A quick Google of “Dyslexia” throws up the NHS Dyslexia web page, complete with Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Management of this learning disability. Dyslexia is often defined as purely a disability, and for its “sufferers” the consequences on self-esteem can be dramatic.
What is not often discussed are the associated strengths of the dyslexic brain. These strengths mean that people with dyslexia often find themselves working in Architecture, Engineering or the Arts. I am an Engineer, but until recently, I had never understood how having a dyslexic brain could be an advantage.
I was identified as being dyslexic in early primary school. It has taken me 38 years to become comfortable with this fact. By sharing my story, I hope to encourage others with dyslexia to see themselves in a new light.
My early enthusiasm and enjoyment for school started to ebb away as it became apparent to me that other children could do things I couldn’t. At home, I would tell my mum that I was stupid. My mum would say to me I wasn’t. But there was no alternative narrative that I could see to explain what I was experiencing every day at school.
Looking back, it’s not hard to see why. The primary school spelling test is one example. The teacher would read out 10 words, you write them in your spelling book. Then came the words that would make my heart sink, “pass your jotters to the right”. Well, that was it, the game was up. No hiding, no excuses, just the reality that the person sitting next to me was going to know just how stupid I was. My book returned, I would look to see if I got any correct. On a good day, one or two were spelt correctly. Now time for the public humiliation, “put up your hand if you got ten correct, well done! Nine…eight…seven…six…five, well-done everyone! Less than five? Next time, try harder. Now write out each word you got wrong ten times, then you can play.”
Writing between 80 and 100 words took me a long time and was made all the harder having to watch my friends play. I put my hand up, “Andrew, are you done?” “No Miss, I need a new book, this one is full”.
What chance did my mum’s message of “you are not stupid” have of getting through to me when compared to these experiences?
As a result, I developed a deep sense of shame and low self-esteem. I coped by trying to hide my difficulties. Whether it was faking a sickness bug on the day of a test to eke out more time to study. Or avoiding being asked to read or write in a group with carefully timed trips to the toilet. Always trying to hide your difficulties is a stressful way to live.
So what changed? I watched a fellow dyslexic called Dean Bragonier give a TED talk. In it, he describes some of the things dyslexic brains commonly excel at. And how the common signs or weaknesses are trade-offs to these advantages. It was a eureka moment for me. I went from a self-image of having a damaged brain to merely a different type of brain. This was a story that I could start to get behind!
All my life, I imagined what I could have achieved if only I wasn’t dyslexic. How I wished I could have rid myself of this affliction. With greater understanding of dyslexia, I now understand that many of my achievements are due to being dyslexic, not despite it.
Andrew McQuatt, Dyslexia Scotland member
If you’ve recently decided to take a dyslexia journey to learn more about dyslexia, you might find our new Post Assessment Pack for Adults resource helpful. You can see this resource here