Words are not my friend
Saturday 10 October 2020
Bethany faced challenges with her dyslexia throughout her education. Read her story and see how a lockdown open mic night encouraged her to repair her relationship with words.
Hello, I am Bethany Couldrick. I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was about 9 years old. It was recognised in me by my family from a younger age but took a while to get my school to recognise it as I was managing well enough. My parents could see the difference in me compared to my sisters who learnt to read and write very easily and naturally. I was able and wasn’t ‘stupid’ but as my mum said something just wasn’t right for me when it came to reading and writing. I don’t really remember being in education without the label to dyslexia being attached to me. I feel this has led to a complicated relationship with my dyslexia.
Early diagnosis helped me get support
Being diagnosed so early definitely benefited me hugely in my education as I was given support and extra help from a young age. This was down to my parents really fighting for me and understanding that being dyslexic doesn’t make you stupid. It also doesn't mean that you can't reach your full potential even if you are getting ok grades. They fought for me throughout my primary and secondary education to get the support I needed. If it wasn't for them I would have listened to some teachers who just said I was doing well enough and coping so I didn't need the help and didn't need to understand how my brain worked. The extra classes and time I was given in school allowed me to learn how I learnt, how I studied best and how to cope with my dyslexia in a way that became second nature when revising and sitting exams. This, I think, has allowed me to understand my brain better, understand how people learn and how we all see things differently.
Sadly, I did experience some pretty bad comments from a handful of my tutors who told me that I couldn’t be dyslexic if I was getting good grades and that maybe my dyslexic wasn’t real. They tried to stop the support I was receiving because they said I wasn’t dyslexic enough, didn’t need it because I was getting good enough grades. Thankfully again with the support and backup of my parents, this didn’t happen. But these comments continually made me feel like a fraud and question myself. These teachers clearly didn’t understand dyslexia and unfortunately, many people didn’t and still don’t. It took me a long time to realise you could be dyslexic whilst also being intelligent and clever. Being dyslexic doesn’t make you dumb!
A tricky relationship with language
Being diagnosed so early although it mainly benefited me in my education I do think it rooted a very strong dislike and tricky relationship with language, literature and anything to do with words. From the age of 9, I was told I worked differently from others and understood this to mean that there is something wrong with me.
I always enjoyed the creative subjects more, found them more interesting and easily took to them in a way I didn’t with the more academic subjects. I don't think it was a surprise to anyone that I went on to do an art foundation year in London which led me into a textile degree at Chelsea College of Art and Design, where I specialised in weaving. I loved my degree and the fact I only had to write three essays including my dissertation was such a bonus to me! The university was great in their dyslexia support and being around other people whose minds also worked like mine was something that I didn't realise I was missing in my education. From the moment I left education and no longer had to write or read I was over the moon. The university's dyslexia support was great; they treated it in a way that never singled you out or made you feel bad for needing the help. It was accessible no matter your ability or grades, you didn't have to be struggling to get it and if you were, they were there to recognise this and helped you where you needed it.
Repairing my relationship with words
I never thought I could or would find any enjoyment or creativity in writing. Both my sisters always seemed to just be able to understand words, both would always have a book in hand and took to the more academic subjects easily. They are both and always have been an inspiration to me and support me endlessly. I would never have the courage to share my story or poem if it wasn’t for them.
My younger sister Lotte Sea is a poet and over lockdown, her open mic event Bird With Words went online which meant we were able to watch her and many other amazing performers. Watching these amazing people use words in such a creative way made me want to repair my relationship with writing and words which is how my poem “words are not my friend” came to be.
Since writing that poem I have written a handful more and am slowly understanding the love and creativity that can be found in words and how they can be used as a creative medium especially and even if I am dyslexic.
For so long I assumed that I couldn't write because I was dyslexic and that this made me less or not as intelligent as other people. I think I am slowly realising in my mid 20s that my dyslexia isn't a negative thing, it is what adds to who I am and how I see the world. I am forever grateful to my family who saw something in me and knew that the educational system would not support me or bring out the best in me so they fought to make sure the support was there for me when I needed it. My relationship with reading, writing and spelling is far from perfect but now at least I am able to explore the potential of it.
For anyone who is dyslexic or has a child who is, I urge you to realise you don't have to just put up with the education system we have. Just because you are coping well enough doesn't mean you have to struggle with dyslexia, you deserve the support even if your grades are good. Being dyslexic doesn’t make you stupid, unable or less and it doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your full potential and all the sides of you.
Throughout Dyslexia Week, we are asking people to sign our petition to increase access to assessment in schools. Join our campaign by visiting www.change.org/bdadyslexia