BY: Louise Hilliar
For this post, I have interviewed a fifty year old male who was unaware that he was dyslexic until he was in his thirties. His name has been changed to protect his identity.
Louise: What was your early experience of learning to read and write?
Chris: I found this very difficult and was behind my peers. Other children seemed to find that reading came naturally and didn’t have to revise much for spelling tests. I worked very hard but this wasn’t reflected in my performance.
Louise: What did you think about this at the time?
Chris: I simply thought that I wasn’t very clever.
Louise: Were there any other early signs that you were dyslexic?
Chris: My speech was slow to develop and now I know that this is quite common in people with dyslexia.
Louise: How did your dyslexia affect you as you grew up?
Chris: As I got older, I continued to misread words and had problems with word retrieval. My problems became particularly obvious when I was taking exams as I had difficulty interpreting questions and always ran out of time. As well as being dyslexic, I have visual stress, and this makes reading very tiring.
Louise: Did your difficulties with literacy skills affected your self-confidence?
Chris: Yes, definitively. I thought that I wasn’t very bright. Now I realise that I was quite clever but that I have a specific learning difficulty.
Louise: How do you think that school would have been different for you if you had known that you are dyslexic?
Chris: Just knowing the reason for my difficulties would have helped. I probably would have had extra support at school and at home as well as having extra time for my exams.
Louise: Has being dyslexic affected your career?
Chris: Yes, I joined the armed forces at a young age and was a good soldier but I couldn’t pass exams and this limited my career. I moved on from the forces sooner than I might have done and eventually became a paramedic.
Louise: You must have needed to sit a lot of exams to become a paramedic, how did you manage?
Chris: I needed to revise by ‘cramming’ just before exams to avoid forgetting things. I find revision hard work but I’ve developed some useful techniques such as producing summaries on index cards and testing myself. When we were at the training college, I would stay up late revising whilst the others went to the bar and then on to bed. It was tough.
Louise: How did you manage activities which involve reading and writing when you were a paramedic?
Chris: I organised my equipment in my bag carefully so I knew where to find each drug. I also produced a clear aid memoir which helped me to ensure that I administered the correct drug and the correct dosage. All drugs are checked by a colleague before giving them and this provided another check. I was able to complete my paperwork to an acceptable standard, but I needed to work hard at this and it took me longer than other people.
Louise: Did anyone at work suggest that you might be dyslexic?
Chris: No, no-one picked up on this, despite my difficulties.
Louise: What do you do now?
Chris: I work as a fitness instructor. I’ve always chosen practical jobs and this is perfect for me – lots of activity and not too much paperwork.
Louise: Outside of work, how does your dyslexia affect you?
Chris: I tend to avoid reading as I am very slow and can’t absorb information. I’m also slow to send texts and emails.
Louise: Do you feel that there have been any benefits of being dyslexic?
Chris: It has encouraged me to develop other skills such as becoming a good team-player and being well-organised. The challenges that I have faced mean that I’m not shy of hard work.
Louise: What advice would you give to a young person who feels that they may be dyslexic?
Chris: Find out as much as possible about how it affects you, explore ways of managing your weaknesses, seek specialist tuition, and enquire about access arrangements for exams.
You can find out more about dyslexia in adults and how it is assessed here.