Reconnecting with my dyslexia
Monday 24 August 2020
Liam, a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London shares his experience of taking on the challenge of doctoral-level study with dyslexia.
I’ve had a recent reconnection with my dyslexia. Going through primary and secondary school, attending special classes to constructing my own coping mechanisms, I was given a mild diagnosis with this learning difficulty at a young age. However, it caused a lot of tension within myself over the ability I thought I had and the frustrating slowdowns in how I tried to interact my brain with the outside world.
Taking the scenic route
Instead of taking the motorway, my brain takes the scenic route and often gets stuck behind a flooded road where it has to slow down to navigate whatever has just flooded it (word games at parties tend to not only flood the road, but the whole engine as well).
Finishing my A-Levels, I tried to put as much of this as possible behind me. I forgot about my dyslexia and was happier (I thought) for it. That cliché of being a new person took hold and I somehow managed to successfully navigate this realm without help. But, I knew something was wrong. Then going on to do an MA and successfully applying for funding to start a PhD course a few years later I knew I had to reconnect with my dyslexia if I was going to be successful in this next, slightly daunting step.
The first steps towards my PhD
Starting at Queen Mary University of London for my first steps towards my PhD, I spent several evenings hovering over the Disability and Dyslexia Service’s (DDS) webpage. Again that tension, over what I thought I was capable of and this barrier, re-emerged and I halted involvement. It was only at an event that had a DDS info stand where I finally engaged with it. Asking them questions, I managed to gain old documents from my secondary school and book in for an assessment.
Sitting down to start this test, I looked at the first task and was flooded with memories. Of being less than, of being that ‘special’ child who walked out of their science class every now and then to get help reading. I am secure enough to admit that I cried a lot at being reacquainted with this and had to stop the test for a bit.
However, the person testing me was the most understanding person in the world. We went through it and I left feeling surprisingly lighter. Receiving the report, highlighting my dyslexia as more impactful than previously told by my school, the DDS stepped in to talk it through with me and gave me the support I needed to ensure the work I did within my PhD would have context around my dyslexia.
I see the world from a different angle
With this in hindsight, I realised applying for my PhD in Global Public Health and Policy was a two-pronged tail of academic interest and a personal challenge to overcome this tension with my dyslexia’s shadow over my intelligence. If anything, I have learnt that it is not this binary clash between the two, but a delicate dance between both. My ability and my dyslexia are not opposites, but intertwined. I see the world from a different angle because of my dyslexia and that gives me unique perspectives. It also makes me stumble sometimes when interacting with areas others don’t realise are hurdles at all.
Don’t try to hide from your dyslexia like I did. Embracing it has truly helped me understand who I am and what I need to succeed. Whether that is through the adventurous journey of the PhD or wider career ambitions, seeing your relationship with dyslexia and speaking to someone about it lets you understand yourself just that little bit more. Not ready to talk about it or unsure? That is fine! We’re all on a journey, just know there are services and people ready and able to talk to you when the time is right.
The scenic roads have better views anyway.