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My Dyslexia Story: Tara Checketts

Wednesday 3 July 2024

Having left school with 1 O Level and a disruptive schooling experience, my family and friends believed I was stupid because of my limited qualifications, especially as I had received some extra help. I then spent 6 years cooking and doing other service type jobs before leaving London with my children.

I joined the Civil Service in the West Country, initially selling sandwiches and doing basic clerical tasks. 18 Years later, as a Grade C1 or Lieutenant Colonel equivalent, I was now a member of a core team working on the Haythornthwaite Review of Armed Forces Incentivisation.

The task was to set up, structure and then review the Terms and Conditions of all Personnel in the Armed Forces; both at home and abroad. The report we produced provided a wide range of recommendations; a potential roadmap to the 2030s. This was a government instructed proposal which is currently being rolled out.

It was confirmed I had dyslexic and dyspraxia when I was tested in my thirties. I decided to be tested because I always felt I was bright, but I struggled to put any of that into effective words and communication as well as being extremely clumsy. This resulted in negative reactions from my then-husband, family, friends, teachers and employers. I knew I had a duty of care to ensure I supported my children as best I could, as well as helping myself.

Knowing I was dyslexic and dyspraxic enabled me to understand my difficulties and recognise that both my children were neurologically diverse

I thought that learning problems would be picked up at my children’s schools, but it wasn’t until much later in their education that they sought help. Throughout their earlier schooling, I worked with them daily on spelling, reading and writing tasks and trying to encourage them to attempt homework activities. This included, in their early years, developing an educational board game to help them develop their fine motor skills. At the time I was still working in low-paid jobs to make ends meet due to my lack of belief in my abilities.

I know back in the 1970s and 80s Neurodiversity wasn’t widely known about, but I so wish I had believed in myself and not taken it as a fact that I was stupid. I would have driven myself to have taken more exams earlier on in life, and accepted opportunities.

Although I can understand and grasp new skills at speed, I find it particularly frustrating that it takes me far longer to produce verbal and written work in a more structured format, learn detail at speed and be exam confident, than someone who is Neurotypical. I have often lived in an unhealthy bubble of stress and worked so hard to prove to myself and change people’s perceptions of me.

I have, in the last 18 years passed, English and Maths GCSEs, Civil Service exams, Health and Safely Diploma, Level 5 HR CIPD, which I completed alongside my day job whilst bringing up my two children to support my progression up the career and financial ladder. It was scary because of the financial insecurities but I am so proud of my two children for what they did to support this journey and what they have achieved themselves. Totally outstanding.

I have come up against some resistance. On occasions, I have found solutions with limited knowledge, because I see things differently but I'm unable to explain and articulate exactly why.

Spoonerisms trip me up generally when I wish to be taken seriously at a meeting. I end up feeling embarrassed, tongue-tied, and panicked in fear of being judged by others and not taken seriously. This of course erodes confidence.

My husband has edited and reviewed a lot of my work, for example work briefs, exam essays and most recently my latest achievement - my film script!

My own rule is to write to my best ability prior to anyone reading it. Why? Because it’s vital for self-development.

I was nominated by my Ministry Of Defence (MOD) Department Head for an award. Having been alerted by a project manager to a potential logistical issue, I had no prior experience or knowledge of the area I was about to work on yet achieved it with outstanding results and greater benefits than anyone had previously been thought. I received the award from the Chief of General Staff! I have also developed a very simple analytical system called Balance of Benefits (BOB) which worked better than the one purchased from contracted companies.

In 2022, while still working in MOD, I joined a wider awareness phone-in on Neurodiversity which was attended by over 100 people, both military and civil servants from a wide range of stages in their career. A number of them were either waiting or had recently been diagnosed with dyslexia or other neurodiversity challenges, some were very distressed because they weren’t understood and supported, they found it challenging and in some cases deeply traumatised. It broke my heart as I know this experience only too well.

One should remember we are all unique. You must believe in yourself, be proactive and keep finding out about your abilities and your best learning approach. Challenge yourself and you will be amazed at what skills you have.

A useful analogy someone told me, processing information by a neurotypical person works on a motorway type approach. A Neuro Diverse brain uses the country lanes to collate information; useful because we see a lot, however a lot of information is fed into 20 televisions in our brains which are all vying for attention at the same time at speed. This explains why communication can become a bit muddled at times. When this happens, I just say sorry, let me start again.

Repetitive learning is key. Keeping moving forward enables you to become a winner. Log your journey and reward yourself even if it is drawing yourself a gold star.

It is worth investing time in getting to understanding hidden. It might take longer to learn but the rewards are worth it and a huge asset and return on investment. Give the appropriate credit where credit is due.

My family are all proud of what I’ve achieved and have greater understanding.