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Thinking Differently?

Posted 11th October 2012

There is something that often intrigues me. When people hear I am dyslexic, what do they really think?

When I first set up In The Shed, somebody told me I shouldn’t tell my clients that I am dyslexic. Why? Because it might put them off. Do people really see dyslexia in such a way that it could put them off?

The way I see it, dyslexia it’s just a small part of who I am. Just as I have brown eyes and am only 5’2” short, I am also dyslexic. I am not embarrassed or ashamed if people know I am dyslexic. Sadly though, many dyslexics are. Is that because of their own negative experiences of how dyslexia affects them or is it because of the way people respond? Yes, dyslexia has it challenges and I have and do experience them, but so does being short. To me, dyslexia is neither better or worse. It’s just different.

As this week has been Dyslexia Awareness Week, and in the hope to inspire or reassure other dyslexics, or to shed some light to those that aren’t, I would like to share with you my background of dyslexia.

I found out I was dyslexic at University. Since then I have researched what dyslexia is, and have grown to understand how it affects me. The key word for me there is ‘understand’. I hold my hand up and say I had no real idea what dyslexia was before then. I just presumed it meant people couldn’t read or write very well, I knew it had something to do with words but that was it. At school those ‘labelled’ dyslexic were seen to be in the bottom groups and viewed less intelligent, or so it seemed looking in. I am shocked to realise how very naive I was before, and worse still, realise so many people still don’t actually understand what dyslexia is either.

So how come I didn’t I find out before I was 20? Well, I guess it just wasn’t obvious? Not in the stereotypical way at least. Teachers could see I was intelligent and it appeared I could read, write and spell without any obvious concern. I went through school getting the work done and on time, achieving good grades and even coming top of the class in various subjects. So why would anyone notice?

I worked hard, forced myself to concentrate in class, asked a lot of questions and spend much more time than others doing homework to catch up. I am a slow reader, and it often took me longer than the time I had in class to do the work, let alone the homework on top. I had to work hard if I was to understand what on earth I had been learning and remember it all. I would often get called a geek for always studying so much.

I describe my time at schools as being ‘a swan’. On the surface it looked effortless, I was gracefully gliding through school, doing well and getting excellent grades. But what no-one could see, underneath the water, there I was paddling away frantically trying to stay afloat.

I expect I would never have found out at University either, if it wasn’t for a browse through an old Cosmo magazine. I stumbled upon an article about ADHD. As I often do with magazines, I read the pull out boxes first before committing to the whole article. It contained a checklist list of symptoms to see if your child might be ADHD, and there I was at the age of 20, sat in my halls of residence ticking most of them off. I joked about it with my tutor one afternoon, and he suggested I might be dyslexic.

It hadn’t been obvious before, but it made sense when somebody explained. Looking back, there were habits, traits, and sometimes mistakes, which at the time I just brushed off. I would never have thought they would be related to dyslexia. I have always felt different to others. Even though I would brush off certain traits as just being me, there was something inside that still bugged me. Not knowing why. Finding out felt like a relieve. An answer.

Like anything though, I couldn’t just accept dyslexia was the answer and leave it at that. Just because there was a name I could attach to some of my behaviours, I needed to understand what that meant and why it happens?

The best book I ever read, and one of the easiest, mainly because it made sense, is The Gift of Dyslexia by Ronald D. Davis. It explained how the dyslexic brain behaves differently and why all those little habits and traits I had, such as being clumsy, being late for school (often) and irritating others with my legs shaking uncontrollably under the desk, are connected. It was a series of light bulb moments as I read each chapter. Certainly worth a read to find out more.

I have always had these traits, I will still always have them, but now that I understand why and how they happen, I can control them (where appropriate), accept them and move forward.

So what is dyslexia. In only a few words, dyslexia is a different way of thinking. 

For me, I think in concepts which evolve and develop as thoughts, images that move so fast I can’t actually see them. I can’t imagine thinking any differently.

It took me a while to write this blog. Not because I can’t write, but because I have so many ideas, thoughts and experiences I could share and for me writing, like anything creative, needs time to develop, to let it breath, revisit it, rework it, then polish. I think so quickly that before I know it those thoughts have moved on to something else. When I write, I often miss out words to make sure I get the general idea on the page before its too late. My brother is a writer and I often check my writing though with him. When he reads my early drafts, he laughs. The other day he said I sounds like a chav rapper, those missed out words made that early draft sound hilarious when he read it back to me.

Over time I will post more blogs on the subject, and share experiences with you during other posts where it feels relevant, because as I said at the start, it is a part of who I am so why should it be a secret?

I am passionate about helping people understand more and think differently about dyslexia, and delighted once again to be asked to be floor manager at the 9th Dyslexia Information Day (DID). Its coming to Shrewsbury for the first time on Saturday 20th October 2012 between 10am and 3pm at the Baptist Church in Claremont Street. Its open to all and free, so pop in and see us if you want to know more about dyslexia, local provisions, chat with other dyslexics for support and tuck into some yummy cake. You will be greeted with a smile!

Although I am proud to share with you how I think differently, it still intrigues me to know what people think when they hear I am dyslexic. I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to ask me any questions, and share your views and experiences in the comments below. What do you want to know about dyslexia or how it affects me? What are your initial views of dyslexia and how have these been formed?

As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.