Interview with Trevor Thomson, Filmmaker with Dyslexia
What kind of issues is your new film about dyslexia exploring?
I want to ask, “What is intelligence?” And “Am I stupid?” I want to open up the debate. There’s emotional intelligence, which dyslexics have in abundance. The more dyslexics I meet, the more diverse the abilities they have. About four years ago, I began volunteering with Dyslexia Scotland and I’ve been doing interviews with them, events, supporting their young people with digital strategy. So many dyslexic people from all walks of life have really suffered over their education, career and family, especially if they don’t ‘come out’ as dyslexic.
The film will have character-based interviews and show an understanding of what it’s like to be dyslexic on a day-to-day basis. We’re going to show what it’s like to be overwhelmed, as well as the superpowers. Not reading fast is just a tiny part being dyslexic, I could almost say it’s nothing to do with being dyslexic. The problem is the education system. We think outside the box but we’re put in a box by our education, by reading. This can later lead to self-harming and mental health issues, which we’ll talk about in the documentary. If anything goes through the disability act, they try to lump everything into one. We’re going backwards. We need to embrace all the mediums of learning. People who are marginalised and segregated by society have similar issues. The LGBT community have many of the same issues as dyslexics. ‘Coming out’ feels similar. This shouldn’t be happening, but it still is. I want people to stand up and say ‘I am dyslexic’, like Sparticus. Like Muhammed Ali.
I used to think imagination was learnt, but now I think it’s innate. It hasn’t been closed down by the last 300-500 years of mainstream society, thank goodness.
Are many dyslexic people working on the film with you?
I’m a dyslexic director. Emily Downs, a dyslexic ambassador, will be in it, a young dyslexic film-maker is involved and two more dyslexic ambassadors, most of them are young and we’re trying to give them work experience. I think it will be cathartic for people to be involved, kind of like ‘play therapy’. I’m going to be in the film talking to people about my experiences so that they can let go and talk more. As when I interviewed Sir Jackie Stewart, people instantly they relax when they know you’re dyslexic too, you feel connected to each other. There’s an innocence to dyslexic people. Maybe it’s to do with the journey and trauma at school.
What do you think of the idea that most dyslexics are geniuses?
It’s dangerous to say that. In the world that we’re living in, not all dyslexics will find their gift. There are lots of dyslexic geniuses and there are just as many non-dyslexic geniuses. There are lots of dyslexics who have powers to help, but because they’re not recognised by the education system they go unnoticed. How do we measure genius? By PHDs, qualifications. There’s a lot of dyslexics who are geniuses but have never expressed it and they go unrecognised, unutilised and frustrated. A lot of people I meet with dyslexia feel like they need to do something more, that there’s a bigger meaning to life in general, they’re not happy in the 9-5 job, so they’re often doing very interesting, outside of the box things.
What strengths do you feel you possess because of your dyslexia?
There are so many positive super powers. For example, I got sponsored by British Airways to become an aircraft engineer when I was only 16. I moved to Gatwick Airport and worked for BA. The test they gave to recruit me was an IQ test. For analytic problem solving, spatial awareness, I came up really high. But, on the other side, I found it very stressful doing paperwork in the office.
Nearly every dyslexic I know got an A in art - we know what it’s like to fail a lot in early part of education – and if we survive that we can survive anything. I got higher art with an A and I always wanted to go to art school but as I didn’t have high English, I didn’t get to art school. Many dyslexics can see the world in another dimension, askew, with a new way of communicating. People think you’re crazy, but when our ideas are communicated through art, people accept it. Dyslexics translate things visually all the time. We’ll take a piece of news and see it from four directions. We don’t seem to have any thought filters. We see the visible spectrum differently, I think our brains see light differently. That’s why words move for me, because of the light and dark. When I’m on a busy street I can pick up things very quickly: faces, emotions. I walk to work in Glasgow and I recognise people, recognise patterns in people. I’m still developing my talents. I don’t want to say ‘amazing at this’ - I want to challenge perceptions. In the film, I want people to share their abilities without holding back.
It’s interesting what you say about the perception of light. What about time – do you think dyslexics perceive this differently too?
Perception of time and space and being in the moment is different for dyslexics - time can be so quick, disorientating, frantic, yet at other times it’s so slow. Sometimes you can control it, you become one with the universe. I can drive to work and think about everything for that day and then it’s just about making it happen. My brain is always racing, 100 miles per hour, when I manage to slow it down, I can meditate, it’s all perfect. You slow your mind down. They should teach meditation to young dyslexic people. The dyslexic brain works too fast, goes into overdrive. For instance, I see words in 3D from lots of angles. The brain is working more to read and going faster, rather than slower. Getting words out is like a computer buffering, there’s too much information, and youngsters get overwhelmed and stressed and anxious. It would be good for schools to recognise this better. I’d love schools to allow the child in English to know what they’re going to read in school, they should let the dyslexic child read first in the class so they’re still part of the lesson. Or they should be allowed not to read at all if they don’t feel comfortable.
What kind of issues is your new film about dyslexia exploring?I want to ask, “What is intelligence?” And “Am I stupid?” I want to open up the debate. There’s emotional intelligence, which...