I was forty before I discovered I was dyslexic and realised the effective it was having on my life. I'd lost my job more than once by that point and always thought that I just needed to try harder to pick up all the little spelling mistakes and typos.
Then one day, while doing some research for a special needs school's website, specifically their pages on dyslexia, it all came crashing in on me: dyslexia didn't just mean I had bad handwriting and read slowly when I was at school, it was something that had affected my whole life and was still affecting it.
That was when I decided to embrace my dyslexia and treat it like what it really was: my superpower.
Since then, I've been reading everything I can find on dyslexics and their stories. How other people have come to deal with it, and I want to share that information with as many people as possible. Below, is something I wrote when I first found out about being dyslexic.
I’m a copywriter. And I’m dyslexic.
Actually, thanks to the second point, the first one is temporarily untrue. I lost my job due to being dyslexic. Now, before you start screaming discrimination in my defence, it as was undisclosed. I couldn’t really have expected my ex-boss to consider something she had no knowledge of, could I?
But despite the tragedy of this happening now, a daughter in year one and another child on its way in February, it has given me a great sense of freedom. I’ve always known I was dyslexic. My mum noticed when I was at primary school and back then the teachers helped out a bit. As much as they could in the 80s, which wasn’t that much really. But as soon as I was old enough, i.e. started secondary school, I tried as hard as I could to hide it. I didn’t want to be different. I didn’t want to be told or even think to myself that I couldn’t read just as well as anyone else. I loved reading stories, books were treasures I had only just discovered. It may have taken me longer to get through them than it did for others but that never stopped me. I read everything I could, and always had a book to hand.
School was a bit more difficult, I’ll admit, but I studied and got through with average marks, and at university, I was happy enough with a Desmond on graduation day. But unfortunately, in the world of work, working extra hard and getting by with something that’s just good enough, isn’t, well, it isn’t good enough. You can leave a few spelling mistakes in your dissertation, and you’ll still get a pass mark, but try doing that with a piece of copy, something that is going to be sent to print or to a client, and your boss will do a whole lot more than give you a third.
And that’s what’s happened to me. A few times now. Despite a passion for writing and a creative flair in marketing copy that’s been commented on and commended, I leave a few too many little mistakes.
This was a reoccurring problem for me, but as I didn’t really know what it was, I couldn’t really solve it. So the other week, I was doing some research for a special needs school, and very coincidentally it was on dyslexia. I started reading about it and didn’t get much written that day. As I fell further and further into this research hole, I couldn’t stop seeing more and more of my own experiences and how dyslexia had affected me over the years. For me, dyslexia had meant I had trouble reading at school and my handwriting was bad, it was something I’d had to overcome at school, which I had done.
But that day’s reading opened my eyes. It made me see that dyslexia permeates so much further into my life. It means I read slowly even now, and when I do read, I take in less information and often have to reread the same passage more than once. Spelling, of course, that was an issue, but then I started to read about things like confidence, why dyslexics don’t like reading aloud for example, and how dyslexia can affect your attitude at work.
Reading aloud is something I’ve never enjoyed, I’ve always hidden from it, stared down intently at the page when the teacher asked, tried desperately to avoid eye contact so as I wouldn’t be called upon, but at the same time desperately hoped I’d be chosen. Because I loved what I had written, my story was great and I wanted everyone to hear it, just not from my word-skipping lips.
My five-year daughter is learning to read now, and I have to admit, there has been at least one occasion when she’s called me out on a word I’ve missed or added during bedtime stories, “Daddy, it doesn’t say ‘Sit anywhere you like’, it says ‘sit where you like’”.
Probably one of the most pervasive effects of dyslexia into everyday life is our fear of the handwritten note, even for simple things, like a quick note to tell your boss something. You grab the paper, find the pencil, start writing, and then suddenly, you’re not sure exactly how to spell the word. You can’t leave a spelling mistake or they’ll think you’re stupid, that you can’t write even the simplest things without an error. What do you do? Look it up online? Send them an email instead? This is the pain of the dyslexic, not being able to do the simplest of tasks without the fear of looking stupid for something so trivial.
That was before, though. That was from a time when no one knew I was dyslexic. That was from a time when leaving a spelling mistake would have left me open to people thinking badly of me, to thinking I was a writer who couldn’t spell. No one wants to be seen as stupid, and for dyslexics, an error in spelling, taking longer to do something all add up to looking stupid. If no one knows you have a disability, especially one which can’t be seen then, of course, they are going to judge you based purely on what they see.
So finally, after all these years, I’ve realised, you can’t change what you are, but you can change what people see. Which is why from now on, at least for a while anyway, I need to change things. I am now a dyslexic and I am a writer. Expect great things but also expect little mistakes.