Dyslexia is something that affects thousands of people daily and I feel that it is incredibly misunderstood by those that don’t suffer from it. It’s something that is incredibly important to me as it affects me in all aspects of life; from simple tasks like giving people change or reading to bigger things such as reading important documents or paying bills.
There isn’t just one type of dyslexia, however there are definite similarities in people who do suffer with it, for example difficulty with reading and writing, but it’s wrong to assume that all dyslexics are the same. I suffer from a moderate form of dyslexia which affects my phonological processing, sequential memory and symbolic naming speed: in English that means I am a slow reader, I struggle to pick up sequences and I find it hard to read new information out loud. With all those things mixed up together, it also makes it incredibly hard for me to keep track on a page of text, words disappear from sentences and letters get muddled up. I’m also crap at maths and can’t add up without using my fingers. Oh yeah, and I still don’t know my times tables at 20 years old- blame the poor sequential memory for that one.
I didn’t get properly diagnosed with dyslexia until I was nearly 18. I spent my whole school life struggling as not a single teacher in nearly 12 years of education managed to spot the signs to refer me to a specialist. Do you remember in English lessons when your teacher would pick people randomly to read an extract from Of Mice And Men? That. Was. Torture. I’d try to make myself as small as possible to avoid being picked. I used to think, what is the point in picking me to fumble over a page which doesn’t even make sense for ten minutes when you could just ask someone else who could read it fine in two minutes? You’d think that English teachers were trained to spot dyslexic tendencies and a student struggling to read out loud would be a huge red flag. Sadly not.
For years I just thought I was stupid, I was cripplingly embarrassed about people’s judgement of me for not being able to read in class. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t read normally like everyone else. I used to wonder whether it was because I didn’t practise enough at home, or maybe because I didn’t read a lot of books? I hated reading, it tired me out. My teachers suggested that I should practise my reading, so I practised and practised and practised and still couldn’t fucking read. To me, it didn’t make sense why I was able to achieve an A in English yet still stumble over a simple sentence or miss a huge chunk of text out; it was so embarrassing.
After suffering through my GCSEs, by Year 12 I’d had enough and referred myself for a test which cost me around £200. Retrospectively, the school should have paid for the test but I think because I was an able student whose grades didn’t seem to be slipping, it wasn’t an issue that needed to be addressed. Anyone can refer themselves for a test and there are test centres all over the UK; I did my test in Kendal in a place called South Cumbria Dyslexia Association (SCDA for short). The test is about two hours long and they give you a little document afterwards with the assessment details on in full which I still have. I urge anyone who thinks that they may possibly be dyslexic to go and have a test done. To have some form of confirmation makes your life so much easier as you can then get help and find techniques that work for you. Things about your little quirks start to make sense, I finally understood why I couldn’t learn my times tables as a child. Do not sit there and struggle, go and get help!
Finally being diagnosed, it made my school life so much easier: teachers were not allowed to surprise me with big chunks of text to read, I wasn’t picked to read aloud in class and I was given the 25% extra time in exams. On the subject of extra time, let’s just get this straight because I hear this a lot: having extra time in exams is not cheating, it is not giving you a better chance over someone who is able and it is not ‘lucky’. Just before going into an exam, one of my classmates said “you’ll be fine, you get extra time”. NO. No. No. Noooo. How ignorant can you be? Dyslexic brains work differently, therefore need the extra time to compensate for that. You wouldn’t think it would be fair for Usain Bolt to run in a Paralympic race now, would you? I think there is a huge issue with people’s misjudgements on dyslexia and it narrows down to being uneducated about it.
Now that I’ve left school, I’m a lot more accepting of my dyslexia, it’s part of who I am and it actually doesn’t matter as much. I thought it would be a bigger deal than it is with my acting career- surprisingly a lot of actors are dyslexic so directors and facilitators are used to it and are a lot more understanding with you. In terms of other jobs, I’ve only had one issue with a job when my boss wanted me to learn a twenty minute presentation and perform it in a few days… Of course I was super overwhelmed, stressed and over emotional about it so I put my foot down and explained that I can’t do it. Now that I’m self employed, it really doesn’t matter one bit as I’m my own boss, setting my own work.
Not everyone is clued up about dyslexia, a lot of people associate it with negative connotations which is wrong. We are not stupid, we are not making excuses and we are not lazy- we just work differently and that’s okay.
If you know anyone suffering from dyslexia, the worst thing you can do to them is to force them into being something they are not. I once had a customer come into the shop and ask her child to work out “2.70 x 4” (four ice creams) before he was allowed to eat the ice cream. I thought it was a really strange thing to do to a child but I could tell he was getting incredibly embarrassed as he couldn’t work it out, I politely intervened with “don’t worry about it, you don’t need to work it out, my till does it all for me” with which his mother replied “he’s dyslexic so he needs to practise”. By this point I was ready to pull her over the cash desk and shout at her “Why are you torturing him!” To this day, I still can’t believe that she was willing to publicly humiliate her child in front of me for ‘practice’. She clearly didn’t understand what it is like to be dyslexic because as a sufferer, I know that practising doesn’t help. If he had a physical disability, would she have acted the same?
Recently I have discovered that the Amazon Kindle App has a font specifically for dyslexics and it has honestly been life changing for me. When people ask me if I read and I reply “no”, they give me a funny look. It’s not because I don’t want to read, it’s because I found it incredibly tiring and it would take me weeks and weeks to read a book which wasn’t enjoyable. Now that I’ve discovered Kindle has this font, I enjoy reading again. The font is called OpenDyslexic and although it doesn’t cure my dyslexia, it takes the strain off and makes it a little easier for me. It’s something about the weight of the font, it somehow makes tracking the text easier. I actually read a play in two days; it might not sound like a big achievement but to me it was. Thank you Amazon.
To those who have dyslexia: it is okay to be different, it is okay to learn in a different way. Just because you’re dyslexic, it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve as well as others. If I can get A*, A, A at A-Level, so can you. You will probably have to work harder than everyone else but being dyslexic shouldn’t stop you. If you have to count on your fingers to add up 4+3 then do it. Do you and be the best you that you can be.