Why they have made dyslexia and dyspraxia such difficult words to spell and read I will never understand! Surely the people who invented these words already know we are struggling in this area! Anyway, in light of dyslexia and dyspraxia awareness week I wanted to share my own light-hearted story, recognise some amazing teachers and detail some of the things that have helped me and may also help you, dyslexia/dyspraxia or not.
I was always told I couldn’t read and spell very well, sent for extra after school and break time lessons to learn spelling. Test after test after test, all with the same result…. “you’re very behind with your reading and spelling”. I was even taken out of English classes, which I think was slightly counter productive, and sent for even more fruitless reading and spelling tests. I remember one teacher saying to me that I “obviously wasn’t trying very hard” in one test as I had spelt the words incorrectly that I had spelt correctly before.
My mother, being the strong willed undeterred woman that she is, was like a dog with a bone! She didn’t agree! She didn’t quite know what the problem was, but she didn’t agree that I was just ‘behind’ with my reading and spelling and wouldn’t let it go! Much to my immature embarrassment at parent’s evenings.
I can’t say that it bothered me very much at the time, to me, it was what it was, I just wasn’t very good at reading and spelling. That’s what I had been told and therefore the label I gave myself. The time when it did start to bother me was when I was estimated two D’s for GCSE English language and literature. This would mean that I wouldn’t get in to university to do my nursing.
From the age of twelve I had always wanted to be a nurse, obviously after my initial ambitions to be an actress. At that time, I didn’t feel my reading and spelling difficulties would matter as my naive version of nursing included tucking sick people up in bed, placing the back of my hand on their head to check for a temperature with a concerned loving face, holding their hand, plumping their pillows, re-arranging their flowers and giving them a spoonful of magic medicine. All very Mary Poppins. Little did I realise what nursing had in store for me!!
It wasn’t until two very special teachers looked at me a little differently. I remember one English class I wrote a poem and read it aloud (with difficulty) to the class. My English teacher Mr Mcnabb asked me to stay behind after class and read the poem. He looked at me kindly and said that he didn’t think this was just me being behind with my spelling and reading and referred me to the special needs teacher Mrs Timbrell. I don’t think they use the term ‘special needs’ anymore but this was 16 years ago.
Mrs Timbrell was like the sunshine of teachers, always warm, happy and smiling. She set me a few assessments in reading, writing and numbers and placed the results on a graph. This graph looked like an indication of stock market shares, peaking and dipping continuously. My handwriting was poor with lots of scribbled out areas, my letters often back to front and I was continuously starting my current word with the first letter of the next. I could talk about a topic with a good level of intelligence but when given a written question on it I couldn’t decipher what the question was asking of me. I was good at verbal reasoning but often struggled with word finding abilities and I was above average with numbers and problem solving but then dipped back down when asked to read out loud.
This nauseating sea-saw graph apparently indicated that I was dyslexic. A title I didn’t know much about but it generally affects your ability to learn to read, write, spell, deal with the sounds of words and recall of information.
Dyslexia is predicted to affect 10% of people in the UK, is often genetic and is not an indicator of general intelligence. Predictions vary but dyslexic entrepreneurs are disproportionately high. Perhaps this is because the route of academia isn’t best suited to us and we want to find our own way or because we see things a little differently. Perhaps we compensate for a lack of ability in one area by excelling in others like verbal communication, emotional intelligence and problem solving abilities that aren’t graded in school.
Dyslexia isn’t curable but it can definitely be aided with the right help. Mrs Timbrell was a nurturing soul, giving me so much of her time and taught me study skills that I still use today. The breaking down of sentences, mind mapping, colour coding and the acceptance that its OK to take longer and not get frustrated with myself. This along with a little extra time in my exams took me from an estimated two D’s to an A and a B in English language and literature. A result that made me cry! Without those two incredible teachers it would never have happened!
My lack of organisation, structure and time keeping has often been another big struggle. Much to the frustration of my family and friends but it is incredibly more frustrating to myself. Its not that I don’t appreciate other peoples time, or that I’m not aware of when something needs to be done by, but my concept of time can only be viewed as fluid. I find it difficult to accurately estimate how long something will take me and then leave myself immensely less time than that to do it, or get there, and then forget or lose something important which sets me back further.
A further assessment during my post graduate degree at university showed that I was also had mild dyspraxia. A conclusion that was probably only backed up by her assessment but decided in the first two minutes of me entering her room. Firstly, arriving 20 minutes late by both running late and getting lost on my way to the allocated room then snagging my cardigan on her door and hitting my hip on the table to sit down and admitting that I’d not only lost my paperwork but also forgot my pen!
I don’t really see either dyslexia or dyspraxia as a disadvantage anymore and it has certainly leant for some entertaining life moments. Its never stopped me from doing anything but I have certainly had to to make some active adjustments to my life. A boss may be sympathetic to dyslexia but when your continuously late, forget important things and miss deadlines then ‘dyspraxia’ is as good a reason as ‘my dog ate my homework’.
I told myself I didn’t like reading but in truth I found it hard so I gave up. I never used to read until a friend introduced me to audiobooks, absolutely life changing, and now I listen to a book a week and my knowledge and vocabulary has blossomed. I plan in advance for the year, month, week and day and I regularly make lists of tasks to be done and then break them down into smaller bite size chunks so the task doesn’t seem overwhelming and there are clear steps of how to achieve it in the time frame needed. I still mind map my ideas and colour code my emails. I write this blog but I use spellchecker and then send my work to my wonderful friends and family to sift through again. I make my work bag up the night before, in the same way I did for school, to minimise the likelihood of forgetting anything and lay out my clothes for the next working day. This is obviously if I don’t forget to do this!
I have now turned to not only setting an alarm to get up but also another to go off ten minutes before I need to leave and another for when I have to leave which is actually set for five minutes before I actually have to leave. I am still often late but this certainly is a step in the right direction.
I know the things that make things worse, mess and stress, so when it appears the latest hurricane has taken a detour through my bedroom, I know I’m fighting a losing battle.
I always saw my reading, spelling and organisation difficulties as my greatest weakness but they weren’t who I was as a person. Growth has always been really important to me so I started to look at my strengths first and then figure out how to use them to combat my weaknesses. Now I’ve managed to turn these initial weaknesses into a hobby by writing this blog.
Dyslexia and dyspraxia might be the reason I initially struggled at school but they are not an excuse not to succeed in life. It was a limitation I placed on myself. If you can overcome your biggest hurdle by making small steps in the right direction, then what are limitations anymore?
Now I just need to work on my addiction to the biscuit tin and become an entrepreneur by inventing a teleportation device that can actually get to the places I need to be in the 3.6 minutes that I allocate myself! All a work in progress.