Dyslexic, Not Thick

There are so many misconceptions surrounding dyslexia and people are quick to judge when they don’t know about it. I had always struggled with school and reading, but my mum pushed me to keep up and do well. I was never unintelligent, but when it came to applying my skills, I fell back to average. And for years, that’s what I thought I was: average.

It wasn’t until I was around thirteen and began really struggling with reading, classwork and exams that anybody suspected something was up.  My mum eventually arranged for me to be tested for dyslexia at my school when I was fourteen and they told me that I was– But I wasn’t dyslexic enough to get any support. They showed me my results, and basically, I struggled with cognitive processing, but because I was bright, that balanced it out.

Obviously, it sucks having dyslexia and struggling with simple studying and reading, but it was nice to hear that they thought I was too bright for it to be an issue. Still, it was an issue. Everything I did, reading, writing, thinking, was that bit slower than everyone else. Only when I moved schools two years later did I finally get an assessment that allowed me the support I needed.

I was never ashamed of my dyslexia. It was something I was proud of, a hurdle I had proved I could overcome, and people with dyslexia are known for being creative, problem solvers and are great at seeing the bigger picture – ‘they miss the trees but see the forest’. I was still only average at school work, but I felt as though there was finally a reason for it and that everything made sense.

Until recently.

I had grown so use to my dyslexia that I’d almost forgotten it was an issue outside of studying. There had never been any issues I had faced socially other than off days being asked to read something out loud. But I suppose now was just the time I started noticing why things were not going swimmingly in the social world.

For the first time in my life, I got a job. Nothing fancy, just part time in a pub. Now, you can’t exactly put ‘dyslexic’ on your CV, especially when you already have little reasons to get people to hire you (no experience, no references, sporadic exam results, etc.). Even though I see it as a strength of my character, others may not take to it kindly, although I told myself that this is a changing world (half my friends claim to be dyslexic for university, after all) and that it isn’t something that most people would be bothered about, but boy was I wrong.

My work were the least accepting place I have ever come across. Slow cognitive processing means thinking in general, and so pile on stress and a quick-paced environment, I won’t catch over half of what people say to me. I’ve been criticised in front of customers, being called deaf, slow and not with it, including once being called the first to a customer who literally could not hear a word I shouted to her, but blamed me for not understanding what she wanted when my boss showed up; the customer is not always right.

I tried to let people know that I have dyslexia, dropping it into conversation, but people really don’t understand that it isn’t just something that affects your eyes or your brain when studying or reading from a textbook at school. It affects you in the real world just as much. Yet there is still the agonising internal debate whether or not to tick ‘yes’ for disability on forms, because after all, we’re not in a wheelchair.

Too many people claim to have dyslexia when they don’t even know the half of what it’s really like to have it. To be talked to and about like you’re incompetent or ‘thick’ just because you don’t immediately get someone’s joke, or then once you do, the moment has passed and it wasn’t funny anyway. This is also the case if you act on instinct, when your brain just won’t wake up and focus, and muddle things up. And the classic British save for not catching something, where you say ‘Sorry?’ a maximum of three times before pretending you got it, doesn’t work when someone is asking for a drink by a term you’ve never heard used before by any other sane or even partially sane customer.

Dyslexia isn’t something you develop either (so sorry to the millions of kids who join university, play off the few dyslexia symptoms they have to get a free laptop and are now the reason the government won’t fund laptops for people who actually need them and the supportive software). It is something you are born with and you will generally have noticed symptoms of it throughout your life, even if you only now know what they mean.

Ten percent of the UK population are dyslexic and four percent are severely so. Yet, by university, that number seems to rise to about fifty percent based on speaking to people I know. I hear a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I think I must be dyslexic’ from people when I explain to them my situation, but these people will still read all of their school books with no issues other than severe boredom, when I struggle to read books I really love.

I can trace my dyslexia back to being a child. British kids will probably remember being set the Biff & Chip (Magic Key) books to read throughout primary school, which were set to different levels of reading. At my school, teachers never assessed our reading one to one. We were given a reading list and some books to take home, we would read with our parents and they were supposed to tick a box to say that we had read the book twice over, no problems. My mum may have cheated a teensy bit. My brother and I never read the books twice (they were torture to read once) and half the time, she would read them to us, or at least with us.

When I think back along these lines, I don’t remember doing much reading aloud as a child and I dreaded having to read something out in class. After finding out dyslexia could be a reason for this, I did my research, which showed the cases of severely dyslexic children. I told myself I couldn’t be dyslexic, because letters did not swim about like they did on the explanatory video I watched. My dyslexia is now borderline severe and I now understand what it’s like, only you don’t really see letters move, they will just appear somewhere else that doesn’t make sense. My ‘bright’ mind now has only enough strength to move words somewhere that makes sense. For example, I can see a sentence a pluck a word from later on, place it at the start and by the time I get to the second word, I always think I have spotted some bad grammar on the writer’s part. Before I reread it and discover I am the one who has made the error.

One thing that really helped me to cope with it (and to some, it may sound lame) was reading out loud with my mum. I was fourteen and I read the Hunger Games trilogy from my hardcopy while she followed on the kindle. It was like being back in primary school again, but it made me more confident about being called on to read something to the class and about reading in general. I have since been complimented on my reading voice, although, if they followed along the text, they would notice I have a fair bit of artistic licence with text to speech.

I rely so much these days on my instincts getting me through the day. I guess at what I’m reading, I guess at what someone has said and respond to it instinctively. I don’t have a clue what comes out of my mouth half the time, so when people then stop and go, ‘Huh?’, I genuinely don’t know how to explain myself. After all, it seemed obvious to my subconscious.

Another common misconception of dyslexia is an association between messy handwriting and being dyslexic. My handwriting is generally super neat, but it takes a long time to write it that way. I have been observed having a tight grip on a pen and that is because without doing that and taking time to write out each letter, I would not have neat writing, and then no one would be able to read it. But, I’ve never tried writing normally, because slow and steady became normality. Dyslexia became normality to me and knowing that about me is often key to understanding who I am.

So, I suppose the moral of this, as I will say for most things, is to do your research. Don’t assume you know all about dyslexia just because a friend has it or you’ve seen it portrayed on TV (definitely don’t get all your knowledge from the last one, as we are always portrayed as being thick but– Oh wait, it’s just dyslexia; you can be clever and dyslexic, too). And don’t assume you have it just because you struggled to read War and Peace or were tired that day you tried to read a mass of information from your text book. Don’t assume someone is thick or unintelligent just because they aren’t quick witted and don’t assume someone is giving you dirty looks when they may just be struggling to process what you said.

Dyslexia is a disability that only those who really have it can understand. It impacts your life on a daily basis and does not get enough recognition. That is why I always talk about it like it’s a positive part of my life; it is. I see the bigger picture, you see the flaw in the top right corner.

~ Mia

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