Lee Wei Ling and LKY are dyslexics

From ‘The long and short of rules’, 2 Sept 2012, article by Lee Wei Ling, Think, Sunday Times

…Ryan’s mother, however, reacted melodramatically. She went to the press with her son’s story and lodged a police report. She claimed that Ryan “could not leave home for two days because of the way he looked”. Then she arranged for him to have a $60 haircut.

She excused her son’s disobedience by saying he was dyslexic, and that dyslexics were forgetful. Both my father and I are dyslexic. We are no more forgetful than other normal people.

…Ryan’s mother’s reaction to the teacher cutting her son’s hair was, I am afraid, close to hysterical. How do we bring up our children with the right values when parents and schools send such conflicting messages?

I wouldn’t doubt a famous neurologist’s analysis on the symptoms of dyslexia, and I fully concur with her diagnosis of HYSTERIA in Ryan’s mother. But what’s interesting about this week’s Lee Wei Ling column is not so much her stand on hair rules or teachers playing barber (which is not surprising since she fancies a shorn crop, probably one that’s even shorter than Ryan’s), but her admission that both herself and LKY are dyslexics. Wei Ling herself once confessed that she didn’t really pay attention during GP lessons, which could be related to her undiagnosed dyslexia then. Despite that, she did well (an ‘A’ too) and look where she is now.

In a 2009 article ‘Morals and Morale’, Wei Ling was candidly honest about her problems with spelling in English, but did not shy away from boasting about how good she was at Chinese ‘mo-xie’, a test in which you had to regurgitate an entire essay or poem entirely by memory.

Those who know about moxie might be surprised to hear that I enjoyed memorising the classics, and I never got less than 90 marks for moxie. It was English spelling that I had problems with.

Since I had no difficulty with written Chinese, I blamed my problems with English spelling on the strange spelling rules of the language. It was only many years later that I discovered I was dyslexic in English. To this day, I sometimes cannot decide whether to use a ‘d’ or a ‘t’, a ‘v’ or a ‘z’. I have even more difficulty with vowels. Fortunately, my e-mail and word-processing programs have spell checkers.

In 1995, the good doctor was kind enough to sign up as Advisor to the DAS (Dyslexic Association of Singapore), an acronym which I’ve come to realise is a smart wordplay on how dyslexics tend to ‘mirror-write’ (DAS backwards is SAD). Wei Ling also spent some time in the 80’s as registrar at TTSH working with ‘under-achieving’ kids, a euphemism for ‘slow learners’ or ‘backward’ children. In the 60’s, experts were quick to discount myths that children who suffer from ‘word-blindness’, as it was formerly known, were ‘necessarily STUPID’. In the 70’s you would see headlines in the ST like ‘The bright kids who just cannot write; first in a two-part series on ABNORMAL children’. In the tradition of making disorders less dreadful than they sound by making them harder to read or spell, dyslexia has been rebranded recently as Developmental Reading Disorder (DRD).

Looking at the language standards of Facebook posts and Twitter feeds, you would think dyslexia, despite affecting up to 10% of Singaporeans, is still relatively under-diagnosed here. Perhaps the rate would have been higher if spellcheck and Autocorrect were never invented. There’s also a chance that with the stigma removed and dyslexia being erroneously tied to genius like how bipolar mania has become a ‘fashionable’ disease, normal people who write undecipherable emails may abuse the ‘dyslexia’ label by claiming they are ‘dyslexic’ when they’re just TERRIBLE, LAZY spellers. I hope DAS never has to change their name to DRDAS.

In a 2007 interview with the New York Times, LKY mentioned that an unnamed grandson was dyslexic as well (without saying that he had it himself), further supporting the observation that it runs in families and is more common in boys than girls. No signs of it in PM Lee so far, though he has the occasional lapse in mistaking one hawker food for another.

I’ve got one grandson gone to MIT. Another grandson had been in the American school here. Because he was dyslexic and we then didn’t have the teachers to teach him how to overcome or cope with his dyslexia, so he was given exemption to go to the American school. He speaks like an American. He’s going to Wharton.

It was Lee Wei Ling herself who revealed to the media that her daddy suffered from ‘mild dyslexia’ in 1996 (SM Lee has mild dyslexia, says daughter who’s dyslexic, 18 Jan 1996, ST), just like how she told the whole world last year he had peripheral neuropathy. Still, dyslexia didn’t seem to stop the elder statesman from publishing bestselling autobiographies showing a strong command of the written word, though I doubt he said anything about the disorder in ‘Hard Truths’. In the HongKong Journal of Paediatrics 2005, LKY was cited as a case study of highly successful dyslexics, where he submitted himself to testing only when he realised that ‘he couldn’t read fast without missing important items’. Proceeds from sales of a CD-ROM of his life were donated to the DAS (You can still buy it from e-bay but not sure where the money goes now). LKY’s affliction is proof that some dyslexic individuals not only function just as well as their ‘normal’ peers in society, but far exceed their abilities in all other aspects. The list include visionaries like Richard Branson and Albert Einstein, famed Scientologist actor Tom Cruise, Mickey Mouse creator Walt Disney, light bulb inventor Thomas Edison and internet sensation ‘Dog Bless You’ Dr Jia Jia.

And how could I forget Derek Zoolander and Homer Simpson.


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