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#MyDyslexiaStory: Zoe Lewis

Thursday 16 December 2021

I was a frustrated, rather naughty child I think. I was frustrated because I grew up in care: my parents both died when I was very young, I often tried to explain my learning struggles but nobody appeared to listen. If someone read something to me I could remember it but nobody seemed to be interested in listening to me when I would ask how to spell a word or what a word said.

Dyslexia is something I have lived with since I started school, although at first, I was always thought of as the child who could not spell, or read or was just naughty and who would not sit still to learn. I don’t recall any teachers taking a lot of interest in me. I can remember one day at school when asked what I wanted to be when I was a ‘grown up’, I said a vet. My social worker just laughed and I still remember her comment today, ‘you have no chance, you will either end up in prison or successful!’. I did however, in my teenage years, have a guardian and he helped me throughout my life. It is down to him I am where I am now, also my supervisor on my Professional Doctorate who has inspired me to accept my dyslexia.

“One of the main challenges was to accept that I was dyslexic and that I worked in different ways to other people.”

It is only recently that I have actually accepted I am dyslexic and that I can have just as much input into things as other people. My main challenge was that I always felt I was not as good as other people when it came to academic study and being in the classroom. It is only recently that I understood this, when someone said to me, ‘don’t let your dyslexia control who you are’. Dyslexia has made me want to achieve things, partly as I am ‘stubborn’ to prove people wrong but also to challenge the stereotype that because you are dyslexic you can’t be academic! I understand now that I need someone to proof-read my work, although I am happy with my own spelling of words, or missing words out and letting the reader figure it out: it’s just that sometimes other people object or judge you! One of the main challenges I still find is that even today not everyone understands dyslexia and still relate it to intelligence or ‘if you work harder’ or ‘read more’ then everything will magically become ok. If I got £1 for every time someone said ‘just read more’ I could employ a personal assistant who could read the things to me.

The importance of being listened to

I was part of the generation who was taught reading through phonics, which is probably another reason I can’t spell. I did get help with extra reading, but it was just to be given ‘easier’ books rather than anything useful. In addition, I got extra time in all my exams. I could never see the point in this as you could give me three weeks to do the exam but I would still have the same problems trying to spell the words or get anything to make coherent sense on the page. Some of the best support I got was being listened to and actually being asked what would help me. This made a change from being told what would help me - often sadly to say from someone who had no idea, but had read a book on dyslexia. I tended to get frustrated with being told what would help me, because often the person would speak very slowly at me or even shout. I am dyslexic but not from a strange world! When they started to say, ‘every sentence needs a verb’ I would switch off. This was as much help to me as giving me instructions on how to herd cats! I liked space to think of things and, importantly, be able to answer questions, as sometimes by the time I had thought of the words I wanted to say, everyone had moved onto the next point or I was still reading the instructions.

Be in control and know your worth

Six weeks ago, I had an email saying that I had successfully completed my doctorate and could now use the title of ‘Dr’. However, this story is not about gaining a qualification or about personal pride, but the process I went through and what this could represent to assist other people with dyslexia and hopefully inspire other people to fulfil their dreams.

I am in fact severely dyslexic and when I was last assessed I had a reading age of 13 and a spelling age of approximately 11. I still don’t know whether to use ‘effect’ or ‘affect’ so I just say ‘influence’. In fact, I have many strategies that I use to cope and sometimes hide my dyslexia. I also have issues with text moving and swirling off the page.

I am use a purple overlay. I also have glasses with purple tints in but very rarely wear those, as I get fed up of being asked, ‘why are you wearing sunglasses?’. Yes, all of these make reading easier, but I like to do things the hard way, or my way!

Completing my Professional Doctorate (EdD) has allowed me to realise that you have to be in control of your dyslexia, not let it control you. I have also realised that dictating your thoughts then listening to them is a lot easier than actually writing. I suppose, as well, computer technology is a lot better now and the read back software helps a lot. Learning how to use all the aspects of Microsoft Office has also helped. I always thought I was quite good at ICT until I met my supervisor on my Professional Doctorate. He showed me lots of short cuts and kept mentioning things I thought only belonged on a typewriter like ‘tabs’. He also appeared to know all the shortcuts as well which really helped. Having the knowledge of how technology can assist you is definitely something I would recommend.

It took me several drafts to achieve, or get my thesis to an acceptable level. I hated to admit that it would probably take me longer, or realise that with dyslexia you work twice as hard. A lot of people only see the final piece of work and do not realise the hundreds (ok a bit of an exaggeration) of the number of drafts needed.

All my life I have always tried to hide my dyslexia as I did not want to be seen as different but now I am quite happy to say I am dyslexic. I can even spell it now as well, although this is not as impressive as being able to spell PINOCCHIO. I am still waiting for someone to ask me how to spell Pinocchio in an everyday conversation.

It is not the dyslexia that holds you back but your own demons arising from it. Once you believe in yourself more and learn strategies life will become easier. I found someone I trusted to proof-read my work and also someone who I could bounce ideas off. This really helped me. Finding a person or persons you trust is one of the best strategies I would recommend. I am actually happy to admit now I am dyslexic and would suggest that you do not feel ashamed or let others put you down. Remember as someone once said to me, from ‘little acorns grown big oak trees’. I am now a qualified teacher, have a master’s degree, a first class honours degree and a professional doctorate.

My advice for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia:

This is the start of a new journey which may have several glitches along the way, but remember you are in control. Do not let other people put you down but ensure you accept the advice you may get, but use it wisely. Find someone you trust to talk to about what it is like to be dyslexic and to help you check any work in a meaningful way which assists you to improve. Pick your battles when it comes to dyslexia but listen to the people you trust.