My Struggle Through Dyslexia and How I Overcame
My earliest childhood memory of school is of not wanting to not go in on a Friday as we always had a spelling test on Fridays. I would find every excuse under the sun to get away with missing that particular class because I knew that I would once again be humiliated on Monday when the results were shared.
The spelling errors were usually not massive — mostly missing out an ‘I’ or an ‘S’ and spelling things out phonetically as opposed to their actual spelling. I also did not look forward to reading aloud in class — each student had to read from a story series which increased in difficulty the further along in the series you got. I remember the teacher getting so upset when I mispronounced a word. In frustration, she would often say things like, “Pelumi are you blind?” or “that’s enough, I can’t listen to you read anymore!” and for the longest time I was behind on my reading. I was saddened to see my classmates move on to harder and more interesting books while I was stuck on the same book that I could not seem to finish without making a mistake.
Funny enough, I enjoyed reading at home. I would happily read story books that were way above my reading ability in school. The only difference was I did not have to read it aloud and that made such a big difference. I never knew what dyslexia was until high school, in the UK.
A student had recently been diagnosed with dyslexia and I remember the conversation between another student and teacher who claimed that the dyslexic student was faking it, just looking for extra time in her upcoming English exams. This stigma associated with dyslexia meant that I could never be brave enough to say, “I think I need help.”
I carried on through my education, getting pretty good grades at GCSE, but I definitely noticed something was not quite right with my spelling. Also, the repeated mistakes I made during math class, for example, when transferring an answer from the calculator screen reading “133,” I would write “331” instead. So I often got the grade for showing my working, but my final answer was usually wrong.
The struggle continued into my college years when I was told to stay after class by my psychology teacher as she was concerned about my spelling in recent essays. She was certain I was a brilliant student but could not shake the fact that something was just not adding up and she encouraged me to seek help and get tested for dyslexia. At this point, I’d had many conversations with my closest friends about what admitting to having dyslexia would mean for me in the future. Did this mean that my dream of becoming a doctor would not happen? Would I become complacent? Would I blame every bad grade from here on out on my dyslexia? On top of all of this, the main fear was that this would be on my record. I wanted the help but I didn’t want people to know about it unless I had chosen to tell them myself. I am sincerely grateful for friend who shared wise counsel and advised me to seek the help I desperately needed at this point and to forget about what others would think.
I was trembling as I went back to speak to my psychology teacher. I told her that I would like some help and was finally willing to get tested. She proceeded to make all the arrangements. It was a difficult three to four hours of testing — you’re tested on your reading, writing, listening, and everything in between. I honestly don’t think it’s something you can fake. Especially for anyone who simply wants to find out if this is a condition they have. Since that first test, I have done two extra assessments — at the start of my undergrad studies and during my PhD studentship — and the diagnosis has been the same.
The summary of my last report read:
“According to the WAIS IVUK Pelumi has a weak auditory working memory (13th percentile) and a very slow processing speed (3rd percentile). She struggles with decoding tasks (3rd percentile) and consequently, her reading speed is slow (14th percentile), and she struggles with spelling (9th percentile). These difficulties all indicate that she has specific learning difficulties, or dyslexia. Dyslexia simply means difficulty with words that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. Pelumi finds it difficult to decode (and spell) words. Decoding is the process by which a word is broken into individual phonemes and recognised based on those phonemes. Some people simply require more time to separate sounds which necessitates extra time being allocated to deadlines.”
I promise it is not all doom and gloom and knowing this has been extremely liberating. I do things a lot more efficiently now that I know my brain works differently from others. I have come to an understanding that I did not succeed despite dyslexia, but instead because of it. I see the world differently, and for that I am grateful despite any challenge that might come with it.
So here are a few tips for anyone who might be dyslexic:
I spoke above about the liberating power of knowing that this is something you have, and the journey ahead is made more certain because at least you know what you’re dealing with. It’s more common that you can imagine. You are truly not alone in this. Some famous dyslexics include Henry Winkler, Steven Spielberg, Mohammed Ali, and Anne Bancroft. Trust me, not knowing why you work so hard and don’t see the manifestation on your studies can be a lot more frustrating. I know it comes with a lot of stigma but you have more people kind enough to support than you do those who just want to judge you. Focus on the good.
You Are Not Dumb – Don’t Worry About The Label
I always speak about my final thesis — it was one of the hardest pieces of work I have had to do till date, and when I sent my final draft to a friend, I was filled with confidence that it was a great piece of work. So imagine my disappointment when I received it back almost drowning in red ink. But with a few more revisions, I ended up finishing with a first class. This is a very important message to drive home. Having this learning disability does not mean I am dumb, nor will it ever stop me from doing all the things I’ve envisioned myself doing. If anything it has become a driving force for me.
Getting organised is essential if you have dyslexia. You simply don’t have the luxury of doing assignments last minute. Usually my editing process requires me to send it out to two other people to read before I can make the final submission. I remember back in uni, I had to make sure I had finished my work at least a week before the deadline. This was the only way I could get feedback on what changes needed to be made.
Don’t Be Disappointed When People Can’t Help
In your most desperate time when you seek help and can’t find it, you can easily become resentful to family and friends for not helping out. DO NOT DO THIS! Everyone has things they’re dealing with and you may be asking for help at the worst possible time. This is another reason to be organised; it will really help with the pressure. It’s also important to get someone to edit your work who has the same writing style and vocabulary as you. The worst thing is to get your work back and it sounds nothing like you and makes your teacher suspicious as to whether it was your own piece of writing. But again, remember, just because they don’t help does not mean they don’t care.
Believe in Yourself
In those moments when you can’t get anyone to help you, you have to somehow believe in yourself and believe that your dreams are important enough to fight for. You will be frustrated that your idea sounds amazing in your head but not when spoken or written down. You might get frustrated when you don’t spot the spelling mistakes in the important email to that potential employer. Sometimes your hand may tremble whilst posting blog posts like mine are right now, but always remember I am cheering you on. Remember to focus on creating victories rather than focusing on the things you’re not good at.
I will leave you with three quotes that have helped me immensely through this journey:
“Dyslexia is not a pigeonhole to say you can’t do anything. It is an opportunity and a possibility to learn differently. You have magical brains, they just process differently. Don’t feel like you should be held back by it.”
—Hello! Daily News
“Dyslexic kids are creative, ‘outside-the-box’ thinkers. They have to be, because they don’t see or solve problems the same way other kids do. In school, unfortunately, they are sometimes written off as lazy, unmotivated, rude or even stupid. They aren’t. Making Percy dyslexic was my way of honouring the potential of all the kids I’ve known who have those conditions. It’s not a bad thing to be different. Sometimes, it’s the mark of being very, very talented.”
“Science has moved forward at a rapid pace so that we now possess the data to reliably define dyslexia … For the student, the knowledge that he is dyslexic is empowering … [It provides him] with self-understanding and self-awareness of what he has and what he needs to do in order to succeed.”
—Testimony Before the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, United States House of Representatives
Be brave not perfect! Are you dyslexic or have you had any experiences with someone who is? I’ll love to hear your views?
Pelumi is a PhD candidate in cancer research and human genetics field. She’s a fun loving travel enthusiast in London who is always up for an adventure! With 52 countries (and counting) under her belt, she is your go-to expert for European Travel. Check her out on Instagram @black.kintsugi