I was told I was dyslexic when I was around 6 in the early 1990s, and got extra tutoring for it, but it was believed then that dyslexia was merely a shortcoming in being able to read and write in my native language. Once I was able to do that, I was ‘cured’ – no one understood that I’d have the same problems learning to read and write in a new language, as I struggle to sound out words, or that I had working memory problems – making exams very problematic – and no one picked up on my dyscalculia either.
I love learning and reading and writing, so I was lucky that I was very motivated to keep at it. I never thought I’d get a university degree as I didn’t have the grades to get into university in Denmark, where I lived. In 2009, I was helped by a friend and got accepted into Stirling University here in Scotland and I was finally on my way towards my dream degree in psychology. Another friend told me about the university’s dyslexia support and I finally gained a formal identification in 2010 at 27.
I was offered extra exam time, help with essay spell checking and various software packages, and I said to the educational psychologist who diagnosed me: ‘I feel like I’m cheating now – getting all of this, which my peers aren’t’, and he said: ‘You’ve been playing football all your life with your peers, except you’ve been playing uphill. You’re not cheating, you’re getting support to play on a level playing field’.
But I still wasn’t given any leaflets about dyslexia, or any book recommendations, or links to follow, so I wasn’t much wiser. I came to learn that I needed to read a text three times, and recap everything I read in writing myself, to get it stored in my memory – and that this didn’t make me stupid.
I realised, via the software that I needed to read things on paper, to highlight it, rather than on a screen. I learned that being read aloud to was preferential, but while also reading along myself to see the words as they were spoken to me. And I learned that via practise – writing essay after essay – I did improve simply by repeating a task.
I also learned that it was no good to just read (and re-read) and memorise – I needed to apply the knowledge in either practice or, at least, via meaningful, real-life examples. Text books are often poor at offering this, so I needed to pause and come up with real-life examples in my head, where I could apply my new knowledge, and ideally share this example with others to really get it hammered into my own memory. I also needed to go hunting for the right kind of text books for me, and not just accept whatever the tutors suggested, as some books are more dyslexia friendly that others, in layout, font and their form of explanation. I needed non-fiction and text books to apply the rules of storytelling – a passion of mine – to really relate and, thereby, remember.
I have a whole host of self-taught learning strategies – some weirder than others. For example, I’m no good at head maths, so I tap out small figures with my fingers on my leg, or quickly add up using taps of a pen onto paper, using the number formation of a dice. Though, obviously, this doesn’t work for bigger numbers.
Of course, I wish I’d known these things earlier to help me through life, but better late than never. And of course, these strategies are personalised towards my needs. Yours might be different, but they will be there, you just need to find out what they are and apply them.
What do you love doing? What kind of information do you retain and is that because it’s linked to something you love? Now, try to apply this to things that you struggle with. Maybe you already know your learning strategies? What are they and how did they come about?
Thank you for reading my blog – check out ‘part II’ on the 25th of January 2019.
Dyslexia Scotland blogger