexia and visual count
I was taken aback earlier this week to read a piece in the Independent (Voices, 14 April) by Matthew Norman taking an old-fashioned approach to dyslexia and to who can study classics.  Mocking Charlotte Leslie's claim that dyslexia was among the reasons for her failure to register donations to her local Tory party association, Norman wonders whether her apology constitutes "a new contender for the title of Most Overwhelmingly Persuasive Excuse Offered for Failure".

Norman wonders, sardonically, how her claim that she finds it hard to read paperwork can square with her educational achievements as a classicist who graduated from one of the most famous colleges at an elite university after, presumably, mastering among the most difficult texts in existence:
"It has clearly blighted her life. But for dyslexia, indeed, she might have been able to study one of the more challenging linguistic disciplines at one our finest universities. Sadly, due to the ravages of dyslexia, Charlotte Leslie had to content herself with taking a Classics degree - and is anything in the literary canon easier to master than an Aeschylean chorus? It’s the ancient Greek equivalent of Green Eggs And Ham by what the dyslexic classicist might misread as Dr Zeus - at Balliol College, Oxford."
Norman's attitude towards dyslexia as a way of perceiving the world beset with problems matches the "'deficit model" of dyslexia. While he is right to intimate the challenges that classical languages can pose to dyslexic students, others manage precisely what he suggests that Leslie would not be able to do as someone "blighted" by dyslexia. The abilities of dyslexics include approaching topics from unusual angles, generating innovative ideas, and making connections that others might miss: abilities which can enable differently-thinking classicists - and MPs - to flourish.

The idea that a dyslexic will not be intelligent enough to study classics is wrong in so many ways as the following links show (I'm indebted to Pauline Hanesworth, the HEA’s Academic Development Officer for Equality and Diversity, for these). Back in 2006, Kate Channock described in the journal Literacy how a dyslexic student benefited from teaching himself ancient Greek. Dyslexia Scotland's guide to Classics sets out the traditional barriers, how to overcome them, and the strengths of learning classics as a dyslexic. This posting gives a parent's perspective on how dyslexics can benefit from studying classics. 

  • An update (Monday 22nd April): last Friday's letters in the Independent includes a response from Kathy Moyse (scroll down to "Dyslexic people really can do degrees") challenging Matthew Norman's suppositions about dyslexics studying "literate subjects".