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My Dyslexia Story: Jean Swain

Tuesday 9 April 2024

I don't think Dyslexia was recognised when I was at school. In my junior school, we were streamed. The A stream was for the more academic pupils, B stream was for the rest of us. I was in the B stream.

When we were 11 years old, we took an exam called the 11 Plus. Those who passed went on to Grammar school, they were considered academic and had a chance of going on to further education like University. The others like myself went to a Secondary Modern school and left at 15.

Job prospects were limited, possibly an office job, working in a shop or a factory. I can still remember the shame of failing the 11-plus. But I also remember thinking that it was a very unfair system to label a child a failure so early in life and it was then I decided I was going to be a teacher when I grew up and no one would feel a failure in my class.

I had a succession of office jobs then I got married and had my son Stuart. When he was small I decided to go to Brixton College and gained O levels in English Language and Literature, but still no mention of Dyslexia. I then applied to college and gained a Bachelor of Education and I taught for many years before becoming a Refugee Advisory teacher.

"I did and do struggle, and find everything I do takes me far longer than most people."

To this day my writing is very untidy, my spelling not that good and I sometimes find it difficult to read and pronounce longer or unfamiliar words.

My short term memory is also poor. I must have been about 40 when I decided I would like to try to take a math course and exam. It was only then a friend who I had not realised was a qualified dyslexic teacher told me she had recognised dyslexia in me. She assessed me and wrote a report and I was given extra time in my Maths exam. I still did not comprehend what it meant. I don't think I spoke about it to family or friends. It was only when I applied and started a course at the Bishopsgate Institute when I was in my 70s that I realised the significance of it.

A lecturer mentioned disabilities and dyslexia in the same sentence, and I had a 'light bulb moment'. I stopped the course and decided to write a book about my life living with dyslexia. I wrote 2 books which were published on Amazon: Have you ever eaten frozen fish fingers and I used to be a buddy, now I need a buddy.

Talk about it!

I have not realised until writing this that I have never really spoken about it to anyone except my partner. Even when I was diagnosed I don't think I told anyone I just used it to get extra time in a maths exam. My partner is great it is not easy living with someone with memory problems. I think he is used to having to repeat himself again and again.

My advice:

Having someone believe in us and encourage us, always being there for us, telling us we can do it, is worth its weight in gold.

They have bequeathed us a lifetime gift that can get us far. But eventually, we have to believe in ourselves, other people's belief in us, has to transform into self-believer. Even then, the reality for dyslexics is not that simple.

Dyslexia is still very misunderstood and sadly not everybody has someone behind them who is supportive. So, the step to self-belief can be even more difficult. Unlike me please do not spend a lifetime thinking you are stupid or slow you are not you're dyslexic.'

Please do not judge anyone on their handwriting, spelling, reading ability, or if they appear to have memory problems.