8 tips to surviving Grad School with Dyslexia

8 tips to Surviving Grad School with Dyslexia

Earning a PHD is hard. REALLY hard. My advisor recently told me that if I ever met someone who had an easy time writing their dissertation, they were lying.

This is a process that is supposed to fundamentally alter your thought processes. You become a scientist. It is exhilarating. It is hard. And if you have dyslexia it is even tougher. Though not impossible.

I wrote about my dyslexia story here. But for this discussion it is important to note that I was never identified as a Dyslexic in school, and I never had enough money to go to the doctor in order to justify receiving accommodations. Therefore, all the things I have done in grad school to survive have been done without access to my school’s Disability Services, and without disclosing my neurodiversity to my advisors.

Here are some strategies I have found useful in order to survive.

1. Be Self-Aware

Before you start your PhD (or as you are completing your degree), you need to take time to understand yourself. Are you the type of person that requires a lot of structure in order to focus? Do you need a lot of flexibility?

Yes – writing and reading can be challenging. But, how much does it cost you to be involved in these activities? Does it deplete you and do you require days to recover? Does it give you a headache but otherwise you are fine?

Not all PhDs require as much writing and reading as those in the social sciences. There are plenty of PhDs that have a stronger focus on quantitative analyses or physical experiments. But they will all require you to write a dissertation.

You must take time to know yourself and think about what you will need to succeed. Because at the end of the day, it is you who will have to do all the work and who will have to seek out help. It is very rare that resources will be handed to you without asking.

2. Understand the Environment

Not all schools are created equal. Some you will find are reluctantly acceptant (as mandated by law), and others truly embrace neurodiversity. Others might have the best of intentions, but fail in understanding and executing how to help people like you and me.

It is absolutely crucial that you understand the kind of institution you are in. But most importantly, the type of department you belong to. They have the greatest impact in your journey as a PhD Student.

You must understand your environment in order to make an informed decision about if or how to disclose your neurodiversity. Failure to do this can put you in a difficult situation.

3. Understand Your Fit

In a perfect world, as you apply for a PhD you will have a few choices. Then you will talk with students and faculty, and decide if the program is a good fit.

If you are in a program that is not the right fit, then you will have to make some adjustments in how you seek resources and manage your work.

4. Seek Campus Resources

If you have paperwork, reach out to your University’s disability office. They will help you get the accommodations that you need and deserve. Most of these resources are at the University level. There are usually no specialized offices in Schools/Colleges or their departments.

If, like me, you do not have paperwork, you may still be able to reach out to your office. However, some of the accommodations might not be available to you.

Another common campus resource is the writing center. While they usually cannot copyedit your work, they can help you make sure your writing is clear. If you are the type of person that needs external structure, writing centers usually have writing groups you can join.

5. Get the Tools you Need

In general, you want to make sure that you have the tools that can accomplish the following things:

  • Scan books and articles to make them into PDF files
  • Run an Optical Character Recognition on the PDF files
  • Use text-to-speech on those PDF files
  • Dictation

I accomplish all of those with my Mac. It has a simple text-to-speech interface, different voices, and different speeds. The main limitation is that the speed is a bit slow. But I am a poor student – no money for fancy software.

I also use, on occasion, dictation included on my Mac. This is difficult for me since I have an accent (as I was born and raised in Mexico).

6. Be Prepared to Work & Manage Up

My general rule of thumb is that I have to work twice as hard for twice as long in order to accomplish my assignments.

When I meet with faculty members, they have ideas as to how long an assignment should take. I am always careful to manage their expectations. I am realistic in how long something will take to complete and when they will have new things from me.

7. Stay Up-to-Date

In business as in real life, deciding on a course of action and following through are not the only requirements for success. You must continue to be self-aware and seek out new or more resources as you embark on this journey.

You must also continue to understand your environment so that you may respond accordingly. Has your situation changed? Do you need different kinds of support? Has your department changed? Are there new faculty members? Do you disclose to them too?

Only by keeping up with steps one and two can you continue to update your strategies to make it through the PhD!

8. Be Kind to Yourself

As I said at the beginning, EVERYONE has a difficult time doing a PhD. Celebrate the small victories and remember that everyone who has a PhD now once was exactly where you are.

Conclusion

Yes – this is hard (for everyone). Yes – this will be challenging for you (in particular). But YOU CAN DO IT

Written by Claudia Patricia González – DyslexicPhD

Read more from Claudia here: Advice to my 10-year-old dyslexic self and My Dyslexia Story ends with a PhD!

My Dyslexia Story ends with a PhD!

My Dyslexia Story ends with a PhD!

A brief story of how I eventually learned I was Dyslexic – and the power of songs to make sense of words.

Struggling during the Early Years

I always knew there was something different about me. I was in 5th grade and I still had problems spelling my name. In exams where I had to write if the answer was “b” or “d” I could never tell the difference.

For the longest time, I thought that I was just too dumb to learn things well. Everyone else seemed to get it, including my younger sister. But not me. My grades were not excellent, but they were not bad either. So I made it through middle school without a single adult or educator identifying why I struggled. I often felt bad, yet never hopeless. I just assumed I needed to work harder. So I did.

I realized that if I memorized some words, there would be less errors. But the challenge was – how to make sure I memorized them correctly?

Power of Songs

The most embarrassing struggle was misspelling my name. In order to get it right, I had to pay attention in a way that I was just not capable as a child. Instead, I imagined that I was a tiny person traveling through the top of the letters, jumping, sliding, and climbing each one. Naturally, I also made up a song to assist me in the journey.

Suddenly, paying attention to letters was less difficult. So I began to make up songs.

I made up songs that described how the letters flowed from one to the other and the directions they had to land. Eventually, I was able to spell well enough to be understood.

I was terrible at remembering and organizing. So I learned to use a planer to keep track of everything. At the beginning it was difficult. Mostly because the information I wrote down was difficult to read as it was difficult to write. But after enough years, I conquered that too.

My efforts paid off. My grades kept getting better and better. Once I even got a 100 on a major test. My parents were so proud they even bought me a new dress!

Learning a New Language

English was my worst subject during the very few years I studied it. The first year, I was placed in a remedial class. I never understood why if we all knew what “gato” meant, why did I have to learn “cat.” I had no songs for those words. My parents used to put pictures and words in posters around the house. But it just made no sense.

So when my family unexpectedly moved to the United States many years later, I knew what to expect: failure. After weeks of crying and hating life in general, I realized that I had no choice but to conquer this new language.

Learning a New Language

I borrowed an American Sign Language book from the school library and I taught myself as much as I could. Eventually, I even took a class in the evenings. Learning the alphabet helped me tie in the Spanish and English together letters together. Learning words as movements created links among groups and classes of words.

I still had problems, but my “foreignness” eclipsed any dyslexia-specific issues. So I did not get identified as a dyslexic. There were also several issues with being a Mexican girl in a predominantly white school (a story for another time).

Even with all the writing and reading problems, I graduated high school in the Distinguished Achievement Program. I was told I was the first person in my school district to achieve this recognition after having started in the English as a Second Language Program. The lesson I learned: lots of hard work pay off.

Off to College

Being the first person in my family to go to college made the road to get to – and stay in – college quite difficult. But this is a story about Dyslexia.

School was never easy for me. But it was always manageable. As long as I put in the hours of work, things worked out well.

Everything changed when I got to college. The classes, the material, the difficulty, the pacing – all of it was finally beyond my capacity to manage on my own. There were not enough hours in the day to get through the work. I slept about 4 hours a day. I was struggling. And for the first time, the hard work strategy was failing.

Through tears, after struggling with an English essay, I asked a friend what was wrong with me. After looking at all of my notes and my paper, she finally put a name to what she saw: Dyslexia.

I wasted no time making an appointment at my college disability services office. They could not help without the proper paperwork, so they sent me to another office on campus to get an appointment with a doctor. The school did not offer these services, unfortunately, but they gave me a referral to a neurologist. I called the neurologist, but without health insurance, the entire battery of tests and imaging was going to cost me over $10,000.

At this time, I only had a visa. I did not have my green card or citizenship. I did not qualify for any federal financial aid. Texas let me attend paying in-state tuition, and they gave me a grand total of $1,800 as financial aid for the year.

With no money for school, I could not afford the specialist’s fees. Not being a citizen or resident, I did not qualify for any help from local organizations.

I was helpless.

But I finally knew that I was not dumb – I was different. And that was priceless.

Present

I never did get paperwork for my dyslexia. I finished my undergraduate degree Summa Cum Laude at Texas Tech. I also got an MBA. Now I am working on a PhD (read about that here).

Written by Claudia Patricia González – DyslexicPhD

Read more from Claudia here: 8 tips to Surviving Grad School with Dyslexia and Advice to my 10-year-old dyslexic self

You are NOT dumb! Dyslexia

Advice to my 10-year-old dyslexic self

Not too long ago, Dyslexia Blogger’s John Hicks sent me this tweet: I’m curious what advice would you give to your 10 year old self about?

I have to admit I was at a loss for words and advice because I am so used to thinking about what could help me and other dyslexics in PhD programs. I had never considered a child’s perspective. Given that it is Dyslexia Awareness Week, I though I would take some time to answer.

My story of how I became aware of my dyslexia is elsewhere on this site, it can provide a bit of background. But to cut to the chase, here are the most important things I would tell my younger dyslexic self, and things I think would be relevant for a kid today too:

You are NOT dumb

When I was a kid, my younger sister was (and still is) an academic star. She taught herself how to read before Kindergarten using the yellow pages (!). While she mastered reading, I was a second-grader who could not reliably spell her own name. I felt so dumb.

Our parents were great at praising hard work over good academic outcomes, but the rest of the world was not. As I continued to go to school, everyone would remind me what a brilliant sister I had. I would see my peers mastering things that were seemingly beyond my reach: like seeing the difference between “d” and “b”. I would see younger kids spell and write. I was so frustrated. I would feel stupid, dumb, and worthless. I did not like school, and I did not like learning. Yet I was not failing, so no one identified me as a dyslexic.

If I could, I would go back and explain to my younger self that what I am experiencing has a name, and that it is called dyslexia. I would be clear to explain that being dyslexic means I learn and do things differently. I would make sure to say that being dyslexic is not a phase; that no matter how many times I practice, I will still make mistakes. I would emphasize that being different does not mean that I have no value. I would point out that life is more than just being a good student with good grades.

Focus on your strengths

Beyond reassuring myself, I would also point out my strengths. I would point out how awesome it is that I created a song to help me spell my name correctly. And that figuring out I had to make recordings of important concepts and listen to them to learn, is a big accomplishment. I would tell my younger self that these creative solutions were just the beginning of all the dyslexic advantages.

Focus on your strengths

I would show my younger self that dyslexia helped me learn many important skills for later in life. Dyslexia made me strong and taught me to not give up, even when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. Dyslexia made me flexible, teaching me that there are multiple ways of achieving a goal. Dyslexia made me resourceful, forcing me to hack together a series of fixes to achieve my goals.

I would make it clear that without dyslexia, I would never have learned to think of clever solutions. I would say that because dyslexia made it so difficult to learn, I learned to appreciate learning. And that once I mastered the right way of learning for me, I would love it so much that I would go all the way to a PhD.

Technology is AWESOME

And last, if I were to time travel to speak directly with my younger self, I would mention that the world of the future has amazing technology that can really help. That the future has computers with spell check, text-to-speech, and dictation software.

Written by Claudia Patricia González – DyslexicPhD

Read more from Claudia here: 8 tips to Surviving Grad School with Dyslexia and My Dyslexia Story ends with a PhD!

The-Dyslexic-Imposter-Complex

The Dyslexic Imposter Complex

The Dyslexic Imposter Complex is a phrase I coined several years ago describing an internal dynamic which I see in myself and what many other persons with dyslexia report. This is the
collision of two observations that we have made about ourselves.

Observation number 1. Over our lifetime we have gathered much evidence about ourselves that we are “stupid”. We have the evidence, inability to read, comprehend what were reading or write. This can be further supported from feedback that we receive from society, authority figures, parents, teachers and documented evidence such as report cards.

Observation number 2. Over our lifetimes we have also gleaned just as much or even more evidence that we are quite intelligent. Utilizing our picture type memory for creativity and to problem solve, intuitivism which some people may describe as being “psychic”. The ability to teach herself through your own personal method. High-energy that can be directed toward success.

The following is a personal example in my life. I was diagnosed as severely dyslexic in my early 20s. I however knew that I was having a “collision” with the educational system the first day that I entered school. I faced failure after failure and my parents were told that I was a “slow learner” and not to expect too much scholastically from me.

Kicked out of guitar class … but

One of my most frustrating failures came at the age of 17, when I was kicked out of guitar class for not being able to learn how the instructor was attempting to teach me. Even though I thought that I had reached my final frustration and failure. I took my guitar home and taught myself. Six months later I was performing professionally.

So is it no wonder that many people with dyslexia report similar experiences. In reality if an individual was really “stupid” they would not be experiencing The Dyslexic Imposter Complex. Why, you ask?

The answer is simple, people that are really “stupid” don’t have these types of thoughts. Furthermore, it is impossible to be diagnosed dyslexic and be “stupid” because one of the major criteria being identified as dyslexic is that the person with dyslexia has an average or above average IQ.

By Jim Bauer

A clean mental slate to start on

A clean mental slate to start on

I don’t really mention my dyslexia for quite a few reasons, the main reason being that in general there is sill an “oh..so you’re stupid” connotation attached to it, which quite frankly makes my blood boil. (I’ve even heard Dyslexia described (to my face) as an excuse for laziness.

And because, in my my experience, the minute you try and explain the reason you find some things difficult, far too many people start treating you like your unintelligent.

But today I want to try and talk about my dyslexia and explain why shaving my head is so important to me, and hopefully this story will help other dyslexics out there.

Most of my problems with dyslexia started when I went to school. Previously, being homeschooled, while there were things I had trouble with like any normal kid, I never had a mental block and learning was something I absolutely loved! One of my personal points of pride was reading the whole of the Lord of the Rings by the time I was 9.

Nobody realise I was heavily dyslexic

But once I went to school thing like maths and spelling became extremely hard. To the point I would get migraines just by looking at numbers. Although I didn’t realise it (neither did my parents or my teachers) I was heavily dyslexic (which meant that my way of learning was with pictures and not words). It does NOT mean you are stupid, retarded or “mentally disabled” as I’ve heard so many people describe it.

Things got so bad over the years that I would have a panic attack every time I had to do maths, any kind of test/exam. Also, just the idea of socialising or talking to people would make my knees start shaking. My brain felt like I had a clamp on it permanetly.

My brain just refused to absorbe it

No matter how many hours I forced myself to read, and attempt to re-read and understand what I had to learn, my brain just refused to absorbe it.  I was extremely socially awkward (I HATED looking people in the eye).

If some of you go back through my old You Tube videos you can still see me struggling with so much as looking at the camera lens, and it’s still something I find slightly difficult at times.

I couldn’t do any form of Maths at all, my spelling was horrific, though reading was something I was always very good at mainly because it was something my parents always encouraged and they had taught me to read using books with pictures besides them which explained the words.

I was introverted, prone to panic attacks, always seemed to be in a daze and often had to spend several minutes to be able to process a simple question or say something. Pretty much everything from when I was 9 years old (when I started school) to when I had the Davies course when I was 16 is a complete blur.

I have a few fragmented images from those years but nothing “clear” and mostly I just remember feeling alone and confused. It’s like a huge chunk of my life wasn’t there to see.

Someone recognised my Dyslexia

It was only when I was around 16 that a family friend recognised my Dyslexia and asked how I was coping with it. Needless to say when I realised that I was dyslexic I pretty much broke down into tears since I finally had a reason as to why things which came so easily to other people were so difficult for me. I wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t a freak.

The family friend was a trained Davies facilitator (which is someone who is trained to be able to correct the confusion which is caused by being forced into a way of learning which is not normal for Dyslexics). She offered to correct my Dyslexia and I can’t even begin to accurately describe the difference it made to my life.

I had gotten so used to having a permanent headache/migraine from the stress and constant confusion that I though it was normal.

Suddenly disappeared

On the second day of the course that pain suddenly disappeared, I felt like I had just realised that I’d been in an mental prison my whole life and someone had just helped me walk out the front door, moving a clamp from my head in the process.

The following days were incredible and terrifying. For a few days things which had been easy and an “escape” from the confusion, such as writing and painting, I just wasn’t able to do. I’d pull out a paper and realise that I couldn’t “see” what I wanted to draw.

Needless to say it scared the life out of me! Those skills were my ‘escape’, and the prospect of not being able to use them was like someone had taken my only piece of armour and left me exposed to the world.  Then a few days after that, I picked up a paper again and I could draw but so much better! Things which previously I had found so confusing seemed to ‘click’.

A few years later I met Ronald Davies, the man who had started the course which changed my life and I just broke down and started crying while trying to say thank you which was hugely embarrassing but I just couldn’t help it (didn’t help that he nearly started crying too).

Did this course solve all my problems? Haha…I wish!

As I’m sure you have all seen either in my videos or blog, there are still basic spelling mistakes that I make, I still can’t do maths. Handeling money and expenses? Yes, I’m great with that because I can visualise the actual money. But put down a simple equasion in front of me you’d have better luck with trying to teach me fluent Greek in an hour. It took me a good 3 years to be able to overcome my fear of people, talk and force myself to look people in the eyes when speaking to them.

Control and helplessness

Sometimes my dyslexia get’s ‘triggered’ and aspects of it such as the depression, confusion and disorientation comes back. My biggest trigger is anyone elses blood because I associate it  with a lack of control and helplessness.

It can send me in a spiral where for a few days (or weeks) I find myself unable to focus on one things, utterly depressed, letters seem to ‘flip’ when I read them and just metal shut down. But now because of the course I’ve learned ‘tricks’ which help me regain control, which previously I didn’t have and with each year I get better and better at managing the drawbacks.

Since I’m sure someone is going to question why I had such a strange reaction to blood yet love special effects makeup I might was well explain it: I love special effects because I know it’s not real. It’s fake, nobody is dying or in pain, I am in control and it can’t affect and disrupt my life. It gives me control.

The Davies course didn’t solve all my problems, but it gave me a clean mental slate to start on, instead of the tanged web of confusion I had before. Hopefully, now that I’m trying to raise money for this charity, I can help other people finally get out of this mental hell.

By Klaire de Lys – Klairedelys.com [/responsivevoice]

Succes

“I’m not successful in spite of dyslexia, I’m successful because of it”

There are a few things to keep in mind of course. Not all dyslexics can necessarily take advantage of the gifts that dyslexia brings. If you have no passion, ambition or confidence, having dyslexia is of no benefit. Here is a summary of my story.

I was born in 1961 at The Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada. According to my parents, I didn’t speak a word until the age of 4 years old. I was born in December so I entered school at a younger age than most of my peers in the same grade level.

I began to believe … stupid and dumb

By age 5, kids were learning how to read but I was quite noticeably slower and struggling with the written language. Teachers and students called me stupid & dumb all through the early grades and I began to believe them and resented going to school. I remember being punished for failure which became a routine for me. I had few friends and was the victim of some bullying.

I was diagnosed to be dyslexic in 1972 when I was 11 years old. We had no support groups or special programs. I was told to learn a trade like mechanic or carpenter as I would never succeed in an academic career. I absolutely hated learning until I was learning only what I wanted to learn and at a much faster pace than the regular system could allow.

Dyslexic is not stupid or dumb!

Got into trouble

I was moved to a private school for grades 7 & 8 (junior high school as it’s called in Canada). There I continued to fail and also started making friends with other kids who were misfits and failures.
We got into trouble and started doing drugs while skipping off school.

I was offered a passing grade in exchange for not coming back to that school ever again. I entered high school which is grade 9 for the first year in 1975. I failed everything and was always getting in trouble and doing drugs. This repeated for the next 3 years and in the 4th year, I dropped out of school having only completed 6 of the 40 credits required to graduate.

Low paying jobs .. but I love science

For the next 6 years, I moved around the country taking low paying jobs and doing things that were not in my best interest. I always had an interest in science but knew that I would never get to work in a scientific field without school and for me, school was beyond reach.

I also somehow began to realize that I was probably as smart or even smarter than many of those around me but just had no formal education. Eventually I got bored doing menial labor and reporting to people that seemed less intelligent than I am. I also had a taste for the better things in life and wondered if I could ever become something and have something.

Wanted to be someone

At the age of 22 years old, I decided I wanted to be someone and so I began to study for an adult entrance exam. This required that I learn all of high school which included mostly basic English, Math & Science. I taught myself in 4 months and wrote the exam.

Although dyslexia prevented me from passing the English part of the test, I got almost a perfect score on the Math & Science sections. My score was enough to enter the University and I proceeded to learn Chemistry, Physics, Math/Calculus and Computer programming.

I did poorly in computer although back in the early 1980’s, computer was quite different than today. I was very successful at learning math, physics & chemistry. I was not able to complete my degree because some of the required courses involved reading which I still struggled with.

The only benefit offered to me by the university was that I could have as much time as needed to complete my tests & exams. I eventually quit the university with a full understanding of university chemistry & physics but it would be difficult to get a job practicing these sciences without the graduate degree.

My dyslexia gifts started to show …

Flask

I found a job in a factory that used chemical processes and while working, I was educating myself on how the chemistry is applied in this manufacturing process. The second company that hired me had problems with their processes and where causing scrap of about 15% of their products.

This is where my dyslexia gifts started to show their value. I determined where in their process management systems were causing the problems and devised a creative way to solve it.

Shortly after implementing my new control system, I was promoted to Chemical Process Manager. I was able to reduce the scrap from 15% down to 3% within 6 months. It turned out that many other companies in that same industry had similar problems.

I have a unique ability

In a short time, many of my employer’s competitors had heard about me and my magic. I began to get many job offers that payed large salaries so I moved around many times over the following few years.

I provided these companies many improvements as I seemed to visualise processes & their problems in multiple dimensions. I have a unique ability to visualize, perceive and conceptualize mechanisms and what influences them.

Working my way up

I proceeded to teach myself how to use computers & build computer networks. By the time I was 28 years old, I was the manager of 3 departments of a large company that provided electronic components to military and medical technology companies.

By 1989, my position was to manage the chemical process engineering department, IT/computer department and the Quality Control department.

Started my own  company, 3X!

At the same time as all this, I started my own computer company on the side. This company grew rapidly and eventually I had to resign from my high paying job to go it alone. I was very good at working alone by this time and my company grew rapidly.

Patent - Novattach - Equipment Mounting

Chris Newhouse and his company NovAttach has thsi patent

From there, I branched off into video surveillance and subsequently started another company which also grew rapidly. My companies provide products & services to some of the largest clients in the world.

I now provide for Honda Manufacturing, Suncor Energy, Tesla Motors, Imperial Oil and many more. By now you would think that I had done enough but in 2009, I invented & patented a product that is now selling all over North America and we are just starting to sell in Europe. All 3 of my companies are successful and employing a number of people.

Think outside the box

I am now 56 years old. I am married to a lovely lady who has tolerated me for 29 years ;^). I have 3 children in university and we own a beautiful home. We also travel regularly to various countries around the world.

I would not change a thing about my past or my life. All of the trials and tribulations, struggles & hardships, have all contributed to who I have become. This includes dyslexia which forced me to think outside the box and discover my real talents.

Another one of my quotes:

“Don’t try to fix dyslexia. Dyslexia isn’t broken, you just need to figure out how it works”

Written by Chris Newhouse

What is your best dyslexia quotes?

write this below[/responsivevoice]

 

Dyslexia - A hidden disability

Dyslexia – a hidden disability

James Latus - Worlds Toughest Mudder 24hr challenge

For several years now, I have been meaning to put pen to paper, or I suppose finger to keyboard (I’ll expand on this later) to write about my experiences and life as a severe sufferer of dyslexia in the hope that it will give others an understanding of what sufferers go through every day. Why do so now I hear you ask… well the answer is simple, I see the need.

This week I was speaking to a parent who was describing the struggles which her child goes through every day because of dyslexia and how so few people understood her which finally triggered me in to writing a little piece on my life as a ‘hidden genius’.

Dyslexia affect my everyday life

In all honesty there are very few people who fully understand the extent to which my dyslexia can affect my everyday life, those who are closest to me really see me at my most vulnerable but likewise it is those closest to me that suffer the most as a result of my condition.

I’ll never forget when I was working for Games Workshop for a part time job and we had a visit from the area manager. My boss at the time and one of my closest friends to date, Martin, was having a discussion with the area manager. Afterwards Martin told me how the area manager had said I was a great little worker.

Martin had explained I was dyslexic to which the area manager responded by saying ‘you’d never guess looking at him’. Unfortunately still to this day far too few people really understand what it means to be truly dyslexic.

The amusing part of working for Games Workshop is I could never really get my head around or understand the games. Instead I would wing it and pretend I knew but when it came to painting the figurines I became obsessed.

Broad spectrum of “learning difficulties”

The hardest part of dyslexia, in my opinion, is that it covers such a broad spectrum of “learning difficulties. God how I hate that term, although if I’m honest there is no more suitable term I can find.

Most people think of how it affects people’s ability to read and spell with the jumbling of letters, but it covers a much wider range of issues sequencing to short and long-term memory loss and from focussing to hearing.

The other problem is so many sufferers also suffer with other related disorders such as Dyspraxia, ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) and APD (Audio Processing Disorder). In addition, these disorders can trigger a huge range of issues with an individual such as an extreme lack of self-esteem, confidence and anxiety issues.

Primary school … you lazy

So on to my experiences… Fortunately education has moved forwards from when I was a child and dyslexia is finally starting to be recognised more in mainstream education, however, this has not always been the case.

The first time anybody really acknowledged that I had an issue was in 1981 when I was in my last year at primary school, please bear in mind my memory of this is very vague and I’m largely recalling details from what I have been told by my mother since.

One teacher recognised my …

Halfway through the year we had a new teacher who had been teaching abroad. Although he never spoke to anyone about it my mum recognised that he had been changing the methods by which he was teaching me, and my work started to go from way below average to above average and eventually I graduated from primary school into one of the top bands in my year at Comprehensive.

Until this time I had always struggled academically, could never spell the simplest of words and had no concentration in any lessons. To the teachers and largely to my parents I was just considered lazy, but this one teacher recognised that I was not and nurtured me to do greater things.

You are thick and lazy

Unfortunately, once in Comprehensive education I no longer received the support needed and struggled to really reach my full achievement. I specifically remember one English tutor saying to my parents I was thick and Lazy because I couldn’t read or write to any reasonable standard and as such refusing to allow me to sit O’levels in English Language or Literature.

The following year I was to prove him wrong when I entered myself for English Language and gained a grade B. His response to my proud parents was that it must have been an easy exam paper.

Lazy a self-fulfilling prophecy

As a child many of my difficulties didn’t really impact my life drastically other than my education and even then, the labelling of being lazy or thick stuck with me and became a self-fulfilling prophecy in which I started believing it.

My own experiences of dyslexia go way back before all of this although it wasn’t until my final year at university that I realised that it was dyslexia. One of my few memories of the affect of dyslexia in child hood was my appalling balance and coordination.

My parents bought me my first bike when I was about 4 years old, but it wasn’t until I was 9 that I could ride it. My best friend at the time and possibly still now, Jamie, would come to our house every week and jump on my bike riding it around and around.

I’m told by my mum again how one day enough became enough and I climbed on the bike and spent the whole day falling off and trying again until I could finally ride it.

I had severe dyslexia

So what aspects from Dyslexia have I suffered with and do I still suffer with? In 1992 I was in my last year at University and one tutor advised I visited an afternoon group for dyslexics.

A month later I had a psychological assessment which established I had severe dyslexia and the educational psychologist was stunned that I’d ever got to university let alone was approaching completion of my studies.

I can read … but

The obvious issues I suffer with are those most common with dyslexia. The first thing anyone thinks of is reading ability. STOP THE PRESS, like most dyslexics I can read. In fact, give me any word and I have no issues but give me a page or a book and I start to struggle after a few sentences.

My ability to comprehend and remember anything I have read is non-existent. If you give me a small paper back book it will take me 6 months or more to read it but will remember nothing of it. I have a whole bookcase of books that I would love to read but have never been able to get in to them.

I have actually reached the point now that if people even ask what I read I just say I can’t read. I just can’t be bothered going through with an explanation any more. This is not only true of books but also films and TV shows.

Don’t get me wrong I love going to the cinema to see the excitement of an action movie, it’s just by the next day I’ll have forgotten most of it or got it muddled up with another similar film.

A bit of ADHD

This however, is not only due to my dyslexia but also because to a degree I suffer with ADHD and am unable to sit still and concentrate on anything for any length of time. This degree of hyperactivity means that I survive life on very little sleep.

Typically I will be up till 1 or 2 am going for a run, playing on the Xbox or looking at social media and then wake each day at 7am. I often joke saying life is too short and I’ll sleep when I’m dead. The reality is probably that my lack of sleep will be the death of me.

Short and long-term memory

Memory loss is a major issue in my life and one that infuriates not only me but those closest to me. I have issues with both my short and long-term memory. Not only do I forget people’s names, but I also forget faces, lists, instructions, events and situations.

My wife Elaine will send me to the shops and by the time I get there I’ll have forgotten what I went for, I could be at a bar or restaurant and I must write a list on my phone for the order.

Another situation that often arises with my memory is my need to express an idea as soon as it comes to my head before I forget it. I will often be mid conversation and think of something I need to say.

All conventions regarding verbal communication go out the window with me and I have a tendency to talk over people and butt into conversations when I have a thought I need to vocalise, whether it’s relevant to the conversation or not. This is not something I do intentionally or to be rude but it is more a need to express myself before I forget.

Communication difficulty

There are many lesser known issues I must deal with daily regarding my ability to communicate with others. I often struggle to put what I want to say in my mind into words which people will understand or won’t take the wrong way.

Likewise, I will often say and do things without fully thinking them through and understanding the consequences. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve hurt and upset through this.

Audio Processing Disorder

Also, when people speak to me I will often take them very literally and fail to understand their true intention. Another communication difficulty I suffer with which is very common among dyslexics is APD, Audio Processing Disorder.

This is one of the hardest things I must deal with. APD is the ability for your brain to separate out different sounds and to process them into understanding. I could be looking someone in the face and they could be talking clearly to me, but, if there is the slightest background noise then although I can hear them the chances are that I won’t be able to separate their voice from the other sounds to clearly process and understand what is said.

There have been many occasions where I’ve been talking to someone and after the 3rd or 4th time of asking them to repeat the question I’ve just given them an answer not even knowing what was asked.

Not always the smartest move when some has asked you to do something and you agree with no idea what it is you are supposed to be doing. APD also becomes a major issue if I go to seminars and presentations as I rarely get the full benefit of the presentation.

It amazes me that Elaine has stood by me at times as even with her I struggle to have a conversation with for any length of time. Car journeys are the best…NOT…I’m trapped with someone on a journey and I feel I’m expected to talk to them.

Worse still is when you are on a journey and your passenger is talking to you. In the back of my mind I’m panicking thinking they’re going to want a response in a minute and I’ve no idea what I’m going to say.

My poor memory also affects me on a far more emotional level. I have very few memories of my childhood and struggle to remember much from my past. Each year around the anniversary of my father’s death I try to remember things we did together or holidays we had as a family but struggle to do so. In fact, my memories of him are so poor at times I forget what he even looked like and this is true for so many people from my past.

Lack of confidence

If you had to contend with just one of these issues then you could probably cope however, to have to deal with them everyday is a continuous drain on the mind which has a major affect on your confidence. It is this lack of confidence which is my biggest drawback.

To many people I come across as a very confident individual, but the reality only seen by those to who I am closest there is a very reserved nervous and anxious side. Within my work and in areas related to work I am constantly on the go and buzzing.

This is because my work allows me to take on a different persona and indulge in my passion. Within my work I feel safe, but at the same time it means that I tend to throw myself in to work leaving me working up to 14 hours a day even when I don’t need to.

If you take me out of my safe zone then I struggle. If you were to ask me to take public transport from one place to another for example then I would be looking for a reason to take the car so I don’t have to communicate with someone and at a party with people I don’t know I would be the one sat in the corner keeping quiet.

Over the years Elaine has been my rock and done so much for me because I lack the confidence to do so myself. Even going to check in at a hotel I feel the nerves and muscles tighten and my heart starts beating faster.

Make friendships

This lack of confidence also affects my ability to make friendships. In my life I know so many people but in reality I have very few people I would consider close friends. If I ever get invited to parties it’s very rarely I would go and 9 times out of 10 will find an excuse to avoid it.

When I do form close friendships I tend to become almost obsessed, again this is largely because of my inability to communicate with others particularly well. Possibly because I have few close friends I subconsciously try as hard as I can to please them for fear of losing them and letting them down.

This in itself becomes a major issue not so much for me but for them as I become so intense in the relationships I build. A couple of friends who mean the absolute world to me often have to take me to one side and tell me to give them space and not be so needy.

Yet even with those close friends I rarely talk verbally but instead tend to hide behind texts and messages on social media. For me this is a much easier way to communicate and has become a coping mechanism as it allows me to try and get the wording right before sending or speaking.

Developed  great coping strategies

Over the last 47 years of my life I’ve come a long way and I’ve developed some great coping strategies for my condition. Through grit and determination and with the help of martial arts I now have a good level of balance and coordination, I’m probably as fit if not fitter than almost every other 47 year old I know.

It’s almost like I’ve managed, through training, to rewire my neurons from the bumbling fool I was as a child to the adult I’ve become. When it comes to writing I only ever type as my handwriting is appalling.

If I do need to write by hand it will always be in upper case so that it can be read. If you give me almost any physical task then the chances are I can do it and in the same way if you ask me to try a sport then the chances are I could perform to a reasonably high standard.

The frustration is that if I can overcome the physical limitations then why can I not deal with the mental side? I long to have a meaningful conversation with someone.

Hurts me emotionally.

The thing that probably hurts me the most is with my condition is the perception that some people have of me as being a bit thick. I’ll often say something without thinking beforehand and people will look at me as if to say ‘are you really that stupid’.

The few close friends I have will now and again call me thick or call me dummy or say I’m being daft, not in a nasty vindictive way but as a flippant joke. They have no intention to hurt my feelings when they say these things but this probably hurts me more than anything else emotionally.

Every time I’m referred to as Lazy, thick or daft it takes me back to my English teacher and the way he spoke to my parents about me. Inside I know I’m clever but my intelligence is trapped in a body and mind that’s wired wrong and can’t express itself the way it should be able to.

A person in my lift … Elaine

In lots of respects I have been very fortunate in the success I have made of my life and if I’m entirely honest most of this is down to one person, my wife Elaine. But the price has been heavy on her.

She has had to be there every step of the way since we first got together and decided to make a go of it in 1988. But there is no denying the stresses have taken their toll on her health and wellbeing.

Run my own business and  role model

Although she’ll never admit it I have held her back in life and she has made choices in her life based around my needs. For this I will always be grateful but with a feeling of guilt. Without her I would never have taken the steps to run my own business and strive to become a role model for so many, instead I would be working in retail or a factory somewhere with no aspirations or self-belief.

So many people suffering with this condition never receive the help and support I have been fortunate to have simply from one person believing in me. The largest issue is dyslexia covers such a wide range of disabilities.

I honestly believe that we all have some degree of dyslexia but in most you would never even know yourself yet others could be worse than me. There is still a real lack of understanding even amongst the so called specialists.

There is one statistic which always terrifies, yet doesn’t surprise me regarding dyslexia. Although less than 10% of the UK population are recognised as dyslexic it’s estimated that at least 36% of prisoners in the UK are dyslexic.

It always makes me wonder what would happen if more people were given the assistance they needed from a young age. I know from my own experience that had I not had such a strong guidance from my parents and support from Elaine I could easily have made some very poor decisions in my life and may well have ended up going the same way.

A list of achievements:

  • Running my own successful martial arts academy with 200 students
  • Earning black belts in multiple disciplines
  • Winning an Educational Funding Council Instructor of the year award for 2017
  • Becoming a mentor and role model for others
  • Successfully completing 50miles at Worlds Toughest Mudder 24hr challenge
  • Successfully completing Europe’s Toughest Mudder
  • Completed 44 full Toughmudders
  • Becoming a Toughmudder Ambassador
  • Becoming a Wild West Races Ambassador

By James Latus

Dyslexia

What is the best thing about being dyslexic?

– “I discovered how to learn on my own
– “Extra time in exam”
– “Creativity, humor, special skills, concentration on something you love.”
– “The way we see solutions that others may not see. We think outside of the box or we may not even see the box.”
– “I see things others don’t and learn things in different ways so I can apply knowledge in cases others can’t.”
– “Nothing. Hahahha.”
– “It’s a different way to learn I guess”
– “Being able to think in a different way from most people. I think it can give you a different kind of view on life to.Nothing for me”
– “A friend used to say “you always do it in a different way, but still get to the right answer” and I like that I can approach something and do it in a new way which might help others understand better.”
– “More Empathic to others, more creative, ingenuitive, can look at things from different perspectives”
– “I find I have a lot of common sense and can normally find ways around problems”
– “Nothing for me”
Motivation

How do you motivate yourself to keep going in school?

– “I love what I do and have plans for the future. I have the best (also dyslexic) teacher I could ever want! I have good frienss in school, and they are on my side, even though only a few know about my dyslexia. I just love doing music all the time.”

– “Supportive teachers,do what i can fight for the accommodations that i need. Dont gove up on thay fight.”

– “I’m becoming a veterinarian because it’s my life’s calling.”

– “I know I’m very intelligent and honestly I just really enjoy doing well. I stay motivated because of my desire to succeed.”

– “It wasn’t too hard, I just had to find different ways to read”

– “When I was younger I didn’t care about school at all I thought I was stupid and could never get better. But in grade 7 I somehow magically pulled off getting straight A’s on my first report card or the year and it was then I realized I could be smart if I really gave it my all. Since that day I have pushed myself harder and harder to keep up with everyone eles and get good grades. I do it because I refuse to ever feel like I’m stupid again. That is my motivation. And honeslty it’s really paid off I applied to the University this year and I’m on my way to actually going into the education program so I can become a teacher.”

– “I have supportive friends and teachers and I think about going to uni and do what I want with my life.”

– “Well my story is a tad complicated with schooling but I still manage to get a diploma in something, it was a struggle and alot of hard work but if u can get lucky with good understanding teachers who willing to be supportive it really helps. Make a step by step goal system look forward to the end of the school tunnel”

– “Not at school but at work. My family motivate me”

 

School

How does dyslexia affect you in everyday life and school?

Thses are answers for dyslexic themself.

– “I’m studying music in college in Finland at the moment. In many situations I feel my imagination is alot better than my peers, and I think of good ways to do things people are struggling with. (Mostly having to do with music.) Thinking outside the box, like everyone says 😀 I feel very stressed about my slow reading pace, and feel sick when I hear we have to read an article on some courses in school. I get the same feeling right before starting a group assignment, and knowing who are in my group for some reason.”

– “Tests were difficult i lnew the answers but when i saw the test on white paper my brain would stall getting what i knew on the paper was difficult. I was never able to finish tests in time aloted the noise of the early finishers drove me crazy.n broke my concentration”

– “Increases study time, decreases grades”

– “It makes reading quite challenging. I go to the number one public university in the world and number 4 over all so it it quite difficult. My major requires a LOT of reading. However, I have the kurzweil program on my computer which has changed everything. Honestly, without that, I would be struggling so much more.”

– “It’s hard to read but I’m able to function fine, I’m used to it”

– “Dyslexia affects every part of my life because it’s part of who I am. In terms of school though I’m much slower at tests and doing assignments, sometimes it’s hard to keep up.”

– “Not as much as expected. I make small mistakes with reading and spelling but they are minor enough to easily be looked over. Sometime at school I receive work earlier to all myself to read through it and process it better.”

– “Paperwork is dreaded and communicating with others can be rather challenging, it’s still frustrating to do spelling errors a lot, and my memories rarely memorize what I want them too”

– “Confidence”

– “A lot fallowing instructions at work”