Dyslexia and me: Stephanie's story
Wednesday 16 October 2019
By Katie Tynan, Product Owner of Inclusion at Twinkl
For many children with dyslexia, their poor behaviour can be directly traced back to their condition. Acting out in school can be a common response for children who struggle with reading and writing in class. Conventional teaching methods can be much less effective for dyslexic learners and developing techniques to cater to their unique learning styles is, therefore, crucial to improving their understanding of educational material.
Stephanie Davies is the Founder and Director of training and consulting organisation, Laughology. She has dyslexia and says that her misbehaviour in school was as a direct result of her difficulties understanding materials in class. Following her diagnosis, she has since started her own business and ran school initiatives with the primary aim of helping children with dyslexia who are in a similar position to where she was.
Here is her story:
Growing up with dyslexia
“The journey started towards my final year of primary school. I didn’t know I was dyslexic so I just thought that my classes were really difficult; I wasn’t keeping up where my friends were. I simply thought some people are born clever and some people aren't. I thought I just wasn't a smart person.
“The real struggle started when i was in secondary school; I would mess about to get out of class. Whilst I could keep up by designing ways to cope, I would only just get by. I got put back a year and moved into the lowest set - the ‘nurture group’. I was put with young people who were on the other side of the spectrum to me socially and emotionally so I didn’t fit in.
“I had a teacher who was great and who really believed in me for my performing. He directed me down that route and that’s what got me into performing arts school. That’s when I had an amazing tutor who recognised my difficulties and said that I should get tested for dyslexia. I had never really thought about it but when I was 18 and I was tested at university, that was when I was finally identified as dyslexic.”
Dyslexia’s impact on children’s behaviour
Stephanie’s story about misbehaving in class is similar to that of many people with dyslexia. Rather than receiving help for possible dyslexia, children displaying these symptoms often go undiagnosed and instead punishment is used as the solution. Although Stephanie understands that educators were not intentionally ignorant, she recognises that there are much-needed changes to the way teachers understand dyslexia.
“People just didn’t know how to deal with it and my way of dealing with it was to mess about so I got named as the naughty kid. Poor teachers don’t know how to deal with it either, so there’s no blame here, we just need to get better at creating an individual learning platform for everyone.”
Finding ways to tackle dyslexia
The solution to this is adapting teaching to the learning style of the individual with dyslexia. It’s all about conveying the learning material in a way that doesn’t cause confusion to the student. Visual representations of information rather than through written communication can help overcome the issue. As Stephanie found, acting things out and using humour as a learning device was an extremely useful method of overcoming her difficulties with reading and writing.
“As I came through school, I learnt coping skills. I did things like going round to a friend’s house and having group reads together. I would say that I’ll act it out and you read it. I’d always try to be the funny one and use performance as a way of engaging with the work.
“Because I loved performing arts and I was always the class clown, my tutor said I should try stand up comedy. I started doing it professionally, did it for 10 years and became really interested in the power of humour. That helped me because, as a comedian, you can talk about your own challenges and make it funny.”
Using comedy to overcome dyslexia
There are many ways of better facilitating dyslexia to give students the best chance to develop and learn. For Stephanie, that method was through comedy. Since discovering humour to be an excellent coping mechanism for herself, Stephanie has sought to help other children with dyslexia using the same method.
“I realised that comedy’s really helped me and that I’d love to help other young people using the same idea. I wrote to the local education authority with an idea to take stand up comedy into schools to help children improve their reading and writing abilities. They approved it, gave me a pilot grant and it went really well.
“I started doing stand up comedy workshops in schools and I recognised the journey some of these young people were on because it was so similar to my own. The turnaround was not only improvements to their reading and writing but also to their confidence. It gave them a different way of looking at themselves and made them realise that they can be useful and it’s about directing their learning style in a different way.”
Benefits of dyslexia
And whilst it’s key to realise that dyslexic individuals may require a less conventional learning technique, this doesn’t equate to being fundamentally disadvantaged. In fact, whilst people with dyslexia may struggle in some areas, those same people often can excel in others. It’s no coincidence that there are many famous dyslexics, from Richard Branson to Walt Disney. Instead, Stephanie encourages people with the condition to embrace it.
“Treat dyslexia like a secret power. There will be things that you can do that other people can’t because of your dyslexia, so find out what those things are. Importantly, don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s a disability because it’s not - it’s simply a unique learning style.
As Stephanie suggests, dyslexia shouldn’t be seen as a burden; rather, it should be seen simply as a different way of doing things. With the right strategy for facilitating their learning, people with dyslexia can be just as able as anybody else.
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.