Dyslexia Awareness Week starts 7th of November and I’m quite excited about writing this blog just before it kicks off.
I’ve always loved books, and was inspired to write my own stories long before I could actually spell. I was lucky because my dyslexia was acknowledged early and I was sent to a special school, where I got extra help to learn how to read and write. I remember the first book I read all on my own and how I carried it around all day and kept re-reading it – because I could! After that there was no stopping me. A whole new world opened up for me. It was as if I’d entered some secret universe – full of adventures and escapism and even a sense of acceptance – all aspects missing from my real life outside of books. My local library became my sanctuary and I started swallowing up one book after another. Without these stories to comfort me and take me away to different worlds, I don’t think I would have coped as well as I did being a teenager. The more I read the more words I learned and the better my spelling became too.
So, I was lucky. I got special help from an early age and eventually I learned to read and write well enough to fool others into thinking I’m not dyslexic. I was also lucky to go to school in the 90s, where dyslexia was becoming recognised. Some of the stories I’ve read about people who went to school before then are truly saddening – how teachers didn’t recognise or accept dyslexic students’ struggles and how they suffered. How they were labelled as stupid and left behind, and the stigma and mental health problems that followed. These same people, now adults, come into the literacy centre, where I work, full of self-doubt and self-defeating attitudes and it’s truly heart breaking because they are anything but stupid. They are full of self-taught coping strategies and have so many brilliant but overlooked strengths.
Nevertheless, dyslexia still wasn’t very well understood in the 90s and I struggled in most of my other classes, even when I enjoyed them, because back then there wasn’t the same awareness around the link between dyslexia and dyscalculia, short term memory problems and problems organising one’s thoughts (always being told my essays were too incoherent). So teachers would pull me aside and tell me I ought to do better and try harder and like so many others, I was left feeling like I was actually stupid; that it was my fault I wasn’t doing better, rather than my dyslexia. In fact, I wasn’t told any of these facts about dyslexia until I was 27 and I decided that I was good enough to get a university degree and was finally properly diagnosed. By then dyslexia had become a stigma for me too. It took me many more years to be able to openly and proudly say I AM DYSLEXIC. And it’s with joy that I welcome Dyslexia Awareness Week because so many people – especially in key roles, like teachers – still don’t understand that there’s more to dyslexia than spelling and reading, and our unique skillset, creativity and different way of perceiving the world are often not rated as important as high grades, but should be. So I encourage more awareness and acceptance and take great joy in the fact we’re all different and thereby make the world a more interesting place. I, therefore, also encourage you to engage with Awareness Week – learn new things, share the knowledge and help us spread the word.
What has your experience with dyslexia been? Have you been affected by a lack of awareness of dyslexia? You can learn more about Dyslexia Awareness Week here.
Terese Smith – guest blogger