My Battle with Dyslexia
by Joanne Wiig
Community Staff Nurse
As the British Dyslexic Association puts it:
"Don't expect them to remember it off the top of their head, as many people with dyslexia have difficulty storing and processing information in this way."
Before I knew about dyslexia I used to dread the times when my teachers said we had to do some writing. Everyone else would write sentences, paragraphs and, as we got older, pages, but I couldn’t do it. My mind had all the ideas of what to write but it seemed my brain couldn’t tell my hand what to do. I could only write a little bit.
Sometimes teachers would tell me off for not trying hard enough and I was really sad inside because I felt that, even if I practised, it wouldn’t get any better. School work was getting harder and I felt rubbish at it. I just couldn’t do it. My teacher at the time realised that I was struggling and started to work out what might be happening, she guessed that I might have hearing impairments and sent me for a hearing test as she felt there was something wrong with me.
In the 70s there was no recognition of dyslexia; hence I was deemed to have low ability. I would be filled with dread thinking about further education as I knew something was wrong.
I only managed to tell the time at the age of 14 and I found it very difficult to work out the sequence of the hands; it was so foreign to me. I love to read but can do so very slowly. I started to develop coping mechanisms with great difficulties as I knew I had to push myself so I went to night school at Nelson and Colne College.
I never knew I had dyslexia until it was discovered at college. I had no idea that it was even a problem. I just thought I was slow, which turned out to be wrong. I kind of understood that it might be a good thing knowing that I have dyslexia, but I was scared. I didn’t know about dyslexia and didn’t know what it would mean. What treatment would I get? Would I miss loads of lessons at college? Would I be away from my friends a lot? At the same time it made me feel really happy and relieved because I wouldn’t get told off as much and would be getting more help in a separate lesson.
The teacher arranged an assessment and following a positive identification I was assessed in different ways including doing a story, reading and writing. The remarkable thing about the assessment was that it identified I had great creativity and imagination. I am naturally very artistic. I had a fab tutor who really, really understood what it was like for me. He taught me spelling in “my way” of learning and we practised handwriting in a way that made sense to me. The college had done lots of things to help me. They gave me work on coloured paper because it’s easier for me to see it than on white paper.
Through support from my tutors I passed both English Language and English Literature exams, I was chuffed to bits and this gave me amazing confidence in what I can achieve. My self-esteem and self-belief went over the roof! I was much more confident in my own ability and knew my capabilities. Prior to passing my exams, I felt like an idiot! I knew deep down I wasn't stupid, I knew it was all in my head but struggled to get it on paper. I just wanted someone to open my brain with a key. Ironically I have a high IQ and loads of soft skills.
After being made redundant, I signed up as a volunteer at Burnley General Hospital. The male charge nurse Naserelli took me under his wing; he was brilliant and gave me lots of support. He felt that I was a very caring, empathetic and compassionate individual and that I should pursue a career in the NHS. He encouraged me to apply for a post in Radiology. I applied and was successful, the feeling of euphoria kicked in. I really enjoyed working as a radiology helper, it gave me a taste of working in the health service and now I was hooked and wanted more. So I enrolled on an NVQ level 3 all my inhibitions and apprehensions now gone ready to take on the world.
I received a lot of support during my NVQ level 3 in Diagnostic Radiography. The NVQ assessor encouraged me to consider applying for nurse training. During my nurse training at UCLAN, I was assessed by an education psychologist, Alex Griffith's from Yorkshire. He gave me some really funny exercises to do, I had to look at these 2 chairs and one of them had 3 legs but I just couldn't see it because how it was positioned.
Having Irlen Syndrome prevents many people from reading effectively and efficiently. Individuals with Irlen Syndrome perceive reading material and/or their environment differently. They must constantly make adaptations or compensate for their eye problems. Individuals are often unaware of the extra energy and effort they are putting into reading and perception.
At the general knowledge questions, I was very good and Alex my tutor said I should be on mastermind. Alex said to me to think of dyslexia as a gift, so I turned it on its head. I am a social butterfly as I can talk and relate to anybody.
During my nurse training, UCLAN put flags in the form of stickers to alert the tutors to put extra in support for me, this was not the case when I was on placement and I really struggled. I encountered many problems and some people just didn't get it. One nurse said to me how come you're doing nurse training when you have dyslexia. This made me feel bad was a very prehistoric attitude as I would have expected staff in the NHS to be more understanding and supportive. The problem is people always recognise physical disabilities and these are well accommodated but not so much for cognitive disabilities which are not so well recognised or understood.
I was always afraid a manager or supervisor would hold it against me. Not much investment has been put in me as I feel I could have progressed to a band 6 quite a number of years ago. Simple adaptations to your day can make a massive difference as it boosts confidence, self-esteem and motivation.
It’s hard to describe what it’s like to have dyslexia, the best way I can describe it is like everyone has a combination to a safe and I’ve not been given the key to the combination?
Sometimes I feel like coming out of nursing, as I’ve had to accept second best. In 2013, I left the Trust and became a School Nurse working with children with complex needs. My role was to train the teachers and teaching assistants on how to give medication, etc. I had to stand up in a lecture theatre and give presentations and my knees were a pair of castanets, I was shaking like a leaf.
In 2015 I was compelled to come back to the Trust as my passion is giving care, feeding, talking to patients, doing all the old fashioned things like helping them with washing, making them look good for visiting, etc. This suits me to a tee as I am a very hand’s on person. I really enjoy my job as staff nurse in falls management.
Nursing to me is a privilege; I have seen nursing change dramatically in the last 15 years where it’s become more focused on paperwork, processes and systems. This is all well and good and I’m not knocking it as we have to move with the times although you have to be genuine as people pick up on things i.e. body language, etc.
The support of your team can make all the difference to a dyslexic person's experience at work: everything from providing information to them in the right format - no Times New Roman, please - to checking key decisions before they are made.
In the meantime though, I want all ELHT staff to know that being dyslexic is nothing to be worried about – it just means you have a different way of learning.
My Way! Is really important because it helps non-dyslexic people realise that sometimes life is just different for others. It can help dyslexic people understand more and not feel alone.
Being dyslexic also means you have something in common with some of the most famous people ever, such as Einstein, Winston Churchill, Richard Branson, Kiera Knightley, Fred Astaire, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Harrison Ford, Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, George Washington, Agatha Christie, Leonardo da Vinci, Muhammad Ali, Magic Johnson, Henry Ford, F.W. Woolworth, Walt Disney and that has got to be a gift to be proud of.
Dyslexia can slow you down but not stop you from your goals. Understanding what it is can be most enlightening.
It can be therapeutic to tell your story or share your struggles and learn that you are not alone with issues that many of us deal with every day.
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