How Being Diagnosed with Dyslexia Changed My Life
Let me set the scene a little bit. If you’ve read my previous post then you’ll know I dropped out of A-Level Law. But you what you don’t know is that I did finish my Psychology and Sociology A-Levels, although I didn’t do well in them. I choose these two subjects when I was at sixth-form because I wanted to understand my own mental health problems better, and I wanted to understand why people behave the way they do: these two subjects would become the bedrock of my future academic ambitions.
I have suffered from mental health problems almost as long as I’ve been alive, due largely to the constant racism I experienced as a child. So when I decided to go to university as a mature student (I was 25 – never let your age stop you from continuing to learn and grow) I already knew what subject I’d study and why: Psychology with Counselling. For the first time in my life, I actually had some sort of idea of what I wanted to do with my life.
I decided I wanted to go to university even though I knew I had problems with academia, which was before I found out I was dyslexic: although I did have a suspicion that I might be.
I picked this field because I could put my personal knowledge and experience to some use within it. However, I knew I could never be a psychiatrist or a role similar due to the problems I had, which I was yet to find out were caused by my dyslexia. But I did go on to find out what I could do, something I found really interesting, and a way to further use my past experiences. That was to work within the field of addiction, which I’ve been pursuing ever since.
I seemed to have found my calling now: trying to improve the outcomes of those suffering from substance dependence, and I hope to pursue this further by doing my PhD after I’ve completed my postgraduate degree. I also want to help destigmatise mental health by sharing my experiences, offer insights into addiction, and discuss other psychology theories through my blog.
On-Going Problems With My Dyslexia
If you have read my earlier post on how my life was before my dyslexia diagnosis, then the following is a kind of summary of that with some extra details thrown in.
The same problems that have always plagued my ability to do well in education are still a problem, with my dyslexia taking many forms. The one that’s the most problematic is my short term memory. If I’m trying to learn something, then it’s best for me to try and use my working memory: which is easier said than done. A way to bypass this is to learn by doing because it engages my working memory: although it’s not ideal for academic learning. Another good way to engage my working memory is debating the information with myself, or someone else, comparing and contrasting the information with what I already know. This works well with psychological theories for the most part.
I also have difficulties processing information from being talked at in a lecture, as well as from reading. When I was doing my undergraduate degree I decided to stop wasting my time and told my tutor I’d be skipping the lectures from now on in order to self teach. Explaining that it was the only way I could learn anything: they agreed that was fine. If they had picked up on the fact that this was due to dyslexia then, I might have done better in my degree. I still did pretty well, but I was unable to teach myself statistics and failed that exam because of it. This affected my overall mark because the exam resit was capped at 40.
Because of the problems I have with my memory and my ability with information processing problem, studying psychology can be especially annoying due to all the journals I have to read for researching coursework. To make matters worse, I can find myself reading journals that are written in a completely and unnecessarily complicated way, that it’s like reading something in a language you don’t know. Nothing will make sense to me, and it makes me feel incredibly stupid.
Phonetics is another of my big drawbacks, as I stated in my previous post, people with strong accents or use English as a second language can be a problem for me with trying to figure out what they’re saying. Which isn’t great for my anxiety disorders or my Britishness (you can only ask them to repeat themselves so many times before you just nod along).
It’s also a nightmare with trying to figure out how to spell words, even words I use constantly. This can result in me spelling the same word many different ways when writing. It’s less of an issue nowadays thanks to predictive text and Google, as I can Google the correct word and it’s spelling pretty quickly. But it still remains a problem in exams just as it did when I was at school.
Because I can spell the same word a million different ways, and not even come close to getting it right, I really wished they’d picked an easier word to spell for “dyslexia”. The most annoying and funny thing about writing this and my other post on dyslexia is that not once have I spelt it correctly, ha ha ha. I’ve had to rely on getting it just right enough that the predictive text will show it as a spelling option.
Proofreading what I’ve written isn’t one of my best skills either. I often don’t detect that I’ve made a spelling mistake or I’ve used the wrong word completely, which means I often don’t notice I’ve used the wrong ‘their’ and ‘there’. I also have a tendency to think of one word I want to use while writing down a different one, I’m not sure if that’s due to my dyslexia, but it’s annoying because I often don’t notice when I’m proofreading and I read it as the word I thought and not the one I wrote, which means it doesn’t always make sense.
Finally Finding out
I always knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t find out what that was until I was 34, whilst doing my postgraduate degree. I was appointed a disability advisor due to the problems I have with my physical and my mental health, so I shared some of the other problems I was having with them. They suggested I should get tested for dyslexia, which they would pay for (a test is around £300 – ouch). The test showed that I did, in fact, have dyslexia. Being diagnosed with dyslexia changed my life and it explained so many things.
It’s a real shame that it took until a few years ago in 2015, whilst doing my postgraduate before I was diagnosed with dyslexia. It would have been handy to have found this out a lot earlier in my life, obviously. At the very least if my previous university had picked up on it whilst I was doing my undergraduate degree, I might have performed better than I did.
At first, I didn’t quite know how to take finding out I was dyslexic. It kind of seemed like it meant I had a test that proved I was, in fact, stupid. Then I started to worry that if I had kids, would I pass on this hindrance to them. But after that had passed, I realised I wasn’t stupid, and now that I know my exact dyslexic issues I could try and find ways of managing them so they don’t hinder me as much. Although I’m still concerned I’ll pass this on to my children if I decided to have any.
All of the problems I’d endured and how my education suffered (as outlined in my previous post), could have all been avoided if screening for learning difficulties was something that was done whilst I was a child. It would have also been nice if it had been picked up whilst doing my undergraduate degree. But at least now things are different, and no child should be left behind due to such issues as dyslexia.
Successful Coping Strategies
I’ve found some ways to manage my ongoing issues with my dyslexia that have improved my learning experience. One way was to teach myself rather than being talked at for hours on end which had little benefit to me, as I’ve mentioned before. Although it’s annoying to pay so much for an undergraduate/postgraduate education if you’re mostly going to teach yourself, but if that’s what needs to be done, you’ve just got to do it. Although you might be able to find a lot of useful videos online nowadays.
I’ve also have had some success with improving my revision by condensing the information into bullet points and writing each in a different colour. I then read each bullet point individually in my head and then repeat it allowed, before moving on to the next bullet point. Then I follow that by reading all the bullet points collectively in my head and then reading them all aloud. Occasionally I’d try rewriting my notes several times, but this can have its drawbacks if you do it too often due to the pain and swelling it can cause your writing fingers.
Although I have seen some improvements, I’ve still not been able to find a way to make statistics stick in my head, which is important for doing research work with psychology. If you know of any sites, videos, or books that are aimed at people like me with dyslexia that can help me beat statistics, please let me know in the comments, I’d really appreciate it.
Some Of The Benefits
Even though my dyslexia is a huge hindrance, being diagnosed dyslexic has benefited my education, due to the support I’m now getting. I have extensions on coursework deadlines, allowing me more time to try and understand the journals I need to read and process all the information. This also helps me with writing my coursework, due to having more time to structure it properly, make sure it makes sense, and sorting out proofreading it.
I also get more time in my exams. In my last exam, I had to take as part of masters degree I was allowed to use a specially setup computer to write all my answers. This meant I didn’t have to worry about spelling as much, it also made my work a lot more coherent. It allowed me to reorganise my work with a quick cut and paste rather than relying on arrows and special symbols to put all my writing into the correct order. I imagine this did my mark a lot of good, as the alternative of trying to read my handwriting whilst simultaneously trying to decipher the order of my work was always a huge drain on my educational marks.
Although there was a significant improvement for me when doing my exams since getting the support I needed, there was still a huge drawback. I had to learn how to read a tonne of neurological names for areas of the brain and neurotransmitters (e.g. N-Methyl-D-aspartic acid). Which wasn’t fun at all.
My partner helped me spell each word phonetically so I could read them to aid my chances of remembering the words. Whilst doing that, I also had to be able to recognise the words in their proper written form. And of course, I had to learn what these chemicals and brains regions were for, for my exam. It was incredibly time consuming, but it did help a little. But I don’t want to have to do that again any time soon that’s for sure ha ha ha.
My dyslexia has also allowed me to be pretty good at playing devils-advocate, due to having to compare and contrast new information with what I already know. This process of engaging my working memory in order to retain information has meant that I’ve become pretty good at seeing and remembering multiple viewpoints. Which can be quite an advantage. Because you can present a better argument if you’ve accounted for more of the alternatives and counterpoints.
Although my dyslexia has been bit of a problem for my education all throughout my life, it still hasn’t stopped me from making it as far as a masters level degree before I’d been diagnosed. It also allowed me to find what I want to do with my life, after so many years of having no clue at all with what I wanted to do with my life. So I guess you could say, it’s been six of one and half a dozen of the other when it comes to the benefits and costs of my dyslexia.
To be honest, I often still feel stupid due to the difficulties I have with retaining information due to my dyslexia. I generally have to rely on retaining the information through comparing and contrasting what I’m trying to process with information I already know, which isn’t always the best way, but so far it’s the only way that works for me.
So if you have a low tolerance for grammar and spelling mistakes, maybe this isn’t the blog for you, but if you’re able to look past that and see the content, then welcome to my blog, I hope you enjoy it and you’re able to benefit from reading what I write.
My advice for anyone who thinks they might be suffering from some sort of learning difficulty, don’t be ashamed, theirs a lot of help out there nowadays. Go get the help you deserve so you can improve your learning experience, and try not to let yourself get bogged down with your own thoughts of thinking you’re stupid because you’re not.
If I can get as far as I have with my dyslexia coupled with my mental and physical health problems, then so can you, and if you decided to keep reading my blog, you’ll be able to see just how messed up I am, whilst still aiming to do my PhD once I’ve completed my masters.
Support And Further Information
A lot of people with dyslexia can almost completely overcome the shortcomings it causes, and maybe I might have been the same if it was discovered early enough.
For more information about dyslexia, please try visiting some of these helpful sites: