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Thom Davies: 'I am Dyslexic'

Tuesday 2 July 2019

My name is Thom Davies and I’m a dyslexic filmmaker - in fact if the word begins with ‘dys’ I’ve most probably got it.

My dyslexia was assessed at a very young age as I had speech problems, so I made up my own words and sign language to communicate as my tongue had a life of its own. It seemed my brain had a delay when I needed to recall specific words, so by the time they reached my mouth they became completely different words. Sometimes gobbledygook, but usually similar words that got my meaning across. i.e. When I was 6 I wanted to remind my Dad to buy Mum’s favourite ‘rum truffles’ for her birthday - but after several attempts it came out ‘ginger waffles’ - my Dad didn’t get it! To re purpose a classic Eric Morecombe line: ‘I speak all the right letters, but not necessarily in the right order’.

Born in 1985 my school life began in the early 90’s when dyslexia was known, but when the education system was not equipped to cope with it, or at least not equipped to cope with me. My Dad and sister are also dyslexic but seemed to be able to make some sense of what letters, words and numbers were supposed to mean. As no-one else in my class had ‘it’ I just thought I was stupid, and so did the rest of the class. I was the only one who couldn’t prove on paper what they had learnt, so was given a helper who followed me around alienating me from my classmates. Therefore, the moment I was 16, there was a Thom shaped hole in the classroom wall - I was out of there! But, I needed to find what I could do with my life and tried several college courses. Unfortunately school had destroyed my confidence, self-esteem and created great social anxiety, so it took years for me to find myself again.

Through the various courses I discovered my love of filmmaking, and when I began making my own films my confidence returned. I stopped worrying about embarrassing myself and learnt to laugh with those who laughed at me. Discovering I could make better jokes about my mistakes than they could, I thought ‘if I can’t beat them I’ll join them’ and by becoming a joker I did beat them and life got so much better. I learnt short cuts and coping strategies i.e. to this day I have problems with left and right, so my friend (hello Sid) stuck T-rex and Stegosaurus toys on my dashboard. Now instead of my brain going into melt-down when someone said ‘take the next right’, I have no problem if they say ‘take the next T-rex’!

Taking filmmaking and screenwriting at Worcester Uni was something I never dreamt I could do! I made my first short doc about being dyslexic while I was there, interviewing family, friends and having a good rant myself - mixed with comedy and animation! I was quite pleased with the result, so uploaded it to YouTube and forgot about it. Then realised I’d had more than 65,000 hits, great comments, and thanks for sharing my story, I think it got a good response because it was funny and irreverent with positive personal stories. Inspired by this, and the fact that the education system had not improved for dyslexics in 25 years, I decided to make this feature length doc and applied to Kickstarter to raise the funds.

During the process I learnt a lot: first you can’t make a film alone, second stress does cause hair loss, and third other dyslexics had a much tougher time than I did.

Quotes from the film:

Sarah – ‘my primary Head Teacher made us answer times tables before we could leave at the end of the day, as I couldn’t do it, I never got to leave on time’.

Al – ‘anything that made you stand out was a problem – in my case, having a photographic memory and being ambidextrous was the problem’.

Steve – ‘I didn’t know what to do after I left school… so, I decided to join the military but then found out I was not fond of violence.’

‘I am Dyslexic’ is a quirky glimpse into the baffling and abstract world of dyslexia with a positive mix of comic sketches, animation, and the stories of others who persevered in education to realise their potential. It concentrates on what we are good at and the sense of humour we must develop to survive it. Now far from being ashamed of it, I choose to see it as a super power, but sadly it’s not one you can join the X-men with. The film was well received at showings during dyslexia week by young people and a dozen teachers, who felt it should be seen by educators as well as students as it explains dyslexia from a refreshingly positive and informative angle. So I would like it to be shown in many more schools around the country.

I hope its message can help break down barriers that restrict the education and life choices of those who think and learn differently, because it’s not a disability, it’s a difficulty. I’d like to think it may encourage others to believe in themselves, accept their challenges and know they are not alone!

Thom J Davies

Watch the 'I am Dyslexic' documentary here.

PS: If you’re thinking ‘well, he managed to write this ok’, I didn’t. I either dictate to my computer or to my Mum - a man of 33 still getting his Mum to help with his homework! There are many people I need to thank who helped me get this film made: the Kickstarter backers, interviewees, supporters, crew, actors, friends, long suffering parents and especially my wife – a huge thanks to you all.