Dyslexia and Anxiety

trees_sun

This blog was originally posted in May 2020. It’s been one of our most viewed blogs this year. With covid cases rising again and more local lockdowns being imposed, we thought it would be good to remind you all that you’re not alone while these restrictions are in place.

I guess I have always been a little bit of a worrier, always making things bigger than they actually are, obsessing over what I’ve said or done or getting upset over the smallest thing. But to be honest I didn’t even realise what it was until I went to university. I mean university was a huge turning point in my life. Given that at 14, I felt I was failing at life, didn’t want to be in school, had been pretty badly bullied and had pretty much given up on all hopes of being able to pursue any sort of career. I had wanted to be a vet or a doctor when I was younger but I had come to realise that these were unattainable for me.

I finally set on a degree in Biology which was suited to me at a nice university. I felt that my life was beginning properly and I could finally achieve what I wanted from life. However, instead my brain was filled with worry and it was controlling me rather than me controlling it. It had been a massive adjustment going to university and I realised that when I had my first major anxiety episode in the middle of a lecture. My whole body went into some sort of freak out and I couldn’t move or breathe. All I kinda remember is my lecturer stopping the lecture to ask me what was wrong and him escorting me to student support office.  I sat there for a while and she made me feel calm, though I do remember her saying:

“I mean there are other ways to get out of a health and safety lecture” (this was a joke, she was joking!). It made me feel better because it made my laugh.  

The people in student support have gone onto support me throughout my university experience, I mean I honestly cannot thank them enough. They are the best. Some of my lecturers totally got it and were also hugely supportive. However, even though I felt better… it never really went away and it sort of continued. I eventually got told by a medical professional that I was suffering from anxiety.

I think that Dyslexia can cause anxiety. Now that I understand it better, I can look back over my life and understand why I did things in certain ways and why I felt certain ways. Reading aloud and having to do presentations can be sometimes be the main triggers for people who have dyslexia and anxiety. But also writing, spelling, maths and organisation can also be triggers but you just might not be so obvious.

I have five handy tips for easing anxiety which I feel we need now more than ever given the current times with COVID-19. These may not help everyone, but they’re things that I do to make myself feel better.

  1. Accept that some days are going to be easier than others; sometimes you’re able to take on the world and some days you’re not and that’s ok.
  2. Art can be very therapeutic for those suffering from anxiety – even if you can’t draw, doodling or painting random shapes or lines can really help to relieve things a bit. The adult colouring books are also a god send.
  3. Certain apps such as calm, headspace, chill pill and smiling mind are all good for mediation and mindfulness. It doesn’t work for everyone, I still find it a bit wishy washy sometimes but it can be beneficial.
  4. Getting outside! Fresh air and nature can do wonders for your mental health. It might be kinda difficult to get out at the moment, but just make sure you’re taking your daily exercise allowance.
  5. Turn your worries into worry cards. Start with the worry at the top and then underneath write how it was either tackled or how you resolved the worry. If you’re having that same worry you can go back and look at that card and see how you fixed it.

I am not going to tell you by doing all this things that your anxiety is going to magically go away but it may help to make you feel a bit better. I often use the worry tree to try and tackle my worries.

worry tree

Remember that talking to friends and family about what’s going on may make you feel better, but I understand that sometimes that isn’t always possible. If you feel unable to do this, then your GP is also a good person to talk to – they’ll be able to signpost you to all the right help. Also another scary option I know :/ but you may feel better.

And finally just remember that you’re not alone, there are thousands of people out there that feel this way and you shouldn’t be ashamed of feeling like this.

By Anonymous

More more information about accessing help and support in these difficult times, visit: https://clearyourhead.scot/support

One microscope, two slides and some dyslexia

This blog was originally written by Eilidh Player for the Science on a Postcard blog and is recreated here, with kind permission from Heidi Gardner. You can see the original blog here.


This post is written by Eilidh Player, a self-confessed nature nerd, Young Ambassador with Dyslexia Scotland, and graduate of SRUC. Eilidh was awarded the Royal Northern Agricultural Society’s Special Achievement Award for promoting, supporting and enhancing student life at SRUC, when she graduated last year.

She is passionate about encouraging young people with dyslexia to follow their dreams, and here she demonstrates that by talking about her journey to life as a Scientist. Eilidh pitched her story to me a few weeks ago, explaining that she’d like to highlight her experiences with dyslexia, and I jumped at the chance to work with her on this. You can follow Eilidh’s Instagram page here.

I got told I had dyslexia when I was at secondary school. I could say that my life totally changed from there but it absolutely did not, I’m pretty sure that straight after I got my diagnosis I went straight to sea cadets. Although I remember being annoyed that I’d missed my science class. I had a sort of love-hate relationship with school. I loved my Biology classes it because I found the subject really interesting, but I hated it because I had a hard time answering the exam questions. In the end I never did pass my higher Biology exam, but that’s okay.

When I was at school, my favourite parts about Biology were doing hands-on experiments and looking at things under microscopes. My favourite experiments were the ones that involved going outside to collect things; we gathered leaves from trees, pond weed from the school pond, and we made pitfall traps for insects.

Drawing by Eilidh - a leaf stained brown (with iodine) and some green parts. Text above reads 'can you see my chlorophyll?'

One experiment I remember doing clearly, involved putting iodine on the leaf and watching it turn the chlorophyll in the leaf (the bit that makes the leaf green) brown. I remember thinking it was cool, but probably not understanding why the iodine made parts of the leaf go brown. I’ve since discovered that iodine is used to test for the presence of starch; during photosynthesis a plant absorbs light energy using chlorophyll to allow it to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose. This glucose is stored as starch, hence why the iodine turned the leaf brown.

Despite enjoying science throughout school, I thought that I was failing at being a Scientist. I think it was because I had an unrealistic expectation of what a Scientist was. I thought to be a Scientist you had to be super smart and know absolutely everything. I didn’t think I could be a scientist because I wasn’t smart enough. In actual fact there are different kinds of intelligence and everyone is smart in a different way. I mean, if you want to know about bumblebees – I’m your person! There are hundreds of different types of scientists and they all do different things depending on their skills and passions.

Am I now succeeding as a Scientist?

The term ‘success’ is difficult to quantify, it’s not like you can measure it in a lab with a set of scales or a measuring cylinder. I now have a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Countryside Management, which allowed me to explore topics related to the environment, wildlife and conservation – all things that I’m really passionate about – but it hasn’t been a smooth ride.

I am not going to sit here and tell you that everything has been easy, because it hasn’t. I got through it with the help and support of lots of nice people along the way. I’ve also used technology to help me; Siri’s Apple has become my saviour because she doesn’t mind if I yell “spell quantify” at her, to be honest I don’t know how I would spell most difficult words for my reports without Siri. I’m so glad that we now live in a technical age. There are so many great technology and apps that you can use to help you with your work, I would definitely recommend investigating and trying out a few to see what suits you best. I guess when you have dyslexia you have to work harder than everyone else to achieve things, it can be exhausting but it is possible.

Eilidh's pin badge collection, featuring butterflies, a frog, a ladybird, and Science On A Postcard's very own 'Conservationist' pin.

There are so many different routes that you can take to further education. I started on a college level course and worked my way up to an undergraduate degree. Next, I’m hoping to study for an MSc, that’s the next challenge. In terms of career choices I’d eventually like a job with a mix of lab work and outside field work – both areas I enjoy and will fit the experience I built during my studies.

If you dream of becoming a scientist, don’t give up on it. 🙂

Photograph taken through grass - you can see Eilidh's smiling face and her hand holding the stem of a plant.

How to speak with your dyslexic child about their career prospects

Careers_people

This blog was posted over a year ago, but we thought it might be helpful to share it again due to the recent school results situation.

Parents can get anxious about what their dyslexic child might be able to do for a living when they grow up, especially if school is a struggle. So, how can you help nurture your child’s career interests without over-raising ambitions or creating self-limiting beliefs?

Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology, said in his recent essay that trying to identify the ideal job is actually counter-productive because you’re highly unlikely to ever find it, and if you do, the reality of it will be underwhelming as it’s not what you’ve built up in your mind.

As a result, Grant says the main question you should avoid asking your child is ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’

There are four main problems with this question.

  1. Their responses will be limited to the few jobs they’ve been exposed to
  2. As their parent, you might inadvertently project your own unrealistic expectations or limiting beliefs and pessimism on to their ideas
  3. We have no idea what jobs of the future are – or aren’t – anyway, so we can’t begin to imagine whether jobs of today will still be around, or what other new occupations today’s children can expect to fulfill as adults
  4. They’re not likely to have just one job, but a suite of jobs, and roles that change throughout their career

Your child’s career prospects are being shaped every day by global issues beyond anyone’s control. Think back just 15 years ago. Did you ever dream that jobs like Social Media Manager, Data Miner, 3D Print Technician or Driverless Car Engineers would exist, let alone be the norm? Fast forward 15 years from now, can you begin to imagine what industries and roles might exist that your child and their differing abilities will excel in? The good news is that, according to Ernst & Young’s report on the Value of Dyslexia, the jobs of the future will need dyslexic thinking skills, and the young dyslexic people of today represent the talent solution of the future, providing their natural skills in problem solving and collaboration, and character strengths and values are well nurtured.

Farai Chideya, author of The Episodic Career, predicts that the next generation are unlikely to have the same job for life, as their parents and grandparents expected; so adaptation to change, full understanding of themselves and awareness of the changing job market are key to putting their talents to best use.

So, instead of the dreaded ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ question, the best way you can have the career conversation with your dyslexic child is to ask them ‘what type of person do you want to be?’, ‘what problems do you want to solve?’, ‘what difference to you want to  make?’ and ‘what talents will you use to do that?’ They might just surprise you. You’ll be helping them prepare for life, as well as work.

What responses do you get? Let us know.

Check out this John Oliver clip highlighting the downside of children deciding now what job they want to do.

Katie Carmichael, Career Coach

Being dyslexic in the virtual world during Covid-19

virtual_world

The past few months have seen some major life changes for everyone. Whether it be working from home, home-schooling your children, or having to shield for yourself or others, Coronavirus has certainly turned our world upside-down in ways we never could have imagined.

I think we can all agree that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused us to live online more than ever. In the beginning, the digital world provided us with the only means to access the outside world. And even now, with restrictions largely eased, being online is still a primary part of our everyday lives. According to statistical data, people have been spending 44% more time on social media and 45% longer on messaging services such as WhatsApp or Facebook messenger[1]. There are countless ways that the online world has become a substitute for the offline world, whether that be for work, school, or even social gatherings. We have learned new ways to utilise the virtual world to socialising – for example, I hadn’t even heard of Zoom before the pandemic, and now it is a word I use nearly every day! 

Our involvement in the digital world has certainly become the new normal. However, how has the pandemic affected dyslexics? I think I have definitely seen positive and negative outcomes since we started lockdown. On the plus side, using digital technology is often easier for dyslexics to read than reading on paper (of course though, it depends on the person). One of the biggest perks of being online is that it allows for more assistive technology. Also, the pandemic allowed us time to think about what could really help us. For example, before Covid-19, I never bothered to download assistive technology on my laptop. It was something that never occurred to me. It was only when I was online so frequently at the beginning of the pandemic, I realised how much it could help me. Now I don’t know how I lived without it.

However, there are also many struggles for dyslexics in the digitalised pandemic world, namely the increased use of written words as communication. Communication has become predominantly in text format. Even with the help of assistive technology, it is mentally and emotionally draining when reading is the main form of communication with others. I have learned that communication with friends and family about this is key. Being honest and suggesting alternate ways of communication (voice messages, more Facetime) is the best way around struggling with text-communication.

If constant reading is getting you down, try personalising your virtual world with assistive technology to fit your needs! There is so much free software for dyslexic needs that take seconds to download! It’s important not to be too hard on yourself. It’s easy to forget how much of a change the Covid-19 pandemic has had on our lives. So being kind to ourselves is the most important thing right now.

Maddy Shepherd, Dyslexia Scotland blogger

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1106498/home-media-consumption-coronavirus-worldwide-by-country/

It’s time to go away Covid, please!

coronavirus_mask

I write this in reflection of months in lockdown due to a new illness called Covid 19, or corona virus. Although, we are slowly easing out of this experience, with shops opening and more socialisation, Covid is unprecedented in peace time and something we have never seen since WW2.

Initially, events, holidays, businesses, various campaigns were placed on hold or cancelled, as we were not allowed to socialise outside of our immediate families.  We were in lockdown.

The stock-market was falling, leading us into a global crisis.  It was strange to see that it wasn’t oil, gas, or political issues, but down to an unknown purple blob with spikes around it, as portrayed on the news, called Covid 19.   It was loo roll and hand sanitiser that became economic trading commodities, and the new must haves.

We have to accept life has changed and we now have a “New Normal”, whatever that is. We have seen fewer planes in the sky, empty trains and buses, with more people working from home, or furloughed or with no jobs.   Working from home is perhaps a good thing for some.  You can put your washing on, sit in the sun whilst doing your job, and tending the flowers, or trying to home school your children.

The best thing, for some, was that you didn’t have to worry about putting on a suit, combing your hair, putting on make-up, (if you wear it) and underwear, forget it!

Joggers were so much better, and the alarm clock didn’t have to get thrown against the wall, for you to shout at it, ‘I need 5 more minutes in bed!’ You were already at work! The new normal was no suit, but joggers, shorts and t-shirts.  Also book shelves, for various interviews with politicians and experts on the crisis, became the new backdrop.

However, Covid ripped through many families as more and more people were becoming ill. The daily news briefings, about how many had died, was a stark reminder to us all.   We also heard about  communities coming together, and Captain Tom Moore’s walk for the NHS, as well as clapping our support every Thursday.

Of course, any change in routine is hard for many, in particular those who are neurodiverse.  Those with a disability can feel the impact harder due to isolation, as meeting people or going to work was a good place for interaction, especially for those who live on their own.

As we slowly return to the “New Normal” with face masks and going back into shops, purchasing the odd coffee or tea, we are reminded of Covid lurking.

However, some of the positives have been meeting new friends, reconnecting with families online and getting used to Zoom and Teams, as well as other platforms and social media.

For me, I felt the world was crumbling, as every event I had planned for this year had been cancelled, including going to Edinburgh to give a presentation at the Dyslexia talk for the Fringe, as well as all three of my shows.  It was like a domino effect of each event slowly getting cancelled one by one.

However, as long as Covid gets the message and goes away, its going to be busy next year, and hopefully Covid-free.

Sam Rapp, The Dyslexic Poet

My Younger Self

my_younger_self_collage

We asked twelve dyslexic adults what advice they would give their younger selves, if they could go back in time and meet them.

With the gift of hindsight, most of these adults had the same strong message about keeping going, staying determined, being kind on yourself, making dyslexia work for you and, importantly, being true to yourself; with a few practical tips thrown in too.

Charneh, a drama facilitator and support worker would encourage her younger self to try the things she wanted to do.

“I think if I was gonna give a piece to my younger self, it would be not to be defeated so easily… I could have done those things if I was just giving myself a chance.”

Colin, a property business owner offers himself some similar wisdom.

“The advice I give to my younger self would be don’t give up and get frustrated…ultimately keep using dyslexia as your determination to work hard.”

Trainee teacher Emily agrees.  

“Never give up.” she says, “Always keep going. If something is hard keep going, push through. Don’t give up at the first hurdle. Then you’re never gonna get anywhere in life. You just need to keep pushing. So that’s what I would say to my younger self. Don’t give up, don’t panic. Keep yourself going and keep confident and keep being yourself.”

And blogger Suzy feels the same. “The advice I’d give to myself to my younger self is never give up and never surrender. I mean I knew that this dyslexia has its frustrations. Other people see it as stupidity, quite a lot of the time. It’s not, if you’ve got great support from friends and family. People who know that you can ask them for a bit of help. It’s just getting the process right and not feeling that you can’t do it, you can you just need to take a bit more time about it. Which is frustrating, but it’s also very rewarding.”

my_younger_self_ST

Police Officer Gavin would tell his young self to believe in himself more.

 “Follow your dreams, go with your gut instinct surround yourself with people that are going to support you and believe in you and try and stay away from the people are negative and telling you that you can’t do that or you can’t succeed or you’re not brave enough you’re not clever enough you follow your dream and tap into the experience.”

Ian the vet would assure himself that there are others like him.

“The advice I would give to my younger self is, well, you’re not alone.”

And Animator Indie encourages herself to “believe in myself more and not be too timid about starting stuff and not be scared.”

Jamie wishes now he’d had a bit of self-understanding.

“The advice I would give to my younger self would be to not be so hard on myself. To understand and I wish at the time I knew what it means to be dyslexic.”

And Artist Lucy echoes his thoughts.

“The advice I’d give to my younger self probably would be the same now. It would be not to be so hard on yourself. I think but that’s easier said than done.”

Trevor the film-maker would cajole himself in to speaking up more.

“Speak to your family and your teachers and try and articulate and tell them the problems that you are having with your education. I would try and say to myself to talk to other people and not to give myself such a hard time.”

my_younger_self_TT

And author Iain would meet with different versions of his younger self and share some very practical ideas about dyslexia and life in general:

“When I was 10 and struggling to spell, I’d explain that dyslexia has strengths as well. To the 13 year old me failing at school, I’d assure him dyslexia was a creative tool. When I was 16 and studying for exams I’d show myself mind maps like neurons with ganglion arms. When I was 19 and trying to find employment, I tell myself do a job that brings you enjoyment. When I was 21 I’d say, ‘you’re fitter than you think. Keep up the exercise and try to stay off the drink.’ ”

my_younger_self_IM

The grown-up Doreen would tell her younger self “Don’t blame everything on dyslexia. Drill down into feelings, thought process and social difficulties. Use audio books and podcasts when they come along to find out about mental health and other neurodiversity. Investigate coloured glasses again. Give other adults’ advice as much weight as mum and dad’s. Sometimes family members can be too close to things.”

my_younger_self_DK

  • To all the dyslexic grown ups: What advice would you give your younger self? And what advice do you think future you is looking back and trying to tell you now?
  • To all the young people: What advice speaks to you most? What will you do with it?

Blog written by Katie Carmichael, Career Coach

Time to Talk Tech and Tenacity

ipad-tech

The amount of changes that people have had to cope with during lockdown would have been unimaginable prior to it happening.  But happen it has, and the world has been forced to adapt.  Those who are neurodiverse have not been immune from this, and indeed the speed at which the alterations have had to take place may have caused additional stress.  The fact that pandemics neither discriminate nor adhere to schedules will have certainly caused problems for some – more on that later – but there is truth in Plato’s saying “necessity is the mother of invention.”  Simply put, in being made to adjust our working and social practices, we may find a better way of undertaking a task. 

People also understand that working from home can be difficult because there is little to separate people’s working and home lives, but are simultaneously aware that a work/life balance needs to exist.  Consequently, because everyone is getting used to a new normal, it might be that the neurodiverse benefit from greater empathy from their colleagues.  Additionally, because those working from home can’t be watched all the time, there is perhaps greater scope for taking things at an individual’s own pace and discovering better ways of working, simply because they are in a comfortable environment. Relatedly, in having to ask what employees need to work most effectively, there are opportunities for employers to educate themselves about neurodiversity. 

Before writing this blog, for instance, I had no idea that you can tint a screen background to make the text easier to read.  Nor did I appreciate that working from home could promote productivity as voice recognition could be used more easily and overlays can be used without fear of having to explain why.  Furthermore, the prevalence of video calls may give people the chance to plan meetings more effectively because they are more likely to be pre-arranged, potentially increasing productivity all round.

All of the above assumes that all employees have adequate space to set up home offices and sympathetic employers.  While some do, this isn’t universally the case, nor can we forget those who have had to adapt in different ways, whether that be as a result of their job or being furloughed.  For example, while teachers are having adapt lessons to account for remote learning, furloughed people are having to learn new skills to boost their employability and/or conquer boredom, so everyone is learning something in the midst of the pandemic, even if it simply coping with their new ‘normal.’ 

How easy this is will vary from person to person, but there are particular challenges for those who are neurodiverse.  People may find it difficult to fill their days if they aren’t working, particularly as organisation is sometimes tricky for neurodiverse individuals.  It may prove harder still because the options that would have previously been available to them are no longer there.  Some of the options that are may also prove challenging.  For example, many people with dyslexia struggle to read for pleasure and trying to do so could compound feelings of frustration.  The importance of technology is again emphasised when you consider that apps such as Audible and screen readers might help some people with this, but such things can only go so far as no distraction is permanent.  In other words, technology is not full-proof, and can often add to our frustrations rather than ease them.

On balance though, I’d rather the technology was there to get angry at than it didn’t exist at all, because even if it has the potential to make someone’s life easier that should be encouraged.  Not only that, but the knock-on effects of this are also important; greater productivity, potentially more leisure time and possibly improved mental health, which would not only lead to a better quality of life for many, but also strengthen the tenacity for which the neurodiverse are known.  When neurodiversity is known to lead to innovative solutions to challenges and new ways of thinking – both things that have been essential during the pandemic – championing the benefits of technology for the neurodiverse has never been more necessary. 

Gemma Bryant, Blog Volunteer

 

Silver Linings

I’m sure none of us is enjoying the Coronavirus Lockdowns at the moment. Being stuck indoors while the weather is improving. Looking at the same four walls day in and day out. Being confronted with our family, rather than our friends 24/7. It’s all a grind.

But as I write this article, I must admit that I’m not suffering in the slightest.  And I’m forced to ponder ‘Why Not?’ Why am I perfectly happy being locked down, by myself, for over 6 months now?’ (I’ve been self-isolating since November for non-Covid medical reasons).

I have come to a surprising conclusion and I see it as a beautiful ‘silver lining’ for life in general and this current isolation…

None of us like to be mocked. Or shunned. Or even bullied.

As a young person with dyslexia and dyspraxia I was always an ‘odd’ child. Couldn’t read or write well, was clumsy and uncoordinated and came out with some ‘out of the box’ ideas.

For those who loved me, I was simply peculiar. I was considered the ‘absent minded professor’ and left to my own devices. It was an environment of benign neglect with plenty of food and shelter, but little engagement or even hugs.

For those who had no obligation to love me it was simply easier to ignore, shun or reject me. In extreme cases, different meant ‘threat’ and led to bullying and violence. I was simply better off keeping to myself… to self-isolate.

And there we have it… for whatever reason, I learned to be self-sufficient, on my own, from a very early age.

In retrospect, I probably did go through the loneliness, anxieties and frustrations that many are feeling today in the corona virus lock downs… but I would have done that when I was too young to recognise it. I didn’t know I was supposed to feel sad about it. Like dyslexia itself, it just was how it was.

In the words of the famous self-empowerment song , and my anthem,  “I am what I am”. Why not sing along with me… sing it to your family!

https://genius.com/Gloria-gaynor-i-am-what-i-am-lyrics

Now there is a danger in being self-empowered and dyslexic… and that’s ‘creative licence’.

Being dyslexic, I’m fairly creative and, for me, ‘out of the box’ is perfectly normal. And being empowered, I give myself permission to be and to think whatever I want. Luckily most of this stays in my mind and doesn’t leak out. I love my internal orchestra and I think it makes a beautiful noise. So what if other people don’t get it, or me.

That’s why being locked down during the pandemic is no big deal for me… because I’m dyslexic. After all, I’m being locked down with the one person in the world that ‘gets’ me most, who I’ve spent most time with alone and who loves me like no other. Who could have guessed dyslexia has such a fantastic silver lining? … What’s yours?

Blog by MIKE GORDON

Mike Gordon is a life coach and volunteer with Dyslexia Scotland. Although dyslexic, Mike has earned 3 degrees in science and business and has had two best-selling self-help books published. Mike believes his dyslexia has been a genuine enabler in his life: Isolation opens up imagination and creativity to him; while struggles with words have driven a sense of ‘rightness’ in what he says and does. Words are a blessing.

Jenga: The Game of Dyspraxic Life

Most people see bed as a place that brings soft, warm peace at the end of the day. A familiar landing strip for a comfortable arrival in the land of dreams.

For me, I see bed as a morning launch pad. The place where my day begins. The place where I lie for a moment to preview the infinity of this day’s possibilities. There, the day ahead is set up like a marvellously arranged game of Jenga: perfectly symmetrical, each block in its place, forming a beautifully squared tower of challenge.

While there, like some finely tuned athlete, I rehearse my game moves for the perfect execution. I visualise each block neatly sliding out and the tower stays rock solid. Once satisfied with my Game Plan I get up with hope and expectation in my soul. The best moment ever. Let this day begin.

And it does begin… but not as planned.

Firstly, the toothpaste decides it wants to squeeze out to anywhere but the head of my toothbrush. My coffee granules decide they’d prefer to scatter across the kitchen bench than in my cup. And finally, my left leg decides it would rather spend the day in the right leg of my trousers. Dyspraxia, the cousin to my dyslexia, has kicked in. The first three Jenga blocks tackled and already my tower is wobbling. But maybe it’s just jittery fingers? It’s bound to get better, isn’t it?

In my journey to work, only three minor slip ups: that uneven paving stone leapt up to attack my unobservant foot; the tree branch that I’ve watched grow, decided today was the day to greet my forehead and the train door decided it really did need to bite at my coat tail. All minor. All survivable. Each Jenga piece creating a wobble but not a collapse. Each piece a reminder not to get too cocky.

I climb back into my caution.

At the office, my caution pays dividends. I don’t get snapped by the lift door. My coffee goes in and stays in my cup, all the way to my desk. My backside finds my swivel chair without incident. This day is improving. Three Jenga pieces removed, without a crash.

But now it’s my time… I open my computer; my fingers find the keyboard and I’ve found my happy place. My mind unconsciously connects to the glass screen in the same way that the computer connects to the Wi-Fi. My dumb body and brain get out of my way and I’m ready to fly.

For some reason, my hands are completely attuned to the QWERTY layout and I achieve a seven-fingered grace that my clumsy body never usually achieves. On a computer, I am a Jenga Grand Master.

The same goes for my dyslexia. Words and meaning flow, without my conscious mind, or physical brain interfering.

I spend my day smashing task after task. Whizzing through emails. Soaring through written documents. Scrambling over spreadsheets like an Alpine goat on the Matterhorn. Each word or number is an individual Jenga piece. Each task is a whole game. And I rack up win after win.

I even win admiring fans. Colleagues ask me for advice and guidance. They marvel (a little enviously) at my throughput and are frankly astonished at my lack of errors. Is it really me!

And my supervisor is quietly satisfied with my performance. I figure, that in a ‘leave alone and rebuke’ culture, not being yelled at is tacit approval. And I’m tacitly grateful. I take satisfaction that my Jenga prowess is recognised.

I leave work at the end of the day and count up Jenga tally. I reckon I had at least a dozen great wins against some tricky or formidable opposition. The monthly budget reconciliation was a stinker. A couple of truly grumpy client emails. And those time sheets… they’re hateful, but I sailed through them. I award myself a daily gold medal.

My journey home was, of course, less spectacular. Yes, I bumped into 2 different people. Yes, I dribbled my Coke down my shirt front. And, yes, I stabbed and stabbed to get my door key into its lock. But that’s real life Jenga, not computer Jenga.

I bumped my way through an unremarkable evening at home until it was time for bed. I managed to miss my bedside table and spilled my water over my alarm clock. I had my usual toothbrush moment. And I tripped over the loose rug with my slippers. But I made it safely to bed.

I allowed myself a few minutes to review my day. A few Jenga fails but they’re nothing compared to my spectacular wins in the office. Even a Jenga World Champion should expect a few minor losses in the overall picture. It only matters when it really matters. With that satisfaction, I drifted off to sleep. Ready for another day of stumbles and acrobatics in a new day tomorrow.

MIKE GORDON
Mike Gordon is a life coach and volunteer with Dyslexia Scotland. Although dyslexic, Mike has earned 3 degrees in science and business and has had two best-selling self-help books published. Mike believes his dyslexia has been a genuine enabler in his life: Isolation opens up imagination and creativity to him; while struggles with words have driven a sense of ‘rightness’ in what he says and does. Words are a blessing.

Bring out the best in them

Parents – give yourselves a break from being teachers. ‘Home-Schooling’ perhaps isn’t a term that captures how you enable your child to learn at their best.

We’re hearing from parents all across Scotland and beyond about the challenges of being a tutor to your young home learners on the three r’s, or subjects you feel out of your depth on when trying to explain it to your children.

Let’s zoom out of those complex worries and bear in mind the true meaning of education: to bring out. Not to put in. Your young learners at home have a wealth of knowledge, interests, personal resources and passions of their own that they can use to explore any other learning, without a ‘jug and mug’ approach to doing it. If there’s one thing you can do to support them be their best right now, it’s to feed their imaginations, motivation and curiosity to explore learning on their terms and to keep them feeling happy, loved and secure so they’re confident to do that.

Scotland’s approach to developing our young people, after all, rests on the fundamental principle that wellbeing is central to their growth as a whole person. We’ve come to know GIRFEC as ‘Getting It Right For Every Child’ but what is the ‘it’ that we are to get right? In youth work, I learned this to be ‘Growing Individuals Ready for Every Challenge’, recognising the value in young people’s growth being focused on their development as whole people, not just as academic learners.

Now, more than ever, in the midst of a pandemic and lockdown we know we need to prioritise young people’s safety and health; support them to be active; nurture them; within home learning settings provide them with opportunities to achieve – in ways that excite and interest them; make sure they are responsible and that they feel respected and included in the family unit. Let’s focus on developing our children as a whole person to enable them to be and learn at their best now, and for the rest of their lives.

Parents – you don’t need to be teachers right now, you just need to be role models. Be your best self; encourage them to be theirs.

Blog by Katie Carmichael, Career Coach