I was horribly misinformed about dyslexia

Esther Beadle
Esther is a freelance writer with expertise in communications and social media. You can follow her on twitter @estherbeadle Disclaimer: This is an independent blog and ACAMH may not necessarily hold the same views.

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We all crowd round and stare, mouths agape. Our mate Rick had just got a ton of money from the university because he’s got dyslexia. He’s spent it on a computer. Jammy git. 

To me, dyslexia was just getting a few letters jumbled up. I associated it with being a bit thick. I was 18 and horribly misinformed.

A decade on, and Rick is now a Year Six teacher. He’s got a degree from a highly respected Russell Group university and a PGCE from the Institute of Education. He is, and always has been, one of most intelligent people I know. 

According to the British Dyslexia Association, up to 10% of people in the UK show some signs of the condition. There is no reason why dyslexia should hold any child back if it is identified early and help is available. However, without the correct understanding, children can flounder. There’s still a lot we are getting wrong. 

Lessons remain far too dependent on flicking through textbooks and writing down answers, something that can cause dyslexic kids’ confidence to suffer. They can be put off learning in their very few first years of school. When this happens, potential can end up written off (pardon the pun) by both the teachers and the children themselves. 

It’s something Sandra experienced as a child. “I do find that people who don’t understand dyslexia just think it is an excuse,” she said. “My brother doesn’t think it exists, and one of my old teachers told my mother I was a lazy student.”

“I wish it had been caught earlier so my academic career would have been more enjoyable and successful.”

“You see it happen so quickly,” recalled one teacher with 30 years’ experience. “If the child isn’t given support early on, all aspects of their learning, such as their confidence, self-belief and interest, can go just like that. The consequences are not purely academic.”

Luckily for Sandra, she eventually got the support she needed at university. “Once I was diagnosed it was like the missing jigsaw piece,” she said. “Simply changing the colour of the paper I used was a solution.”

One of my dearest friends, Jenny, is a social worker. She is also dyslexic. 

“I know how dyslexia impacts all dimensions of a child’s life, such as self-esteem, self-care and organisation,” Jenny said. “I try to be mindful of this impact when care planning, rather than isolating dyslexia to something purely academic. I also really push for support and recognition.”

There needs to be more focus on how dyslexia can affect multiple aspects of a child’s life, not just on whether or not they’ll get to the bottom of the page. By approaching dyslexia holistically we can give children the best chance of making the most of their academic careers – not just the knowledge, but also the self-confidence that comes from an enjoyment of learning. 

For Lorna, her stuttered start at school still has consequences. “My parents were told I was a slow learner and not to expect much from me,” she said. “As an adult, I feel that with the correct support I could have done so much better.”

“I feel let down to an extent and have struggled with day-to-day tasks all of my life. I can’t tell the time accurately and often get it wrong. No amount of practice can correct this. I don’t know my times tables and I can’t remember simple dance routines.”

If we are going to give children with dyslexia the best chance to flourish and reach their full potential, we need to identify dyslexia early. We must reposition where we place academic value. Teachers need to re-evaluate their reliance on text-based learning outside of literacy lessons. And all of us must keep in mind the implications of the dyslexia in the wider world. 

In the end it takes more than the money spent on a computer to get people like Rick to achieve their best.

Names have been changed

Come along to ACAMH’s Dyslexia Conference in Cardiff details here



With a son and daughter both with dyslexia school was a nightmare but especially for my son who is on the severe end of dyslexia. He was written off as stupid and told so by teachers when he got to secondary school. he could just about cope at primary but floundered when he changed schools. His writing was slow as was his memory so he couldn’t copy off the board. Homework was a nightmare and chairs were thrown as we argued over why it was taking him 4 hours to write one sentence.

Eventually we paid for him to go to a private school where they had a special unit and that saved his life and the fact that he could excel at music. Find something your child is good at and nurture that whether it be sport or whatever. Both my children went to uni. My daughter got a degree in maths but my son never completed his degree but his talent got him a job in IT which he excels at. They both made good use of the disability allowance for uni. Yes they need the PCs. My son still can hardly write legibly and both of them find it easier to read a screen than a page. The extra time in exams were vital to keep them on a level with non dyslexics. Neither can read as quickly as others. They could do their exams on the computer otherwise they would not be able to write quickly enough to complete the whole papers. Without the help they would not have achieved their ‘full potential’.
I volunteered on a national helpline for dyslexia for a couple of years. Sometimes I would answer calls from parents with a newly diagnosed child. They felt it was the end of the world but it’s not. But it’s hard at school even with the right help and not every child gets that. My son was not diagnosed until 13, my daughter was 18. Some people I spoke to were in tears on the line as they had done the online dyslexia test and it looked like that was what their problem had been. They were not stupid. That meant a lot to them. It made sense at last. But maybe their life might have been different.

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