Dyslexia and me: Sarah-Jane’s story
Monday 18 November 2019
Dyslexia is regarded as genetic in origin, and it’s common for somebody diagnosed with dyslexia to have a close family member who is dyslexic too. Unfortunately, in past generations, there was less knowledge about dyslexia, and so fewer people were diagnosed - meaning they would struggle through school and further education.
In recent years, great progress has been made, which means that those diagnosed have access to an ever-expanding range of support. Although students with dyslexia may struggle with certain subjects, this is often offset by very strong performance in other areas, leading to great career success in later life. In this article, we speak with Sarah-Jane, a metallurgist who was not diagnosed with dyslexia until during her A-level year.
The challenges of education with dyslexia
I wasn’t diagnosed with dyslexia until I was doing my A-levels. School was really, really hard. The teachers always pushed me and said I could do better if I "wasn’t so slow". Growing up in the 80/90s, dyslexia wasn’t talked about as much, so although teachers knew I struggled they didn’t know why or how to help. When I was finally diagnosed with dyslexia, it really changed my life. I was able to access a lot of help and support that wasn't available previously. It explained a lot, and I was able to accept myself for who I was. I had received a lot of negative comments over the years, and diagnosis made me feel much more comfortable in who I am.
During my A-levels, I was doing physics, chemistry and maths. My physics teacher set us an essay task to make sure that we could write up the results of experiments and communicate scientific findings properly. On the bottom of my marked essay, the teacher had written that my spelling of even simple words was really poor, and asked if I was dyslexic in a harsh tone. When I went home that evening, I told my Dad, and he shared that he suspected he was dyslexic too - he said “I think it’s to do with reading, or something”. I was curious so I found the BDA website and was amazed by how much of the content I identified with. My parents organised a dyslexia test with my college, and when my diagnosis was confirmed I was really grateful for that teacher’s insight. I was initially taken aback by the tone of the comment, but the more I looked into my diagnosis, the more I understood how I process information; and my appreciation of my teacher increased. I know that my brain works in a really unique way, and because of being diagnosed a bit later in life I had regarded that as very much a part of me - but it was good to have an official reason for this.
Dyslexia diagnosis to Doctorate
The main thing I struggled with was exam periods - I never had enough time to revise or finish my exams; whatever strategy I employed, I always seemed to get left behind, and ended up with incomplete / missed exam questions. After my diagnosis, I was granted extra exam time, which was an absolute revelation! Time was still very tight, but I was finally able to completely finish my exams. Also outside of exams I was able to employ other learning strategies, such as working on a computer, which saved me time in writing, and allowed me to organise my thoughts better, which enhanced my revision. The strategies that I adopted around this time have really helped my life in general. I obtained a BEng degree (first class honors), and a Doctorate in Steel Technology; and now work as a metallurgist.
Fighting my corner with dyslexia in the workplace
Since university, my main struggle has been getting employers to understand my dyslexia. There’s a lack of awareness in the professional working environment, I think, and I have had to have a couple of educational conversations with bosses! They’ve always been receptive to learning, but initially don’t quite realise and may inadvertently be offensive. Once the conversation is had, employers are generally very keen to help and will make appropriate changes, even allowing me to move offices to avoid an environment that was too noisy and distracting for me. My diagnosis has helped me, and I’ve been able to educate others on how to make lives easier for people with dyslexia. My advice is not to suffer and struggle alone - be honest if your performance is struggling due to dyslexia and don’t be afraid to make your employers aware. If an employer will not initially listen, organisations are available to assist. Problems can be easily overcome, because there is a wide range of accessible help.
How employers, family and friends can help those with dyslexia
It’s important that people with dyslexia are provided with more support in an educational context. There are lots of services that can help both pre- and post-diagnosis, but these are sometimes not very well-known so the awareness isn’t there. Family support is also key, because it’s quite hard at the time of diagnosis - emotional support is really important. My parents really stood up for me, pushed hard for my assessment, and had to have some very difficult conversations with my schools - if it wasn’t for that, I could have not fulfilled my potential at school due to unfinished coursework and missed deadlines; and ultimately my dyslexia may have remained undiagnosed.
If you’re a business owner with an employee who is dyslexic, the best thing to do is to talk to the employee! They will know better than anyone what works for them, and what extra support and changes that may need to be considered. Take the employee’s recommendations on board - even the smallest changes can make a dramatic difference to a dyslexic person’s working life. For example, I found out recently that using a coloured overlay on white paper makes my reading significantly easier. This is a very cheap, quick and hugely efficient fix that makes a real difference to me. The cumulative effect of a lot of small changes is that I'm happier and more productive. What employer wouldn’t want that?!
My words for somebody who’s recently been diagnosed with dyslexia
Being diagnosed with dyslexia isn’t a bad thing. Do your research, approach the organisations, see specialists - there are lots of ways to cope. It’s just a matter of finding ways to work that help you. Once you understand your coping methods, challenge any practices which disadvantage people with dyslexia whether in school/workplace using specialist organisations if necessary. By embracing the help that’s out there, you will not be held back and you can tackle anything you want.
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.