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Read how Kirsty has turned her dyslexia into a gift that she uses to help others find their voice

Monday 15 March 2021

"Without my dyslexia I wouldn't be where I am today - I often tell people that dyslexia was the best thing to have happened to me. It's the reason I make creative connections when developing projects to support the communities I serve."

Kirsty believes her dyslexia has given her a gift that allows her to help so many by supporting young learners with communication difficulties in finding their voice, and confidently share their opinions and achieve their aspirations.

Personally I have known that I have struggled with the world of words since childhood. I can vividly recall being the child who strategically placed myself in the middle of the classroom to avoid been chosen, or complaining of headaches when asked to read aloud. Even now I can recall the exact feeling of fear and embarrassment when these strategies didn't work, having to read aloud to others in a painfully slow pace, and regularly struggling to pronounce the words. Since then I have been to college and university, and admittedly struggled to achieve both, but it wasn't until the age of 24 that it was highlighted that I might in fact be dyslexic. This came about completely coincidently, when my full time role at the time became very admin focussed. At this time I began to experience significant word movement, and immediately thought this to be eye related. As such I arranged to visit my optician, who found my eye sight to be perfect, however identified that I had Meares-Irlen Syndrome.

At this time I was also a part time lecturer (alongside my other employment) and was aware of learners who required coloured overlays to support with their reading. As such I queried whether this could be related to dyslexia, as I did in fact struggle with reading and writing (having never admitted this to anyone previously). The answer to this question then led me down the path to explore the possibility of my being dyslexic. Since then I have spoken to numerous services along the way, all of whom felt that I was dyslexic. With that said, it has take until this lockdown for me to obtain a diagnosis; I'm now 32 years old. Recently I underwent my full diagnostic testing, and last week my dyslexia diagnosis was confirmed.

“Dyslexia is the reason I instinctively know how to help others through creative approaches”

Without my dyslexia I wouldn't be where I am today - I often tell people that dyslexia was the best thing to have happened to me. Admittedly, dyslexia has caused me many difficulties. It's caused me to question my abilities and my self worth. It's caused me to cry with frustration when writing emails as I can't convey my point effectively. It's caused me to be jealous of people who don't experience the same difficulties as me. BUT, it's also been the key to my successes. It's the reason I make creative connections when developing projects to support the communities I serve. It's the reason I instinctively know how to help others through creative approaches, and subsequently own my own company doing this full time. It's the reason I can relate to my own students difficulties etc. Yes it's difficult at times, but it's also amazing too, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Find strategies that work for you

When it initially came to light that I might be dyslexic, my employer at the time sort support from Access to Work. I worked with a great advisor who helped me to develop a few strategies for work, but mainly helped me to overcome my own feelings about being dyslexic (as I really struggled with having to be open with others about struggling - having spent such a long time hiding it from others). Otherwise, most of the strategies I use were developed by myself over the years. A few examples include:

  • I often utilise musical beats. When leaving the house I struggle to recall whether or not I've locked the door. As such I tap a beat on the handle as I leave. Instead of trying to recall the process of locking the door, I recall the beat much easier.
  • I also apply jingles when trying to remember information, such as number sequences.
  • I utilise the support around me to proof read documentation etc.
  • With my recent diagnostic test, I now have a number of other resources to begin implementing in my work and personal life e.g. assistive software.

Focus on the strengths

One of my main strengths due to my dyslexia is the ability to make creative connections. This ability has enabled me to develop and deliver many community projects and training programmes over the years, through which I've been able to support many people e.g.

  • supporting learners with autism and down syndrome (who previously rarely spoke to others) to confidently share their opinions and have them valued by others.
  • supporting young people to develop and achieve their aspirations
  • supporting young people to have their voices heard and work with them to make a difference in their communities.

For me, being able to make a difference in other people’s lives is my greatest achievement, much of which I owe to my dyslexia abilities.

My advice for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dyslexia

To be honest. I myself didn't do this for a significant amount of time due to fear of judgement. However when I finally did open up to others about it, I received the opposite reaction. In fact I found that it was freeing, not having to hide/disguise my difficulties. Instead I discovered that others around me were dyslexic. I also found that my colleagues were more than happy to help, which helped me to focus much more of my strengths.

It's a lot more complex than you might think. It's often assumed that all people with dyslexia struggle with reading and writing, and yes this is the case for some... but not all. All people with dyslexia experience different difficulties. Some people may find reading easy, but find it difficult to verbally communicate their point. Some people might have beautiful writing, but when read carefully it's filled with spelling and grammatical errors. There really is no rhyme or reason to it all when applying traditional logic. Rather than focusing on their difficulties, hone in on their strengths, because once you do there really is no stopping a person with dyslexia!