My name is Mel, I am 33 and I am dyslexic. My dyslexic journey did not start until relatively late in life….going through school in the 80s and 90s it was mentioned that I had problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation, but nothing was done. I wasn’t considered a struggling student, and anyway I couldn’t be dyslexic, as I was at grammar school (people with dyslexia don’t get into grammar school, which meant that even though I would spell simple words like “those” 3 different ways on the same page, I couldn’t possibly be dyslexic!). I was lucky that my family were very supportive, and always made time to explain the school work that I just didn’t seem to get in different ways until I could understand it. I went into every exam knowing I would automatically lose 6 marks instantly (those for spelling, punctuation and grammar), so to get good grades, I had to get top marks on all other bits of the exam.
I got accepted to a Russell Group university to study History, and spent my first year either getting top grades or low grades but nothing in the middle. In my second year, I took an elective in history of art. After submitting our first essays, they sent two of the class to be tested for dyslexia, one student was hung over when writing her essay, I was dyslexic. I was given an ultimatum, I could have support to pass my degree, or support on how to learn coping strategies for dyslexia…..but not both. I chose the first option and graduated with a 2:1 degree.
Entering the world of work, I found there was no chance for any further support. I hid my dyslexia, only declaring it when my spelling really started to become an issue. Usually by that point I had established myself as a hard worker, and it was just passed off as an area of weakness, but not one that would mean I would lose my job (now the reason was given). However I have also faced prejudice and hostility when disclosing my dyslexia with managers claiming I must have lied on my CV as a dyslexic person couldn’t have done what is on there. A recruitment agency remarked that I “was brave” wanting a job in administration (a career I have worked in for over 7 years), and on one occasion when asking for reasonable adjustments to be made at a work was told that “this is not about what you want.” These are not statements from 50 years ago; these have been made in the last 10 years, and are still happening today. And the sad thing is, in the moments when all these things were being said – I believed them, and believed that the weaknesses were all my fault. I did not recognise what was being said was untrue, discriminatory and illegal. At the worst points, some employers have made me feel that I was incapable of doing any job that involved reading or writing.
The last few years I have started find out more about the disability, and to meet other people with dyslexia. I have learnt there is more to dyslexia than just spelling and reading problems. It affects the way I process information, my organisation, memory and my speech. However it also makes me think outside the box, to problem solve, to strategise, to see new opportunities, and have the determination to continue where others may give up. The good news is that some nice person has invented spell check, speech to text software, training and Dictaphones – which can all be used to overcome the weaknesses that come with the disability (I just need to learn how to use them!). This should enable me to spend my energy not fighting my dyslexic weaknesses, but to utilise my dyslexic strengths.
Finally, 13 years after my initial diagnosis, I think I am starting to understand what dyslexia is. Some things will always be frustrating; I may never remember where I put my keys, my brain may always shut down when bombarded with too much information…..but at least now I know why!
For anyone who is dyslexic or thinks they might be dyslexic – you are able to do whatever you want to do: your dyslexia has given you the creativity to dream big, the way to find your way round the obstacles in your way, the determination to follow your dreams, embrace it (even the annoying frustrating bits), you are in the company of greats.
My hopes are that one day, dyslexia will be seen as a strength, and not a weakness to employers, that dyslexia is diagnosed early, and that people (at whatever age they are diagnosed), receive the support and advice they need to fulfil their potential.
In moments of dyslexic frustration (when I wish my dyslexia would just disappear) I have found these videos about dyslexia inspirational and informative:
Overcoming Dyslexia, Finding Passion:
Piper Otterbein at TEDxYouth@CEHS
Left from write – What is Dyslexia ?
The Power Of Dyslexia about Famous Dyslexics