I was first diagnosed with dyslexia at the late age of nine. A typical diagnosis happens between the ages of five and seven. Before this diagnosis, my parents first realised that something was wrong, when my poor hand writing and reading skills did not match up with my knowledge and curiosity in science. Thankfully, my parents were able to scrimp and save enough money to pay for an assessment to formally identify the issue.
Little help and empathy were given to me and my parents by the school system. We all felt like a great bother, despite the school that I was attending receiving additional funds from the local authority. To them I was just not an academic pupil and would not amount to much. After identifying the problem, my parents were faced with another major hurdle, which was the ill-equipped school system. After the diagnosis the school enrolled me onto the ‘Toe-by-Toe’ programme, which aimed to reprogramme the way a pupil pronounces sounds. However, this programme has been described as ineffective and proven to cause distress to some pupils. After seeing my frustrations from forcing their son to read through long droves of disjointed letter sounds such as ‘ba, be, bo, bi and bu’. My parents decided to stop this torture and to do some research on a possible solution. Eventually they did find a possible solution that could help. However, this would come at a great financial cost that my parents could not afford.
After the generous support from the RMTGB charity, my parents managed to enrol me into the Dyslexia Institute, now Dyslexia Action. The private tutor their managed to successfully reprogramme my ability to learn word sounds, which improved my reading and writing skills. After spending long hours in after classes, my grades dramatically improved from being in the bottom set at school with Es and Fs to the second highest group with Bs and Cs. At the time my secondary school teachers advised me to take the lower papers for my GCSE exams, capping me at a C. I thankfully went against their advice and took the highers which I achieved As, Bs and Cs. Throughout my time at high school I did receive some extra support through a tutor and literacy classes. However, they did not offer much compared to the specialised classes that I received at the Dyslexia Institute. My tutor at the Institute pushed and stretched me constantly that sometimes caused upset but it worked. I started the Institute with a bag of wooden letters where I had to learn the alphabet from start to finish, inside-out and backwards all whilst being strictly timed.
After five-years of being at the Dyslexia Institute, I enrolled into college to study my passion, at the time horticulture, bypassing A-levels. During college my lecturers forced help on me without asking my opinion by an unhelpful and undignified assistance of a ‘disability tutor’. I was embarrassed, feeling like I had a dunce hat on in front of the class, particularly when I did not require or request one. However, my college believed differently as they seem to think all dyslexic people were unable to think for themselves. By the end of college, I managed to demonstrate otherwise by receiving top grades in all classes and even became top in my year group. After this I chose to continue my horticultural dream, and took a bachelors with honours at another college in god’s own country, Yorkshire.
When enrolling at university, I was warned that my dyslexia would hamper my abilities, and that it was my decision to go into debt. Despite this comment, I again proved otherwise by achieving a first-class degree with honours, three commendations from the head, sponsorship from a horticultural firm for my dissertation, and internship with two Russell Group universities. One thing to highlight about my time at York was that my university asked if I needed help and there was some if needed. They were much more discrete than my previous place of study, which was appreciated. At this time, I read my first book from cover-to-cover, ‘RHS: Science and the Garden’. Before this point I detested reading and only read because I needed to. I do not know why I chose this book in particular but it managed to spark something in me. I now enjoy reading about various topics in science to classic sci-fi, to the amazement of my parents who still remember the early days. I now have a large bookcase to house them all. I have also developed an interest in writing through these small articles, scientific peer-review publications and project work especially what would develop into my PhD thesis.
I decided to further specialise in horticulture through a masters degree in plant science at a Russell Group university. At this moment I realised that horticulture and having a land-based career was not for me. Additionally, my beloved hobby, gardening had severely diminished as I learnt that turning a hobby into a career can be fatal. When applying for my masters degree I was warned that as well as my dyslexia, my lack of experience of science would make my time at grad-school very challenging. I was advised me not to proceed. The challenge would be great but I would devote the summer holiday to study in preparation. As well as this challenge I also had to find my own funding to avoid crippling bank loans, which were the only other option. Thankfully several months before I started, I managed to get the help of the RMTGB and Lhasa studentships that paid for my tuition fees and living expenses.
The first several months of my masters were very challenging, even failing a noticeable number of assignments. I predominantly found genetics and mass spectrometry hard to understand. This was in addition to my lecturers had no sympathy for my situation and there were no additional classes to help. I also had to study harder than others due to my dyslexia where I needed to read through long complex text several times to gain a full understanding. In fact, when asking for help the academic administration made things worse by downgrading my grades by excluding any marks awarded for written English skills. This was soon lifted when I protested. On this instance I learnt to keep my dyslexia to myself. After achieving a 2:1 masters degree in ‘Plant Science and Biotechnology’, I immediately applied for a PhD. Luckily, I managed to get sponsors from the university and the RMTGB after submitting a grant proposal with the help of my supervisor. My PhD would stretch my passion for plant science as well as my reading and writing capabilities.
One of the biggest challenges of my life was to write my PhD thesis of over 60,000 words, whilst writing various reports and scientific papers. What got me through this period was the help of my supervisor, who regularly and patiently reviewed my work, and provided detailed and constructive feedback. The best advice he gave to me was to write like I was writing an email to him. To this day I use this format to remove any anxiety whilst writing. I do this by keeping to short and simple sentences in order to get my message across clearly and concisely. This is after all the whole purpose of communication and it has fared well for me. During my PhD I developed a passion for public speaking, presenting at large scientistic conferences, public and school events, local meetings and seminars. I find it easier to talk to people rather than long-winded write complex pieces.
I have a strong a grip on my dyslexia by developing a simple strategy, write-like an email, and the use of screen readers and spell checkers. My dyslexia does from time-to-time rear its ugly head, creating some anxiety when unfamiliar words appear especially with foreign words or names. Though many non-dyslexic people may feel the same. I also find that it affects the way I process things, where I think far-faster than I can say something. A communication bottleneck sometimes happens, and it can be difficult to control the pace at which translate that onto paper. It also affects my inability to embrace flexible rules. I particularly find it easier to understand and appreciate strict rules and logic, which are at odds when it comes to the patchwork nature of the English language and possibly the world that encapsulates us. With the help of the internet and its availability through smart phones, issues with spelling and pronouncing unfamiliar words can be controlled a lot more than before its existence.
On reflection, knowledge is not how much you know but knowing where you can find it. What is important is to have the ability to critically assess the credibility of those sources and to provide sound judgment. Dyslexia does not define who I am, although it remains a small part of me. I do not talk much about my dyslexia and struggles with it as some still believe that this learning difficulty is made-up, and is used to give labels to some and thus an excuse. In some instances, people with dyslexia use it as an excuse not to do something, which is by definition lazy. I have never let dyslexia take over me but have develop a strategy to manage it. Some of my peers believe that I am not dyslexia but I am making it up because I have a doctorate and three degrees. In one way this is a compliment as it appears that I do not have any issues. To those who think that dyslexic people are dumb, I have demonstrated otherwise like so many others. I hope others come forward and prove otherwise as well. My advice to people who have recently been diagnosed with dyslexia, is not to let it define you, seek help and prove to those who have said that you will not amount to much that they are wrong. I am fortunately amongst a lucky few who had the help through funding and the people around to get to this point. I only hope that this changes in the future.
Not every dyslexic person is the same, like with lots of things dyslexia is on a spectrum. I was diagnosed with a mild-form of dyslexia and personally what many experts say about it I have not witnessed, for instance, letters moving on pages or the use of coloured backgrounds or non-standard fonts to aid reading. In fact, coloured pages and off fonts reduce my concentration. I do from time-to-time get bs and ds confused or to write jumbled grammar. I also prefer the exactness and simplicity of numbers. This is the first time that I have written at length about my dyslexia, and I hope that at the very least I demonstrate that being dyslexic is not the end of the world, just a stumbling block.