Rocking Dyslexia

I’ve found being dyslexic incredibly frustrating, comical, upsetting, and positive at various points of my life. I’m Jess, a geologist researcher, with a BSc and PhD from the University of Aberdeen. I love the outdoors, but I always dreaded reading, writing and public speaking- all of which I do regularly now (and enjoy!).

School Experiences

At the age of eight I was identified with dyslexia and received learning support classes throughout primary and secondary school. At primary school I still remember wishing I could read the Jacqueline Wilson books my classmates were enjoying, rather than the ‘Biff and Chip’ books with about twenty words to a page I was given. Towards the end of Primary school, I was lucky that my parents bought me some of the first Harry Potter audiobooks for Christmas. Read by Stephen Fry, I would listen to those books on repeat, occasionally reading along, so much so that almost all of those cassette tapes and CDs were repaired with several pieces of cellotape each or covered in scratches. Audiobooks were a window to worlds I had been wishing to have access to for such a long time, and still to this day I listen to them and other podcasts daily.

At high school I found attending learning support classes more frustrating and I particularly disliked being pulled out of the 15-minute morning registration to attend them, though I am grateful for their support now. After a bit of a rough start at high school, I began to try harder and found more satisfaction in learning, particularly enjoying Geography, History and Product Design classes. I still struggled in English and vividly remember finding it near impossible to write a 300-word essay on a topic of my choice. However, with the encouragement of teachers, family and learning support I achieved seven Highers and one Advanced Higher.

University and PhD

I was lucky enough to get into university, initially to study Geography. Within the first few weeks I had yet another round of tests for my learning support, where I was told I had moderate-severe dyslexia as well as dysgraphia (which I had never even heard of!). Throughout my undergraduate degree, I found several moments difficult but particularly enjoyed my Geology classes, with lots of field trips, microscope work and where being descriptive and scientific was far more important than your ability to write an essay. I was also incredibly fortunate to have a few dyslexic friends which really helped normalised dyslexia further.

I changed my degree from Geography to Geology towards the end of my second year, as I had done the prerequisite courses. I particularly found my feet by the fourth and final year and LOVED my dissertation which involved seven weeks geological mapping on the remote Scottish Isle of Rum, and later an associated written report. While the writing was hard, again it was more descriptive, scientific and interpretive, so worked far better for my brain and overall, I received a first class degree.

When I started my PhD I was of course worried, like most people are, about writing my thesis. I was lucky to have a topic I loved, studying the ancient (60-million-year-old!) lava flows of the Isle of Mull, and while again I thrived during the fieldwork, writing was daunting. However, little by little I got the words down and found getting my figures/images together first helped me with the necessary text. The more I wrote of my thesis the easier it became. While never plain sailing, it all came together – all 300+ pages! And though quality is far more important than quantity, I still must remind myself I’ve come a long way in the 14 years since I seriously struggled to write 300 words in High School.

Learning more about my dyslexia

Over the years, I’ve learnt more about how my dyslexia and dysgraphia affect me. To me, I often think of my brain as a messy room- everything is there, but I don’t know whether it is in a drawer, under the bed or in the cupboard. I often struggle to find the right wording while writing and speaking, which can be annoying at times. Dyslexia affects me far more than just bad spelling, but the older I get the easier it is, not because it impacts me less but because I am better at managing it.

Having dyslexia may be incredibly frustrating, and at times upsetting, but for me I do believe it has been a massive positive in my life and it has helped me get to where I am today. When you must work consistently that little bit harder, it becomes the norm and as a result I became willing and eager to work hard. I love my job, the work, and the daily challenges I face. I truly believe having dyslexia, and the support I have received through the years by so many, has instilled a positive work ethic and drive which I am grateful to have.

What helped me most with my dyslexia:

  • Supportive family & friends: my parents always made me believe that dyslexia should never hold me back, and my friends would always help me see the funny side of my spelling mistakes, while still being supportive and there for informal proof reading. I’ve had my fair share of people who have been unkind or unsupportive of my dyslexia, however, its about surrounding yourself with the right people and not giving up!
  • Supportive education: at times I may have resented being treated differently from my peers but those hours of extra support have certainly helped me! Endlessly grateful, for all the exam readers, proof readers and learning support staff through the years.
  • Audio books & podcasts: never to be underestimated, I was able to enjoy books, subconsciously improve my vocabulary and sentence structure all while enjoying a story.
  • A laptop which reads my written work back to me: invaluable for my university studies (just wish I had it sooner) helps me daily to write, spot my spelling/grammar errors and read sections of text/papers/websites when I feel I need the extra support. I had my laptop read this blog aloud to me several times as I typed it. 
  • I Google a word for spelling when spell check is no help: Even now I often struggle to find the correct spelling for some words, especially in geology, so a simple google (occasionally with some context) and I almost always find the right spelling.
  • Practice & time: the most annoying one, but there is no quick fix, and at the age of 27 I am still learning and improving daily. With each challenge I improve, and while many things don’t necessarily come naturally that certainly doesn’t mean I can’t do them!
  • Acceptance: while at many points I hated being different, such as the extra classes, the lower expectations of my abilities from others, being given sheets in a different font to my peers, sitting exams alone… the list goes on. Dyslexia is absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. So many people are dyslexic, and you may be surprised with who else you know or may meet in the future have it too.

Lastly, my message to any dyslexic would be while there are many challenges to dyslexia, having dyslexia is by no means always a negative. There are many things you can do and you will likely surprise yourself if you try and have the right support in place! As a teen I once heard someone describe dyslexic people as “stupid & lazy”. I couldn’t disagree more (though at the time I said nothing). Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence, & certainly all the dyslexics I know work exceptionally hard to achieve what they have! If these personal stories illustrate anything it is that you CAN get to where you want to be!

Dr. Jess Pugsley, Guest Blogger

Dyslexia-friendly Scotland – our journey so far

The end of a year is inevitably a time to reflect, to consider how far we’ve come, and to look ahead.

Looking back

As Dyslexia Scotland says goodbye to 2021, we also close our current strategic plan. In the last three years, our small but well-formed organisation has: 

  • Moved to larger premises
  • Adapted our services in response to the constraints of a pandemic
  • Established a tutor bursary fund to support dyslexic children and young people
  • Delivered professional learning for teachers in dyslexia and inclusive practice
  • Hosted Scotland’s first dyslexia festival
  • Achieved a commendation in the national Learning for Sustainability Awards
  • And renewed our Investing in Volunteers award. This accolade recognises our expertise in supporting and co-ordinating over 160 volunteers to deliver the vital work of our organisation.

These are just a few of the major milestones we’ve reached along our journey. Between these, we’ve had interactions with many thousands of individuals. Although these have often been brief, we know that the advice and guidance we’ve provided has made a big difference to each of them. 

We’re taking a moment to rest now, look back on the distance travelled, and feel a sense of pride and satisfaction. But we also know that we can continue to learn, grow and improve as an organisation.

Looking ahead

So, as the sun rises on 2022, we’ll be ready to continue our journey. We’ve charted the course, and we’re on our way to a dyslexia-friendly Scotland. But are we nearly there yet? And how will we know when we get there? And what can we achieve along the way?

These are the questions we asked of ourselves, the dyslexic community in Scotland, and the changemakers who strive to be dyslexia inclusive in their settings. The answers helped us to map the way forward.

We’re excited to begin this new leg of the journey, and we invite you to be a part of it.
Dyslexia-friendly Scotland, here we come. Look out for our new strategy for 2022-2025 in the new year. 

In the meantime, if you want to support us on our journey to a dyslexia-friendly Scotland, become a member or make a donation to help sustain our vital work. 

From bottom of the class to CEO

I was a big fan of the Arts & Social Science subjects at school, especially Modern Studies and Business Management. However, there was always one demon that would overshadow that enjoyment: exams.

I was rubbish at them. I just kept missing the pass mark – and I mean one to two marks – every single time! I was revising several hours a day, tried adjusting strategies to see if I was over-revising. Nope. Still kept missing the mark. This plagued most of my school days, and eventually started worrying me since I had my eyes on going to university.

The school knew something wasn’t right. I knew something wasn’t right, so it was time to turn on troubleshooting mode. The strategy: bring in a reader and scribe for all tests and exams and oh boy did it made a difference! Remember, I hadn’t even been tested for dyslexia, yet my marks went from marginal fails to comfortable passes. Not astronomic – but comfortable – so we were onto something, and my aim of going to university was one step nearer.

Rather than be plagued by this mystery issue, I decided to get tested for dyslexia and shortly after my years of questioning poor exam marks came to end: I was dyslexic. In a way, I was relieved, but shocked. I didn’t know what to think. I wasn’t however going to let this stop me, so onto university I went to read Mathematics.

Balancing university with dyslexia was anything but easy: it was awful at times, especially with the sustained workload that increased year on year. I tried working with readers and scribes, but in a mathematics based subject it was much harder to find someone who knew and understood the symbols. In other words, imagine explaining Calculus symbols in a 2-hour exam – it was anything but fun! Instead I resorted to technology – buying software to turn my screen a more comfortable colour and using the dictation feature. It wasn’t always plain sailing – especially with dictation – as most dictation platforms back then didn’t understand these symbols. I just had to work five times harder in amongst these challenges to get to where I wanted to be. Despite the shortcomings, I graduated. Phew!

Entering the world of work after graduation was worrying. Was my employer going to see dyslexia as a problem? Thankfully no, it was the complete opposite. They embraced it, saw my strengths, moved me into an area where I’ve been able to shine and I couldn’t be happier. Technology was again my best friend here, and I was amazed as time moved on to see most of the accessibility features offered in the computers software as standard instead of having to download all these additional (super expensive) paid packages. Today technology is still my best friend when it comes to dyslexia – and I’m sure it will be for many years to come.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: dyslexia shouldn’t be thought of as a disability. It gives you the ability to do things differently, and seeing things differently is one of the greatest gifts dyslexia gave me. I’d not be a CEO today without having to battle through it over the years. To those of you struggling out there, be fearless and fight on. Don’t give up, and most importantly, don’t let it define your future.

Ana Simion
About me: CEO & Director of Machine Learning at INRO London & the Centre for Data, Innovation & Technology. Lover of all things tech, amateur baker, public speaker and climber.

Dyslexic strengths in the world of work

The Value of Dyslexia report goes into a lot of detail on the strengths that those with dyslexia have. I really encourage anybody of any background to have a read, especially those who interact with people with dyslexia – a real insight is provided! Specifically looking at pages 16-to-17 and 20-to-21, I will be going into detail of how my communication skills have supported creative problem-solving, cognitive flexibility, and visualisation/imagery. But at the same time, unfolding my use of the term ‘connecting’ that aids my expertise when interacting with my youth athletes.

It’s funny, when being sent this report and reading it, I noted how it resonated with my coaching, and learning within the Master of Science I am studying right now – it goes to show how relatable learning processes are in different areas, and how thinking is so complex. I am very driven by psychological perspectives and how as a coach I create thought provoking processes for my athletes. On page 16, Steve Hatch says “…make connections, understand people and to build a creative narrative” – I completely agree!!

My process of connecting and communicating:

  1. Gain trust.
  2. Understand who your athletes are (needs, type of person and level of ability);
  3. Meet needs and allow athletes to be expressive.

How does my dyslexic communication support me on this?

Manage people and organise the environment and motivate, use reflective practise on myself and others (re-understanding), and another visualisation, using ‘imagery’ – create a mental situation factor to aid the development of an athlete. My dyslexia, a lot of the time, works in patterns, and in fact, me over thinking things, but this like many others allows my processing of a task to improve. Once I have this, it’s to motivate, empower and simplify complex tasks into stages for effective learning, to essentially create an environment that making mistakes are ok! To be expressive and creative, again not to worry about mistakes that you may make. The whole process provides me a base to communicate, interact and develop my athletes into players I want them to be, that will aid them for the future.

My dyslexia has allowed me to have more of a connection with people, to be an influencer that people can trust, which supports my communication and interacting with people. This makes my life so much easier; I am not going to lie the process can take time but in the long run, do these skills help me in my role as a youth football coach? Yes! In an academic sense? Yes!

Advice…think about what people need? Are you an educator of some sort, or do you manage people? Use your skills to your advantage, and think back to a point where you maybe struggled, what would you have liked someone to do to help you? Can you use this to help others? And then gather your understandings and create a mental structure to support those in need, emphasis your enthusiasm and motivation, use your thought processes to your advantage to simplify for others and allow people to be creative with it – your expertise will only improve by reflecting on not only yourself but others as well!

Daniel Hiddleston, Youth Football Coach and guest blogger

Dyslexic talents: environmental innovation and activism

With COP26 beginning in Glasgow the same week as Dyslexia Awareness Week in Scotland, we thought it would be interesting to showcase dyslexic talents with environmental innovation and activism. But who are the environmentalists who are also dyslexic?

Many of us will know of Greta Thunberg, who sees her neurodiversity as a positive aspect of her climate crisis activism. In this article, Greta tells hosts of CBS This Morning: “In some circumstances, it can definitely be an advantage to…be neurodiverse – because that makes you different, that makes you think differently. And especially in such a big crisis like [climate change], when we need to think outside the box. We need to think outside our current system. We need people who think outside the box and who aren’t like everyone else.”

Irish marine environmental activist Flossie Donnelly; Scottish marine conservationist, Ella Pringle, and Scottish ‘bushologist’, Zeki Basan, have also highlighted their dyslexia. Another environmental activist, Erin Brockovich, made famous by the Julia Roberts film of the same name, is also dyslexic.

One of our Young Ambassadors, Eilidh, explains her thoughts about COP26 through the image below, “the whole point of this graphic is people thinking outside the box in order to solve the climate crisis. It’s not all about doing “business as usual” – we have tried that and it is doesn’t work. We have some solutions on how to save the planet but we need some creative solutions on how to achieve this. The leaders in charge need to listen to the youth, we have lots of ideas. Neurodiverse people have a voice in this, look at Greta Thunberg (who’s cool btw).”

Eilidh’s save the planet image

How can dyslexic strengths help us solve environmental issues in the future? This article by Ernst Young details how dyslexic capabilities can help in the future of work.  More specifically, from this report, “A change in perception of dyslexia can help build a talent pipeline that is flexible and adaptable to the changing world of work. Over time, we would like to think that a strengths-based approach would become part of day-to-day life.” As Greta said above, some of the possible solutions to climate change will need people who think outside the box, like engineers. See two dyslexic engineers below:

Another of our Young Ambassadors, Kate, recently showcased her dyslexic talents while working with school friends, Summer and Olivia, to create a dress made from offcuts of fabric from the Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory. Their innovative costume design ‘Flanders Fields’, has reached the Grand Final of national fashion competition Junk Kouture, which highlights creative designs using recycled materials. See a photo of Kate in the amazing dress below.

Kate in red dress

How do you think dyslexic strengths and skills can help us resolve the current climate crisis?

Blog written by Helen Fleming (Volunteers Manager) with contributions from two Young Ambassadors

Helping churches to take part in Dyslexia Awareness Week Scotland 2021

This year, Dyslexia Awareness Week (DAW, 1-7 November) in Scotland includes a Sunday (7 Nov.) for the first time ever.  To help churches take part, I’ve put together a prayer guide.  I’ve written it with churches in mind, but some of its content can be adapted for use by other faith communities.    

The prayer guide shares information on dyslexia, Bible verses, prayers, music and a blessing.  It is customisable by local churches and individuals.  For example, churches can add their name to it.  And people can add their own prayers.  It also signposts to some material for children and Young People. 

The guide tells you how to customise it for your church and circulate it. 

If you’re not involved in a church, maybe one of your local churches or other faith communities takes prayer requests or has a prayer diary on its website.  Why not send them the prayer guide and ask them to use it?

You can download the prayer guide here. Scroll down to the Support for other Professionals section; go to Scottish Churches Disabilities Group, then click on ‘prayer guide’ to download the word document.

Written by a member of Dyslexia Scotland

Gems from a Creative Mind: a poetry book by Doreen Kelly


Who could have imagined twenty or thirty years ago, that the teenager who tested at the higher end of average in IQ tests but was struggling to maintain passing test results at school, would become a published poet? I am currently struggling with a bit of imposter syndrome, low self-esteem and confidence. To paraphrase a punishment exercise my whole class were once made to write:- Self-esteem is hard to gain, but easy to lose.

Anyway, back to my creative writing/poem book, I am very grateful to Susie Agnew for suggesting this project and also for finding a publisher. My gratitude also goes to Helen for helping with the pulling together of my submissions to Dyslexia Voice and A Life Less Ordinary and with the editing process. Thank you so much to Nicola Morgan for stepping in to write the introduction; I struggled for weeks, perhaps months, with the idea of writing an intro. Eventually I had to admit defeat. Thank you to Donna from Glasgow Women’s Library for our Adult Literacy sessions, especially during the first lockdown, where I wrote a lot of the smaller pieces not about dyslexia in my poem book. I was very grateful to Donna for the sessions even before the pieces of writing were needed, as the Zoom sessions kept me sane and less anxious during a really difficult time.

I found the actual creation of the book quite a long and drawn out process, as there was a lot of going over the same material before it was sent to the publisher. Then the same process began over again once the publisher had worked on it, and once again when it was passed to the printers. And yet I still found a couple of things to be amended even in the final proof before printing.

But it was all worth it, now that I can see and hold the finished book.

We decided that my craft and other visual creative work should be included too. It was suggested that I should illustrate my creative writing because many of the pieces are quite hard-hitting, whereas my visual creations are often joyful and colourful.

Image of book pages

So, again, who would have thought the girl who was made to rip up her homework in third year (in front of the whole class), make the walk of shame to the bin and back and then got a D in higher Art and Design would publish an illustrated book? Yes, I would call my illustrations naïve, but perhaps I am following in the tradition of L. S. Lowry’s matchstick people.

I had to battle my Imposter Syndrome to write the above, so imagine my confusion and surprise when I showed a fellow volunteer at the Women’s Library and she flipped through it, saying “how beautiful, and I haven’t even started reading it yet”. Then, when she started reading it, I left her to it, as I was working as the paid cleaner at the time. When I came back past she was in tears. I was disturbed and went to a colleague, confused and distressed about having made someone so strong cry. My colleague very calmly and simply stated “That just shows you how powerful it is.”

My book “Gems from a Creative Mind” will shortly be available for pre-order from Dyslexia Scotland. Keep an eye on Dyslexia Scotland’s social media and website for further details.

Doreen Kelly, Resource Centre and Blog volunteer

Who educates the educators about dyslexia?

Like many dyslexia organisations last month, we applauded the punchy report The Dyslexic Dynamic from Made by Dyslexia and Talent Solutions that evidenced how dyslexic talent needs to be recognised, valued and seized if the world is to recover successfully from the pandemic. 

Strengths in creative thinking, problem-solving, ingenuity and communication skills are no doubt what the world needs in spades right now. However, like us, the writers know that something still holds the dyslexic community back from being the innovators and trailblazers the world needs them to be. So what is the barrier? 

difficulties with things like spelling, reading and memorising facts can undermine the self-belief of dyslexic students and often means the abilities they have in other areas are overlooked by their teachers, their classmates and themselves

The Dyslexia Dynamic

School years are the prime window of opportunity to nurture dyslexic talent and foster achievement. So, how do we ensure that dyslexia is identified and supported by teachers? Who educates the educators about dyslexia? 

Educating the educators

Dyslexia Scotland believes passionately in the value of dyslexia education for educators. We’re excited to be just weeks away from our annual education conference (held online for the second year running) which will inspire and motivate teachers to create learning environments that foster the dyslexic talent The Dyslexic Dynamic says is needed. 

The online conference programme includes keynote speakers Dr. Tilly Mortimore of Bath Spa University and Shirley Lawson from CALL Scotland as well as workshops facilitated by educational thought leaders from Glasgow Dyslexia Support Service, City of Edinburgh Council, and Education Scotland, who will share expertise on creating inclusive learning environments that support young dyslexic people to achieve and attain. Conference delegates will explore topics including Adolescents with dyslexia: risk, resilience and opportunity, Technology and dyslexia, Maths and dyscalculia strategies, Spelling and phonics, Recovering from the impact of the pandemic and Co-occurring difficulties/neurodiversity. 

Are you or do you know an educator who can grow dyslexic talent in the classroom? Check out the Destination dyslexia: a routemap conference for educators.

What other dyslexia education is there for educators? 

The Addressing Dyslexia Toolkit  

Information for Teachers leaflet 

Dyslexic Career Journeys career guidance resources 

Dyslexia and Gaming: a perfect match?

I’ve always loved games. Whether it be board games or video games, they are always something that I have tried to make time for. So, you can imagine that when I saw an article the other week talking about the complementary relationship between dyslexia and gaming, I was pretty excited.

Whilst research is still at an early stage in this area, some have suggested that the dyslexic mind  is particularly suited to gaming. But why is this? There are various strengths associated with dyslexia, including our ability to visualise in 3D. With unique imagining abilities and a three-dimensional perspective, dyslexia’s compatibility with games makes a lot of sense. Thinking about board games or other ‘real life’ games, players are often required to imagine themselves within a different place or as a different character – something the dyslexic skill set is particularly attuned to.

Research into the ways dyslexics read and understand individual words is also insightful. Studies have shown that whilst neurotypical readers are able to identify letters in the middle of a row, dyslexics did better at identifying letters located in the outer areas of words. This suggests that dyslexics have strong periphery vision, a skill that is important to videogame play.

Whatever the reason for the match between dyslexia and gaming, the implications for the way we learn is incredibly exciting. From my own perspective, I certainly learned things better and faster at school when things were taught in the context of a game. Whilst I originally thought this was a personal preference, I am now wondering if this is a learning preference shared with other dyslexics. If so, then its easier to understand why traditional education does not work for many dyslexic people.

Whilst these ideas are fairly convincing, I’m no expert in this area and research in this area is ongoing. But I wonder, what do other dyslexics think? Do you find yourself playing games with ease? Do you learn better through game play? Please let me know in the comments, and also if you know of any interesting articles or research in this area, I’d love to hear about them! Until next time 

 By Maddy Shepherd

Guest blogger

 

Football coaching and dyslexia

by Daniel Hiddleston, Youth Football Coach

I am delighted to be sitting here writing another blog. When I was asked, I started to think, what am I going to do this on? – But after really thinking about it, there is so much I can go into, and I really want to enthuse and provide advice to people so I hope you can connect to my experiences. 

Though I have detailed my journey already, this blog is more detailing components of my ongoing development as a youth football coach, and how dyslexia, and learning processes have helped me. Thought process, this is something that springs to mind when I coach. Coaching in general for me is an ongoing thought process. It is known, dyslexia triggers new or strategic thought processes for overcoming issues. I work within technical development, and my thought process methods are constantly called upon.  

‘What do I do to make sure I hinder the correct process, and how does dyslexia come into this?’ 

Well, initially you need to grab the understanding of what you want to get out of your thought process. For me, it is my athletes. Referring to the question: dyslexia has increased my ability to understand people more, and what they may experience – this refers a lot to adaptive expertise. This is something I am really starting to become more familiar with, due to my Master of Science at University of Stirling, this is where one gains and creates opportunities to develop their ‘expertise’ to be adaptive to the learners’ needs. An individual who is magnificent at this is Dr Andy Kirkland of University of Stirling. His adaptive, understanding, and quirky methods are supportive, and the way in which he uses other departments to make his points in reference to sport, trigger understanding and alternative thinking processes. Now the point of using him is, I would say be enthused by someone who provides you with passion and an educational environment to excel within your own domain – the way Andy has applied himself has provided me with questions, reflections on me and in fact eagerness to go into teaching.  

Learning environments are so important, I was mentored by Kit Bremner and Liam Ross, top coaches, with similar views but different methods. Their different methods, equally as excellent as each other, provided me with a base to think innovatively, but within a structured environment, with elements of flexibility and the ability to express your own creative self. Whilst being educated by the two I found myself value coach-athlete relationship a lot more, and this allowed to trigger new understanding/ thought processes of people around me to identify what makes them tick or engage in you or your practise. The essentialness of the coach-athlete relationship, is again, understanding exactly who/what you’re dealing with and using expertise or thought processes to fulfil success.  

‘As one with dyslexia, do I think this is vital?’ 

Absolutely, but you might not, we are all different. But creative expression allows adaptability, YOU as the learner, YOU as the deliverer, needs to understand the value of creating your own though process within whichever environment you are within. And this whole blog is emphasising on this, for me to fulfil my role as a full-time youth football coach I have made mistakes, but my ongoing development of expertise is improving. In my experiences I would encourage you to think about other people’s methods to enhance your own understanding or in my term ‘thought processes’, regardless of what industry or domain you’re within. 

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