Charley Boorman on a childhood spent with dyslexia

Charley Boorman says he had to explain to his teachers what dyslexia was

Charley Boorman is an actor, adventurer and a writer. He is also dyslexic.

He says it was his father, the film director John Boorman, who spotted the signs - not his teachers, who wrote him off.

"At the time when I was going to school in Ireland people didn't really have a clue about what it was, so I had to spend a lot of my time trying to explain to teachers what dyslexia meant."

Frustrated in class, he played the clown he says.

"I found I was being pushed to one side and I was being ear-marked as being thick, which is a very damaging thing to be told as a young kid," he says, laughing.

"(They said) you're thick and you'll not amount to much."

Natural strengths

WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?

  • Dyslexia is a common reading and language disorder
  • Characteristic features of dyslexia are difficulties in phonological awareness, verbal memory and verbal processing speed
  • Difficulties may be seen in aspects of language, motor co-ordination, mental calculation, concentration and personal organisation, but these are not, by themselves, markers of dyslexia
  • Between 4% and 5% of the UK population are dyslexic
  • There are about 375,000 pupils in the UK with dyslexia and a total of some 2m people who are severely affected

Source: Dyslexia Action

Those same teachers would of course be swallowing their words now.

Boorman has not only become a household name after riding his motor bike around a large chunk of the planet with and without his bike buddy Ewan McGregor - he has also written five books to tie in with the TV series.

He believes his teachers should have looked to his strengths, not his weaknesses.

"It's unfair because often people who have disabilities - visual or hearing or wherever it is - they can very often excel in other things and it's a matter of finding those things.

"Often dyslexic kids will excel in being a little bit mischievous or tying to find attention in other ways because they're not getting it in class.

"If anybody has walked down the road and someone says turn left and you take a right that's a form of dyslexia. If you write a number down backwards or you get the numbers mixed up a little bit occasionally, that's a form of dyslexia."

He still struggles today, particularly with writing and reading.

Without dyslexia, he jokes, he'd "be someone who can read". "I can't do my kids' homework," he adds, pointing to his two girls who are watching TV in the living room after a day at school.

In fact Boorman spends a lot of time mocking himself, just as he has been mocked many times for his problems with spelling and writing. Even his epic bike journeys have been punctuated by the occasional teasing by a friend or colleague over a misspelt word.

He says such comments just washes over him.

An impression of how the dyslexic see An impression of what the dyslexic see
Teacher training

Boorman is now trying to improve the lot of children growing up today with dyslexia. He is the president of the charity Dyslexia Action - work which has taken him into schools to see for himself projects and learning aids designed for the dyslexic.

He feels more still needs to be done, especially when it comes to training teachers.

"While they're being taught to be teachers, they need to be taught to identify dyslexia ... so that that child can then be earmarked and say, 'right, that kid needs a little bit of extra help'.

"That was the kind of battle I had. I knew what I had, but my teachers didn't."

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