I discovered I had a problem with words at school at the age of 8. My parents lived in another country so the wrench from home was already upsetting but on the first Sunday I was asked to write what was to be a weekly letter to my parents.
Knowing at that time that I knew only how to spell my name, the whole letter challenge was initially hard to come to terms with. However, I was lucky enough to have a pupil called Archibald to help me with the content. So for the first term, approx. 8 weeks my parents got the same letter every Tuesday. - Dear Mummy and Daddy, hope you are well I am fine, with love, Michael.
The English teacher soon noticed that I was struggling with reading and I remember having to go and see the Headmaster, Mr Paterson, who asked me to read a chapter from a book of my choice. I was pleased with the reading, at least to get it finished, but he then asked me to tell him in my own words about the content of what I had just read. I had not the first idea. He then used a word to describe my condition, DYSLEXIA. I assured him that whilst I had been exposed to diseases such as Malaria, I had never had dyslexia. He explained it wasn’t something you could catch but something you were born with and went on to say that, whilst it may make certain types of learning difficult, I could also find other things much easier. That turned out to be true as I did well in Maths, Sciences and was lucky to have good eye – hand coordination, so sports and other more practical pastimes such as building things came much more easily.
The strengths and challenges of my dyslexia
Still today, reading remains a challenge for me. My wife for instance can speed read and commonly completes a book in a day. So whilst I know it is possible to go faster I haven’t ever found a way of going quicker without loosing the understanding of what I am reading. Knowledge is power and knowing that pictures, diagrams and particularly illustrations help me no end. This means that anything from formula’s to reading a map come more easily. I know that I can retain that information better than through just words. This has helped me to form my career path.
Forming your career path with dyslexia as an asset
Initially I trained an Engineer, latterly in my career I have been fortunate to work in Interior Design. I now run a global retail design agency, which is proof that you can get to the top of your career with dyslexia. Design briefs come as a bundle of information, yes some written, but also a lot of information is passed in reference to things like function, form, aesthetic etc.. and is translated through objects, samples, numbers and visual imagery. My brain likes these sorts of multi-dimensional puzzles.
A dear acquaintance of mine is very dyslexic, the most so whom I know, but also a brilliant graphic designer working on branding and logo design for many famous businesses. Also, he is a brilliant fisherman, so again very visually gifted and physically well co-ordinated.
I think it is too easy to think of dyslexia as an affliction, it may be something that hinders some parts of our daily lives but it is good that it recognised to the extent it is and, that it can be managed. Running a business is all about constantly finding solutions to new challenges - so you can think of dyslexia as a practice for this, and a practice of resilience.
Focusing on your personal strengths
Most of the dyslexic people I know are better, or have become better, at other things than many without it. Dyslexia is not all about the difficulties caused by one side of the brain, but the strength of the other. Every time you come across a challenge, remind yourself what you are good at. If you have not found that skill yet - you will. Also, make sure you stop and recognise each successfully navigated challenge - especially the small wins - humans have a tendency to spend too much time focusing on what they can’t do and then do not always give themselves the credit they deserve for their successes.
My top tips for people with dyslexia
Partnering with someone who is a book worm has been great for me!
Find reading material which is a mix of words and illustrations.
When I do read books, I choose subjects that really interest me, for example, bios and thrillers. This way, if it does take ma a while to read it, it’s really worth it. The practice of reading has so many benefits and certainly its worth some extra time.
Find a career path that plays to your strengths - you do not need to try and avoid reading and writing completely but you can certainly be aware of your skillset.
If you break off from something you are reading, go back and read the previous page before moving forward with the rest.
If you are struggling with something, always remember that there are many things that other people, without dyslexia, will be finding more difficult to process than you. We all have our challenges.
Create a support network - talking to even one or two others with dyslexia will help you find reassurance, resilience and solutions faster, together.
NHS Recommended Resources for people with dyslexia
You can find help through registered educational psychologists via the Directory of Chartered Psychologists
Find your nearest local dyslexia institution for resources and information
The Amazon ‘dyslexia resources’ section combines flash card learning tools with empowering, confidence building book recommendations for adults and children
Many of the processes and solutions I have found are applicable to everyone. Whilst not everyone has the same challenges that you or I navigate, we all have our own challenges. We all must learn to see solutions and learning opportunities rather than seeing obstacles.
Being dyslexic is a superpower, because practices of curiosity, self-development and focusing on our strengths as well as our solutions are all an integral part of forming a positive mindset. I think of myself as not being different but more as an individual.