Monday, 8 August 2011

Dyslexia and Phonagnosia

I've been a bit busy of late with my son's wedding in Sheffield, a return trip to pick up the things we left behind and a night away to try out our new trailer tent but I do want to bring this article, which appeared on 29th July on the BBC web site, to your attention.

Apart from having a lovely new word, Phonagnosia, it goes a long way to explaining something that has puzzled me for a long time.  My family will tell you that I'm deaf but when I take a hearing test my hearing appears to be normal.  The answer is that along side my dyslexia I have phonagnosia which makes it difficult for me to discern voices.  To explain what this is like I'll give you a couple of practical examples of how it affects me.

Firstly it makes it difficult for me to know that someone is speaking to me unless they prefix it with my name or I am expecting them to talk.  Unless I'm either looking at someone or hear my name it takes me several words to realise that I am hearing speech and to work out whether it is anything to do with me.  This slowness in picking up speech patterns means that I appear to be ignoring the person speaking.  Of course my parents didn't help me by giving me the name "Hugh" which, to my ear, is almost identical to "you" and this has led me to believe someone is talking to me when they are talking to someone else.

The second example is the social setting of a large group of people eating together at a straight table. If I am sitting in the middle I can pick out the voices of the people sitting either side of me and the three opposite but if I'm on the end of the table I can hear the person next to me and the person directly opposite; all the rest a just noise. Oddly if the same group is sat round a round table I can pick out each voice, presumably because each voice comes from a different direction and I can use that to separate them out from each other.

Now all this on its own is bad enough but in my case it's another piece in a bigger jigsaw, my depression. If I am in a situation where several people are talking, such as a party, I find myself isolated as I can't pick out the individual voices to hear what they are saying.  This sense of isolation has played a big part in my depression as the feeling that I’m looking in on social events from the outside and not really involved in them has led me to withdraw into myself.

So I’m not deaf, I’m not ignoring you, people aren’t ignoring me – I’m phonagnosic.