Dyslexia and me: Daniel’s story
Thursday 14 November 2019
By Katie Tynan, Product Owner of Inclusion at Twinkl
Dyslexia is a common learning difference that falls under the umbrella of ‘neurodiversity’ along with dyspraxia and ADHD. Having a neurological difference means that not everybody behaves, learns or reacts in the same way. Many public figures such as Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Pablo Picasso and Whoopi Goldberg have been diagnosed with dyslexia and gone on to excel in a wide range of careers.
Unfortunately, people with mild to moderate dyslexia can often go undiagnosed for most, if not all of their lives, and so miss out on crucial support that is widely available and essential in enabling them to thrive. Scientist Daniel was diagnosed at a young age after displaying problems with reading and writing. Thanks to additional educational support, he was able to achieve his full potential. Here, he shares his dyslexia story...
Dyslexia and me: the early years
“When I was really young, my mum used to make me play Scrabble with her, in an effort to improve my spelling, though obviously I struggled at that! It’s quite common for dyslexic people to mix up nines and p’s and my dad would make me write pages of both. Unlike Scrabble, I don’t look back at that fondly and think there would probably be better ways to improve my differentiation between nines and p’s. My mum and dad suspected my dad was dyslexic, and I was displaying some indicators of dyslexia from an early age so managed to get diagnosed quite early on. I just went along to an assessment centre, where I was able to play what I thought were games - but really, these were tests designed to work out how I think.
“In primary school I had quite a lot of support, and went to extra reading classes during lunchtimes. My secondary school wasn’t equipped to support me in the same way. Luckily, an enthusiastic teacher realised I would be held back by my handwriting in exams and with their support I was able to prepare my geography and history coursework and take my exams on a computer. Without her intervention, I’m certain I wouldn’t have got the best GCSE exam results in my school year.”
Using technology to help with my dyslexia
“I did an undergraduate degree in chemistry and then a PhD. My PhD research first required an awful lot of background reading to familiarise myself with a highly specific field, which was exhausting. Luckily, once that was over, I had the freedom to do some cutting edge research. A PhD is examined on the thesis, which is typically over one hundred and fifty pages and writing such a large body of written work might not seem like the obvious choice for someone who is dyslexic. However, I really enjoyed the writing process once I’d applied some coping strategies to help manage my areas of weakness that arise from my dyslexia.
“Word-processors are fantastic. It’s easy to write in small segments, move on when I get stuck and come back later to make edits and improve what I’ve initially written. One issue I still often encounter is that sometimes my spelling is so off the mark, spell-checkers cannot recognise it. Luckily, I can usually think of a synonym that I can spell and then use the thesaurus feature to find even better words to describe what I need to say. It can also be difficult for me to organise my thoughts into a coherent narrative, so I often write sentences first as bullet points with a few key words and then build them up.
“I missed out on using technology prior to my GCSEs and I do wish I had been able to work on a computer before then, as it is so much easier. I now have a job as a research scientist which includes experiments and analysis, but is actually mostly writing - it’s really important to be able to share research findings with other scientists to advance the field. I do have a lab book/notebook that goes everywhere with me. My handwriting is probably illegible to anyone but me, but I find it essential for making visual concept maps in order to plan the structure of things I write. I tend not to get things written up perfectly first time, I often have between five and twelve versions of documents - each of which have lots of small iterative changes - before I’m happy with what I’ve written.”
Dyslexia and seeing the bigger picture
“Working alongside other scientists, my dyslexia means that I’m skilled at seeing the ‘bigger picture’ and I pick up on details that people who aren’t dyslexic and so don’t think like me might miss. I’m very visual, so I’m good at seeing links between things and solving problems. For a scientist, I’m pretty creative! I wouldn’t change being dyslexic at all. Certainly, when I was younger, it was at times quite tricky, but it gets a lot easier once you develop your own strategies for overcoming some of the obstacles of dyslexia.
“It’s important that family and friends are supportive and encouraging of children with dyslexia, so they don’t develop self esteem issues. I found aspects of English language lessons so hard and demoralising, and this is fairly common. However, I was quite good at English literature as it’s all about thinking about the bigger picture and themes, rather than spelling and good grammar. It isn’t that people with dyslexia are not intelligent, it’s just that our brains are geared differently. The fact of the matter is that certain tasks will be tougher, but with perseverance and resilience you’ll overcome these obstacles.”
My advice for somebody with a recent dyslexia diagnosis
“If you’ve been diagnosed, you’re in a good position because at least you know why you are experiencing the difficulties you are, and you can seek out the help you’re entitled to. Make use of the wealth of support that is available - don’t struggle along without it, or feel stigmatised. Strangely, in my first year of university, I was battling with my dyslexia, and didn’t take advantage of the help and support that was available - and I found my exams much harder. For the remaining three years, I accepted the support available, and found the exam period much smoother. I ended up getting a first.”
You can read more information about spotting the signs of dyslexia here. For expert resources designed to aid the development of dyslexic learners, head over to the Twinkl website and visit Twinkl Inclusion.
Katie Tynan works at Twinkl HQ as our Inclusion Product Owner. Before joining Twinkl, she gained experience teaching in secondary as a Design and Technology teacher as well as volunteering for the RNIB. Katie believes in Inclusivity; everyone should be provided with opportunities that enable them to thrive and succeed.