What does it mean to be dyslexic?

Is having dyslexia a gift or a superpower?

Princess Beatrice recently spoke about her experience of having dyslexia. She referenced it as having a gift. This of course has sparked some debate among others with dyslexia. An article written in The Scotsman newspaper recently gave a very real account of what it is like to live day to day with dyslexia and how individuals with dyslexia all experience different symptoms.

Is it a gift? Is it a superpower?

Im not sure. My experience of living with dyslexia is very mixed. I was not diagnosed with dyslexia until I started my nursing degree. It is slightly unbelievable that it took so long to pick up. As part of entry to nursing school we had to so a written english test and maths test. It was the english test that caused concern for the tutor marking it and I was referred on to the support centre where I went through what seemed like a never ending test which included some very strange things such as throwing and catching a ball, reaction times as well as your standard reading, writing and comprehension style tests. The results of all these tests was alarming. I have fairly severe dyslexia with Meares Irlen Syndrome.

The question I keep asking myself and get quite angry over it is why did my dyslexia not get picked up sooner. I went to two private schools (one a day school and one a boarding school) did GCSE’s, AS Levels, A Levels and a university but it was only at my second university was it immediately identified. I remember at school no matter how hard I tried I could not ever succeed. My reports were all filled with ‘Olivia must try harder’, or ‘Olivia must spend more time proofreading her work’. I would get so disheartened by this because I was putting so much effort into my work, I would go over my work letter by letter to try and make sure what I did was correct but it was never good enough.

But life changed once I was diagnosed and received the helps and tools I needed to help me succeed despite this. Succeed I did. I went from getting E’s in my A Levels to graduating with a distinction in my nursing degree. This was because I got the help I needed to allow my written work to reflect my intelligence.

Trying to explain to people how dyslexia impacts me on a day to day basis is hard. The biggest thing I struggle with is the written word particularly if it is on white paper. I don’t see the words, the words move and I see patterns between the gaps in the words rather than the words themselves. Using coloured paper or a coloured overlay means I can read so much better. The words don’t move so much but I still struggle with patterns between the words. I also write quite a few of my letter back to front but to me they look the same way as everyone else do.

Reflecting back I wish I had been diagnosed earlier and received all the support I got when I did my nursing during my school years. I am sure I may have taken a different path. I certainly would not have chosen the subjects I did for A Level and who knows what career I may have gone into but they say everything happens for a reason and I did love my career as a nurse. I just could have got there without some of the stress that went with my time in school.

Having dyslexia is not all doom and gloom though. For me I think I have excelled in some areas and have a natural aptitude for certain things such as problem solving. I find doing manual task fairly simple I can problem solve them without much need of instructions or support. I can see how things go together or if something is broken I can fix it. Thinking outside the box to solve a question or problem to me os often simple but will leave others scratching their heads trying to understand the slightly complex drawings in the instruction manual. I have also found I am totally ambidextrous. I never linked being able to use my right and left hand interchangeably with dyslexia but during my assessment the assessor would periodically throw a ball at me with very little warning. I would use either my left or right hand- basically whichever hand was nearer to the path the ball was taking. I had no dominant side, I do write with my right hand but can use my left.

While I don’t think having dyslexia is like having a super power I do think some traits are a bit of a gift and have allowed me to excel at certain things particularly in sport. As a goal keeper in lacrosse I was able to use both hands interchangeably which as a goalkeeper in very unusual but also has a huge strength because it means that depending on what side of the pitch the ball is I can change my hand so that I do not have to reach across my body for an off side save where others would. If anything was to be a super power I think my lack of a dominant side would be it.

What I would really like to see is teachers in schools being more vigilant and picking up signs that students might give which indicate they may have dyslexia. There will be some students who do just need to concentrate more and try harder but there will also be students like me who try their hardest but their hardest is not good enough and never will be unless they get the support they need to combat dyslexia. Undiagnosed dyslexia can cause all sorts of issues with growth and development. I had very low self esteem and now feel I could have achieved so much more through my school years and been a blessing to enjoy them if only I had been diagnosed with dyslexia. I am not saying that school would be a breeze and I would achieve all I wanted to but it would have taken that one struggle away and allowed me to have more self esteem and confidence in myself.

I actually now enjoy writing. I love writing my blog. I use tools on my computer to help with my writing. I have a lilac overlay on the screen to stop the words moving around, I have software programs which allow text to be read out to me that is on the screen and I can also dictate into the computer although I do enjoy typing but find proof reading hard and actually rarely proof read my writing unless it is a piece that contains facts and I need to make sure the facts included are correct. A lot of the article I linked at the start of this post I can relate to and I like the way they described how dyslexia impacts their life. Dyslexia is complex and effects everyone in different ways. I wanted to share how dyslexia has impacted me but also show that even in adulthood it is still there. Dyslexia contrary to what some people think it does not disappear once you finish schooling and education. It is always there but it does not need to be hindrance like it was before I was diagnosed.

The main thing for me is how my education and academic achievements went from failing when undiagnosed to really succeeding and excelling once I was diagnosed and received the support that allowed my brain to work in a way it should when dealing with language.

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